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ap lang rhetorical essay prompts

How to Write the AP Lang Rhetorical Essay

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What’s Covered:

What is the ap lang rhetorical essay, tips for writing the ap lang rhetorical essay.

How Will AP Scores Affect College Chances?

The AP English Language Exam is one of the most common AP exams you can take. However, the average score on the exam in 2020 was a 2.96 out of 5. While this may seem a bit low, it is important to note that over 550,000 students take the exam annually. With some preparation and knowing how to study, it is totally possible to do well on this AP exam.

The AP Lang Rhetorical Essay is one section of the AP English Language Exam. The exam itself is 3 hours and 15 minutes long, and is broken into two sections. The first part of the exam is a 60 minute, 45-question multiple-choice section. The questions on this part of the exam will test your ability to read a passage and then interpret its meaning, style, and overall themes. After the multiple-choice section, there is a section lasting 2 hours and 15 minutes with three “free response” essays. This includes the synthesis essay, the rhetorical analysis essay, and the argument essay. 

The rhetorical essay is perhaps the most unique of all AP Lang exam essays because it requires the test taker to analyze and interpret the deeper meanings of the passage and connect them to the author’s writing style and writing syntax in only 40 minutes. This essay can be the trickiest because it requires you to have knowledge of rhetorical strategies and then apply them to a passage you’ve never seen before.

1. Outline Your Essay Before Writing

One of the most important parts of the AP Lang essays is structuring your essay so that it makes sense to the reader. This is just as important as having good content. For this essay in particular, you’ll want to read the passage first and write a brief outline of your points before you begin the essay. This is because you will want to write the essay using the passage chronologically, which will be discussed in detail below.

2. Understand Rhetorical Strategies 

If you feel like you don’t know where to start as you prepare to study for the rhetorical essay portion of the exam, you aren’t alone. It is imperative that you have a grasp on what rhetorical strategies are and how you can use them in your essay. One definition of rhetoric is “language carefully chosen and arranged for maximum effect.” This can include types of figurative language (metaphor, simile, personification, pun, irony, etc.) elements of syntax (parallelism, juxtaposition, anthesis, anaphora, etc), logical fallacies, or persuasive appeals. Overall, there are many elements that you can analyze in an essay and having a good grasp on them through practice and memorization is important.

3. Keep the Essay Well Structured 

Even if you understand the various rhetorical strategies you can use, where do you begin? First of all, you’ll want to write a strong introduction that outlines the purpose of the piece. At the end of this introduction, you will write a thesis statement that encapsulates all the rhetorical strategies you discuss. Perhaps these are style elements, tone, or syntax. Be sure to be specific as you list these.

Next, you will create your body paragraphs. As you discuss the rhetorical elements in the piece and tie them back to the work’s meanings, be sure to discuss the points in chronological order. You don’t have to discuss every single strategy, but just pick the ones that are most important. Be sure to cite the line where you found the example. At the end of the essay, write a short conclusion that summarizes the major points above.

4. Be Sure to Explain Your Examples

As you write the essay, don’t just list out your examples and say something like “this is an example of ethos, logos, pathos.” Instead, analyze how the example shows that rhetoric device and how it helps the author further their argument. As you write the rhetorical essay, you’ll want to be as specific and detail-focused as possible. 

ap lang rhetorical essay prompts

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AP Lang Rhetorical Analysis Essay Example

Below is a prompt and example for a rhetorical essay, along with its score and what the writer did well and could have improved:

The passage below is an excerpt from “On the Want of Money,” an essay written by nineteenth-century author William Hazlitt. Read the passage carefully. Then write an essay in which you analyze the rhetorical strategies Hazlitt uses to develop his position about money.

ap lang rhetorical essay prompts

Student essay example:

In his essay, Hazlitt develops his position on money through careful use of adjectives and verbs, hypothetical situations, and images. His examples serve to impress upon the reader the highly negative consequences of being in “want of money.”

