AP English Language Free Response Help

4 min readseptember 14, 2021

Brandon Wu

Brandon Wu

AP English Language ✍🏽

224 resources
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Overview of the Free Response Questions

The AP Lang exam consists of three free response questions ✍️ , and you have 2 hours and 15 minutes to complete these three essays:
  • Synthesis
  • Rhetorical analysis
  • Argument
To dive deeper into each of these essays and how they should be written, check out Fiveable's synthesis overview guide, rhetorical analysis guide, and argument essay guide! They have helpful information specific for each essay, and in this post, we've included some general free response tips from fellow AP Lang students 📝

FRQ Tips

1. Have a cohesive line of reasoning

"Make sure your essays have a line of reasoning, which means that there’s a beginning, middle, and end. Make sure your paragraphs link. Always have evidence and cite it because you do not want to assume that you got information from your head when you didn’t." —Diane Fakinlede
This is a fantastic piece of general advice. At its core, a line of reasoning is a distinct "thread" that connects your evidence and analysis to create your argument. To establish a line of reasoning, you must ensure your claims, evidence, and analysis all flow together in a clear structure.

Here's an example of a structure for line of reasoning, also known as Toulmin's model of argumentation. Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Toulmin's model for line of reasoning is most applicable to the argument and synthesis essays, in which you have a clearly qualified claim supported by your grounds, warrant, and backing followed by a concession and a rebuttal.
Line of reasoning, however, is also present in your rhetorical analysis essay. Fundamentally speaking, your analysis of the author's rhetorical choices is an argument, since you are proving that the author's use of literary devices builds their argument and achieves their purpose. Consequently, having an explicit line of reasoning is crucial, as organization is key to proving your analysis.
Learn even more about line of reasoning in Fiveable's AP Lang 2020 FRQ study guide!

2. Create an outline before writing

You may be wondering, "How can I organize my line of reasoning?" The answer: an outline 📂
One AP Lang student notes:
"Always do a rough outline. Even if it's only a few words, writing out and organizing your thoughts helps prevent the essay from being choppy, but still leaves room to add other things. Try to select evidence that is linked so that you can easily transition between topics/paragraphs using a single theme or two that are related—whatever is coherent." —Amrita Arora
Each person outlines differently, but there are some core elements that you should include for your outline:
  • Thesis statement
  • Evidence & accompanying commentary
    • Connection of the evidence/commentary to the thesis
  • Transitions between topics or paragraphs
  • Synthesis and argument: Counterargument/concession & rebuttal
  • Rhetorical analysis: author's purpose & audience
To write an effective outline, you've got to have a clear structure in mind beforehand. Additionally, make sure to learn the rhetorical devices ahead of time so they are easy to identify and analyze. Here's a list of rhetorical devices.

3. Have an explicit structure when writing your essays

An explicit structure can look several different ways! For instance, for rhetorical analysis, I personally always wrote my body paragraphs in this fashion:
  1. Broad strategy that author used throughout the essay.
  2. Embedded quote of rhetorical device.
  3. Why did the author use that device?
  4. How did the device help the author achieve their purpose?
  5. What was the effect of that device on the audience (were they swayed/moved)?
  6. Repeat 2-5 for another device that falls under the strategy.
  7. Connect the strategy back to the thesis, author's purpose, and audience.

Functionally speaking, your structure should be like a chain of links! Image Courtesy of Pixabay

Your argument's parts should rely on each other and flow together. Similarly, for the argument essay, I would always follow this structure:
  1. Subclaim linked to thesis (also known as main claim).
  2. First piece of evidence that proves the subclaim
  3. Reasoning that explains how the evidence proves the subclaim
  4. Repeat 2-3
  5. Connecting the subclaim to the thesis
While these structures worked well for me, they may not be as effective for you. To figure out what structure works for your writing, you need to complete practice free response questions! Fiveable assembled a list of past AP Lang prompts dating back to 2008.

4. Practice with timing

Some teachers may tell you that "practice makes perfect," but the more correct motto is "Practice makes permanent. Only perfect practice makes perfect." Using ineffective strategies while in your practice will make that a habit, which could hurt you on exam day.

Make sure you always time yourself when writing. Image Courtesy of Unsplash

For instance, you don't want to practice essay writing without setting a timer ⏲️ How you practice should foreshadow (haha AP Lang puns 😆) how you'll perform on exam day.
When practicing at first, try different strategies to see what works best for you. Then, develop your own structure, outlining process, and writing style. Just make sure that you're always practicing like it's the real deal!


All in all, AP Lang free-response questions aren't too hard to tackle as long as you maintain good study habits. Through permanent practice supplemented by a clear structure in your outlines, you'll write effective essays that will blow your teacher and AP reader's socks off 🧦
Browse Study Guides By Unit
🤔Exam Skills
🥇Unit 1 – Claims, Reasoning, & Evidence
🗂️Unit 2 – Organizing Information for a Specific Audience
👀Unit 3 – Perspectives & How Arguments Relate
🔚Unit 4 – How writers develop arguments, intros, & conclusions
🎀Unit 5 – How a writer brings all parts of an argument together
👥Unit 6 – Position, Perspective, & Bias
🥊Unit 7 – Successful & Unsuccessful Arguments
😎Unit 8 – Stylistic Choices
😈Unit 9 – Developing a Complex Argument
📚Study Tools

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