Ap Lang Argumentative Essay Rubric

What is the AP English Language Synthesis Essay?

The AP English Language synthesis essay reveals that in fifty-five minutes you can create a cohesive paper with a stance that incorporates at least three sources. You must be able to both understand the material given by reading critically as well as crafting a supported argument from the sources.

The AP English Language synthesis rubric is a nine point system which determines your score on the synthesis essay. A nine is the highest score and a zero is the lowest score. Four elements of the synthesis essay make up this numbered score. These elements are the writer’s ability to take a position, his or her effectiveness in synthesizing, the effectiveness of the writer’s argument, and his or her command of the language, or prose.

The Writer’s Ability to Take a Position

When writing the synthesis essay you are expected to take a position, or a stance, on a topic. This means that you must read the given sources and formulate your opinion based on the information. By doing this you will form a thesis statement and show that you can prove a point.

A great example of taking a stance is from one student sample in 2005. This, as well as the other essays that will be examined, are from a prompt that asked the students how the media has affected the presidency and democracy in the United States. The students must utilize at least three sources in their arguments. Please feel free to read the full essays here for better understanding. This student claims, “The media’s impact on American society has done little to increase voter population and by doing so, has created a new sort of identity for the president himself.” This student is giving his or her opinion based on the prompt and presenting it in a thesis statement. This statement outlines the rest of the essay as well, making this a vital part of the AP English Language synthesis essay rubric. A student that does not take a position will not score well on the synthesis essay. One example of a poorly taken stance is the student that says, “TV has multiple effects on the president.” Here the student is not being specific enough. How the president was affected needs to be addressed. This is not an arguable statement; therefore, there is no stance taken here. By doing this, the highest score that you will be able to earn is a 2.

The Synthesizing                                                                     

The AP English Language synthesis essay rubric also includes your ability to synthesize the information that you are given. The student must bring together at least three sources and his or her argument in order to receive a high score. These sources must not be merely summarized, but they must also be analyzed and utilized as a point of support within your argument.

One student example of great synthesizing is this essay sample where the student writes, “Lyndon B. Johnson, one of the first televised presidents, was a “’great believer in the public opinion polls’ (source E). Although, throughout history this has hardly been the case.” This student takes a quotation from one source, names the source, and relates it back to his or her argument. This is effective in showing the examiners that the student knows how to properly synthesize his or her arguments.

This student effectively brings together his or her ideas and the ideas expressed in the source by taking small quotes and paraphrasing. This shows sophistication in writing, which will earn you a higher score.

Without this sophistication of integrating sources effectively, you cannot expect to get any higher than a 3 on the synthesis essay. A student who does this synthesis poorly is one that says, “The evidence suggests that while television may have initially made people interested in politics, the effect is wearing off.” The student does not cite this source, showing a lack in proficiency. This student will not score well.

The Effectiveness of the Argument

The third component of the synthesis essay rubric covers the effectiveness of the student’s argument. There are multiple ways that you can have an effective argument; however, ones that the College Board focuses on are use of rhetorical devices. Some examples of rhetorical devices that are most recommended are ethos and logos. Through these elements that roughly translate into ethics and logic, the student can elevate his or her scores.

An example of ethos, or ethics, is the student properly citing the sources to build his or her credibility. One student that did this well wrote, “’In 1968 Lyndon B. Johnson spoke about the nation’s progress in Vietnam (source E)’. This means that…” The student utilized another source and properly cited where he or she got it. This builds on the effectiveness of the argument that is trying to be made.

An example of logos is a student that utilizes inductive or deductive reasoning in order to draw conclusions from the sources. This will strengthen the argument by increasing the support and linking sources logically together. This shows great synthesis as well as the ability to fortify an argument.

When a student does not support his or her argument well, this will cause the student to receive a score of a four. This is because sufficient support is needed for any claim to be made. Without a foundation to hold up the argument, your claim is useless.

