Is AP English Language and Composition Hard? A Complete 2022 Guide

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  • AP courses are college-level classes offered at high schools.
  • AP English Language and Composition focuses on thinking critically about various texts.
  • The course's exam pass rate is lower than the overall average pass rate for all AP exams.
  • The test includes timed multiple-choice questions and three timed essays.

Advanced Placement (AP) courses introduce high school students to the rigorous demands of college academics. AP English Language and Composition is typically a junior-level course that can help prepare students to analyze and to think critically about a variety of texts.

The national AP English Language and Composition exam is offered each spring. In May 2021, 476,735 students worldwide took the exam.

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AP courses are known for their quick pace and high level of independent work. So you may be wondering what the hardest AP classes and tests are — and if AP English Language and Composition is one of the harder AP exams.

Learn more about what to expect from AP English Language and Composition.

What Does AP English Language and Composition Cover?

Meant to cover a college-level introductory composition course, AP English Language and Composition focuses on understanding and being able to employ rhetoric.

Students read and analyze a variety of texts to understand how the author's style, structure, and language contribute to their rhetorical argument.

AP English Language and Composition also prepares students to organize their claims to create rhetorical essays. Students learn to form strong claims backed up with specific supportive evidence.

Generally, AP English Language and Composition develops students' abilities to use and understand the following:

  • Rhetorical Devices: Being able to read and identify rhetorical devices in pieces of writing and being able to employ rhetorical devices in your own essay writing
  • Claims and Evidence: being able to read and identify an author's claims and supporting evidence and being able to employ strong claims and evidence in your own essay writing
  • Style: Being able to identify an author's specific style choices and explain how those choices contribute to the author's argument

What Determines the Difficulty of AP English Language and Composition? 3 Key Factors

Before registering for an AP course, you should understand the requirements and level of commitment for the class. The AP English Language and Composition course can be challenging and rigorous.

The Pass Rate

The AP exam is scored on a scale from 1-5. A passing rate is considered a score of 3 or above. The overall pass rate of all AP courses was 71.13% in May 2020, with 19.57% of those test-takers receiving a perfect score of 5.

In comparison, the AP English Language and Composition exam had an overall pass rate of 62.1%, with only 12.6% of those scores being a perfect 5.

AP Exam Pass Rates
AP Class/Exam Pass Rate (3 or Higher) Perfect Score (5)
AP English Language and Composition 62.1% 12.6%
All AP Classes 71.13% 19.57%

Source: College Board

Since the pass rate and the perfect score rate for the AP English Language and Composition exam is lower than the average of all AP exams, it may seem that AP Language and Composition is more difficult. However, ultimately, the difficulty of the course and exam heavily depends on the strength of the school and teacher.

The Course Material

AP English Language and Composition courses explore rhetorical nonfiction writing, including famous speeches, letters, and essays. The writing can be contemporary or date back several centuries.

Each teacher structures their AP English Language and Composition course differently. The amount of course material can also determine the difficulty of the course. If you have a heavy workload and are reading several pieces a week, or writing several essays a month, the course may feel more difficult.

Your Subject Skills

How difficult a course is can be subjective and can rely heavily on whether or not the course covers subject matter you excel in. The following skills and strengths are good to have in an AP English Language and Composition course.

They include the ability to:

  • Read and interpret a variety of texts, including significantly older documents
  • Organize your thoughts into a strong academic essay
  • Cite evidence to support claims
  • Identify rhetorical devices in writing and understand how they are being used to create an argument

When Should You Take AP English Language and Composition?

Each school has its own policy on when you are allowed to take AP English Language and Composition. Although College Board does not have a specific grade requirement, most students are offered AP English Language and Composition in their junior year.

Taking the course during your first two years of high school may be challenging, since the course is college-level.

Students can also choose to take the course as a senior. However, many students decide to take AP English Language and Composition as juniors and then enroll in AP English Literature and Composition as seniors.

You should consider your strengths and the course workload while trying to decide when you should take AP English Language and Composition, as well as whether or not you should enroll in other AP classes at the same time.

AP English Language and Composition Exam: What You Need to Know

The following table breaks down how many students earned each of the exam scores. Learn more about how the exam is structured and scored.

