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How is the AP® English Language Exam Scored?

The AP ® English Language and Composition Exam tests your ability to analyze text, craft compelling argumentative essays, and demonstrate an awareness of language and rhetoric.

When it comes to how it’s scored, though, it’s not as straightforward.

That’s why we want to break down the scores you need to get on your AP ® English Language and Composition Exam, how the test format impacts that, and even how you can roughly estimate your own score.

Let’s jump in.

How the AP ® English Language and Composition Exam works

A lot of colleges all over the country require you to fulfill a rhetoric or composition credit before you’re allowed to graduate. Luckily, you have the opportunity to fulfill those credits before you’re even accepted into colleges. Through the AP ® English Language and Composition course, you can learn the rhetorical and writing skills necessary to earn the college credit.

The exam is comprehensive when it comes to rhetoric and analysis, covering topics such as:

  • Rhetorical analysis of prose
  • Reading comprehension
  • Written argumentation
  • MLA, APA, and Chicago-style citation
  • Reputable sourcing
  • Synthesis of information from multiple texts

When it comes time to take the exam, you can expect the same format and structure. You’ll have three hours and 15 minutes to complete the exam. There are two sections to it. The first is comprised of excerpts from non-fiction texts with multiple-choice questions. The second is a free-response section made up of three prompts you must answer as handwritten essays.

The prompts cover three areas:

  • Synthesis. You will need to read multiple sources and craft an argument that cites at least three of the sources to support your argument.
  • Rhetorical analysis. You will need to read a passage of text and then craft an analysis of the author’s intention as well as how the author’s choices in the text support that intent.
  • Argument. You will need to craft an argument over a specific topic and support that argument with evidence.

Here’s what the structure of the exam looks like broken down by section and question type, along with how much each section impacts the ultimate score:

  • 45 questions that cover excerpts from nonfiction text
  • 45% of final exam score
  • Three questions with prompts covering synthesis, rhetorical analysis, and argument
  • Two hours and 15 minutes including a 15-minute reading time
  • 55% of final exam score

Before we explain how each section is scored, let’s take a look at the scores you can get for your entire exam.

How to find the score you need on the AP ® English Language Exam

The AP ® Exam is scored on a scale of one to five. The higher your score, the better it is for you.

Check out the table below for a good break down of what each score means.

When it comes to AP ® English Language and Composition, you’ll want to aim for a score of three or higher. Many colleges will give you college credit or placement out of a required course if you score within that range.

It varies from school to school though. So, if you want to know the score that a specific school will accept in exchange for credit, you’ll need to check with the school’s registrar’s office to find out information about AP ® credit for English Language and Composition. Often, you can find this information on the school’s website. You can also check out the College Board’s search tool for AP ® credit policies .

NOTE: Colleges sometimes change their requirements for awarding college credit or offering placement out of required courses. So always check in with the college to make sure you have the most relevant and recent information.

How the AP ® English Language Exam is scored

The multiple-choice section is scored via computer. When the computer analyzes your answers, it does not deduct points if your answer is incorrect or unanswered. You read that right. You only stand to gain points when you answer questions. It is always in your best interest to answer every question and leave nothing blank.

The free-response section is a bit more complicated, however. Rather than using a computer, the free-response section is scored by actual humans. This occurs during an event called the AP ® Reading, an annual convention in June during which thousands of college professors and AP ® teachers nationwide convene to help judge and score AP ® essays.

The free response essays are each scored on a scale of 0–6, with 6 being the best score you can get and 0 being the worst.

Combined, the raw points you get from both sections give you your composite score. It’s your composite score that determines your scaled score of 1–5.

We know. It’s all very confusing. Stick with us though, and we promise to clear it up for you.

Scoring the free-response section

As mentioned above, the free-response section is scored on a scale of 0-6. The higher your score, the better it is for you.

Here’s a look at the Q2 Analysis Scoring Rubric, a handy table that gives a good break-down of what judges are looking for when awarding points for each essay.

ap essay grading scale

Bottom line: Graders are looking for essays that showcase a strong command of the English language, the ability to craft compelling and well-sourced arguments, and the ability to analyze text for its rhetorical structure.

When you can find out your score

In 2020, all AP ® Exams will take place from May 4th through May 15th.

