The Common Life Ap English Essay Grading

Average AP English Language Score

If you’re choosing your junior or senior year classes, you’re probably wondering which AP courses to take with your college choices and intended major in mind. You may want to boost your GPA or take practical classes for your career. Perhaps you need a five on the AP exam, so you want to know which is easiest. In most schools, mostly juniors and seniors take the AP English Language class and exam, but is AP English Language valuable to majors outside writing or the humanities? What’s the average AP English Language exam score?

Whether you’re considering AP English Language on your schedule or you’ve already finished the course and are preparing for the exam, understanding the average AP English Language score will help you evaluate your options.

What’s the Average Score on the AP English Language Exam?

If you look at how prior test-takers performed on the exam, you might have a better idea of the challenges ahead. In the historical data, you’ll get a sense of past exams scores, how many achieved threes or better, and your odds of getting those fours and fives.

The chart below contains the CollegeBoard’s 2010 to 2016 exam results data and score trends on the AP English Language exam.

CollegeBoard National Grade Distribution

# of Students374,620252,262443,835476,277505,244527,274547,575


From 2010 to 2016, the chart shows that approximately 10% of the total test-takers earned fives, with a slight dip in 2014. Over 75% of the test-takers scored either four, three, or two. Less than one-fourth scored one and five. The mean score held relatively stable in seven years, except for 2013, when the number of those scoring ones increased, and the number of fours and fives decreased. The numbers of test-takers steadily rose from 374,620 in 2010 to 547,575 in 2016.

The average AP English Language exam score hovered around 2.8, which might signal a challenging but conquerable test. However, don’t forget that mostly juniors and seniors take AP English Language (and Literature), many of whom already have had advanced English classes that fostered strong reading and writing skills. Thus, the mean score of 2.8 might suggest a difficult test. On the other hand, upperclassmen probably carry more AP classes than freshmen or sophomores, so may prepare better for some exams than others. In other words, when you’re taking four or five AP exams, you may focus more on some exams and underestimate the difficulty of others.

No scheduled changes in the exam appear on the horizon, so the scoring trends promise some stability and forecasting.

Odd trends

The average AP English Language exam scores of all test-takers remained consistent, with slight downward fluctuations in 2013 and 2015. However, just as the total number of test-takers grew, the percentage of two scores consistently increased, peaking at a whopping 32.1% in 2016. Concomitantly, fours have also declined over the same period.

Despite dips and peaks, the numbers show a roughly 60-65% pass rate. This trend might reflect a difficult exam; the challenges of upperclassmen, who typically carry a steeper load of AP classes than younger test-takers; and the greater number of test-takers, which may include more unprepared individuals.

However, reading historical statistics alone does not give the complete picture of the course or the exam difficulty. The data shows that more students pass the exam than not, but students shouldn’t delude themselves into thinking they don’t need to study as much for the exam since it’s passable. At the same time, nor should they choose not to take the class because the exam’s too hard. To understand the challenges that lie ahead, students should get an overview of the course contents and strategies.

What’s a Good Score on the AP English Language Exam?

Several factors define a “good score”. Good scores and good-enough scores depend on your plans. To help you evaluate your needs and standing, understand AP test scores through four criteria:

1. The CollegeBoard’s Definitions:

The CollegeBoard explains the AP scores of 1 through 5 through the lens of preparation, understanding, performance and college credits.

One – the lowest score on the AP exam, this score reflects little knowledge of the material, little to no preparation, or possibly complications arising during the exam; therefore, the Board offers “no recommendation” on this score. No colleges in the US or abroad accept an AP score of 1.

Two – one below passing, this score shows potential to pass a similar college English Language or writing class but doesn’t get you college credit. Again, a possible bad test day explains this score for some. The Board assesses this score as “possibly qualified” to pass a college course of the same level.

Three – the most common score, this average score moves the bar to “qualified,” which refers both to your sufficient understanding of the course materials and your average chances for passing a similar college course and getting credits accepted at state colleges.

Four – a good score that reflects hard study, good comprehension of the course and high performance on the exam, perhaps showing strong essay writing and adept multiple-choice answering. The CollegeBoard deems you “well qualified,” translating to a B grade.

Five – the highest score, this score means you’re “extremely qualified,” and all colleges will give you credit for your course.

