English Language History Essay Rubric

We've made some changes to the three AP history courses for the 2017-18 school year. These changes will not require AP teachers to resubmit their syllabi to the AP Course Audit or attend professional development.

What's Changing, and Why

In summer 2016, we asked AP history teachers for their thoughts on the redesigns of the three AP history courses. Overall, teachers who responded to our survey said they liked the organization, structure, and content of the new frameworks.

They also suggested further refinements. The changes we made in response to this feedback are reflected in the fall 2017 course and exam description for each course. Here are the most important changes and the teacher concerns they address.

Teachers said:

"There are too many elements in each AP history course for students to master."

Our response:

  1. We streamlined the AP history disciplinary practices and reasoning skills (previously known as historical thinking skills).
    • Periodization and synthesis are no longer listed as course skills.
    • The practices and skills are now defined in clearer, simpler language and reflect a range of student proficiency levels.

    See the AP history disciplinary practices and reasoning skills.

  2. We changed the exam design to give teachers and students more clarity about what to expect and more flexibility to support local curricular focus. See the updated specifications for the AP European History, AP U.S. History, and AP World History exams.

Teachers said:

"There are too many different tasks for students in the essay questions. Students don't have enough time to write good essays."

Our response:

We updated Section II of the AP history exams (document-based question and long essay question) and the generic rubrics.

  • The synthesis point has been removed from both rubrics.
  • Students will have 10 more minutes to answer the DBQ and long essay question.
  • A single rubric will now be used for the long essay question.
  • The rubrics describe more clearly what students will need to do to earn each point.

See the updated AP history rubrics (.pdf/340.46KB). Annotated sample essays scored with these rubrics are available on the AP European History, AP U.S. History, and AP World History exam pages.


  1. We reduced the number of AP European History and AP World History learning objectives, making them more useful for teachers in structuring their courses.
  2. We made minor changes to the AP European History and AP World History concept outlines to more appropriately order the key concepts and align with current scholarship.
  3. We articulated a new theme for AP European History: National and European Identity. However, no new course content has been added.

The AP English Language exam contains three essays, two of which are the argument essays. The argument essays come with a prompt that contains a passage. The student must then analyze and immediately craft an appropriate argument that answers the prompt. This essay is different than the synthesis essay in that there is only one prompt that the student must analyze; however, the passage is much longer than the smaller sources found in the synthesis essay. In order to succeed on the AP English Language argument essay the student must support his or her argument proficiently. This can be done by referencing the passage, adding his or her experiences, utilizing logic, and maintaining readable grammar and mechanics.

It is important, however, to note that the examiners know that you only have two hours and fifteen minutes to write three essays. Because of this, the essays do not have to be pristine, but they need to be firm in their argument, and more importantly, well-developed.

Referencing the Passage

You are given a passage and a prompt at the start of the argument essay that you as the writer must adhere to. Do not attempt to go off-topic, because the highest score that an off-topic argument essay can earn on the rubric is a 1. This argument must be supported as you write, and one of the best ways to do this is to reference the passage that you are given. This passage is your concrete proof for your argument, so utilize it. It is one of your greatest tools. An argument essay that has support from its passage allows the student to show that they can utilize sophisticated methods of supporting their arguments.

An example of a student that argues well to support his or her claim is seen below. The student is arguing that college is worth the money.

The largest motivator behind going or not going to college seems to be money.  It is commonly accepted that a college education results in better financial situations later in life. It is certainly true that college grads earn, on average, 20,000 dollars more per year than those with only a high school diploma. (source F). It is also true that college grads are less likely to be unemployed. (source D)

This argument is done so well, because he or she references the text and analyzes it. By doing so, the student gains further depth to the argument and this student’s full essay (1A) would receive a score of an 8.

An example of an argument that does not reference the text is the following:

Primarily, a college education is worth the cost because you will never find yourself working in a fast food restaurant such as McDonald’s or Burger King. However, many people do not have a choice to work at fast food restaurants because they can’t afford college and their parents can’t afford it. 

This argument, while developed, is not as convincing as the student that references the text correctly and clearly. Because of this, this student’s full essay (1C) would receive a lower score of 4.

Knowledge or Personal Experiences

Unlike the synthesis essay, the argument essays allow the student to insert any relevant knowledge or personal experiences that he or she has. This serves the purpose of bringing even more depth to the argument, and allows the student to show what they know.

The key to adding knowledge, and especially personal experience, is to only use relevant details. The College Board does not need to know about how fun your trip to the beach was, but if a small part of the experience relates to the prompt, then use it. Relating your argument to a relevant event can show the examiners that you can apply a concept, which may bump your score up a point.

An example of knowledge used in an AP English Language argumentative essay is Student 1A that was referenced above. Student 1A does a great job implementing his or her knowledge by saying the following:

Coincidentally personal growth also plays a large role in the perceived quality of life. Taking this into consideration makes college more than a machine designed to increase an individual’s level of monetary success.

This student is using his or her knowledge here, showing how it is not only money that affects someone later in life, but the experiences that the person has in college. This is effective, showing why he or she received an 8.

Utilizing Logic and Details

Supporting details and logical arguments are a key point in the AP English Language argument essay rubric, because lending more support to your argument allows the examiners to buy into that argument. When the examiners see your point so nicely developed, then you will jump up to higher scores such as 7s, 8s, or 9s depending on how much support there is and your eloquence.

Student 1A is an example of utilizing logic to support his or her argument. The student says the following:

Putting aside the idea of money seems counterintuitive when considering the worth of an education, but it is necessary. There is more to life. A large part of college is also personal growth.

This appeal to logic is used as a transition as the student brings a realistic approach to the prompt. The examiners will see this as a masterful use of adding details to the argument without losing track of the argument itself. Also, the examiners see that the student can stand on his own without the sources, although he or she utilizes them later on.

A student that does not utilize logic well is Student 1B. This student is heavily dependent on quotations from the sources, and this causes the student’s credibility to falter. The reader questions if the student is able to form his or her own ideas in a logical manner, leading to a drop in the student’s score. Being unable to form a logical structure to lay your argument on will result in a lower score of a 4 or a 5.

Use of Language

The use of language, while not the most influential part of the essay, does have an effect on the overall score. By use of language we mean the degree that the student utilizes grammar, spelling, and mechanics as well as figurative language that adds a persuasive element.

If the student uses the language well, then this will reveal to the examiner that the student can use writing as a tool to persuade. This is important in the AP English Language argument essay, because inserting parallel structure or a perfectly placed analogy will impress your examiner.

Your grammar may not be the most pressing matter in the argument essay; however, if your grammar or mechanics are so poor that you are unclear in your argument, then the highest score that you can receive on the AP English Language argument essay rubric is a 2.

Key Takeaways from the AP English Language Argument Essay Rubric

In order to cover all of your bases in the AP English Language exam argument essay you will want to be sure to practice months before the exam. Preparation is everything. A useful tip is to have the AP English Language argument rubric in front of you as you write your first few attempts at a practice essay. This will keep your argument essay focused.

The most important part of the argument essay is to support your thesis, or the claim that you make to fulfill the prompt. If you reference the passage that you are given, add your own knowledge or personal experiences, be as detailed and logical as possible, and utilize language well, then your score will rise toward that sought-after 9.

Photo by Jeff Billings [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By the way, you should check out Albert.io for your AP English Language review. We have hundreds of AP English Language practice questions written just for you!

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