New Format Online AP English Language Study Guide – 2020 Changes

Published on Apr 7, 2020

👋🏼 Hi, I’m Stephanie Kirk! I’m an AP English teacher and streamer at Fiveable. This year’s exam is different than we expected, but I’m here to help. I’ve put together this study guide to help keep you on track while you are studying from home. You can follow this guide on your own with a free Fiveable account! I’ll also be joining a group of students live on Thursdays @ 9pm ET during cram sessions. Pick up your cram pass to join us.

 

Format of the New Exam

This year, the AP English Language exam will look different than you were expecting. As we’re all on quarantine 😷 due to COVID-19, the College Board has decided to update the format and content of the test to fit an online testing format.

You’ll have 45-minutes to take the exam online and it will only cover units 1-7. However, the standards covered in units 8 and 9 are also covered in 1-7, so don’t stress! You are already prepared for the exam! You can never have too much practice analyzing language and creating arguments, so that’s where your study focus will stay in this plan. 

The test is only ONE free-response question, so make sure you know how to write the FRQ!

Find the 2020 exam schedule, learn tips & tricks, and get your frequently asked questions answered on Fiveable’s Guide to the 2020 AP Exam Updates.

On the exam:

1 – 🚧 Foundations of Rhetoric – Analysis of the rhetorical situation and the claims in a given text
2 – 🤔 Foundations of Argument – Analysis of an author’s choices in appeals and evidence
3 – 👥 Confluence – Analysis of the synthesis of multiple sources in argumentation
4 – 👀 Reasoning – Analysis of the development of an argument from introduction to conclusion
5 – 🧐 Commentary and Analysis – Analysis of complex argument and intentional rhetoric
6 – 🏃‍♂️ Rhetorical Risks – Analysis of multiple perspectives, bias, and shifts with new evidence
7 – 🚀 Complex Argumentation – Analysis of effective arguments, including concession and refutation 

Not on the exam:

8 – Style – Analysis of how style influences the audience movement
9 – Craft – Creation of your own complex argument with synthesis and rhetoric

What will be on the test?

  • 1 essay = FRQ 2 – Rhetorical Analysis
    • 100% of your score, 45 minutes
    • Analyze the rhetorical choices of nonfiction prose

When is the exam and how do I take it?

May 20 @ 2p Eastern! Wherever you are in the world, this is the time you’ll take the test. Unless you have been approved for the make-up date in June, but only your school can request that. You’ll take the test online. There will be a practice simulation posted by College Board within the next few weeks.

How do I prepare for the exam?

With so many school closures and the stress of a global pandemic, this review season will be different than usual. If this is your first AP exam, welcome! Don’t worry, it’s not usually this chaotic. 

We’ve put together this plan for you to follow between now and May. This will cover all of the units and leave you time to practice questions before test day. Some classes may have done units out of chronological order throughout the year, which is ok. The units don’t have to be taught in order. If you are learning new material on your own and need some help, use the chat bubble on http://fiveable.me. We’ll answer any questions you may have. 

What resources does this study plan use?

All of the required resources are free, including the cheat sheet PDF. You’ll need to create a free Fiveable account to jump in.  We’ve also linked a few other websites, articles, and YouTube videos that you can access for free. Some of the suggested resources include paid products. There are some documentaries that you can find on streaming sites with a paid membership and we’ll also list streams and practice questions that require a paid cram pass on Fiveable.


 

PRE-WORK: SET-UP YOUR STUDY ENVIRONMENT

Before we begin, take some time to get organized. Remote learning can be great, but it also means you’ll need to hold yourself accountable more than usual. 

🖥 Create a study space.
Make sure you have a designated place at home to study. Somewhere you can keep all of your materials, where you can focus on learning, and where you are comfortable. Spend some time prepping the space with everything you need and you can even let others in the family know that this is your study space. 

📚 Organize your study materials.
Get your notebook, textbook, prep books, or whatever other physical materials you have. Also create a space for you to keep track of review. Print out or download your 1-page AP English Language cheat sheet (here). Start a new section in your notebook to take notes or start a Google Doc to keep track of your notes. Get your self set up!

📅 Plan designated times for studying.
The hardest part about studying from home is sticking to a routine. Decide on one hour every day that you can dedicate to studying. This can be any time of the day, whatever works best for you. Set a timer on your phone for that time and really try to stick to it. The routine will help you stay on track.

🏆 Decide on an accountability plan.
How will you hold yourself accountable to this study plan? You may or may not have a teacher or rules set up to help you stay on track, so you need to set some for yourself. First set your goal. This could be studying for x number of hours or getting through a unit. Then, create a reward for yourself. If you reach your goal, then x. This will help stay focused!


How to Write the Free Response Question for AP English Language in 2020

Since this year’s exam is ONLY a free-response question, you’ll need to make sure you feel comfortable with this. You can use resources during the exam like cheat sheets, but it may be better time management not to. Follow these steps to maximize your points!

1️⃣ Step 1: Start with analyzing the prompt (3 minutes).

