The Graide Network supports both AP English courses: AP English Language and Composition ("AP Lang"), which is focused on rhetoric and composition, and AP English Literature and Composition ("AP Lit"), which is focused on literary analysis.
The year-end exams for both courses contain three Free-Response essays, which account for 55% of the total exam score. During the school year, students practice writing these timed responses.
New Rubric! A switch to analytic from holistic scoring
AP English essays used to be graded on a holistic scale of 0 to 9, reflecting overall quality, but for the 2019-20 school year and beyond, the College Board released a new analytic rubric which evaluates student success out of 6 possible points across three scoring categories:
- Thesis (1 point)
- Evidence and Commentary (4 points)
- Sophistication (1 point)
Each of these “reporting categories” contains specific technical requirements that students must meet in order to earn points. The student’s identification and use of evidence continue to be weighted most heavily, with four of the six available points falling within the Evidence and Commentary reporting category.
How do the rubrics vary by course and/or essay type?
The Thesis and Sophistication scoring criteria are nearly identical across courses and all 6 essay types. The Evidence and Commentary scoring criteria have slight variations to address the source of that evidence per each essay type.
Here’s what the overall scoring rubric looks like for the Synthesis Essay:
How to Score an Essay
1) Review the "original rubric" in your Assignment Documents. When you're grading an AP English assignment, the original rubric linked in your assignment documents section is a helpful resource to more easily view the "decision rules" and "scoring notes" provided by the College Board.
Navigate to each specific essay's page in the Help Center for a breakdown of these scoring guidelines.
AP Language & Composition
AP Literature & Composition
2) Focus on the core questions. When you grade any AP English essay type, you should focus on the following core questions about the student’s work:
AP English Grading Checklist
Thesis (0-1 points)
Evidence and Commentary (0-4 points)
Sophistication (0-1 points)
- Keep students’ time restrictions in mind and reward them for what they do well. On the exam, students are given a 15-minute reading period and then a 2-hour writing period. Since each essay counts for one-third of the total essay section score on the AP exam, the College Board suggests an equal 40-minutes be spent on each essay. Keep these short, often stressful 40-minutes in mind when scoring, and be sure to reward students for what they do well! As indicated by the components of the rubric, the essay’s argument, evidence, and analysis are more important than grammar, spelling, or style. Essay structure can be a priority when it directly impacts one of these areas!
- Monitor the distribution of total points. We expect that the scoring distribution will likely reflect that which we saw with the holistic rubric, with the majority of scores within a single class falling in the mid-range. Students should be rewarded for what is done well, but scores are rigorous. It’s likely that your scores will fall mostly in the 2 - 4 range. The Graide Network does serve schools that will trend higher and lower on average, but if you are consistently falling outside of this range, you may want to double-check that you’re scoring with the appropriate balance of rigor and reward. We expect that 6s will be rare. If you feel an essay is absolutely magical, it might be best to err on the side of caution and score a 5.
- Evidence and explanation get the largest weight in the score, as reflected by the fact that this scoring category includes four of the potential six points. Pay particular attention to how well the student connects their evidence back to their thesis!
- Thesis statements might be found anywhere in the essay; they don’t have to be located in the introduction paragraph in order to earn the point! Additionally, the Thesis point is earned independently -- i.e., if the student’s thesis meets the criteria for the point, the point should be awarded even if the rest of the essay does not successfully support or prove that thesis.
- The Sophistication point only requires one of the example criteria to be met in order to be earned! A student does not need to provide a counterargument, explain context, have a really nuanced thesis, AND use effective prose in order to earn the point. They might, for example, have a highly insightful thesis as well as write particularly well, but either of these is sufficient to award this point. The caveat: this element of sophistication must be part of the argument and contribute to a sophisticated response on the whole. A passing reference to a counterargument, for example, is not enough to earn the point. Expect this point to be pretty rare: for most classes, few (if any) students receive it.
Avoid These Common Mistakes!
Make sure your scoring is focused on the core areas of the AP rubric and doesn’t get caught up by any of these common Graider mistakes:
- Don’t focus on grammar and mechanics! These aspects of writing are relatively unimportant in scoring. However, if grammatical and/or mechanical errors are so frequent and significant that they interfere with your understanding of the essay, the student is ineligible for the fourth point in the Evidence and Commentary reporting category. It is, however, rare to see this level of technical writing errors in a high-scoring essay.
- Handwriting is never a part of the score or feedback. Do your absolute best to read student handwriting (AP readers must!), but if you absolutely can’t read an essay in spite of your best efforts, just skip it and mark it as illegible.
- Don’t comment on cross-outs and additions. Students are allowed (and encouraged!) to cross out, arrow, and carrot in additions. Do your best to follow these changes.
- Don’t penalize for “missing” conclusions. While they do make for “nicer” writing, conclusion paragraphs are usually brief and are not actually required in this exam! Generally, you should not comment on a student’s conclusion (or the lack of one) since it is not weighted in the score. However, sometimes students hide their theses in them. This is allowed, but generally a bad habit which should be noted.
- Don’t be fooled by flowery writing! Sometimes, a student may write with sophisticated style or flowery language, but fail to adequately analyze evidence or support their argument. While these essays might sound nice, they don’t achieve the main goals of AP assignments -- namely, the development and analysis of evidence in support of a relevant argument. If an essay is written extremely well on the surface-level, take a moment to consider whether it meets the assignment goals, or if sophisticated styling is masking a lack of analysis. Make sure the specific scoring categories guide your evaluation of each student’s essay!
For more specific common mistakes: Grading AP English: Common Mistakes
On most assignments, we ask Graiders to focus on helping students improve as writers rather than telling them how they can “score more points.” However, as the new, analytic rubric for the AP Language evaluates essays within technical scoring categories aligned to high-level writing skills, this is one case where it can be best practice to say, for example, “To earn [the third Evidence and Commentary point], you could have done XYZ.”
While students often won’t be rewriting these essays, the most helpful feedback still helps students understand specifically which parts of their argument were strong, which examples they could have used to make it stronger, or how they could have made their analysis and connection to the thesis more explicit and effective. This gives students a clear illustration of what they’re doing well, as well as what greater success would have looked like, so that they can work towards greater success on future similar essays. If their writing was more summary than analysis, what ideas could have been developed further? Why didn’t certain explanations fully connect to the thesis? Specific parts of their essay should be referenced.
Effective feedback is also about explaining how the student can jump to the next score range.
- For low scoring students (0-2), this is almost certainly elements of composition (focus of paragraphs, inclusion of relevant evidence, taking a clear position) or relevancy to prompt. What made the student score a 0-2 instead of a 3-4?
- For high scoring students (5-6), this will be extraneous areas like correcting one-time lapses.
- Differentiating for mid-scoring students is your toughest job. The new rubric makes this a little easier by providing explicit requirements that must be met in order to earn each individual point. See specifics for each point of each essay type on the individual tip sheet for each essay (in the sidebar)!