Hazlitt’s word choice in his opening phrase provides an example of his technique in the rest of the essay. It is not necessary to follow “literally” with “truly” yet his repetition of the same ideas emphasizes his point. In his next sentence, one that lasts forty-six lines, Hazlitt condignly repeats similar ideas, beating into his audience the necessity of having money in this world. The parallelism throughout that one long sentence, “it is not to be sent for to court, or asked out to dinner…it is not to have your own opinion consulted or sees rejected with contempt..” ties the many different situations Haziltt gives together. What could have become a tedious spiel instead becomes a melodious recitation, each example reminding you of one before it, either because of the similarities in structure or content. Hazlitt addresses many different negative effects of not having money but manages to tie them together with his rhetorical strategies. 

The diction of the passage fully relays Hazlitt’s position about money. In every example he gives a negative situation but in most emphasizes the terrible circumstance with strong negative adjectives or verbs. “Rejected,” “contempt,” “disparaged,” “scrutinized,” “irksome,” “deprived,” “assailed” “chagrin;” the endless repetition of such discouragement shows how empathetically Hazlitt believes money is a requisite for a happy life. Even the irony of the last sentences is negative, conveying the utter hopelessness of one without money. Through one may have none in life, pitiless men will proceed to mock one’s circumstances, “at a considerable expense” after death! 

In having as the body of his essay one long sentence, Hazlitt creates a flow that speeds the passage along, hardly giving the reader time to absorb one idea before another is thrown at him. The unceasing flow is synonymous with Hazlitt’s view of the life of a person without money: he will be “jostled” through life, unable to stop and appreciate the beauty around him or to take time for his own leisure. 

The score on this essay was a 6 out of 6. This essay started out very strong as the student had a concrete thesis statement explaining the strategies that Hazlitt used to develop his position on money as well as Hazlitt’s belief on the topic. In the thesis statement, the student points out that adjectives, verbs, hypothetical situations, and images help prove Hazlitt’s point that wanting money can be problematic. 

Next, the student broke down their points into three main subsections related to their thesis. More specifically, the student first discusses word choice of repetition and parallelism. When the student discusses these strategies, they list evidence in the paragraph that can be found chronologically in Hazlitt’s essay. The next paragraph is about diction, and the student used specific adjectives and verbs that support this idea. In the last paragraph, the student emphasized how the speed and flow of the essay helped describe Hazlitt’s viewpoint on life. This last concluding sentence is particularly thoughtful, as it goes beyond the explicit points made in the essay and discusses the style and tone of the writing. 

It is important to remember that in some ways, the rhetorical essay is also an argumentative essay, as the student must prove how certain rhetorical strategies are used and their significance in the essay. The student even discussed the irony of the paragraph, which is not explicit in the passage.

Overall, this student did an excellent job organizing and structuring the essay and did a nice job using evidence to prove their points. 

Now that you’ve learned about the AP Lang rhetorical essay, you may be wondering how your AP scores impact your chances of admission. In fact, your AP scores have relatively little impact on your admissions decision , and your course rigor has much more weight in the application process.

If you’d like to know your chances of admission, be sure to check out our chancing calculator! This tool takes into account your classes, extracurriculars, demographic information, and test scores to understand your chances at admission at over 600 schools. Best of all, it is completely free!

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Exam Review - Rhetorical Analysis Essay

AP Lang Rhetorical Analysis Essay Practice

35 min read • february 2, 2021

Brandon Wu

AP English Language   ✍🏽

The rhetorical analysis practice prompt.


Writing Samples & Feedback

Short essay practice submission 1.

