The ADVANCED PLACEMENT ENGLISH LANGUAGE & COMPOSITION paper requires the candidate to write three types of essays. This paper tests the candidate’s reading and writing skills; and as such, examiners and teachers agree that top scores are awarded to those students who can confidently analyse how authors of non-fiction prose use various techniques to convey meaning and create effects. In addition, the students have to write three well organized and insightful essays, each with a different purpose.
These THREE types of essays fall under:
- Synthesis Essay
- Argumentative Essay
- Analytical Essay
The AP English Language & Composition argument essay question can ask you to do any of the following:
- Defend, challenge, or qualify a quotation about, or particular take on, a specific topic
- Evaluate the pros and cons of an argument and then indicate why you find one position more persuasive than another
- Take a position of whatever debatable statement is provided in the prompt
If you choose to defend what the text argues, you will give reasons that support the argument given. If you choose to challenge what the text argues, your reasoning will contradict the argument. If you choose to qualify what the text argues, you will agree with parts of the statement and disagree with others. Or, you might agree with the statement, but only under certain circumstances.
The “pros and cons” essay is similar to the “qualify” essay in that you must give reasons both supporting and contradicting the statement. You must then evaluate why one side is more convincing. The “position” essay requires that you establish a specific position in response to the statement in your thesis and support it.
What is an argument?
- Simply put, an argument is an opinion (claim) supported by evidence.
Evidence can take on different forms depending on the nature of the argument, the purpose of the argument, and the needs of the audience.
- Something that is argumentative is not and does not necessarily have to attempt to persuade. An argument is simply an opinion supported by evidence; persuasion involves moving people to act.
Although an argument doesn’t have to persuade people, an argument can implicitly be persuasive.
Unlike the other two essays you will be asked to write, this essay does not provide any text other than the prompt. Instead, your thesis is supported by your own reading, observations, and experiences. In other words, this essay’s only support is you; what you “know” is the textual support. This essay can be difficult, as the question, regardless of what it is, presupposes that you have knowledge about the topic under discussion. The more you’ve learned about the world around you, and the more opinions you have formulated about it, the better.
An argument is composed of three different elements:
- The Speaker: the person/persona delivering the message
- The Purpose: the topic + the reason for delivering the argument
- The Audience: both specific (the specific group that is listening to/reading the argument) and general (the more generalized group of people the speaker is trying to reach)
The analysis of the relationship(s) between the three elements of an argument is called RHETORICAL ANALYSIS. Rhetoric, simply, is “the art of arguing effectively”.
Arguments can be found in different forms: written texts, spoken orations, visual media. In one way or another, EVERYTHING is an argument.
The Rhetorical Triangle
Logos (evidence based on logic, facts, and truths; the truths can be universally accepted or proven facts or can be based on ideas or concept true for a specific group of people):
- Note the claims the author makes, the exigence (‘a gap, a need, a lack, something that needs doing’; why the argument exists)
- Note the data (evidence) the author provides in support of the claims
- Note the conclusions an author draws
Ethos (believability of the speaker; credibility and trustworthiness, both according to the speaker himself and the qualifications to deliver the argument):
- Note how the author establishes a persona (the adopted perspective/character a speaker or author uses to deliver an argument)
- Note how the author establishes credibility (not only in what he/she says, but also how he/she says it, and also nonverbally)
- Note any revelation of the author’s credentials or personal history
Pathos (evidence designed to stir the emotions of the audience; language or syntax designed to make the audience more receptive to or engaged in the speaker/writer’s message):
- Note the primary audience of the text
- Note the emotional appeals the author makes
- Note the author’s expectations of the audience
Argument and the Appeals
A successful argument will use all three of the rhetorical appeals and use them appropriately for the subject/purpose of the argument and the audience.
Consider how you could use the rhetorical appeals in the following situations:
- You are trying to convince your school’s administration to increase funding for technology in the school.
- Logos? Pathos? Ethos?
- You are trying to convince a group of your peers not to smoke cigarettes.
- Logos? Pathos? Ethos?
- You are trying to convince a group of first-grade students not to smoke cigarettes.
- Logos? Pathos? Ethos?
When you are reading a nonfiction text, note the language the author uses to appeal to logos, pathos, and ethos.
The rhetorical appeals will inform and influence every aspect of the text (organization, imagery, word choice, syntax, etc.)
Argument and the AP Test
On the AP test, you will be tasked with writing an argumentative essay. Typically, you will be given either a quotation or a short passage that presents a claim. You will be asked to do one of the following tasks:
- Defend, challenge, or qualify (the assertion)
- Take a position and support it with appropriate evidence
- Discuss the pros and cons and then take a position
- Discuss both sides of a controversy and then propose a resolution
No matter what the prompt for the AP test asks you to do, you must support your assertions with specific, relevant evidence:
- Current Events/Politics
- Personal Experience/Observations-Anecdotal Evidence
- Literature (but make sure that you ‘bridge the gap’ between the fictional nature of literature and the issues raised in your essay)
- Pop Culture (but make sure that it’s relevant and profound)
- Movies (but make sure that it’s relevant and profound and, if the movie is not a documentary, you ‘bridge the gap’ between the fictional nature of the movie and the issues raised in your essay)
As always, the thesis for these essay prompts must be specific and focused. Avoid merely restating what the prompt states. Instead, make the prompt your own by articulating a specific argument.
The order of the presentation can be varied, and any rhetorical strategies can be employed, but you must make certain that your support/evidence is appropriate and effective. Your support should be rational and logical, not emotional; it should be objective rather than biased
How do I argue a point or position?
- WORK THE PROMPT – Carefully read and deconstruct the prompt. A successful essay will depend on your thorough understanding of what is expected of you. Underline key ideas, concepts, etc. Pay attention to SOAPS where that information is provided.
- INTRODUCTION: Present the issue/situation/problem. State your assertion/claim/thesis.
- BODY PARAGRAPHS: Support your claim drawing on all that you know about the subject: What will you use as evidence to support your position? CONSIDER these: Facts/statistics, details, quotations, anecdotes, cause and effect, appeal to authority and Remember readings, entertainment/arts, history, universal truths, government, and observations are all forms of evidence. Your goal is to sound well read, educated, and reasoned.
- ACKNOWLEDGE and respond to REAL or POSSIBLE OPPOSING views.
- CONCLUSION: Make your final comment or summary of the evidence, extending it to the “real world.” What will my final remarks be? Leave the reader with a sense of completion, and reinforce your thesis.