Command of the Language

The last portion of the AP English Language synthesis rubric is the writer’s command over the language. This refers to the student’s ability to convey proficiency and persuasion with the language.

A great example of displaying proficiency is having grammar that is understandable to the reader. Utilizing proper grammar allows the student to appear more intelligent and dedicated to the exam. Grammar and mechanics are important, because if there are a multitude of glaring errors that distract from the argument, then the highest score possible is a two. It would be horrible to have an amazing argument and essay but receive a 2 because of grammar and mechanics.

An example of a student paper with errors that would lead to receiving a 2 is, “Demcrasy is important for presidants. Need demcrasy for better life.” These two sentences make some sense, but the fragment and the spelling mistakes are glaring and annoying to read. This will make exam graders label this essay with a 2.

Utilizing the language for persuasive purposes will enhance your argument as well, leading to a higher score. An example of a technique that can be used is parallelism. Parallel structure is utilizing the rhythmic structure of words to be more persuasive. An example of parallel structure is, “Democracy is there to protect, to persuade, and to find truth.” The writer has an advanced handle on the language, and when examiners see this they will reward the student with an extra point.

How to Cover Your Bases

In order to make sure that you have every element of the AP English Language synthesis essay covered, you want to be sure that you make an outline before writing. This will allow you to think ahead and be sure that you have all of the components needed.

Crafting your thesis is the next step. Your argument must be strong and supported with plenty of details from the sources.It is also important to note that considerable scrutiny is given to how you use the sources to make your argument more credible and logical. This thesis should state your argument as well as referring to the three points that you will make in the body. Here is a great place to use parallel structure.

The synthesis essay has a large emphasis on utilizing sources. Therefore, you will need to quickly and critically read and mark portions that support your argument. Find quotations from three different sources to use in each body paragraph in order to fulfill the rubric.

While there may not be an excess of time once you finish your essay, you are encouraged to go back and read over the essay for any glaring errors. Doing this will keep you from losing points because you were unclear. If you know that you will not have enough time to reread, then be sure to revise as you go. Allowing revision time is important, but the argument and supporting that argument is your first priority.

Reference for AP English Language Sample Essays
http://apcentral.collegeboard.com/apc/public/repository/studentsamples_51480.pdf
Reference for AP English Language Synthesis Essay Rubric
http://apcentral.collegeboard.com/apc/public/repository/samplescoringguidelin_51461.pdf

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The AP English Language exam contains three essays, two of which are the argument essays. The argument essays come with a prompt that contains a passage. The student must then analyze and immediately craft an appropriate argument that answers the prompt. This essay is different than the synthesis essay in that there is only one prompt that the student must analyze; however, the passage is much longer than the smaller sources found in the synthesis essay. In order to succeed on the AP English Language argument essay the student must support his or her argument proficiently. This can be done by referencing the passage, adding his or her experiences, utilizing logic, and maintaining readable grammar and mechanics.

It is important, however, to note that the examiners know that you only have two hours and fifteen minutes to write three essays. Because of this, the essays do not have to be pristine, but they need to be firm in their argument, and more importantly, well-developed.

Referencing the Passage

You are given a passage and a prompt at the start of the argument essay that you as the writer must adhere to. Do not attempt to go off-topic, because the highest score that an off-topic argument essay can earn on the rubric is a 1. This argument must be supported as you write, and one of the best ways to do this is to reference the passage that you are given. This passage is your concrete proof for your argument, so utilize it. It is one of your greatest tools. An argument essay that has support from its passage allows the student to show that they can utilize sophisticated methods of supporting their arguments.


An example of a student that argues well to support his or her claim is seen below. The student is arguing that college is worth the money.