TA Feedback

Thesis - 1 point. I think you definitely include a defensible thesis and answer the prompt adequately by talking about Queen Elizabeth’s purpose. Great job with context in the intro paragraph!
Evidence & Commentary - 3 points. Great embedding of evidence throughout this first body paragraph. I really like your analysis about Elizabeth’s loyal devotion; it shows that you aren’t summarizing! What’s keeping you from the fourth point here in my opinion is that to get four points in E&C, College Board says that you should “Explain how multiple rhetorical choices in the passage contribute to the writer’s argument, purpose, or message” and while it does provide a caveat that “the response may observe multiple instances of the same rhetorical choice if each instance further contributes to the argument, purpose, or message of the passage.” However, I think your representation of diction and tone in the last paragraph does not quite meet that threshold of “further contributing” to the argument, purpose, or message, given the similar commentary. For instance, you say that Elizabeth has the strength of a general to “overcome the weakness of her feminine side” and sort of repeat that later on when you say she creates a “sense of courage and valor that is not common in a woman”. I feel like both of your body paragraphs sort of link to the same argument you make that she is strong, confident, and will fight for Britain. While this is typically something that is good (linking back to a central thesis), unfortunately, your two body paragraphs reference the  same literary device  (diction) and thus you earn only three points. My advice is to look for other literary devices, such as perhaps an appeal to emotion (live and die amongst you all) or an appeal to authority (under God/references to religious authority). Having multiple devices compared to multiple instances of the same device with accompanying analysis that links the appeals to emotion/religious authority to your thesis (loyalty/confidence) would have likely earned you the fourth point.
Sophistication - 0 points. I think there isn’t enough consistency here to grant you sophistication. While you do mention the hesitance of rulers and people who doubted in the ability of her femininity as context, your references the two other times (although a “feeble woman” & "creates a sense of courage and valor that is not common in a woman) don’t really demonstrate how you are  explaining the significance or relevance of the writer’s rhetorical choices given the rhetorical situation . They also seem kind of contradictory to me (is she feeble or is she courageous?) Think of the Madeline Albright student sample where it brings up the thematic idea of how women could do things in the broader context (seek out problems and fix them); I feel like your references to context seem to just be in the realm of Elizabeth’s leadership when they should have been more of a reference to women’s role in society as a whole.
Overall Score : 4/6 - Great job!

Short Essay Practice Submission 2

Thesis - 1 point - I couldn’t find your thesis in the intro, so I ended up going to the conclusion. I honestly think it is much better to have your thesis as the  last sentence of your intro paragraph . Your introduction paragraph feels much more like a summary of what happened in the speech as opposed to a  rhetorical analysis  of how she used devices to help achieve her purpose. This does get answered though in the conclusion, but I would advise you to have an explicit thesis in the introduction.
Evidence & Commentary - 2 points - Your evidence is pretty general, but at times it is specific which connects to your thesis of how Queen Elizabeth was helping support the land forces and demonstrating her grit and determination. To increase your evidence & commentary score, I would highly recommend you quote (use embedded quotes) rather than paraphrase to help create a line of reasoning (which is how your argument flows / the structure of your thesis & body paragraphs). Moreover, I think you need to be answering why the author used the specific rhetorical device & how it specifically contributes to the author’s purpose. Using words to guide the AP reader like “this supports the author’s purpose…” will help you here.
Sophistication - 0 Points - While I think you do a great job bringing in outside context and talking about pandemics/re-elections, I think you need to be very careful here with how you incorporate sophistication. Remember, SOC = significance (or relevance) of the writer’s rhetorical choices in the  context of the rhetorical situation , and it seems that you are moreso talking about  other rhetorical situations  (Vietnam War, COVID, etc.). Also, I’m not very clear as to which rhetorical devices/techniques you’re talking about (details? diction? imagery? what kind of diction?) so I don’t think I can give you sophistication here.
Overall Score - 3 Points. I think this is an instance where it is definitely more important to work on evidence & commentary and find specific evidence of  rhetorical techniques and devices  to support your overarching thesis statement; then you can work on sophistication and talking about the significance/relevance of such rhetorical devices.

Short Essay Practice Submission 3

Thesis - 1 Point - I love your explicit mention of Queen Elizabeth’s purpose and the rhetorical devices you emphasize. Make sure though that you specify what the diction is - every author has an application of diction, but include an adjective before to describe  what the diction is (emotional? nostalgic? uplifting? etc) . Evidence & Commentary - 4 Points - I think you do a very good job at analyzing the strong diction and anaphora (repetition of beginning words) and linking this to your thesis. Thus, I would give you four points for your  consistent commentary  in addition to your specific evidence.
Sophistication - 0 Points - There isn’t necessarily discussion here of the significance/relevance of the rhetorical choices Queen Elizabeth made nor is there a discussion of complexities/tensions. I don’t think I am a fair judge of ‘excellent prose style’, so thus I can’t really reward points on that metric.
Great job overall with a 5/6 on this rhetorical analysis essay!

