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Exam Review - Argument Essay

Argument Essay: Evidence

8 min read • october 30, 2020

Stephanie Kirk

Stephanie Kirk

AP English Language   ✍🏽

Guided Question 1: What does the prompt say?


Image Courtesy of Dana Anderson, Writing Unleashed

Guided Question 2: What do I think?

Guided Question 3: What evidence can I use?

Guided Question 4: How should I effectively organize my response?


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AP® English Language

How to master ap® english language arguing.

how_to_master_AP® English language arguing

Acing the AP® English Language and Composition exam is no easy feat, but it can definitely be accomplished. Lang represents most high school students’ first foray into the world of AP® English exams, as it is traditionally taught before AP® English Literature and Composition. Between the two AP® English exams, it is definitely the easier test, as it is more skills-based than the Lit test and therefore more straightforward to master.

Don’t be fooled by the fact that this is an English class, or by the fact that your teacher may (and likely will) decide to pile novel after novel onto your syllabus. The trick to doing well on this exam does not hinge upon your ability to manipulate literary devices such as similies and metaphors. Memorizing the plots of novels and scouring cram books will be of limited use. In the end, doing well on AP® Lang will actually mean becoming a master of argumentation, plain and simple. Instead, reading, understanding, and practicing the usage of argumentative tactics will get you a 5.

There are of course two parts to this exam – essays and multiple-choice. 45% of the exam is actually purely multiple-choice based. This is the part you will need the cram book for the most. Practice test after practice test is the key, as the exam tests a large range of technical terminology related to argumentation. For both the multiple choice and the essay questions, it will be important to understand such terms and have them memorized. If your teacher hasn’t made up a list of such terms for you to study, there are plenty on the Internet and they also feature in cram books.

While cram books are important for taking practice multiple-choice exams (as on other exams, there are only so many variations you can ask on similar questions year to year, so taking as many exams as possible and reviewing the answers is highly recommended), they are of limited importance for this exam’s three essay questions. I hardly looked at my cram book except insofar as I wanted to review some key terms and go over exam questions. Don’t panic, though, there is definitely a plan for doing well on the essays, even if it is not as straightforward as plunking down with a cram book for a month. I would recommend reading great arguments, identifying their theses, the rhetorical strengths and strategies used within them (such as paradoxes, ethos, pathos) as well as weaknesses (such as straw man arguments and ad hominem fallacies). My experience dissecting famous works of argumentation such as Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal and Mary Wollstencraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Women was invaluable on exam day.

Once you’ve prepared sufficiently for the exam by reading the writings of great masters of argumentation, the task of actually writing an essay is at hand. While there is a time and a place for deeply creative writing, acing this section of the AP® exam really comes down to how well you’ve mastered a formula, which I will outline below:

Introduction paragraph

This paragraph is key because it is your first impression on your essay reader. It is crucial to open strong.

o   Include some background/historical information to open the first paragraph, along with or instead of an interesting “hook” to get your reader’s attention

o   This is perhaps the most crucial part of this essay. While the thesis is always important, it is especially crucial to make a definitive statement that you are capable of defending with the evidence.

o   Key tips to remember :

o   This is where you ease the reader into the structure of your paper. While you want to make sure you discuss argumentative devices such as ad-hominem attacks and paradoxes, you want to be careful not to turn your essay into a list of terms. This makes for a choppy, amateurish paper that will not merit full points.

o   Key tip : pick a flowing, appealing structure for your paper. You can build your argument (and discuss rhetorical terms) by chronologically dissecting an issue or narrative.

o   Key tip : the very best essays make concessions to the other side of the argument. You can get the concession over with at the beginning or the end of the paper, just make sure that when you make a reasonable concession it does not overshadow your main argument.

First body paragraph + argument

AP® English Language paragraph

Each body paragraph should be at least five-eight sentences long and should include 1-2 pieces of evidence to support your argument.

o   Make sure you effectively transition from the thesis to the first piece of evidence. It can be a simple transitional sentence, but it is always important to remember to transition.

o   Remember, you are trying to create an eloquent, easy to understand experience. Briefly situate the reader in the context of the argument you are discussing.

o   This can be a paraphrased excerpt or a direct quote.

o   This is crucial: do not merely state evidence/terms, rather, analyze them and offer something new .

o   This depends on how many pieces of evidence fit in with this type of argumentative issue/device. It’s important to resist the urge to “megagraph” aka, the creation of huge, meandering paragraphs chockfull of evidence. If you do this, your meaning will get lost. Instead, stick with six succinct paragraphs with selectively chosen, strong evidence that supports your thesis and shows what you know.

While this may seem like a lot to tackle, if you break your studying up into at least a month’s worth of time you will be golden. The key, just like any other AP® exam, is practice. Practice this formula, memorize those terms, take as many practice exams as you can, and you will be good to go!

By the way, you should check out Albert.io for your AP® English Language review. We have hundreds of AP® English Language practice questions written just for you!