  • 🔍 What is it? Read and annotate the prompt. We recommend you BAT the prompt and see what you can gather for ASPECTS. 
  • 🤷 How do I do it? As you read, you annotate for pertinent information about the Background, any Advice they suggest, and the Task (both concrete and abstract). From here, scan for the ASPECTS.
  • 🤔 Why do I do it? Because you want to show a depth of understanding and complexity of analysis, starting with the prompt makes sure you are on topic and meeting the expectations assigned in the task.

2️⃣ Step 2: Read and annotate the text (8ish minutes).

  • 🔍 What is it? Read and annotate the text. As you read, annotate specifically for the task directed in the prompt. 
  • 🤷 How do I do it? Chunk the text by drawing a straight line across sections of the text that seem to go together. Within each chunk, annotate as you normally would, looking at what the author is saying and how it is being said. Look how each chunk functions in building toward the primary claim of the text.
  • 🤔 Why do I do it? Using the chunks of the text to write your essay will be helpful because it allows you to organize the strategies by their intended purpose in the text. 

3️⃣ Step 3: Create a quick outline (3 minutes).

  • 🔍 What is it? Have a short outline — simple bullet points or even numbers and symbols in the body of the text — to help you stay focused under pressure.
  • 🤷 How do I do it? After reading, revisit the prompt to create a defensible thesis statement that responds to the prompt.  From there, track your claims about the strategies and devices the writer used. 
  • 🤔 Why do I do it? Knowing where you are going in advance can help make sure you stay on topic with your response. Planning the evidence early will help you naturally create a line of reasoning. 

4️⃣ Step 4: Write your introduction (5ish minutes).

  • 🔍 What is it? The introduction is where you will overview your primary claim about the writer’s primary claim and list the strategies you plan to analyze.
  • 🤷 How do I do it? Use the rhetorical precis as a formula to help you plan your writing. While some teachers suggest using each part as a separate sentence, as long as you have all parts you should be good.  
  • 🤔 Why do I do it? Intentionality on the introduction can produce a strong opening that ensures you get the thesis point and starts you out on the right track to sophistication.

5️⃣ Step 5: Create the Body using Toulmin’s Structure (10ish minutes).

  • 🔍 What is it? Your body paragraphs are where you will present the reasoning behind your primary claim about the writer’s primary claim. Toulmin’s Structure is a basic outline for making sure you have a clear line of reasoning in presenting your evidence. 
  • 🤷 How do I do it? Start each body paragraph with a transition and a clear topic sentence. For each paragraph, you’ll need at least two pieces of evidence from the text and commentary that analyzes how the evidence you presented supports your primary claim. Don’t forget to include a concluding sentence that links back to the abstract task in the prompt.
  • 🤔 Why do I do it? By using Toulmin’s Structure to plan your body paragraphs and presenting your evidence according to the chunks in the text, you are able to demonstrate a higher level of analysis and understanding than an essay that just picks one or two devices to analyze. When you link each section of the body of your essay back to the abstract task, you are assuring each piece serves to build your argument and highlights the line of reasoning. 

6️⃣ Step 6: Write the conclusion (5 minutes).

  • 🔍 What is it? Your body paragraphs are where you will present the reasoning behind your primary claim about the writer’s primary claim. Toulmin’s Structure is a basic outline for making sure you have a clear line of reasoning in presenting your evidence. 
  • 🤷 How do I do it? Start each body paragraph with a transition and a clear topic sentence. For each paragraph, you’ll need at least two pieces of evidence from the text and commentary that analyzes how the evidence you presented supports your primary claim. Don’t forget to include a concluding sentence that links back to the abstract task in the prompt.
  • 🤔 Why do I do it? By using Toulmin’s Structure to plan your body paragraphs and presenting your evidence according to the chunks in the text, you are able to demonstrate a higher level of analysis and understanding than an essay that just picks one or two devices to analyze. When you link each section of the body of your essay back to the abstract task, you are assuring each piece serves to build your argument and highlights the line of reasoning. 

7️⃣ Step 7: Proofread and submit (5 minutes).

  • 🔍 What is it? Look over your essay to see if there are any glaring mistakes that can be easily addressed before you submit the essay. 
  • 🤷 How do I do it? Look for key sentences — thesis statement, topic sentences, link to the abstract task — and make sure it is not written awkwardly. Each 
  • 🤔 Why do I do it? If you have a moment to review, you might catch a few simple errors you made along the way. Since you get to do it at home, read the essay out loud so the mistakes are easier to catch and correct.

Here’s the content you’ll need to know:

Because the skills of the course are cumulative, many AP Language and Composition instructors divide instruction by the area of the AP Exam rather than by the recommended units of study. Additionally, the recommended units were released for the 2019-2020 school year, but not many resources are available by unit as the official units have been considered “optional” for the first year of implementation. For that reason, we’ve given you a breakdown by unit and a recommended action plan based on changes to the 2020 exam.

🚧 Unit 1 Foundations of Rhetoric: Analysis of the rhetorical situation and claims.

🌶 Join the live AP Lang Cram Club! We meet every Thursday at 9:00PM EST, and you’ll be able to get immediate feedback during the stream and personalized feedback on your writing samples!

