Rhetorical Analysis Essay How-To

7 min readnovember 18, 2021

Brandon Wu

Brandon Wu

Kathryn Howard

Kathryn Howard

AP English Language ✍🏽

224 resources
See Units

What is the Rhetorical Analysis Essay?

The rhetorical analysis essay is a free-response question in which you analyze any rhetorical strategies that the author uses in the given passage and evaluate/discuss them in a well-formatted essay.

According to the College Board:

 “The rhetorical analysis free-response essay question presents students with a passage of nonfiction prose of approximately 600 to 800 words. Students are asked to write an essay that analyzes the writer’s rhetorical choices. This question assesses students’ ability to do the following:
  • Respond to the prompt with a thesis that analyzes the writer’s rhetorical choices.
  • Select and use evidence to support your line of reasoning.
  • Explain how the evidence supports your line of reasoning.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the rhetorical situation.
  • Use appropriate grammar and punctuation in communicating your argument."
Essentially, you are being asked to analyze someone’s writing and what strategies they used to help them achieve their purpose.

Rhetorical Analysis Rubric for Scoring

The Rhetorical Analysis FRQ is out of 6 Points

✍ The Thesis of your rhetorical analysis essay for AP Lang can score you 1 point right from the start!
0 points
* Lacks a defendable thesis
*The student only restates prompt
*The thesis provides summary with no claim
*They have a thesis, but it is not in response to the given prompt
1 point
Student has a justifiable thesis that answers the prompt that analyzes the rhetorical strategies.
To get this point you need to clearly write a defensible thesis about the rhetorical choices the author makes. Do not take a stance on the argument the author is making if he/she is making one. You are only talking about rhetorical strategies.
🎥Watch: AP Language - How to Find Rhetorical Strategies

Evidence and Commentary (4 points) 📂

0 points 
Only restates thesis, has a lot of repetition, and the information doesn't have to do with the prompt
1 point EVIDENCE: Provides evidence that is mostly general. COMMENTARY: Summarizes evidence but doesn't explain how it applies
2 points EVIDENCE: Provides some pertinent evidence. COMMENTARY: Explains how some of the evidence provided supports the student’s thesis, but does not have good reasoning
3 points EVIDENCE: Provides specific evidence to support all assertions made
COMMENTARY: Explains how some of the evidence supports a line of reasoning. AND Explains how at least one rhetorical choice in the excerpt helps to achieve the author’s purpose
4 points
 EVIDENCE: Provides specific evidence to support all claims in a line of reasoning. COMMENTARY: Consistently explains how the evidence supports a line of reasoning. AND Explains how multiple rhetorical strategies help to achieve the author’s purpose.
To get the four points you need to not only present evidence but explain why it supports your thesis and how it contributes to the author’s message.

Sophistication (1 point) 👓

0 points 
Does not meet all the standards for one point.
1 point
Shows sophistication of thought and/or a complex understanding of the rhetorical situation. 
To get to this point you have to demonstrate a complex understanding of both what that purpose was, and how the rhetorical analysis devices aided the author’s purpose.
There are a few ways that you can earn the sophistication point:
  • Explaining the significance or relevance of the writer’s rhetorical choices (given the rhetorical situation).
  • Explaining a purpose or function of the passage’s complexities or tensions.
  • Employing a style that is consistently vivid and persuasive.

Timing ⏳

You have 40 minutes to complete the rhetorical analysis essay for AP Lang:
  • 12 minutes: Read the text and plan out your essay. (TOBI)
  • 6 minutes: Write your introduction paragraph.
  • 18 minutes: Write 2-3 body paragraphs.
  • 2 minutes: Write a quick conclusion.
  • 2 minutes: Proofread and revise your essay.

How to Maximize Your Time⌚

Outline your rhetorical analysis essay before writing! A great tool for this is a TOBI:
TOBI stands for thesis, outline, and big idea.
TOBI Outline
  • T- Thesis
  • O-Outline
  • BI-Big Idea
Here is an example of how to use TOBI given a rhetorical analysis prompt:

From CollegeBoard AP Lang 2017 Exam, FRQ Question 2

T: Luce uses many rhetorical strategies including pathos, antithesis, and a humorous tone to soften up her audience before introducing her true reasons for being there. 
-Pathos Appeal
(“There is no audience more forgiving”)
(“I am happy, I am less happy”)
-Humorous tone
(“consequently, no audience is more forgiving, I hope”)
BI: Today, just like for Luce, it is very difficult to give criticism to your peers.
Note: It is a good idea to make the TOBI about the size of your hand to make sure you don’t spend too much of your precious essay writing time on it.


What if I can't find any rhetorical devices that I recognize?
You can always go back and rely on tone as every piece of literature has one, even if it is just informative. If you know what they are doing, but not the name of the term, you can still just describe it and get the points. Additionally, make sure that you are familiar with all the rhetorical devices that are a part of AP Lang!
🎥Watch: AP Language - Reading with an Analytical Mind
If it’s not an argumentative essay, what do you put in your thesis?
You state the most important writing choices the author made in order to impact the audience of the work.

Other Tips and Tricks

  • The big idea should show how this prompt applies to today. This will help you write your conclusion. In most language arts classes they teach you to simply restate your points, but not in AP Lang!
  • The first thing you are going to want to do is carefully read through and highlight any strategies you see. 
  • Even if TOBI doesn’t work for you, it is a good idea to outline the essay. Even though it takes time, it will end up saving you time in the end because it gives you direction.
  • One of the most useful tools for the introduction is something called Soapstones. In this intro you are introducing the Speaker, Occasion, Audience, Purpose, Subject, Tone, and Style. (Keep in mind: You do not need to include EVERY ONE). But, most successful essays include a few of them.
  • DON’T SKIM! It will only hurt you in the long run, even if you think it might be saving you time.
  • If you need to, review strategy names, but if you don’t remember, do your best to describe what is going on and how the author is using it.

Rhetorical Analysis Example Essay Prompt

The speech below was given at the site of the battle of Gettysburg by president Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln went on to describe his desire to save the union. Read the passage carefully and then in a well-developed essay, analyze the writing choices Lincoln makes to share his message with others. Support your analysis of his rhetoric with specific references from the text.
“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Stay Connected

© 2024 Fiveable Inc. All rights reserved.

© 2024 Fiveable Inc. All rights reserved.