The English Language and Composition exam will take place on  the morning of   May 13, 2020 at 8:00 a.m.  Exams will take place at designated AP ®  test-taking facilities unless you have approved exemptions from the College Board (e.g., if the test is administered outside the United States).

After the exam, you get to spend several long weeks before you find out your score in July 2020.

NOTE: No specific information has been released yet about when the scores will be made available to students and parents. So be sure to check back to Marco Learning over the next few months to stay updated.

As mentioned above, all of the free-response answers for every AP ® Exam are judged during the AP ® Reading. That convention of thousands of professors and AP ® teachers all over the country takes place in the first two weeks of June. Once your free-response question is judged and scored, the College Board needs to compile all the scores before they’re ready to be released.

The best piece of advice once you take your exam is to simply relax. There’s no use sweating over your exam once you’re finished. What’s done is done.

More importantly, be sure to take some time to be proud of your accomplishment. You just invested a lot of time studying and learning valuable information that you’ll be able to carry with you to college and beyond. That’s something you earned regardless of what the score says.

Once you get your score, and you got a good score—congrats! You just earned potential college credit for college.

If your score wasn’t what you were hoping for, don’t worry. You can always retake the AP ® Exam the next year. Check out our resources to help you the next time around.

ap essay grading scale

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Last Modified: 1/24/2023

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Limitation on Time to File Claims


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ap essay grading scale

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  • AP English Language and Composition: How Your Essays Are Scored
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  • AP English Language and Composition: Essays
  • AP English Language and Composition: Exam Format
  • AP English Language and Composition: Kinds of Questions
  • AP English Language and Composition: Multiple-Choice Section
  • AP English Language and Composition: Pace Your Essay Writing
  • AP English Language and Composition: Reading Passages
  • AP English: Pacing Your Exam Essays
  • AP Essay Writing: Satire as a Subject
  • AP European History: World War I (1914-1918)
  • AP Spanish Language: Cloze Passages
  • AP Test Prep: The Bill of Rights
  • AP Test Prep: English Composition Essay Scoring
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  • How to Read a History Textbook

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CliffsNotes AP English Language and Composition

Each of the three AP English Language and Composition essays equals one-third of the total essay score, and the entire essay (free-response) section equals 55% of the total exam score.

Each essay is read by experienced, well-trained high school AP teachers or college professors. The essay is given a holistic score from 1 to 9. (A score of 0 is recorded for a student who writes completely off the topic-for example, "Why I think this test is a waste of money." A student who doesn't even attempt an essay, who leaves a blank page, will receive the equivalent of a 0 score, but it is noted as a dash [-] on the reader's scoring sheet.) The reader assigns a score based on the essay's merits as a whole, on what the essay does well; the readers don't simply count errors. Although each essay topic has its own scoring rubric (or guide) based on that topic's specific information, a general scoring guide for rhetorical analysis and argumentation essays follows. Notice that, on the whole, essay-scoring guides encompass four essential points; AP readers want your essay to be (1) on topic, (2) well organized, (3) thoroughly developed, and (4) correct in mechanics and sophisticated in style.

High Score (8-9)

High-scoring essays thoroughly address all the tasks of the essay prompt in well-organized responses. The writing demonstrates stylistic sophistication and control over the elements of effective writing, although it is not necessarily faultless. Overall, high-scoring essays present thoroughly developed, intelligent ideas; sound and logical organization; strong evidence; and articulate diction.

Rhetorical analysis essays demonstrate significant understanding of the passage, its intent, and the rhetorical strategies the author employs.

Argument essays demonstrate the ability to construct a compelling argument, observing the author's underlying assumptions, (addressing multiple authors in the synthesis essay) and discussing many sides of the issues with appropriate evidence.

Medium-High Score (6-7)

Medium-scoring essays complete the tasks of the essay topic well - they show some insight but usually with less precision and clarity than high-scoring essays. There may be lapses in correct diction or sophisticated language, but the essay is generally well written.

Rhetorical analysis essays demonstrate sufficient examination of the author's point and the rhetorical strategies he uses to enhance the central idea.

Argument essays demonstrate the ability to construct an adequate argument, understand the author's point, and discuss its implications with suitable evidence. The synthesis argument will address at least three of the sources.