Big takeaways:

Unit 1 is an introductory unit that lays the foundations for the reading skills associated with how to understand and analyze complex texts. Skills here include identifying the ASPECTS of a text, analyzing the claim given and the evidence used to support that claim, and determining the function of the “chunks” in the argument. Because the content in this unit is very foundational, it is looped throughout the rest of the course instruction.

Definitely do this:


 

🤔 Unit 2 Foundations of Argument: Analysis of an author’s choices in appeals and evidence

🌶 Join the live AP Lang Cram Club! We meet every Thursday at 9:00PM EST, and you’ll be able to get immediate feedback during the stream and personalized feedback on your writing samples!

Big takeaways:

Unit 2 is an introductory unit that builds onto the foundations of rhetorical ASPECTS and moves toward planning and writing your own arguments. This unit focuses on the relationships between subject, speaker, and message, including examination of the structure and purpose of the given argument. The unit then moves into the developing thesis statements and building your own arguments with a clear line of reasoning.

Definitely do this:


 

👥 Unit 3 Confluence: Synthesis of multiple sources in argumentation

🌶 Join the live AP Lang Cram Club! We meet every Thursday at 9:00PM EST, and you’ll be able to get immediate feedback during the stream and personalized feedback on your writing samples!

Big takeaways:

Unit 3 approaches multiple perspectives in argument through the lens of synthesis (that’s FRQ 1). In this study, you learn to identify effective and faulty reasoning while integrating a variety of evidence from credible resources that is properly cited in an original text.

Definitely do this:

  • 🎥 Watch these videos:
  • ✍️ Practice:
  • 🗺 Can you identify these elements of synthesis?
    • You won’t be asked to name drop on the exam, but it can be helpful to use devices when discussing strategies. Try this Quizlet to help prepare.

 

👀 Unit 4 Reasoning: Analysis of argument from introduction to conclusion

🌶 Join the live AP Lang Cram Club! We meet every Thursday at 9:00PM EST, and you’ll be able to get immediate feedback during the stream and personalized feedback on your writing samples!

Big takeaways:

Unit 4 includes a greater depth of focus on the writing of effective arguments — the line of reasoning created in the introduction, built with modes of discourse, and strengthened in the conclusion. An important note about these skills of argumentation is that they build toward all parts of every FRQ. 

Definitely do this:


 

🧐 Unit 5 Commentary and Analysis: Analysis of complex argument and intentional rhetoric

🌶 Join the live AP Lang Cram Club! We meet every Thursday at 9:00PM EST, and you’ll be able to get immediate feedback during the stream and personalized feedback on your writing samples!

Big takeaways:

In Unit 5, the skills look at the minutiae involved in argumentation: development of the line of reasoning that produces strong commentary and maintains the primary claim through all parts of the writing.  To achieve these goals, this unit includes a focus on transitions, modifiers, and qualifications for argumentative perspective.  

Definitely do this:


 

🏃‍♂️ Unit 6 Rhetorical Risks: Analysis of multiple perspectives, bias, and shifts with new evidence

🌶 Join the live AP Lang Cram Club! We meet every Thursday at 9:00PM EST, and you’ll be able to get immediate feedback during the stream and personalized feedback on your writing samples!

Big takeaways:

In Unit 6, you will notice a direct link building on the ideas of Unit 3 as this instruction looks at position and perspectives while synthesizing information strategically to support a claim.  For greater depth, this unit moves to modify a current argument to include new evidence.

Definitely do this:


 

🚀 Unit 7 Complex Argumentation: Analysis of effective arguments, including concession and refutation 

🌶 Join the live AP Lang Cram Club! We meet every Thursday at 9:00PM EST, and you’ll be able to get immediate feedback during the stream and personalized feedback on your writing samples!

Big takeaways:

The skills of Unit 7 are about putting all units of study together to look at the complexity of a given argument and the effectiveness of the pieces built into that argument.  Though many teachers will have addressed counterarguments, concessions, and refutations before reaching this unit, those skills are highly scrutinized in this segment of learning.

Definitely do this:


 

Stephanie Kirk, graduate of Maryville College and WGU, has been teaching for 14 years. She started in Charlotte, NC, and moved to Austin East Magnet High School in Knoxville, TN, before settling at Heritage High School in Maryville, TN. Stephanie has served in a variety of academic roles including English Language Arts teacher, Instructional Coach, and Teacher Evaluator. She has presented at several educational conferences and works part time as an EdTech Consultant. Her educational philosophy and teaching style can be attributed to her time learning and growing through TAP, NIET’s System for Teacher and Student Advancement. Stephanie believes all students can learn, and she lives by the idea that the role of a teacher is to meet students where they are and provide support that gets them where they want to be. Stephanie’s bubbling personality, real-world approach, and true passion for rhetoric and argumentation are clearly visible in her AP Lang streams.
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1 Comment

  1. Avatar

    Stephanie-. Given that the exams are online this year, how do kids annotate? Will there be tools to write on the prompt itself (pdf or webpage or whatever it comes in?)

    Reply

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