2. In Relation to Other Test-takers

To gain perspective, compare your score to other test-takers’ scores in a particular year to see how you stand. For example, if you were among the 10.7% of 547,575 test-takers receiving a five on the 2016 exam, you would have been among the smallest group of all test-takers but still one among 54,757 students.

That might give you some perspective that a passing score on the test arises more from individual effort and time than the difficulty of the exam. From year to year, the test may not be as hard or easy as the numbers indicate, and your score may not reflect your actual ability to take the course in college successfully. Your real chances of passing a college course similar or related to the English Language are probably higher since you took a rigorous AP course in preparation.

3. Based on College Credit Acceptance

Your score as a gateway to college credits depends on the college and your major. Some colleges accept only an AP score of four and five; others take threes and higher. Each school, and sometimes each department of a school, handles AP scores differently. In other words, an AP score of four may be sufficient in the biology department for credit but not so in the psychology department.

So, for example, California State University, Fullerton accepts an AP English Language exam score of three for six college credits applied to general education English 101 requirements and your degree. But if you’re planning to enroll in any university as a creative writing, composition or literature major, you probably want to score higher than three on the exam. Most schools require students to complete a college writing course, but you need to know the AP credit and major requirements beforehand.

Most Cal State universities accept threes, but more elite colleges take fours at a minimum, and fives earn credit most everywhere nationally and internationally. So, your school choice counts critically in your assessment. Check the AP credit database to find your school.

4. Based on Helpfulness in College Applications

Of course, fours and fives look great on your college application and will attract more attention to college admissions officers. Keep in mind, though, that passing AP courses looks good on high school transcripts regardless of the score. These courses show a capability to tackle rigorous coursework, which the applicant learned well enough to pass the class.

Don’t forget the AP Scholar award that goes to high scorers on multiple AP exams–a definite stand-out on your college application.

How is the AP English Language Exam Graded?

The AP English Language exam consists of 52 to 55 multiple-choice questions on excerpts from nonfiction texts. The multiple-choice section constitutes 45% of the exam. The other 55% of the exam consists of three free response essay questions:

  • One synthesis – of several texts from which examinees write an argument citing three of the documents.
  • One rhetorical analysis – of nonfiction texts that the writer analyzes to illustrate how language contributes to themes and purpose of the works.
  • One argument – based on evidence.

The CollegeBoard describes the multiple-choice categories on the exam as follows:

  • reading comprehension of rhetorically and topically diverse texts
  • rhetorical analysis of individual texts in isolation
  • synthesis of information from multiple texts
  • written argumentation

The average score for the computer-graded multiple-choice answers consists of the total correct answers out of 52 to 55, which is the raw score. AP readers manually grade the free response answers against a rubric: the result is a total possible score of nine points per question (2016 exam). The grading rubric gives acceptable answers for each component of each question.

For example, the synthesis question might require a test-taker to read six or seven articles about how language has become globalized. Then after evaluating the sources, choose three to support an argument for or against the proposition that monolingualism is a disadvantage today. The rubric contains acceptable responses, gauged on completeness, structure, and writing, among other criteria (the 2016 exam rubric). The score for each response measures the overall correctness of the response to the rubric answers. If you got most of a question right, holistically, you could earn six or seven points out of the nine, which would be your raw score.

Then the multiple-choice and free response scores combine to create the composite score, which proportionally weights to each section, in this case 45-55. That score then converts to a scaled score of one to five, based on specific scoring calculations that are designed to keep scores uniform from year to year. The scaled score could represent a range of composite scores for one through five from year to year.

What’s the Best Way to Prepare for the AP English Language Exam?

Knowing the average AP English Language score, what’s on the test, how it’s scored, and how past students performed on the exam, you can clarify for yourself what you need to target. You know your strengths and weaknesses after taking the course and writing essays. Some students have high recall and don’t have to spend as much time memorizing. Some are better multiple-choice test-takers, while others dazzle with their reading and writing skills. Know yourself, what you’ll need more practice on, and apportion your study/practice time accordingly.

As to general tips, learn how to write an organized essay with a clear thesis statement. Hopefully, your teacher requires you to practice essay writing and gives good feedback to help you elaborate on a clear thesis statement with adequate support and development of your ideas. If you need more help here, check out some online resources or books.