Short Essay Practice Submission 4

Great job with the thesis point here - very explicit at the end of the introduction paragraph that tells me what the author’s purpose is and Queen Elizabeth’s rhetorical choices. In your evidence & commentary paragraphs, you did a great job of mentioning Queen Elizabeth’s gender and how she built credibility. I really enjoy your line of reasoning here in the second body paragraph while you mention her lifting morale and how she was able to motivate people. For sophistication, I think you do mention context “kings in the past have been strong and capable of creating the large British empire” and your analysis of how soldiers and non-soldiers alike were impacted (tied to your rhetorical devices) gives you credence to earn the sophistication point under the “significance or relevance of rhetorical choices” category. Great job on the 6/6 essay!

Short Essay Practice Submission 5

Good job here with the the thesis - I would include something along the lines of “Elizabeth uses rhetorical devices and techniques to emphasize…” in order to help your essay flow later. Still, you aren’t restating the prompt and answering with something that can be proven by evidence, so you earn the thesis point. For evidence & commentary, I think you have great analysis about women during that time period and how she is “increasing the esteem of her army”. Moreover, I appreciate your analysis of King Henry and King Edward adding some useful context. Ultimately though, I feel as if you are really only talking about diction in these two paragraphs and College Board says that you need to mention  more than one rhetorical device  (with the caveat that I mentioned in Perla’s post). Thus, I think you earn 3 points here in evidence & commentary.
In terms of sophistication, I’m a bit borderline on this, but I’ll award it to you because I think you do mention multiple times (and incorporate it into your argument) that women during that time period didn’t really have leading positions and she demonstrated her committed leadership both in your second and third paragraph. So in total, you earned five out of six points!
Good thesis! I would maybe briefly mention rhetorical devices “Elizabeth successfully inspires her people using rhetorical devices…” to tie in to the prompt more specifically and “respond to it” persay. If your teacher told you to write it as you have written it here, then just keep writing as you have been  I think your reference of a tone shift and imagery coupled with strong analysis of Queen Elizabeth’s loyalty and inspiration of army contributes to a strong line of reasoning and therefore I think you earn four points on evidence & commentary. Make sure Queen Elizabeth's has an apostrophe 
Good job with the conclusion that brings in relevance of her rhetorical choices, something that I think you also tie in throughout the essay (“proves that she is a[n] exemplary leader again”). Fantastic 6 / 6 essay!

Short Essay Practice Submission 6

Great job mentioning author’s purpose and rhetorical devices in the thesis. You earn the thesis point. Good job with noting anaphora and tying in relevance to religion! I think you do a great job of juxtaposition to show Queen Elizabeth’s complexities. Great job with historical context at the end. You have a great line of reasoning and an argument that flows very nicely with specific evidence and great commentary to supplement. Four points here in evidence & commentary.
You do a great job at tackling sophistication! You mention the significance/relevance of certain rhetorical choices such as the reference towards God and the complexities of that seemingly contradictory quote. Great 6/6 essay!

Short Essay Practice Submission 7

Good job mentioning the purpose and mentioning tone as a literary device - I think you aren’t restating the prompt here so as a result you get the thesis point 
In terms of evidence & commentary, I think your reference to diction and tone here is great analysis - it’s very specific and also ties in to your commentary about decreasing anxiety. Moreover, your contextual application of the 16th century and women here is useful and definitely brings in a more in-depth area of analysis. I think your argument about trust is valid. Four points for evidence & commentary.
You did great with SOC!! I think you would earn sophistication in this instance, although it wouldn’t hurt to also maybe tie in her role as a woman in the first body paragraph although that’s not required. Great 6/6 essay.

