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good ap lang rhetorical analysis essay

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. 

good ap lang rhetorical analysis essay

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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.

good ap lang rhetorical analysis essay

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!

good ap lang rhetorical analysis essay

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“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”


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Write Your Best AP Lang Rhetorical Analysis Essay with These Expert Tips

good ap lang rhetorical analysis essay

It should come as no surprise that the AP English Language and Composition Exam requires students to do a lot of writing. In addition to the multiple choice section at the beginning of the test, the AP Lang exam includes 3 free-response prompts: a Synthesis Question, a Rhetorical Analysis, and an Argument. The second essay task, the Rhetorical Analysis, provides students with a non-fiction text and asks them to write an organized essay that analyzes how the writer’s language choices contribute to the text’s intended meaning and purpose.

If you’re reading this as a current AP Lang student, your teacher should have already taught you many of the ins and outs of a good rhetorical analysis and had you do at least a few practice rounds. The intent of this blog post is not to break down the entire process of writing a successful AP essay, but to give you a few final tips to keep in mind as you prepare for the exam. Check out these expert tips for writing your best AP Lang Rhetorical Analysis essay.

1. Take notes as you read the text the first time.

It’s very important to read the non-fiction text included in the prompt carefully, as it’s the basis for your essay. However, you know that the AP exam also doesn’t give you all day to do this. Make your reading process more efficient by taking notes right off the bat - not on the second reading, but the first time you lay eyes on it.

As for what kind of notes to take, I recommend making just one little note per paragraph that establishes that part’s particular purpose. This will help you stay focused and engaged with the text. In addition to this, make sure to be circling/underlining and labeling all the rhetorical devices you can find. Then you can go back and decide which ones you’d like to write about.

2. Outline before writing!!!!!

If you don’t think you have time to outline before you start writing, consider any time that you’ve tried to do a timed write without planning and then lost your focus, realized you forgot some information, or realized in the middle that you should have organized everything differently. Sound familiar? Outlining prevents all of these little crises.

I recommend just sketching out your thesis and topic sentences and writing down a couple of bullet points for the examples and commentary in the body paragraphs. As for the intro and conclusion? These you can make up as you go along, as (except for the thesis in the intro) these parts are much less important than a strong body. Which brings me to my next point...

3. Don’t agonize over a clever/impactful intro or conclusion.

I know you’ve learned that these parts of an essay are your opportunities to either be

very clever/eloquent or make some sort of emotional impact on your reader, but a

timed essay like this one is neither the time nor the place for such things. Treat the intro

as simply a vehicle for your thesis. Two or three sentences total is enough. As for the

conclusion, AP readers like to see one merely for the sake of overall structure, but if

you’re running out of time, just restate your thesis in one sentence and call it a day.

4. Include the function of the rhetorical devices you’re writing about in your thesis.

This may sound like a no-brainer, but this is among AP readers’ pet peeves when it comes to the Rhetorical Analysis. A student can write an otherwise great essay, but if the thesis just says, “The author uses X and Y,” they’re likely to lose out on the thesis point. The point of this kind of essay is not just to explain what kinds of rhetorical strategies are present, but to detail how these devices come together for the author’s specific purpose(s). Make sure to reflect that in your thesis.

5. Explain the effect that each example has on the audience.

As a related point, in your explanations of each example, make sure to write about the

specific effect the example has on the audience. Don’t just say something like “the author uses humor when they write ‘X’” and just move on to the next thing. Perhaps the author uses humor in that instance to lighten the mood and/or attempt to earn the trust of a skeptical audience. Even if the function seems obvious to you, the reader can’t know you understand the concept if you don’t show them you do.

6. Avoid relying on boring, overused signal verbs.

“Signal verbs” refer to the verbs we use when explaining what an author is doing. Too

often, students rely on the same old boring signal verbs (i.e. the author “explains, says, writes, tells us,” etc.). As easy as these words are to fall back on, they’re both boring and nonspecific. Practice using more interesting, specific verbs like “argues, emphasizes, clarifies, acknowledges,” etc. These words will elevate your style and allow you to write with more precision. For even more great signal verbs, check out this helpful page from the University of Illinois’ Center for Academic Success.

7. Study student samples.

This last tip differs from the others in that it’s not something you can do in the moment of

writing; it’s something you have to carve out separate time to do. This may sound like just another pre-exam chore, but studying student samples from past tests is helpful in so many ways. The main reason why I recommend it is so you can see how different samples are organized. As you’re probably aware, the Rhetorical Analysis is more flexible in that multiple methods of organizing information can be effective. To keep yourself from getting stuck in the same old organizational rut (or just to see how high scorers do it), take a look at past samples to analyze other students’ strengths and weaknesses. The College Board’s online collection of sample responses to AP Lang prompts can be found here .

I’d like to conclude this post with the reminder that no amount of tips will suddenly allow you to just start writing a perfect Rhetorical Analysis overnight. Getting better at writing any kind of free-response question is a process that requires lots of practice and revision. With that being said, I hope these tips help you along the way as you develop more organized, efficient ways to answer these challenging essay questions.

If you’re anxious about preparing for the AP exams this year, I encourage you to check out ThinquePrep’s edition of our annual AP review classes , taking place this April.

If you’d like a little more in-depth academic support, take a look at our academic coaching services , too.

Nina Calabretta is a college English instructor, tutor, and writer native to Orange County, CA. When she’s not writing or helping students improve their skills as readers, writers, and critical thinkers, she can be found hiking the local trails with friends and family or curled up with a good book and her cat, Betsy. She has been part of the ThinquePrep team since 2018.

With offices located in beautiful Orange County, ThinquePrep specializes in the personalized mentorship of students and their families through the entire college preparation process and beyond. With many recent changes to college admissions - standardized tests, financial aid, varied admissions processes - the educational landscape has never been more competitive or confusing. We’re here from the first summer program to the last college acceptance letter. It’s never too early to start thinking about your student’s future, so schedule your complimentary consultation today!


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