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Thanks for this helpful information.

You’re welcome, Cassandra! Good luck!

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How to Write the AP Lang Argument Essay + Example

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What is the ap language argument essay, tips for writing the ap language argument essay.

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.

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. 

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 .

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. 

ap lang argumentative essay evidence

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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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AP ® Lang teachers: looking to help your students improve their rhetorical analysis essays?

Coach Hall Writes

clear, concise rhetorical analysis instruction.

Argument Essay Outline

November 5, 2022 by Beth Hall

AP ® Lang argument essays are arguably the most difficult FRQ on the exam because students do not have sources or a passage to work with. However, when planning an argumentative essay, whether it is a timed essay or one you have multiple days to complete, it is important to create an argument essay outline.

Why Do I Need an Argument Essay Outline?

Think of the argument essay outline as your blueprint or your map. When writing a timed essay, your outline helps you know what to include so that you can devote more time to writing your body paragraphs. An outline also allows you to brainstorm a thesis and evidence so that when it comes time to actually write the essay, you will be able to use your time efficiently and also ensure that you are meeting the requirements of the AP ® Lang rubric.

What is an Argumentative Essay Outline?

An argument essay outline typically includes your thesis, which is the overall claim of your essay. For more information about how to write an argument essay thesis, check out this video.

When writing an outline, you can use bullet points if you want to. Make sure that your thesis asserts a clear position that answers the prompt. Don’t try to argue both sides evenly, though. You can can qualify an argument or write a counterargument thesis, but you must assert a clear position.

Next, you have two choices: determine your main ideas or determine your evidence. Your approach may vary depending on the prompt.

If you have an idea of your main points, go ahead and write a bullet point of the claims you want to make for each body paragraph. For a timed AP ® Lang argument essay, you’ll likely have 2, possibly 3, body paragraphs. Think of your main ideas as “sub claims,” meaning that these claims should relate to your thesis. As you’re writing your main ideas, be sure to think about the best order for them.

ap lang argumentative essay evidence

If you choose your main ideas first, you’ll then need to brainstorm specific evidence to prove your claim. For more information about selecting specific evidence, check out this video.

Choose a Mnemonic

Some students prefer to outline their evidence first. To do this, try using an acronym such as CHORES. CHORES stands for current events, history, outside knowledge, reading, experiences, and science. Outside knowledge is a “catch-all” category for topics like sports, pop culture, music, etc.

There are other acronyms to help you plan specific evidence, such as REHUGO or CHELPS. Honestly, it does really matter which acronym you use as long as it helps you generate ideas for specific evidence.

A tip that has really helped my students is to label the evidence they’ve brainstormed with an S for specific, SS for somewhat specific, and G for general. For a timed essay, you can cross out any evidence that you only have a general understanding of, as we want to prioritize specific evidence in our essays.

Develop Your Line of Reasoning

Once you’ve narrowed down your list to your top examples, think about how you might pair your examples together. While you don’t need two examples per paragraph, oftentimes, having two examples helps you develop your ideas and create a stronger line of reasoning. Think about how the examples are related. For example, are they historical examples? Sports examples? Do they have similar or contrasting outcomes?

You’ll also need to consider which evidence should come first in the paragraph and which evidence should come second. Remember that you’ll want commentary after each example, and you’ll want to use a transition word to lead into your next example.

Speaking of order, think about the order of your main ideas. Which one should be your first body paragraph? Which one should be your second body paragraph?

It might sound simple, but creating a strong topic sentence to lead into your second paragraph can help your line of reasoning. For more information about a line of reasoning, check out this video here.

Here are a couple sentence frames to consider for body paragraph 2:

Argument Essay Outline Example

Here’s an example argumentative essay outline for a timed essay to help you know what you might include. Remember that depending on how much time you have, you may decide to include more detail. However, for a timed essay, it’s often best to keep your argument essay outline simple so that you have more time to write. In this case, the goal is a simple outline to make sure you have some direction as you begin writing.

Thesis:  Struggle is valuable because it leads to progress.

Main Idea 1:  Women’s Suffrage

Evidence:  Emmeline Pankhurst and Susan B. Anthony

Commentary: For them, the struggle was worth the hardship. Their struggles ultimately led to progress, as women in the US gained suffrage in 1920, demonstrating that struggle is valuable when fighting for equality.

Main Idea 2:  Sports

Evidence:  Billie Jean King and the US Women’s National Soccer Team

Commentary:  These examples demonstrate the value of standing up for one’s beliefs, even if it means enduring public criticism.

Do I Need a Counterclaim and Rebuttal?

If you intend to include a counterclaim and rebuttal or concession and refutation in your essay, then yes, add it to your argument essay outline.

For AP ® Lang, remember that while addressing the counterargument can help create a more nuanced argument, including one is not required, nor does it guarantee the sophistication point.

Given that the goal is to fully develop your claim, many students prefer to address the counterargument at the end of their argument essay. That way, if they run out of time, they still have proven their other sub-claims.