Short Essay Practice Submission 8

Love the thesis with references to rhetorical devices and a purpose. You earn the thesis point. I love the specific evidence that is incorporated in your evidence & commentary. You bring in a great argument about how Queen Elizabeth instills a sense of purpose in herself and rises to the occasion. You earn all four points in evidence & commentary in my opinion. In terms of sophistication, this is a bit harder line to draw. I don’t necessarily think that you talk about the  relevance or significance  of rhetorical choices. You reference to complexities is not really pursued (comparing the body of a week/feeble woman + heart/stomach of king). Thus, you end with a 5/6! Great job.

Short Essay Practice Submission 9

Great thesis statement and introduction paragraph that brought in context. I think your evidence and commentary is strong, as you talk about how Queen Elizabeth has made herself “more relatable” and how it convined the Tilbury land forces to unite. Your commentary and line of reasoning is strong throughout the two body paragraphs, and thus I give you four points on evidence & commentary. Moreover, your analysis of the masculine vs feminine conflict is very in-depth and earns you the sophistication point here in my opinion. Great 6/6 essay!

Short Essay Practice Submission 10

Good job with the thesis point - very straightforward with mention of rhetorical devices and author’s purpose; this is how I wrote my thesis  In terms of evidence & commentary, your reference/argument about God is very intriguing and the god-given right argument is great context that demonstrates significance. Moreover, I think your argument about seeming relatable is very strong with the mention of I. Thus, you earn all four evidence & commentary points. In terms of sophistication, I think you do earn it because you expound about the relevance of God and mention the significance of the time period. Great 6/6 essay!


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AP® English Language

3 ap® english language rhetorical essay strategies.

3_ap_english_language rhetorical essay strategies

The AP® English Language rhetorical essay can be nightmare inducing for some AP® students, but there is no need for fear. In this exam review we will lay out helpful strategies to get you through the rhetorical essays in no time.

Rhetorical Strategy #1: Dissecting the Prompt

The first rhetorical essay strategy is to dissect the prompt. Understanding what the rhetorical essay wants from you is essential. It is important for you to read the prompt carefully for every essay, but critical reading is even more essential to the rhetorical essay. Your rhetorical prompt that you will be given for the AP® English Language exam will contain two elements. The first element is the concrete task that the prompt is asking of you, which is always to analyze the passage that follows. The second part of the prompt is a more abstract task that is not directly asked for in the prompt, but it is implied. By completely understanding both parts of the prompt, you will be able to give a complete essay that will get you to a higher score.

One example of a prompt from an AP® English Language rhetorical essay is this one from the 2008 exam . The prompt reads:

“In the following passage from The Great Influenza, an account of the 1918 flu epidemic, author John M. Barry writes about scientists and their research. Read the passage carefully. Then, in a well-written essay, analyze how Barry uses rhetorical strategies.”

Here you can see the concrete task that the examiners are asking. They want you to analyze the passage for rhetorical strategies; however, you must figure out what you are analyzing the passage for. That is the more abstract concept that you need to dissect the prompt to find. In the case of Barry’s passage you will need to analyze how he uses rhetorical strategies in order to portray scientific research. We know this, because if you look at the prompt, it specifically states what Barry did in his work, which was to write about science and research. That is your abstract task.

Once you have found your concrete task and your abstract task, a great strategy is to write it down to keep you focused throughout your essay . Using the example above this would look like the following:

Analyze how Barry uses rhetorical strategies in order to portray scientific research.

That sentence is what you must follow when writing your essay, and if you successfully keep to this task, then you will move closer to that high score.

Rhetorical Essay Strategy #2: Stick to the Format

This next rhetorical essay strategy is the key to great organization and structure that will put your test anxiety to bed. There is a simple paragraph structure for the body paragraphs of the AP® English Language rhetorical essay that will allow you to think, write, and score higher, faster. You need to begin each body paragraph with an assertion or claim. That is the point that you are trying to make clear to your audience what you will be proving. A great example of this is from the 2006 AP® English Language rhetorical essay. Below is student 2B’s opening sentence for her first body paragraph.