The largest motivator behind going or not going to college seems to be money.  It is commonly accepted that a college education results in better financial situations later in life. It is certainly true that college grads earn, on average, 20,000 dollars more per year than those with only a high school diploma. (source F). It is also true that college grads are less likely to be unemployed. (source D)

This argument is done so well, because he or she references the text and analyzes it. By doing so, the student gains further depth to the argument and this student’s full essay (1A) would receive a score of an 8.

An example of an argument that does not reference the text is the following:

Primarily, a college education is worth the cost because you will never find yourself working in a fast food restaurant such as McDonald’s or Burger King. However, many people do not have a choice to work at fast food restaurants because they can’t afford college and their parents can’t afford it. 

This argument, while developed, is not as convincing as the student that references the text correctly and clearly. Because of this, this student’s full essay (1C) would receive a lower score of 4.

Knowledge or Personal Experiences

Unlike the synthesis essay, the argument essays allow the student to insert any relevant knowledge or personal experiences that he or she has. This serves the purpose of bringing even more depth to the argument, and allows the student to show what they know.

The key to adding knowledge, and especially personal experience, is to only use relevant details. The College Board does not need to know about how fun your trip to the beach was, but if a small part of the experience relates to the prompt, then use it. Relating your argument to a relevant event can show the examiners that you can apply a concept, which may bump your score up a point.

An example of knowledge used in an AP English Language argumentative essay is Student 1A that was referenced above. Student 1A does a great job implementing his or her knowledge by saying the following:

Coincidentally personal growth also plays a large role in the perceived quality of life. Taking this into consideration makes college more than a machine designed to increase an individual’s level of monetary success.

This student is using his or her knowledge here, showing how it is not only money that affects someone later in life, but the experiences that the person has in college. This is effective, showing why he or she received an 8.

Utilizing Logic and Details

Supporting details and logical arguments are a key point in the AP English Language argument essay rubric, because lending more support to your argument allows the examiners to buy into that argument. When the examiners see your point so nicely developed, then you will jump up to higher scores such as 7s, 8s, or 9s depending on how much support there is and your eloquence.

Student 1A is an example of utilizing logic to support his or her argument. The student says the following:

Putting aside the idea of money seems counterintuitive when considering the worth of an education, but it is necessary. There is more to life. A large part of college is also personal growth.

This appeal to logic is used as a transition as the student brings a realistic approach to the prompt. The examiners will see this as a masterful use of adding details to the argument without losing track of the argument itself. Also, the examiners see that the student can stand on his own without the sources, although he or she utilizes them later on.

A student that does not utilize logic well is Student 1B. This student is heavily dependent on quotations from the sources, and this causes the student’s credibility to falter. The reader questions if the student is able to form his or her own ideas in a logical manner, leading to a drop in the student’s score. Being unable to form a logical structure to lay your argument on will result in a lower score of a 4 or a 5.

Use of Language

The use of language, while not the most influential part of the essay, does have an effect on the overall score. By use of language we mean the degree that the student utilizes grammar, spelling, and mechanics as well as figurative language that adds a persuasive element.

If the student uses the language well, then this will reveal to the examiner that the student can use writing as a tool to persuade. This is important in the AP English Language argument essay, because inserting parallel structure or a perfectly placed analogy will impress your examiner.

Your grammar may not be the most pressing matter in the argument essay; however, if your grammar or mechanics are so poor that you are unclear in your argument, then the highest score that you can receive on the AP English Language argument essay rubric is a 2.

Key Takeaways from the AP English Language Argument Essay Rubric

In order to cover all of your bases in the AP English Language exam argument essay you will want to be sure to practice months before the exam. Preparation is everything. A useful tip is to have the AP English Language argument rubric in front of you as you write your first few attempts at a practice essay. This will keep your argument essay focused.

The most important part of the argument essay is to support your thesis, or the claim that you make to fulfill the prompt. If you reference the passage that you are given, add your own knowledge or personal experiences, be as detailed and logical as possible, and utilize language well, then your score will rise toward that sought-after 9.

Photo by Jeff Billings [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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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