Is AP English Language and Composition Hard?

December 18, 2023
5 min read

How hard is the exam for AP English language and composition? In this article, we’ll take a deep dive into the content, structure, and topics covered so you can have a clear idea of what to expect and prepare for! 

If you're a student enrolled in any courses about rhetoric and composition, you will know firsthand that this AP course is no walk in the park. AP English Language and Composition is known for its expansive yet demanding curriculum, which pushes students to develop critical reading, writing, and analytical skills.

But, there’s no need to worry! In this article, we’ll break down everything you need to know about this AP course to help you answer the question, “Is AP English language and composition hard?”

Is AP English Language and Composition Hard? What to Consider 

AP English Language and Composition tests your understanding of the literary concepts and your ability to interpret texts and develop your own written arguments based on your analysis.

Whether or not AP English Language and Composition is difficult varies depending on your individual strengths, weaknesses, and preferences. Before you can decide whether or not this AP course is difficult, you’ll need to consider the following factors:

Female student with laptop

The Pass Rate 

AP English Language and Composition has a passing score of 3 and a perfect score of 5. Here is a table of the score distributions for the most recent AP English Language and Composition test takers.

Score Obtained Percentage of Test Takers
5 10%
4 20%
3 26%
2 29%
1 15%

Source: College Board

As you can see, 56% of the students who took the exam achieved a score that is considered a passing grade, and only 10% received a perfect score. While it’s not as difficult as AP, but still a considerable challenge nonetheless. 


This AP English Language and Composition has a total of 9 units. Here is a detailed breakdown of the content included in each:

Unit 1

This first unit teaches you how to identify and analyze the claims in a text and determine whether the writer uses reasoning and evidence to support their arguments. You will inspect how writers use rhetoric situations to turn relevant information into evidence and how to strategically add believability into writing. 

You will learn about identifying the purpose and intended audience of a text, examining how evidence supports a claim, and developing paragraphs as a part of an effective argument. 

Unit 2

The previous unit is about the evidential information itself, so this unit is all about how writers organize information and evidence to support a specific argument and appeal to a particular audience. Students must continue to recognize evidence to claims and the specific ways they are used in the context of the written piece.

You will analyze the audience of a piece of writing and how they relate to the purpose of an argument; how to build an argument with relevant and strategic evidence; as well as how to develop thesis statements, writing structure, and integrating evidence to reflect a line of reasoning. 

Unit 3

This unit takes a deeper introspect towards collecting and analyzing evidence of claims in different topics. You’ll explore the range of perspectives around a topic and the relationship that various arguments can have between one another, such as narrative methods and cause-effect relationships. 

Unit 3 teaches you about Identifying and describing different claims or lines of reasoning while avoiding flawed or fallacious reasoning. You will also learn how to Introduce and integrate sources and evidence in your writing and attributing or citing references.

Unit 4

The previous three chapters teach students how to identify and evaluate evidence and use them to develop and support arguments. This chapter takes a more advanced examination towards rhetorical situations, namely how a writer makes choices about methods of developing arguments, introductions, and conclusions.

This unit will teach you how to connect thesis statements with reasoning; how to develop introductions and conclusions; as well as how to use comparison–contrast and definition–description methods in text. 

Unit 5

This unit offers tools to strengthen the coherence of an argument, helping students become more attentive to the effects of specific words and phrases in arguments, and more adept at using careful word choice to support their own. 

In this unit, you will learn how to maintain ideas throughout an argument, how to use modifiers to qualify an argument and convey perspective and how to use transitions for further coherence. You will also learn about developing commentary throughout paragraphs.

Unit 6

This unit trains students to recognize and account for biases and limitations within the evidence being utilized in an argument. You will learn to understand the difference between position and perspective, how to consider bias, and how to integrate and address multiple perspectives in an argument.

This unit also teaches how to incorporate multiple perspectives strategically into arguments, how to adjust an argument to address new evidence, as well as analyzing tone and shifts in tone in writing. 

Unit 7 

This unit takes a step further in analyzing the breadth and complexity of arguments around a topic, offering a deeper look into concepts such as nuance, complexity, and contradictions, as well as specific factors that make arguments successful or ineffective.

You will learn about how words, phrases, and clauses can modify and limit an argument, how counterargument or alternative perspectives affect an argument, as well as exploring how sentence structure and development affects an argument.

Unit 8

This unit takes a deeper look on style in writing. More specifically, how stylistic choices can affect an argument.

You will also learn about perception, how word choice and sentence development affect how the writer is perceived by an audience. By extension, you will also look at how to make comparisons based on an audience and how all choices made in an argument affect the audience.

Unit 9

The final unit is a wrap-up unit, being more focused towards reinforcing any skills or concepts that students are not clear with or have trouble mastering. Thus, it includes a small number of additionally new knowledge statements. 

However, instructors may teach students additional strategies in conceding, rebutting, or refuting information, additional stylistic choices that affect argument quality, or explore new topics that were not mentioned previously. 

Female students with piles of books

Skills Required

This AP course requires you to:

  • Analyze the rhetorical situation of a given text
  • Understand claims and evidence
  • Reason and organize given text
  • Recognize the strategic style used by a writer
  • Read closely and interpret written pieces
  • Gather and consolidate information from multiple sources
  • Evaluate the validity and reliability of information sources
  • Write evidence-based arguments
  • Use strategic rhetorical devices
  • Draft and revise writing pieces

Make sure you brush up on these skills to give yourself the best chance of success on exam day.

