Past AP English Language Essay Prompts 1 of 12
Discuss the grounds on which a group could attack or suppress a work, such as a book, movie, etc.,
then defend the work.
Two eyewitness accounts of two different funerals are given, one from Henry James, the other from
Ralph Ellison. Analyze the differences in their perspectives as seen in their rhetoric.
“Querencia” is defined as a “feeling for one‟s own place”; identify your “own place” and explain its
A passage from “The Rattler” by Donald Peattie is given in which he describes coming upon a
rattlesnake in the desert. Discuss the passage‟s effect and how it is created by the author‟s
A portion of the letter written by George Bernard Shaw after the death of his mother is presented.
Describe the author‟s attitude toward his mother and her cremation; analyze how his language
conveys his attitude.
A short passage from Thomas Szasz is given that discusses the struggle for definition. Agree or
disagree with author‟s position and draw upon your experience, observation, or reading to support
A passage is given in which the author disagrees with the adage “where ignorance is bliss, „tis folly to
be wise.” Summarize the passage‟s reasoning and agree or disagree with the author‟s opinion.
The given passage is a statement of veto from Governor Adali E. Stevenson to the state congress.
Analyze the Governor‟s strategies and devices that make his argument effective.
Describe a place so that it conveys a recognizable feeling through specific details without having to
state that feeling.
Analyze both the good and bad effects of a change in society that has occurred or that you would like
to see occur.
Past AP English Language Essay Prompts 2 of 12
A passage from Thomas Carfyle‟s Past and Present is given. Define the author‟s attitude toward
work, what assumptions he makes about human nature, and how his language persuades the reader
of the validity of his position.
Agree or disagree with the concept that “when everything is superlative, everything is mediocre” while
considering the “ethical and social consequences of language inflation.”
Examine the importance of time, how you keep track in time, and what this reveals about you.
Two passages are given that have different definitions of freedom. One is by Percy Bysshe Shelley
and the other by John Milton. Discuss the concept expressed in each passage and examine the
A passage from Norman Mailer that describes Paret, a Cuban boxer is given. Analyze the effect of
the passage on the reader and how Mailer‟s style produces that effect.
Two passages describe the Soviet Union‟s launching of the first satellite in 1957. Analyze the stylistic
and rhetorical differences between the passages.
Two drafts from the same writer reflect his thoughts about how war changed his attitude about
language. Discuss reasons for the writer‟s additions and deletions and how the revisions affect the
The passage implies that television should reflect the real world. Defend one or more of the
propositions in the passage.
Two Native American writers, N.S. Momaday and D. Brown, describe similar landscapes. Analyze
how their respective styles reveal their different purposes.
Pairs of words similar in meaning but different in connotation are given, i.e., “religion & cult.” Choose
one or more pairs and elaborate on their distinctions.
A quote claiming that human nature yearns for patterns, structure, and conformity is given. Agree or
disagree with the concept and use your experiences, observations, or readings to back up your
Past AP English Language Essay Prompts 3 of 12
Agree or disagree with E. M. Forester‟s quotation in which he claims the he would rather betray his
country than betray a friend
A passage from Zora Neal Hurston‟s Dust Tracks on a Road is given; analyze how her diction and
point of view enhances our view of her childhood.
Examine how the language of a specific group you know well, such as an ethnic or social group,
reflects that group. Describe the language (sociolect) of that group and discuss its influences.
A passage from De Tocqueville‟s Democracy in America is given in which he concludes that
democracy “throws [man] back forever upon himself alone.” Evaluate his ideas.
A passage from Frederick Douglass explains how he felt after escaping slavery and arriving in New
York in 1838. Analyze how his diverse language presents his various states of mind.
Describe a place that might be of interest or significance to others. Include descriptive detail and your
attitude regarding this location.
An announcement from a church bulletin reprinted in a magazine is given; the heading in the
magazine implies a criticism of American values. Argue for or against the implied criticism.
A passage from Martin Luther King‟s Why We Can’t Wait is given; analyze how his style fits his
Describe how one person can be perceived differently at different times or in different situations.