For more information about addressing the counterargument, check out this video.

Additional Resources

Teachers, if you’re looking for a way to help your students create an argument essay outline, check out this Outline Argument Essay resource. These Google Slides compatible digital flipbooks are a quick-and-easy way for students to plan their specific evidence and outline their argument.

AP® Lang Teachers

Looking to help your students improve their rhetorical analysis essays?

[…] While the argument essay thesis is an important part of your essay and an easy point to earn on the AP Lang exam, the thesis is just the beginning. For more tips about outlining an argument essay, check out this blog post. […]

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Experiment with personal chemistry. Explode bad logic.


Oh, yeah prove it.

The Logos of any piece of rhetoric revolves around  claims and  evidence . Claims are the “because” of your  purpose . And evidence is the “prove it” part. 

Suppose you make the following  enthymeme : “You should wear your seatbelt. It will make you safer.” You should wear your seatbelt is the purpose; you want your friends to buckle up. You back your purpose with the claim that it will make them safer. 

“Yeah?” one of your friends says, looking smug. “Prove it.”

That’s where the evidence comes in. You quote government statistics, scientific studies, and a story you read in the  Wall Street Journal  that described a horrible accident where all the seat-belted passengers survived. Congratulations! You’ve used the key sources of current facts: government, science, and journalism. 

Then you realize two problems with your evidence. First, those three fact sources are getting increasing pushback in our social media-saturated times; each source has a serious ethos problem. And, second, you’ve just bored your friends to tears.

You might want to use pop culture instead. Describe an accident in a movie or popular novel. Quote a song lyric. Tell a personal story. As long as they’re relevant, they count as evidence. Who says? Well here’s our evidence: Aristotle says. He wrote that anecdotes (he called them “parables”) and facts both count as evidence.

What kind of evidence you use depends on the  audience and the  occasion . If you’re writing an essay for class or in the AP Lang exam, the Big Three institutional sources—government, science, journalism—are a good bet. You almost certainly won’t get a teacher saying, “I don’t believe in science.” 

But Tania (who, remember, teaches AP Lang and scores the exam) says you should consider a whole range of evidence sources, including fiction. She lists a bunch of them by using the acronym REHUGO:

R = Reading .

You can use fiction and nonfiction text as supporting evidence to an argument. When using fiction, employ the author’s argument in the story as your evidence. Say you’re writing an essay arguing that it’s valuable to delve into the unknown. You make the claim that experience with the unknown makes you better able to deal with scary situations. For evidence, you use  Lord of the Flies , showing how the boys lose their heads when they confront the unknown. 

E = Entertainment .

Pop culture references make the most entertaining kinds of evidence while showing that you don’t live under a rock. But choose wisely and keep your audience in mind. Your teacher may not enjoy a  SpongeBob  reference.

H = History.  

History examples make you look intelligent. Just make sure you get the history right, and watch using overused historical examples like Martin Luther King and Gandhi. Showing your deeper knowledge of history from across the world can make for impressive evidence for arguments. (History podcasts make for great sources: Listen to  The Last Archive  and  Throughline .)

U = Universal truths .

Use them when your claim can be supported by a greater understanding of who we are as human beings. Just make sure your truth is really universal—in other words, be sure your audience believes it. A pacifist may not agree with the saying, “The best defense is an offense.” On the other hand, if you’re arguing for giving a share of your income to the poor, few people will object to the truth, “It’s better to give than to receive.” (Still, you might also include some  science showing  that charity makes people happier.)

G = Government.  

Law of the land! To all our constitutional scholars and hoping-to-be-lawyers- one-day students, this evidence is your thing. You could cite actual cases to make a point or reference the “law of the land” as evidence. Say your topic has to do with whether a principal at a school can deny clothing that may express social or political viewpoints. Here is your opportunity to cite the first amendment as evidence for the argument you make. But don’t neglect the government as a source of facts. Statistics on crime, health, food, ethnicity, religion—the list is almost endless—can be found in government websites. (Check out  usafacts.org  for a roundup of all kinds of government facts.)

O = Observation.  

You could also make this E FOR EXPERIENCE (which makes the acronym REHUGE!) Your observation or experience lets you relate a story you saw happening or recount the memory of something you experienced. Injecting your past into an argument can add good ethos [link tk] juju. Tania loved an essay one of her students wrote, arguing that Americans should be exposed to more than one language. The student told a sincere story of a Paris café where she got to speak French with new friends and even the café owner. Just be sure your audience appreciates your using the singular first-person pronoun. Some teachers object to your using “I” in an essay because it distracts from a scholarly tone. And take care not to use your experience to diminish your audience; think of any parent who drives kids crazy with tales of the olden days, or a member of any tribal group that denies your right to have an opinion. 

And don’t forget the exploratory sources of facts: SCIENCE and JOURNALISM!

A place to practice argument and persuasion - based on the bestselling Thank You for Arguing   by Jay Heinrichs. 


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