Juliette Raymond
7 AP Guides

How to Write the AP Lang Argument Essay + Example

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In 2020, over 535,000 students across the U.S. took the AP English Language and Composition exam and 62% scored higher than a three. The AP English Language exam tests your ability to analyze a piece of writing, synthesize information, write a rhetorical essay, and create a cohesive argument. In this post, we’ll be discussing the best way to approach the argumentative essay section of the test, and give you tips and tricks so you can write a great essay.

 

What is the AP Language Argument Essay?

 

The AP English Language exam is structured as follows:

 

Section 1: 45 multiple choice questions to be completed in an hour. This portion counts for 45% of your score. These questions will ask students to analyze a piece of literature and ask questions about its content or what could be edited within the passage.

 

Section 2: three free response questions to be completed in the remaining two hours and 15 minutes. This section counts for 55% of your score. These essay questions include the synthesis essay, the rhetorical essay, and the argumentative essay. 

 

  • Synthesis essay: Read 6-7 sources and create an argument using at least three of the sources.

 

  • Rhetorical analysis essay: Describe how a piece of writing evokes meaning and symbolism.

 

  • Argumentative essay: Pick a side of a debate and create an argument based on evidence. For this essay, you should develop a logical argument in support or against the statement given and provide ample evidence that supports your conclusion. Typically, a five paragraph format is great for this type of writing. This essay is scored holistically from one to nine points.

 

Do you want more information on the structure of the full exam? Take a look at our in-depth overview of the AP Language exam.

 

Tips for Writing the AP Language Argument Essay

 

Although the AP Language Argument may seem daunting at first, once you understand how the essay should be structured it will be a lot easier to create cohesive arguments. Below are some tips to help you as you write the essay.

 

1. Organize your essay before writing

 

Instead of jumping right into your essay, plan out what you will say beforehand. It is easiest to make a list of your arguments and write out what facts or evidence you will use to support each argument. In your outline, you can determine the best order for your arguments, especially if they build on each other or are chronological. Having a well-organized essay is crucial for success.

 

2. Pick one side of the argument, but acknowledge the other side

 

When you write the essay, it is best if you pick one side of the debate and stick with it in the entire essay. All of your evidence should be in support of that one side. However, in your introductory paragraph as you introduce the debate, be sure to mention if there are merits to the arguments of the other side. This can make the essay a bit more nuanced and show that you did consider both sides before determining the best one. Often, acknowledging another viewpoint but then refuting it can make your essay stronger. 

 

3. Provide evidence to support your claims

 

AP readers will be looking for examples and evidence to support your argument. This doesn’t mean that you need to memorize a bunch of random facts before the exam. This just means that you should be able to provide concrete examples in support of your argument. For example, if the essay topic is about whether the role of the media in society has been detrimental or not and you argue that it has been, you may talk about the phenomenon of “fake news” during the 2016 election. The AP readers are not looking for perfect examples, but they are looking for you to give enough evidence so that your claim can be easily understood and backed up using examples. 

 

4. Create a strong thesis statement

 

The thesis statement will set up your entire essay, so it is important that it is focused, specific, and sets up the reader to understand your body paragraphs. Make sure your thesis statement is the very last sentence of your introductory paragraph. In this sentence, list out the key points you will be making in the essay in the same order that you write them. Each new point you mention in your thesis should start a paragraph in your essay. 

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AP English Language Argument Essay Example

 

Below is a prompt and sample student essay from the May 2019 exam. We’ll look at what the student did well in their writing and where they could improve.

 

The term “overrated” is often used to diminish concepts, places, roles, etc. that the speaker believes do not deserve the prestige they commonly enjoy; for example, many writers have argued that success is overrated, a character in a novel by Anthony Burgess famously describes Rome as a “vastly overrated city,” and Queen Rania of Jordan herself has asserted that “[b]eing queen is overrated.”

 

Select a concept, place, role, etc. to which you believe that the term “overrated” should be applied. Then, write a well-developed essay in which you explain your judgment. Use appropriate evidence from your reading, experience, or observations to support your argument.