A passage from Beryl Markham‟s autobiography is given. Analyze how her style reflects her
Two passages describe the Galapagos Islands. Analyze the stylistic and rhetorical differences
Present an argument for or against the Supreme Court ruling which limited the First Amendment
Rights of student newspapers, claiming that a school newspaper is a “laboratory situation” that can be
curbed to remain consistent with the school‟s “basic educational mission.”
Past AP English Language Essay Prompts 4 of 12
A passage from the composer Igor Stravinsky is given: analyze how his language choices and
rhetorical devices present his point of view.
A passage from Richard Rodriguez‟s autobiography is given; analyze how his rhetoric and style
reflect his attitude toward his family and himself.
A biblical quote from Ecclesiastes claims that more knowledge brings more sorrow. Agree or
disagree and use your experience, observations, or reading to support your position.
A speech from Queen Elizabeth I to her troops during the war with the Spanish Armada is given.
Identify her purpose and analyze how she uses language to achieve that purpose.
A passage from Joseph Addison‟s Spectator claims that mankind uses ridicule for bad aims instead
of using it to achieve good. Defend, challenge or qualify the concept, using your experience, reading,
or observation to back up your ideas.
A passage from Nancy Mairs about being a “cripple” is given; analyze how she presents herself
through language and rhetorical features.
A passage from Jane Austen and a passage from Charles Dickens are given, each dealing with the
subject of marriage. Compare the rhetorical strategies in the passages and the possible effects of
A passage from H. L. Mencken clarifies his view about the relationship between an artist and society.
Defend, qualify, or challenge Mencken‟s view and support your position with references to particular
writers, artists, or composers.
A passage from E. M. Forster‟s essay “My Wood” describes his feeling about owning property that he
bought from his book royalties. Analyze how his rhetoric and Biblical allusions convey his attitude.
A passage from Sir George Savile, a member of King Charles II‟s Privy Council, is given in which he
addresses the criticism that the King loves only pleasure. Clarify what attitude Savile wants the
reader to adopt and how his rhetorical strategies encourage that attitude.
Past AP English Language Essay Prompts 5 of 12
A quotation from Barbara Tuchman‟s March of Folly is given, in which she asserts the role that
“wooden- headedness” plays in human affairs. Defend, challenge, or qualify her idea, using your
reading and/or observation to support your position.
A passage from Joan Didion‟s essay “Los Angeles Notebook” is given in which she describes the
Santa Ana winds and their effect on people. Analyze how her style promotes her views.
A passage is used in which John Ruskin claims that precedence should be given to the soldier over
the merchant or manufacturer. Evaluate Ruskin‟s argument.
A column by Ellen Goodman called “The Company Man” is given. Analyze how her language and
rhetorical technique conveys her attitude.
A passage from James Baldwin about the importance of language as the “key to identify” and social
acceptance is given. Defend, challenge, or qualify Baldwin‟s ideas, using your experience,
observation, or reading to develop your opinion.
A letter from Lady Montagu to her daughter is given, regarding the education of her granddaughter.
Analyze the rhetorical strategies and stylistic devices she uses to present her ideas about the role
that education played in women‟s lives in the eighteenth century.
A passage from Gary Soto‟s autobiography is presented in which he recounts an experience of
stealing a pie at age six. Examine how his style re-creates both the experience and his ensuing guilt.
A passage from Lewis Lapham‟s Money and Class in America is given in which he observes that
attitudes of Americans toward wealth. Defend, challenge, or qualify his view, based on your own
experiences and knowledge.
A passage from Meena Alexander‟s autobiography, Fault Lines, is given. Analyze how her language
represents her “fractured identity.”
A passage from the autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, is
presented. Analyze how the third paragraph differs stylistically from the rest of the passage and
reinforces Douglass‟ purpose.
Past AP English Language Essay Prompts 6 of 12
A passage from Neil Postman, a contemporary social critic, contrasts the view of the future as
presented in Orwell‟s 1984 and Huxley‟s Brave New World. Postman finds Huxley‟s ideas more
relevant. Agree or disagree with Postman‟s idea, based on your understanding of modern society.
A letter from Charles Lamb to English romantic poet William Wordsworth is given. Analyze the
techniques Lamb uses to reject an invitation by Wordsworth to visit.
A passage from Henry James‟s novel The Portrait of a Lady is given, in which two conversationalists
present differing views about what constitutes the self. Using your experiences, observations, or
reading, develop whichever position you feel has greater validity.