AP English Language and Composition
Exam Score Number of Students Percentage of Students
5 67,235 12.6%
4 109,436 20.4%
3 155,601 29.1%
2 140,130 26.2%
1 63,076 11.8%

Source: College Board

How Is the AP English Language and Composition Exam Structured?

The AP Language and Composition exam has two sections: a multiple-choice section and an essay section. Multiple-choice questions may cover reading comprehension, rhetorical devices, and writing strategies.

The second section has three free-response prompts. Test-takers must complete three essays. The three types of essay prompts are a rhetorical analysis, a synthesis essay, and an argument essay.

For the rhetorical analysis, students are given a written passage and must analyze and construct an essay on how that author's passage ties into a larger message or theme.

In the synthesis essay, students are provided several sources and must answer a prompt with an argumentative essay that incorporates evidence from the sources.

The third prompt asks students to construct an argument essay. Test-takers are then given a question, quote, or statement. They must create an essay that either agrees, disagrees, or qualifies the statement.

  • Section 1: 45 Multiple-Choice Questions (60 Minutes)
  • Section 2: Three Free-Response Questions (2 Hours and 15 Minutes)

How Is the AP English Language and Composition Exam Scored?

Every question in the multiple-choice section is worth 1 point. You are not penalized for having an incorrect answer or leaving an answer blank. This section is 45% of your overall exam score.

Each essay in the essay section of the AP English Language and Composition exam is scored separately on a scale of 0-9. These three scores are added together and averaged. The scorer then plugs your scores into a formula to get a composite score. Each composite number range correlates to a score of 1-5.

Because the essay section is weighted more heavily than the multiple-choice section, students who struggle with essay writing — especially timed essay writing — may have a difficult time with the exam.

Section 1 (45% of Exam Score)
Multiple-Choice Reading Questions 23-25%
Multiple-Choice Writing Questions 20-22%
Section 2 (55% of Exam Score)
Synthesis Question 18.33%
Rhetorical Analysis Question 18.33%
Argument Question 18.33%

Source: College Board

AP English Language and Composition: What Score Do I Need for College Credit?

Although a 3 or higher is considered a passing score, each college sets its own policies for accepting AP credit. Typically, a score of 5 for an AP English Language and Composition exam will earn you some college-level composition credit at almost any school.

Some colleges may reward the same credits for a score of 4, or they may offer slightly less college credit. A score of 3 may yield some college credit depending on the school. Check to see what scores your prospective colleges accept.

Should I Take AP English Language and Composition?

AP English Language and Composition, like all AP classes, is a college-level course. Although the difficulty of the course may vary between instructors, you should expect an AP course to move faster than a regular high school class. It will also involve more independent work.

Most schools grade AP courses on a 5-point GPA scale instead of a 4-point scale, so even though the work may be more challenging, you may still be able to maintain a good GPA. Taking the exam is not a requirement of the AP course. So you can always choose not to take the test if you find the course was too challenging.

Ultimately, you need to decide for yourself which AP courses you should take.

Consider your strengths and what the demands of the AP English Language and Composition course are. Asking teachers and past students about the class is a great way to find out how difficult AP English Language and Composition is at your particular school.

Frequently Asked Questions About AP English Language and Composition

Is AP English Language and Composition worth it?

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Depending on your personal and future goals, AP English Language and Composition, or any AP course, can be worth it. If your goal is to earn college credit while in high school, AP courses allow you to do so while receiving the support of a high school teacher.

If you are a strong reader and writer, AP English Language and Composition can introduce you to college-level rigor. It can also help you advance your reading and writing skills before taking on a full-time college course load.

Do colleges care about AP English Language and Composition?

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Completing an AP course and earning a decent grade and/or a passing AP exam score can show prospective colleges that you are capable of academically performing at the college level.

How many credits do you get for AP English Language and Composition?

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The number of credits you can earn for an AP English Language and Composition exam depends on the college. Most colleges will reward credit for a score of 4 or 5.Although a score of 3 is considered passing, not as many colleges will accept it.

You can always check to see what scores your prospective colleges do accept and how much credit you can earn for those scores.

Feature Image: JAG IMAGES / DigitalVision / Getty Images

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