You’ll need strong logic, argument, reading, comprehension, and analytical skills. Be sure you know how to evaluate and document sources credibly. Understand how to detect and use rhetorical strategies to fulfill the specific purpose of a nonfiction work. And of course, grammar counts.

Additionally, keep track of your time. Don’t skip questions altogether without trying to answer what you can, as you can earn some points even for incomplete answers. You can’t get any points if you leave questions blank. Complete the multiple-choice questions you know first, and then come back for the more difficult ones.

Outlining before you dive into longer written responses will help organize your thoughts and save time. You only have three and a half hours, so you want to be both efficient and thorough, especially for the coveted five. Get a good night’s rest the night before to ensure you work at full potential.

Take plenty of practice exams available in class or from outside sources. You can review previous tests on the CollegeBoard website to get an idea of past questions and the scoring rubrics that go with the exams. Get supplemental practice tips, materials, and exams from a review book sold in bookstores or from a reliable tutoring or AP prep service.

Be sure you carefully read the practice questions, so you know what you’re called upon to answer and how you need to respond. You get fewer points for responding with too much extraneous information.

Finally, ask other students who’ve taken the course and the exam, or your teacher for suggestions, and consider these sources for tips targeted to your subject:

Averaging the mean of all scores in the past seven exams, you get an average AP English Language exam score of 2.8, which means the exam, though challenging, offers the substantial potential to pass those who put in the time and effort. Don’t forget that your school’s passing rate or average AP English Language exam score may be higher than the national averages, so check with your guidance counselor for your school stats.

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If you’re studying for an AP exam right now or are thinking about taking an AP class in the future, you might be wondering: how are AP exams scored?

In this post, we'll break down the scoring process, all the way from the raw scores you earn on the multiple-choice section and essays to how you get a final score on a scale of 1-5. Knowing how AP exams are scored can help you do your best on them—especially if you want a perfect 5!


The AP Scoring Scale

Each AP test is given a score from 1 to 5. According to the College Board (the group that administers AP tests), these numbers translate in the following ways:

  • 5: Extremely Well Qualified
  • 4: Well Qualified
  • 3: Qualified
  • 2: Possibly Qualified
  • 1: No recommendation

Any score that's 3 or higher is considered apassing score,though some colleges only accept 4s and 5s for credit. (See AP’s college database for specific policies at each university.) Getting a 5 is especially desirable because, for most exams, it puts you in the top 10-20% of scorers. See our list of AP classes for more info on passing rates.

Your 1-5 score is a scaled score, converted from a composite score. Your composite score is calculated from the total number of raw points you earned from your correct multiple-choice answers and your free response. It’s a bit confusing, but we will guide you through the process!


How Are AP Tests Scored?

The majority of AP exams consist of two sections: multiple choice and free response. On some exams each section is weighted equally, whereas on others one section is worth slightly more. You can look up the specifics for each exam on the official AP courses pages.

The multiple-choice section is graded by a computer. There are no deductions for incorrect or blank answers, so your raw multiple-choice score is simply the number of questions you get correct.

The free-response section is graded during the annual AP Reading held in the first two weeks of June. The AP Reading is basically a huge convention. Tons of teachers and college professors gather to grade thousands and thousands of student-written responses for each exam.

This is why you don't get your AP scores until July even though you take the test in May: the written portion of your exam isn't graded until mid-June.

After that, the College Board has to calculate the composite score and final scaled score for each exam, equating the test so the scores stay even from year to year. (For example, they want to make sure a 3 on the AP US History exam means the same thing from one year to another, even if one version of the test turned out to be more difficult for students.)

(Side note: There is a good chance that an AP teacher at your school goes to the AP Reading each year. It can be interesting and helpful to talk to them about what happens at the convention, how quickly free responses are scored, and the best and worse free responses they’ve seen. These are answers that will vary a lot from subject to subject but could ultimately be helpful to you!)


This is a picture from the English Literature Reading from this blog post over at AP Central. It's worth taking a look at if you are curious about what the AP Reading is like!


Each free response is given a "holistic" score, meaning it's evaluated for its overall effectiveness or correctness. Typically, points aren’t deducted for the occasional small error, such as a spelling or grammar mistake. Most tests grade their free responses between 1 and 9, with 1 being least effective and 9 being nearly perfect.

Your raw free-response score is the total of the scores you get for each response.


