AP® English Language Scoring Guide

As a student taking AP® English Language and Composition, you probably realize that earning a passing score (3 or greater) on the AP English Language exam can help you unlock many benefits in pursuing higher education in college. But many students have the following questions about AP English Language and Composition scores.

  • What is a good AP English Language score?
  • What is the average AP English Language score?
  • How hard is it to earn a score of 3 or above?

This article will answer these and other frequently asked questions high school students have about AP exam scoring to help you prepare for your upcoming AP English Language and Composition exam.

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How is the AP English Language exam scored?

The AP English Language and Composition Exam has two different types of questions: multiple-choice and free-response. The exam duration is 3 hours and 15 minutes. The multiple-choice portion of the exam accounts for 45 percent of the total score, while the free-response portion accounts for 55 percent.

There are 45 multiple-choice questions to answer, and you’ll have one hour to do so. Each MCQ comes with five answer choices There is no penalty for wrong answers, and questions that are left blank do not earn any points. You are encouraged to take a guess if you don't know the right answer.

The students have 15 minutes of reading time and two hours to answer the three free-response questions. Each of the three free-response essays scores between 0 and 6 points. Per the College Board®, your essay is graded as a whole, taking into account its content, style, and mechanics. So make sure to focus on and practice each aspect to score as many points as possible for the prompt.

AP English Language and Composition Scoring Guidelines & Rubrics

As of 2023, the total composite score for the AP Lang exam was 100. The total raw score in Section I is 45, while in Section II, it amounts to 55. Each MCQ you answer correctly in Section I will count for 1 point, and each FRQ in Section II carries 6 points. Based on the scoring rubric for the FRQ section, the number of points you earn per question is added up and then converted to a raw score out of 55. Each section's raw scores are added to derive your final composite score out of 100. This score is then converted to the AP scaled score of 1 - 5.

The College Board publishes scoring rubrics that explain how students' AP exam essays will be graded. There are three types of essays: the synthesis essay, the rhetorical analysis essay, and the argument essay. You can find each rubric on the website of the College Board. Here is the tabular format of the scoring guidelines and rubric-scoring criteria with the decision rules and scoring notes from the AP English Language exam.

FRQ Question1 FRQ Question2 FRQ Question3 Points
Row A Responds to the prompt with a thesis that presents a defensible position. Responds to the prompt with a defensible thesis that analyzes the writer’s rhetorical choices. Responds to the prompt with a thesis that presents a defensible position. 1
Row B Provides evidence and commentary. Provides evidence and commentary. Provides evidence and commentary. 1 to 4
Row C Demonstrates sophistication of thought and/or a complex understanding of the rhetorical situation. Demonstrates sophistication of thought and/or a complex understanding of the rhetorical situation. Demonstrates sophistication of thought and/or a complex understanding of the rhetorical situation. 1

AP English Language Scoring Table

The final results will exclude your weighted combination score and the individual scores for each part. Instead, only your scaled score, ranging from 1 to 5, will be visible. Each score corresponds to a specific level of performance. Colleges utilize these results to assess eligibility for free college credit and placement. To be considered, students must achieve a score of 3 or higher. These scores stem from a comprehensive study conducted by the AP program.

AP Exam Score College Grade Equivalent Qualification
5 A+ or A Extremely well qualified
4 A-, B+, or B Very well qualified
3 B-, C+, or C Qualified
2 Possibly Qualified
1 No recommendation

In the college admissions process, AP scores below 3 are generally not considered when evaluating a student's application. However, if a student wants to get college credit and an advanced placement based on their AP English Language exam score, they must get a score of 3 or higher. Always double-check the minimum requirements of the colleges you want to apply to since some schools require a higher score for you to get college credit.

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AP English Literature Score Distribution

AP English Language is one of the most popular AP courses among high school students who intend to go to college since English is almost always a mandatory course. In May 2023, approximately 568,000 students took the AP English Language and Composition exam. Of these students, over 56% (a whopping 318,080) earned a score of 3 or higher!

Let us take a look at the AP English Language score distribution table for May 2023:

Final Score No. of Students % of Students
5 56,800 10 %
4 113,600 20 %
3 147,680 26 %
2 164,720 29 %
1 85,200 15 %

As the above table indicates, a majority of AP English Language test-takers scored a 3 or above. This should give you confidence heading into the exam since the odds are in your favor. With the right study plan and learning tools, you will give yourself the best opportunity to score a 5!

