How to Write the AP Lang Argument Essay (With Example)
December 14, 2023
We’d like to let you in on a little secret: no one, including us, enjoys writing timed essays. But a little practice goes a long way. If you want to head into your AP English Exam with a cool head, you’ll want to know what you’re getting into ahead of time. We can’t promise the AP Lang Argument Essay will ever feel like an island vacation, but we do have tons of hand tips and tricks (plus a sample essay!) below to help you do your best. This article will cover: 1) What is the AP Lang Argumentative Essay? 2) AP Lang Argument Rubric 3) AP Lang Argument Sample Prompt 4) AP Lang Argument Essay Example 5) AP Lang Argument Essay Example: Answer Breakdown.
What is the AP Lang Argument Essay?
The AP Lang Argument Essay is one of three essays included in the written portion of the AP English Exam. The full AP English Exam is 3 hours and 15 minutes long, with the first 60 minutes dedicated to multiple-choice questions. Once you complete the multiple-choice section, you move on to three equally weighted essays that ask you to synthesize, analyze, and interpret texts and develop well-reasoned arguments. The three essays include:
Synthesis essay: You’ll review various pieces of evidence and then write an essay that synthesizes (aka combines and interprets) the evidence and presents a clear argument. Read our write-up on How to Write the AP Lang Synthesis Essay here.
Argumentative essay: You’ll take a stance on a specific topic and argue your case.
Rhetorical essay: You’ll read a provided passage, then analyze the author’s rhetorical choices and develop an argument that explains why the author made those rhetorical choices. Read our write-up on How to Write the AP Lang Rhetorical Essay here.
AP Lang Argument Essay Rubric
The AP Lang Argument Essay is graded on 3 rubric categories: Thesis, Evidence and Commentary, and Sophistication. How can you make sure you cover all three bases in your essay? We’ll break down each rubric category with dos and don’ts below:
- Thesis (0-1 point)
When it comes to grading your thesis, AP Exam graders are checking off a box: you either have a clear thesis or you don’t. So, what crucial components of a thesis will get you your check mark?
- Make sure your thesis argues something. To satisfy your graders, your thesis needs to take a clear stance on the issue at hand.
- Include your thesis statement in your intro paragraph. The AP Lang Argumentative essay is just that: an essay that makes an argument, so make sure you present your argument right away at the end of your first paragraph.
- A good test to see if you have a thesis that makes an argument for your AP Lang Argumentative Essay: In your head, add the phrase “I agree/disagree that…” to the beginning of your thesis. If what follows doesn’t logically flow after that phrase (aka if what follows isn’t an agreement or disagreement), it’s likely you’re not making an argument.
- In your thesis, outline the evidence you’ll cover in your body paragraphs.
AP Lang Argument Essay Rubric (Continued)
- Avoid a thesis that merely restates the prompt.
- Avoid a thesis that summarizes the text but does not make an argument.
- Avoid a thesis that weighs the pros and cons of an issue. Your job in your thesis is to pick a side and stick with it.
- Evidence and Commentary (0-4 points)
This rubric category is graded on a scale of 0-4 where 4 is the highest grade. Unlike the rhetorical and synthesis essays, the evidence you need to write your AP Lang Argument Essay is not provided to you. Rather, you’ll need to generate your own evidence and comment upon it.
What counts as evidence?
Typically, the AP Lang Argument Essay prompt asks you to reflect on a broad cultural, moral, or social issue that is open to debate. For evidence, you won’t be asked to memorize and cite statistics or facts. Rather, you’ll want to bring in real-world examples of:
- Historical events
- Current-day events from the news
- Personal anecdotes
For this essay, your graders know that you’re not able to do research to find the perfect evidence. What’s most important is that you find evidence that logically supports your argument.
What is commentary?
In this essay, it’s important to do more than just provide examples relevant evidence. After each piece of evidence you include, you’ll need to explain why it’s significant and how it connects to your main argument. The analysis you include after your evidence is commentary.
- Take a minute to brainstorm evidence that logically supports your argument. If you have to go out of your way to find the connection, it’s better to think of different evidence.
- Include multiple pieces of evidence. There is no magic number, but do make sure you incorporate more than a couple pieces of evidence that support your argument.
- Make sure you include more than one example of evidence, too. Let’s say you’re working on an essay that argues that people are always stronger together than apart. You’ve already included an example from history: during the civil rights era, protestors staged group sit-ins as a powerful form of peaceful protest. That’s just one example, and it’s hard to make a credible argument with just one piece of evidence. To fix that issue, think of additional examples from history, current events, or personal experience that are not related to the civil rights era.
- After you include each piece of evidence, explain why it’s significant and how it connects to your main argument.
- Don’t summarize or speak generally about the topic. Everything you write must be backed up with specific and relevant evidence and examples.
- Don’t let quotes speak for themselves. After every piece of evidence you include, make sure to explain and connect the evidence to your overarching argument.
AP Lang Argument Essay (Continued)
- Sophistication (0-1 point)
According to the College Board, one point can be awarded to AP Lang Argument essays that achieve a high level of sophistication. You can accomplish that in four ways:
- Crafting a nuanced argument by consistently identifying and exploring complexities or tensions.
- Articulating the implications or limitations of an argument by situating it within a broader context.
- Making effective rhetorical choices that consistently strengthen the force and impact of the student’s argument.
- Employing a style that is consistently vivid and persuasive.
In sum, this means you can earn an additional point for going above and beyond in depth, complexity of thought, or by writing an especially persuasive, clear, and well-structured essay. In order to earn this point, you’ll first need to do a good job with the fundamentals: your thesis, evidence, and commentary. Then, to earn your sophistication point, follow these tips:
AP Lang Argument Essay (Continued)
- Outline your essay before you begin to ensure it flows in a clear and cohesive way.