AP English Language and Composition Exam Content & Structure

The AP English Language and Composition exam consists of two sections, one with multiple-choice questions and another with full response questions. Here’s a table breaking down the format and structure of these two sections:

Section I: Multiple Choice Section II: Free Response
Number of Questions 45 Questions 3 Questions
Time 1 Hour 2 Hours 15 Minutes
Percentage of Exam Score 45% 55%

Let’s take a deeper look into both of the exam sections.

Section 1: Multiple Choice

The Multiple Choice section focuses on assessing students' comprehension, critical reading skills, and analytical abilities. This portion of the exam presents various written texts, requiring students to analyze and interpret their content. 

Test-takers must demonstrate their understanding of rhetorical strategies, argument construction, and the writer's intentions.

Section 2: Free Response

In this section, you will be given three questions with written answers. First is the synthesis question: you are given six to seven sources about one specific topic (two of them are visual containing quantitative data, while the others are textual). You must then compose one argument about the topic and cite at least three sources.

The second question is rhetorical analysis. Students are given a passage of nonfiction prose of approximately 600 to 800 words and required to analyze how the writer’s rhetorical choices of language usage contribute to the intended meaning and purpose of the text.

The third question is fairly straightforward. Students are given a topic, usually a rhetorical concept, and tasked to write an evidence-based essay that argues their position.

Tips to Prepare for the AP English Language and Composition Exam

Here are some test-taking strategies you can use to help you crush theAP English Language and Composition exam! 

Female student writing essay on paper

Practice Your Writing and Reading Skills

To excel in this AP exam, dedicate your efforts to consistent practice. Read widely and critically, engaging with various text types, including essays, articles, speeches, and literature. Employ active reading techniques by annotating and dissecting texts to identify rhetorical devices, arguments, and authorial intent.

Simultaneously, focus on honing your writing abilities. Practice crafting clear, coherent, and persuasive essays in response to diverse prompts. Emphasize the creation of robust thesis statements, effective organization of ideas, and the incorporation of compelling evidence to bolster your arguments.

Furthermore, because rhetorical analysis plays a pivotal role in the exam, regularly practicing the analysis of rhetorical elements, such as ethos, pathos, and logos, is essential. Pay close attention to the author's tone, word choices, and use of evidence to support their arguments.

Seek Feedback and Assistance

Without feedback, you limit the effectiveness of your practice. Share your essays and written responses with your teacher or peers, consider their suggestions, and revise your writing accordingly. Constructive feedback is key for identifying strengths and weaknesses. 

If you need further assistance, don't hesitate to reach out to an experienced tutor, whose expertise can provide invaluable guidance tailored to your specific needs, making your practice even more effective.

Brush Up Vocabulary and Grammar

These might seem weird at first, but both vocabulary and grammar are key ingredients in understanding and analyzing written text. Enhancing your vocabulary by regularly reading challenging texts and studying word lists can help you familiarize yourself with rhetorical terms, literary devices, and persuasive techniques.

Furthermore, brushing up your grammar allows you to have a more acute sense of sentence structure, punctuation, and stylistic elements. Make sure you are also mindful of common errors and work on improving your writing mechanics.

Should You Take AP English Language and Composition?

The answer to this question varies from student to student. However, there are some general benefits of taking the AP English Language and Composition exam that you should consider. For one, if you have a genuine interest in English, literature, and language arts, AP English Language and Composition can be very rewarding. 

The course delves into rhetorical analysis, argumentation, and effective communication, which can enhance your rhetoric skills and abilities, with significant emphasis put on writing and analysis.

This AP exam helps you develop and refine your skills and prepares you for future writing-intensive programs or careers. If you plan to pursue any degree or career that values strong communication skills, critical thinking, or writing abilities, this course can be particularly beneficial.

But even if your future has little to do with writing and language analysis, this exam can still help you in college application. Any AP course, including AP English Language and Composition, can strengthen your college applications and demonstrate your willingness to challenge yourself academically. 

FAQs: Is AP English Language and Composition Hard?

So, “is AP English Language and Composition hard?” Take a look at our answers to these frequently asked questions for more insight.

1. How Hard Is AP English Language and Composition?

In general, the AP English Language and Composition is moderately difficult. The pass rate is just slightly above 55%, and a selected few got the maximum score of 5. This is also a course that spans lots of concepts, so studying for it can be quite laborious.

2. Is AP English Language and Composition Worth Taking?

Yes, it is. This course greatly enhances your ability to read, analyze, write and communicate. Getting a good score in this exam can serve as an emblem of aptitude in many skills relevant to both college and careers. 

3. Is AP English Language and Composition Harder Than AP Chemistry?

This depends on different students, but in general, most students find AP Chemistry more challenging than AP English Language and Composition.

4. What Is the Hardest AP Class?

The perception of which AP classes are the hardest can vary depending on individual strengths, interests, and the specific school or teacher. However, some AP classes are commonly regarded as challenging due to their rigorous content, high workload, or complex subject matter. 

Some of the hardest AP classes include AP Calculus BC, AP Physics C, AP Chemistry, AP Biology, and AP English Literature and Composition.

Final Thoughts

The difficulty of AP English Language and Composition varies depending on factors such as knowledge, writing abilities, reading comprehension skills, rhetorical sensitivity and the level of effort you put into the course. However, in a general sense, it is indeed considered to be a challenging course.

But hopefully now you know what you can do! By engaging in close reading, practicing rhetorical analysis, improving your writing skills, and developing effective time management strategies. Active participation in class discussions, regular practice, and seeking feedback from your teacher or peers can also help your chances of success.

While the course may be challenging, it offers valuable skills in critical thinking, effective communication, and textual analysis. With dedication, practice, and a willingness to learn, you can navigate the challenges of AP English Language and Composition and achieve success. Best wishes!

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