Only 18 students earned a perfect score in the 2023 AP Lang exam!

For perspective on the AP English Language exam scoring trends, let us also examine how students performed on the past exams from 2019 to 2022:

AP Score % of Students in 2022 % of Students in 2021 % of Students in 2020 % of Students in 2019
5 10.4% 9.1% 12.6 9.9
4 21.1% 22.9% 20.4 18.2
3 24.2% 25.8% 29.1 26.2
2 29.8% 29.3% 26.2 31.2
1 14.5% 12.9% 11.8 14.5
Success Rate(3 and above) 55.7% 57.8% 62.1% 54.3

AP English Language Minimum Score Requirement for College Credits

As we mentioned earlier, most colleges require a minimum score of 3 on your AP exams to qualify for free credit or advanced placement. But there is more to the value of AP courses than that. Simply taking the AP English Language course but not the end-of-course exam will set you apart from your non-AP counterparts in the eyes of admissions committees, even though you won’t receive any college credit for your efforts.

Each university has unique score requirements for free credit and advanced placement, so check with the university to which you intend to apply to ensure you know exactly what target score you need to earn.

Here is a list of some universities and their minimal AP English Language criteria if you want those free credits.

Institution AP Score AP Recognition Equivalent Course Credits
Harvard University 5 Credit 4 credits

University of California, Berkeley (UCB)
4/5 Credit
Reading and Writing Composition “A” 5.3 semester units
3 - 5.3 semester units
Yale University 5 Credit
- 1 credit
Columbia University 5 Credit
3 credits
University of California, Los Angeles 4/5 Credit
ENGCOMP 3 8 credits
3 - 8 credits
University of Chicago 5 Credit
- 100 units general elective credit
University of Michigan--Ann Arbor 4/5 Credit
- 3 credits
Southern Methodist University, Dallas, TX 4/5 Credit
- 6 credits
University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX 3/4/5 Credit
RHE 306 -
University of Houston, Houston, TX 4/5 Credit
ENGL 1304 6 credits
3 ENGL 1303 3 credits

Visit College Credit Policies for a complete list of colleges accepting AP English Language scores for free credit or advanced placement.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Scoring a 5 is the absolute best score, but scoring a 3 or 4 could qualify you for free college credits and advanced placement.
The easiest way to calculate your MQC score is by using the performance dashboard within our AP English Language QBank. You can view your raw total score for all the answers you get right as you practice.
The AP English Language scores are usually available in July of each year.
You can check your AP English Language exam score by signing into your College Board account, entering your AP number, and going to the “Score Reporting” section.
Yes, you can score a 5 on the exam with the right study plan and preparation tools.
This will depend on your college’s specific requirements, so be sure to check with the admissions office to be certain.
Most institutions will grant you 5-6 minimum semester credits earned for a score of 3-4, but check with your target college’s admissions office for the exact minimum score and credits offered.

Creating a study plan, taking an AP English Language practice test, working through AP English Language practice questions, and using dependable learning tools are critical to success. It also helps to know how the exam is scored and what to expect on exam day to be informed and confidently approach the exam.

Practicing exam-like questions is essential in preparing for any high-stakes exam, as it familiarizes you with the rubric.

We recommend using our online learning tools for AP English Language because we provide:

  • Hundreds of exam-like questions that mimic the style and difficulty of the exam
  • Answer explanations with vivid illustrations to facilitate content mastery and literary analysis
  • Performance tracking measures your progress and targets areas that need improvement

If you prepare with UWorld, practice with our timed-tests on AP English Language and Composition. If you focus on your studies and follow a well-designed study plan, you will position yourself for success in the classroom, in college, and beyond. Start today with a FREE 7-day trial and see why students like you love using UWorld’s Learning Tools for AP English Language to prepare for exam success!

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Read More About AP English Language

Want to know if AP English Literature is a good fit for you? Get to know everything about the exam here: what’s on the exam, why take it, prerequisites, difficulty, and more!
Discover the format of the exam in this easy-to-read guide that breaks down the exam sections, types of questions on the exam, and much more
Looking for the AP English Language course and exam description? You can find all about the units, subjects, and essential concepts in depth here.
Access to an informative study guide and preparation materials is crucial to exam success. You’ll find both of these tools in this useful article.
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