Medium Score (5)

Essays that earn a medium score complete the essay task, but with no special insights; the analysis lacks depth and merely states the obvious. Frequently, the ideas are predictable and the paragraph development weak. Although the writing conveys the writer's ideas, they are presented simplistically and often contain lapses in diction or syntax.

Rhetorical analysis essays demonstrate uneven or insufficient understanding of how rhetorical strategies create an author's point. Often, the writer merely lists what he or she observes in the passage instead of analyzing effect.

Argument essays demonstrate the ability to present an argument, but they frequently provide limited and inadequate discussion, explanation, or evidence for the writer's ideas. The writer may not address enough of the sources in the synthesis essay. Oversimplification of the issue(s) minimizes the essay's effectiveness.

Medium-Low Score (3-4)

These essays are weaker than the 5 score because the writer overlooks or perhaps misreads important ideas in the passage. The student may summarize the passage's ideas instead of analyzing them. Although the writer's ideas are generally understandable, the control of language is often immature.

Rhetorical analysis essays demonstrate little discussion of rhetorical strategies or incorrect identification and/or analysis of those strategies.

Argument essays demonstrate little ability to construct an argument. They may not clearly identify the author's point, may not present multiple authors' points of view in the synthesis essay, and may offer little evidence for the student's position.

Low Score (1-2)

These essays demonstrate minimal understanding of the topic or the passage. Perhaps unfinished, these essays offer no analysis of the passage and little or no evidence for the student's ideas. Incorrect assertions may be made about the passage. Stylistically, these essays may show consistent grammatical problems, and sentence structure is usually simple and unimaginative.

Rhetorical analysis essays demonstrate little ability to identify or analyze rhetorical strategies. Sometimes these essays misread the prompt and replace it with easier tasks, such as paraphrasing the passage or listing some strategies the author uses.

Argument essays demonstrate little ability to understand the author's point (or multiple authors in the synthesis essay) and then construct an argument that analyzes it. Minimal or nonexistent evidence hurts the essay's effectiveness. Some students may substitute an easier task by presenting tangential or irrelevant ideas, evidence, or explanation.

What is the solution for x in the following system of equations?

2 x + 3 y = 42

2 y – 3 x = –19

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What is the AP Grading Scoring Scale? Complete Guide

AP Exams are majorly designed to evaluate how much you know and mastered the content and skills of a specific AP course. The AP Exam is a standardized exam, and each exam has its unique requirements. Almost all AP exams are conducted in paper-and-pencil mode, while a few AP courses have different ways to assess what you have learned. AP Art and Design, for example, requires students to submit a portfolio of work for scoring.

If you are an AP exam aspirant studying AP courses, you may think: what is the AP exam scoring scale? If you don’t know, how the AP Exam scores are scaled, don’t worry you are at the place.


How are the AP Exam Scores Measured?

The scores of AP Exams are measured on a scale of 1-5. The scores are scaled based on the scores received in the multiple-choice and free-response sections of the exam. The multiple-choice section of the AP Exam is scored by computer, where each answer sheet is scanned and the total number of correct responses equals the multiple-choice score. You will not be given any negative marks for incorrect or blank answers.

The free-response section – essays and open-ended questions – and through-course performance tasks are scored at the annual AP Reading organized during the first two weeks of June. For this section, specially appointed college professors and experienced AP teachers give scores.


The total scores obtained from the multiple-choice section and the free-response section are then combined to form a composite score. These composite scores are then converted into the 5-point scale using statistical processes aimed at ensuring that the point scale achieved this year reflects the same level of achievement as last year. For example, a 3 this year reflects the same level of achievement as a 3 last year, as per The College Board.

The scores from these two sections let the colleges and universities that receive them understand how well a student performed at a college-level AP course.


The below table shows the final AP Exams scores on a five-point scale:

AP Exam Score Recommendation College Course Grade Equivalent 1 No recommendation – 2 Possibly qualified – 3 Qualified B-, C+or C 4 Very well qualified A-, B+ or B 5 Extremely well qualified A+ or A *Source: The College Board

How You Can Receive College Credit for AP Exam Scores?