“The diction of the passage fully relays Hazlitt’s position about money ( student 2B ).”

You can see how the student directly asserts what he or she will be proving in this statement. The next step in constructing your body paragraph is to give one to two pieces of textual evidence. Be sure to state why these quotations relate back to your claim, otherwise they will be deemed irrelevant by the examiners. An example of this is the next sentence in student 2B’s body paragraph about diction. Here, the student brings in elements from the text to support his or her claim about Hazlitt using diction.

“’Rejected’, ‘contempt’, ‘disparaged’, ‘scrutinized’, ‘irksome’, ‘deprived’, ‘assailed’, ‘chagrin’; the endless repetition of such discouragement shows just how emphatically Hazlitt money is requisite for happy life (student 2B).”

The final part of this strategy for conquering the body paragraphs of your rhetorical essays is to end those body paragraphs with a thorough analysis. This is the aspect of the exam where you can put your way of looking at the text into your essay.

An example of this is at the end of student 2B’s body paragraph where he or she states, “The irony of the last sentences is negative, conveying the utter hopelessness of one without money. Though one may have none in life, pitiless men will continue to mock one’s circumstances even after death! (student 2B)”

This analysis of the text adds to the textual examples above and continues to bring in new logic from the student.

When this format of a body paragraph is followed, then it is extremely effective. The essay becomes clear, assertive, and easy to follow for the examiners. Follow this rhetorical essay strategy and you are even closer to getting that 5 on the exam.

Rhetorical Essay Strategy #3: LORA

As you are looking at your AP® English Language rhetorical essay prompt and passage it is important to remember the mnemonic device, LORA. LORA stands for Language, Organization, and Rhetorical Appeals. These elements will help you form your argument.

When you read through your passage you want to think about how the author is utilizing language. Is he or she using figurative language effectively? Is there imagery within the passage? Does the diction of the passage make it more rhetorically persuasive? You should not use all of these, but picking one and analyzing it clearly in one paragraph will keep you focused on how the author uses rhetoric, which is the main task of this essay.

An example of this was in the 2006 AP® English Language rhetorical essay. Student 2A begins his or her first body paragraph with, “One of Hazlitt’s most effective methods of promoting the importance of money is his strong diction (student 2A).” This student begins his or her essay with focusing on diction as how the language is used. He or she then goes on to explain why diction betters Hazlitt’s argument, which is exactly what you must do for your own rhetorical essay.

The organization of the author is the next part of your answer to the prompt. You want to look at how the author organized his or her ideas within the passage to support his or her own argument. By pointing out the organization, or structure, of the work and how it adds to the overall persuasiveness, you will bring two of the three most important elements of rhetoric together in your essay.

After organization you need to look at the rhetoric appeals. You may know them by the names logos, pathos, and ethos. It is suggested that you cover as many of these as possible; however, if time does not permit or if the passage uses one more than the other, then you should focus on one appeal.

One example of using pathos in an essay is from student 2A from the 2006 prompt. “Hazlitt plays on the audience’s heartstrings for more than enough time to convince them of the importance of having money (student 2A).” While it would have been better for the student to directly say that this is pathos, he or she does thoroughly explain the appeal to the passions, or pathos.

Key Takeaways

When taking the AP® English Language rhetoric essay you just need to remember these three rhetorical essay strategies: dissect the prompt, follow the format, and always include LORA. If you can follow them, then you are already on your way to a 5 on the AP® English Language exam .

Let’s put everything into practice. Try this AP® English Language practice question:

Rhetorical Considerations AP® English Language Practice Question

Looking for more AP® English Language practice?

Check out our other articles on AP® English Language .

You can also find thousands of practice questions on Albert.io. Albert.io lets you customize your learning experience to target practice where you need the most help. We’ll give you challenging practice questions to help you achieve mastery of AP® English Language.

Start practicing here .

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    When taking the AP® English Language rhetoric essay you just need to remember these three rhetorical essay strategies: dissect the prompt, follow the format, and always include LORA. If you can follow them, then you are already on your way to a 5 on the AP® English Language exam. Let’s put everything into practice.