 

Sample student essay: 

 

[1] Competition is “overrated.” The notion of motivation between peers has evolved into a source of unnecessary stress and even lack of morals. Whether it be in an academic environment or in the industry, this new idea of competition is harmful to those competing and those around them.

 

[2] Back in elementary school, competition was rather friendly. It could have been who could do the most pushups or who could get the most imaginary points in a classroom for a prize. If you couldn’t do the most pushups or win that smelly sticker, you would go home and improve yourself – there would be no strong feelings towards anyone, you would just focus on making yourself a better version of yourself. Then as high school rolled around, suddenly applying for college doesn’t seem so far away –GPA seems to be that one stat that defines you – extracurriculars seem to shape you – test scores seem to categorize you. Sleepless nights, studying for the next day’s exam, seem to become more and more frequent. Floating duck syndrome seems to surround you (FDS is where a competitive student pretends to not work hard but is furiously studying beneath the surface just like how a duck furiously kicks to stay afloat). All of your competitors appear to hope you fail – but in the end what do you and your competitor’s gain? Getting one extra point on the test? Does that self-satisfaction compensate for the tremendous amounts of acquired stress? This new type of “competition” is overrated – it serves nothing except a never-ending source of anxiety and seeks to weaken friendships and solidarity as a whole in the school setting.

 

[3] A similar idea of “competition” can be applied to business. On the most fundamental level, competition serves to be a beneficial regulator prices and business models for both the business themselves and consumers. However, as businesses grew increasingly greedy and desperate, companies have resorted to immoral tactics that only hurt their reputations and consumers as a whole. Whether it be McDonald’s coupons that force you to buy more food or tech companies like Apple intentionally slowing down your iPhone after 3 years to force you to upgrade to the newest device, consumers suffer and in turn speak down upon these companies. Similar to the evolved form of competition in school, this overrated form causes pain for all parties and has since diverged from the encouraging nature that the principle of competition was “founded” on.

 

The AP score for this essay was a 4/9, meaning that it captured the main purpose of the essay but there were still substantial parts missing. In this essay, the writer did a good job organizing the sections and making sure that their writing was in order according to the thesis statement. The essay first discusses how competition is harmful in elementary school and then in business. This follows the chronological order of somebody’s life and flows nicely.

 

The arguments within this essay are problematic as they do not provide enough examples of how exactly competition is overrated. The essay discusses the context in which competition is overrated but does not go far enough in explaining how this connects with the prompt. In the first example, school stress is used to explain how competition manifests. This is a good starting point, but it does not talk about why competition is overrated, only simply that competition can be unhealthy. The last sentence of that paragraph is the main point of the argument and should be expanded to discuss how the anxiety of school is overrated later on in life. 

 

In the second example, the writer discusses how competition can lead to harmful business practices, but again, this does not discuss why this would be overrated. Is competition really overrated because Apple and McDonald’s force you to buy new products? This example could’ve been taken one step further and instead of explaining why business structures such as monopolies harm competition, the author should discuss how those structures are overrated. 

 

Additionally, the examples the writer used lack detail. A stronger essay would’ve provided more in-depth examples. This essay seemed to mention examples only in passing without using them to defend their argument.

 

It should also be noted that the structure of the essay is incomplete. The introduction only has a thesis statement and no additional context. Also, there is no conclusion paragraph that sums up the essay. These missing components result in a 4/9. 

 

How Will AP Scores Impact my College Chances?

 

Now that you’ve looked at an example essay and some tips for the argumentative essay, you know how to better prepare for the AP English Language Exam.

 

While your AP scores don’t usually impact your admissions chances, colleges do care a lot about your course rigor. So, taking as many APs as you can will certainly boost your chances!

 

To understand how your course rigor stacks up, check out our free admissions calculator. This resource takes your course rigor, test scores, extracurriculars, and demographics to determine your chances of getting into over 500 colleges in the U.S. Best of all, it’s free!

 

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Short Bio
Juliette is a senior at Cornell University studying Industrial & Labor Relations. In her spare time, she enjoys cooking, running, drinking coffee, and exploring different hiking trails in Ithaca.

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