- Include well-rounded evidence. Don’t rely entirely on personal anecdotes, for example. Incorporate examples from current events or history, as well.
- Thoroughly explain how each piece of evidence connects to your thesis in order to fully develop your argument.
- Explore broader implications. If what you’re arguing is true, what does that mean to us today? Who is impacted by this issue? What real-world issues are relevant to this core issue?
- Briefly explore the other side of the issue. Are the instances where your argument might not be true? Acknowledge the other side, then return to proving your original argument.
- Steer clear of generalizations (avoid words like “always” and “everyone”).
- Don’t choose an argument you can’t back up with relevant examples.
- Avoid complex sentences and fancy vocabulary words unless you use them often. Long, clunky sentences with imprecisely used words are hard to follow.
AP Lang Argument Sample Prompt
The sample prompt below is published online by the College Board and is a real example from the 2021 AP English Exam. The prompt provides background context, essay instructions, and the text you need to analyze.
AP Lang Argument Sample Prompt
Suggested time—40 minutes.
Many people spend long hours trying to achieve perfection in their personal or professional lives. Similarly, people often demand perfection from others, creating expectations that may be challenging to live up to. In contrast, some people think perfection is not attainable or desirable.
Write an essay that argues your position on the value of striving for perfection.
In your response you should do the following:
- Respond to the prompt with a thesis that presents a defensible position.
- Provide evidence to support your line of reasoning.
- Explain how the evidence supports your line of reasoning.
- Use appropriate grammar and punctuation in communicating your argument.
AP Lang Argument Essay Example
As the old phrase says, “Practice makes perfect.” But is perfection something that is actually attainable? Sometimes, pushing for perfection helps us achieve great things, but most often, perfectionism puts too much pressure on us and prevents us from knowing when we have done the best we can. Striving for perfection can only lead us to shortchange ourselves. Instead, we should value learning, growth, and creativity and not worry whether we are first or fifth best.
Students often feel the need to be perfect in their classes, and this can cause students to struggle or stop making an effort in class. In elementary and middle school, for example, I was very nervous about public speaking. When I had to give a speech, my voice would shake, and I would turn very red. My teachers always told me “relax!” and I got Bs on Cs on my speeches. As a result, I put more pressure on myself to do well, spending extra time making my speeches perfect and rehearsing late at night at home. But this pressure only made me more nervous, and I started getting stomach aches before speaking in public.
Once I got to high school, however, I started doing YouTube make-up tutorials with a friend. We made videos just for fun, and laughed when we made mistakes or said something silly. Only then, when I wasn’t striving to be perfect, did I get more comfortable with public speaking.
AP Lang Argumentative Essay Example (Continued)
In the world of art and business and science, perfectionism can also limit what we are able to achieve. Artists, for example, have to take risks and leave room for creativity. If artists strive for perfection, then they won’t be willing to fail at new experiments and their work will be less innovative and interesting. In business and science, many products, like penicillin for example, were discovered by accident. If the scientist who discovered penicillin mold growing on his petri dishes had gotten angry at his mistake and thrown the dishes away, he would never have discovered a medicine that is vital to us today.
Some fields do need to value perfection. We wouldn’t like it, for example, if our surgeon wasn’t striving for perfection during our operation. However, for most of us, perfectionism can limit our potential for learning and growth. Instead of trying to be perfect, we should strive to learn, innovate, and do our personal best.
AP Lang Argument Essay Example: Answer Breakdown
The sample AP Lang Argumentative Essay above has some strengths and some weaknesses. Overall, we would give this essay a 3 or a 4. Let’s break down what’s working and what could be improved:
- The essay offers a thesis that makes a clear argument that is relevant to the prompt: “Striving for perfection can only lead us to shortchange ourselves. Instead, we should value learning, growth, and creativity and not worry whether we are first or fifth best.”
- The first body paragraph provides evidence that supports the essay’s thesis. This student’s personal anecdote offers an example of a time when perfectionism led them to shortchange themselves.
- The second body paragraph provides additional evidence that supports the essay’s thesis. The example describing the discovery of penicillin offers another example of a situation in which perfectionism might have limited scientific progress.
- The writer offers commentary explaining how her examples of public speaking and penicillin illustrate that we should “value learning, growth, and creativity” over perfectionism.
- The essay follows one line of reasoning and does not stray into tangents.
- The essay is organized well with intro, body, and concluding paragraphs. Overall, it is easy to read and is free of grammar errors.
What could be improved:
- Although the second body paragraph provides one good specific example about the discovery of penicillin, the other examples it offers about art and business are only discussed generally and aren’t backed up with evidence. This paragraph would be stronger if it provided more examples. Or, if this writer couldn’t think of examples, they could have left out mentions of art and business altogether and included alternate evidence instead.
- This writer would more thoroughly support their argument if they were able to offer one more example of evidence. They could provide another personal anecdote, an example from history, or an example from current events.
- The writer briefly mentions the other side of the argument in their concluding paragraph: “Some fields do need to value perfection. We wouldn’t like it, for example, if our surgeon wasn’t striving for perfection during our operation.” Since it’s so brief a mention of the other side, it undermines the writer’s overall argument. This writer should either dedicate more time to reflecting on why even surgeons should “value learning, growth, and creativity” over perfectionism, or they should leave these sentences out.
AP Lang Argument Essay Example—More Resources
Looking for more tips to help you master your AP Lang Argumentative Essay? Brush up on 20 Rhetorical Devices High School Students Should Know and read our Tips for Improving Reading Comprehension.