How to Get a Scaled AP Score Between 1 and 5

After your multiple-choice section is graded by a machine and your free response is graded by a human, your essay and multiple-choice scores are combined to give you a composite score. This score is just a way of combining the two section scores so that they are weighted correctly. For example, for AP English, multiple choice is worth 45% and free response is worth 55%. Often, composite scores are between 0 and 100, or 0 and 150.

The composite score is then converted to a number on the scaled score range 1-5. This means that for each scaled score, there is a range of possible composite scores that could earn it. For example, a 5 could be any composite score between 110 and 150 on one exam.

Since scaling varies year to year, there are no exact cutoff numbers for scores for AP tests, and the College Board does not release detailed scoring data. Furthermore, you will not see what your composite score was on your AP score report—you'll only get the final number between 1 and 5.  

However, many teachers, prep books, and websites have come up with formulas to predict the scaled score for each AP test, which can help when you are grading your practice tests and trying to come up with a target score.


Scoring Example: AP English Language and Composition

As we've seen, AP test scoring is not exactly straightforward. To help clarify the process, we will walk through a scoring example using the most popular test, AP English Language and Composition.


Also known as the class in which you annotate every. Single. Thing.


Here are the basics of the AP English exam: it has 55 multiple-choice questions, worth 45% of your score, and three essays, worth 55% of your score. Each essay is graded between 1 and 9.

Before we get into the scoring example, remember that this guide is an estimation since score conversions can vary year to year based on test difficulty. While it's impossible to precisely predict an AP test score before you get your score, you can still get an idea of how the process works.


Step 1: Add Up Your Correct Answers to Get Your Raw Scores

There are 55 multiple-choice questions on the AP English exam. Let's say you get 40 right, get eight wrong, and leave seven blank. Your raw multiple-choice score would be an even 40 points.

Out of the three essays, let's say you earn the following scores from the graders: 4, 7, and 8. This gives you a total raw essay score of 19 (4+7+8).


Step 2: Convert Your Raw Scores to a Single Composite Score

Now, this is the tricky part in which we will convert each of those raw scores to a single composite score between 0 and 150.

The maximum converted essay score is 82.5, or 55% of 150. The maximum converted multiple-choice score is 67.5, or 45% of 150. To figure out your composite score, use this formula:

          (Multiple Choice Raw Score x 1.23) + (Essay Raw Score x 3.05) = Composite Score

In this example, your multiple-choice composite score would be 49.2, and your essay composite score would be 57.95. Thus, your total composite score would be 107 (rounded down).


Step 3: Use the Chart to Estimate Your Scaled Score

The last step is easy. Use the chart below to estimate your final AP score (on a scale of 1-5):

Composite Score (0-100 or 0-150)Scaled Score (1-5)


As you can see, your score of 107 would earn you a 5—but just barely!

Again, these numbers are estimates and will shift from year to year based on test difficulty. Since 107 is just over the mark of 104, it's possible that in some years it could net you a 4 instead of a 5.


What About Scoring Other AP Tests?

We’ve learned how to score an AP English Language and Composition exam. However, you can’t use this exact same process for every AP test.Most AP tests have slightly different section weights and question totals, so the scoring formulas are different.

For example, AP Calculus AB has fewer multiple choice questions (45), more free responses (six total), and weighs each section at 50%.


Each AP subject is a unique challenge ... and has its own scoring formula.


So how can you figure out how the AP tests you are taking are graded?

First, if you’re taking the AP class for the test you want to take, ask your teacher if he or she has a formula for converting practice test scores to scaled scores. Most AP teachers have a formula they use with their students for practice exams.

If you’re not taking the class or your teacher doesn’t have a formula, either find a prep book for your specific test or search online.

Remember that all formulas are estimates. So if you really want a 5, you shouldn’t aim for the lowest possible composite—you should aim for perfection, or very close. That’s the only way to guarantee you'll get a 5 on test day.

On the other hand, if you just want to make sure you pass, try to aim for a 4 so that even if you make more mistakes than you're hoping to, you’ll still get at least a 3!


What’s Next?

Curious about the benefits of taking an AP Exam? See our in-depth guide about what AP tests are and why you should take them.

Also studying for the SAT?Get tips from our resident 1600 full scorer, and check out how to improve a low SAT Math score.

Studying for the ACT instead?Get tips on the essay, read a guide to the daily ACT question, and learn how you can score a perfect 36.


Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:


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