If you have given AP exams and looking for credit or placement for any AP exam scores, you should ensure that your selected colleges and universities receive the official report of your AP Exam scores. You can receive a score report on your exam sheet by selecting one college or university and can send your scores to multiple colleges using your official College Board online account for additional fees.


The granting placement or credit policies based on AP Exam scores vary from one institution to another. While most colleges and universities will provide credit for scores of 3 or more, many colleges and universities may not accept all AP Exam scores.

What are AP Subjects?

There are 38 subjects for the AP Exam. The curriculum for each AP subject is created for the College Board by a panel of experts and college teachers in that field of study. For a high school course to have the designation, the College Board audits the course to ascertain that it meets the AP curriculum as specified in the Board’s Course and Examination Description (CED). Once the course is approved, the school can use the AP designation and the course will be publicly listed on the AP Course Ledger.


Here’s the list of the complete AP subjects:

● AP Art History ● AP Biology ● AP Calculus AB ● AP Calculus BC ● AP Chemistry ● AP Comparative Government & Politics ● AP Computer Science A ● AP Computer Science Principles ● AP English Language and Composition ● AP English Literature and Composition ● AP Environmental Science ● AP European History ● AP Human Geography ● AP Macroeconomics ● AP Microeconomics ● AP Music Theory ● AP Physics 1: Algebra-Based ● AP Physics 2: Algebra-Based ● AP Physics C: Electricity & Magnetism ● AP Physics C: Mechanics ● AP Psychology ● AP Research ● AP Seminar ● AP Statistics ● AP Studio Art: 2-D Design ● AP Studio Art: 3-D Design ● AP Studio Art: Drawing ● AP U.S. Government & Politics ● AP U.S. History ● AP World History ● AP Chinese Language & Culture ● AP French Language & Culture ● AP German Language & Culture ● AP Italian Language & Culture ● AP Japanese Language and Culture ● AP Latin ● AP Spanish Language & Culture ● AP Spanish Literature & Culture

When to Start Preparation for AP Exams?

Advanced Placement (AP) exams significantly provide students with the capability to face college-level work when they are still in high school. Many students commence the preparation for AP one to three months before the exam day. This is the best way to give time to better prepare yourself. In this duration, you can practice test questions, review content, and devise strategies. You can also join AP classes that will set a great foundation for the AP exam.


For a better AP Exam prep, it is essential to start early and prepare a schedule to map your time. You should start by reviewing previous study materials, questions, and other stuff. You also must ensure that which subject are you taking first with keeping in mind the exam date. Dedicate your time preparing for each AP Exam subject. Try to study in small intervals that help you keep the workload manageable.

You should try to keep reading the material that you have been graded on it because the AP exam will be the culmination of the entire year. Before sitting to practice for AP exams, you cannot forget the exam pattern. Surf through the College Board portal to keep updated with the latest news and things associated with the exam. As AP exams are 2-3 hours long, keep practicing to solve the questions within the allotted time duration.


You should also seek help from your teachers or peers who have already sat for AP exams. But don’t rely more on them as your teacher can only ensure that all the subject material is covered. He/she doesn’t have enough time during the class to teach the material and review them thoroughly.

Final Thought

If you are willing to sit for AP Exams, you should prepare yourself by considering all the aspects related to the exams – How the AP Exam scores are scaled, what the subjects you should study, how you can better prepare for AP exams, etc. So, prepare hard, and do your best.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. what percent grade is a 5 on an ap exam.

A 70 to 75 percent out of 100 usually translates to a 5. There are, however, some exceptions to this rule of thumb. In July, students, high schools, colleges, and universities receive AP grades on a five-point scale: 5: Extremely knowledgeable.

2. What is the AP class grading scale?

AP Exam scores are given on a scale of 1 to 5. The scaled scores are based on the exam’s multiple-choice and free-response sections.

3. Is a 60 a passing grade in AP classes?

Yes, a 60 is considered a passing grade in AP classes. In AP, the average passing rate is 60-70%.

4. What GPA is in an AP class?

Honors and AP classes are both more heavily weighted in many high schools than regular classes. Honors courses typically add 0.5 points to your GPA, whereas AP classes frequently add 1 point. In other words, a 3.5 GPA would be increased to 4.0 in honors classes and 4.5 in AP classes.

ap grading scale

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