Two letters are presented that deal with an advertising company‟s use of the slogan “It‟s the Real
Thing” to promote a book. One letter is from a Coca- Cola Company executive and the second is a
reply from the advertiser. Analyze the rhetorical strategies each writer uses and examine which is
more successful in its persuasion.
Two passages describing Florida‟s Okefenokee Swamp are presented. Analyze how the style of
each passage reflects each author‟s purpose.
A passage from Jamaica Kinkaid‟s essay, “On Seeing England for the First Time” is given. Analyze
how her attitude toward England is presented through her rhetoric.
A quotation from Teiresias in the play Sophocles is given in which he observes that “the only crime [in
man] is pride.” Evaluate the validity of his claim, using your experience, observation, or reading to
support your opinion.
A passage from Eudora Welty‟s autobiography, One Writer’s Beginnings is given in which she
explains the value that reading books has had on her development as a writer. Analyze how her
language explores the power of these experiences.
A passage from George Orwell is given that criticizes Gandhi and makes a point for humans being
imperfect instead of saints. Analyze how Orwell disapproves of Gandhi and how effective he is in
presenting his own opinion.
A quotation is given from the title character in King Lear, which comments on the relationship
between wealth and justice. Paraphrase Lear‟s comment, then defend, challenge, or qualify that
assertion with examples from reading, experience, or observation.
Past AP English Language Essay Prompts 7 of 12
The letter below was written in 1866 by the English novelist Marian Evans Lewes (who used the pen
name George Elliot) in response to a letter from an American woman, Melusina Fay Peirce. Read the
letter carefully. Then write an essay in which you analyze the rhetorical strategies Lewes uses to
establish her position about the development of a writer.
Carefully read the following passage from “Owls” by Mary Oliver. Then write an essay in which you
analyze how Oliver‟s style conveys the complexity of her response to nature.
Carefully read the following passages by Susan Sontag. Then write an essay in which you support,
refute, or qualify Sontag‟s claim that photography limits our understanding of the world. Use
appropriate evidence to develop your argument.
In his Second Inaugural Address, given one month before the end of the Civil War, United States
President Abraham Lincoln surprised his audience—which expected a lengthy speech on politics,
slavery, and states‟ rights—with a short speech in which he contemplated the effects of the Civil War
and offered his vision for the future of the nation. Read the address carefully. Then write an essay in
which you analyze the rhetorical strategies President Lincoln used to achieve his purpose. Support
your analysis with specific references to the text.
In the following excerpt from her memoirs, Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) reflects upon her childhood
summers spent in the seaside village in Cornwall, England. Read the passage carefully. Then write
an essay in which you analyze how Woolf uses language to convey the lasting significance of these
moments from her past.
Carefully read the following passage from Testaments Betrayed, by the Czech writer Milan Kundera.
Then write an essay in which you support, qualify, or dispute Kundera‟s claim. Support your argument
with appropriate evidence.
The following passage concludes an essay by Edward Abbey about Arvaipa Canyon in New Mexico.
Read the passage carefully. Then write an essay in which you characterize Abbey‟s attitudes toward
nature and analyze how Abbey conveys these views.
Below are excerpts from a crucial scene in Shakespeare‟s play Julius Caesar. Calphurnia, Caesar‟s
wife, has dreamt that Caesar will be murdered and ties to persuade Caesar to go to the Senate,
where the conspirators plan to kill him. Read the excerpts carefully then write an essay in which you
analyze the rhetoric of both arguments and explain why you think that Caesar finds Decius‟s
argument more persuasive than Calphurnia‟s. You may wan to consider such elements as choice of
detail, use of appeals, and understanding of audience.
Past AP English Language Essay Prompts 8 of 12
The passage below is an excerpt from What are People for? by Wendell Berry. Read the passage
carefully. Then write an essay in which you support, refute, or qualify Berry‟s argument. Use
appropriate evidence to develop your position.
In his 1998 book Life the Movie: How Entertainment Conquered Reality, Neal Gabler wrote the
following. Write a thoughtful and carefully constructed essay in which you used specific evidence to
defend, challenge, or qualify the assertion that entertainment as the capacity to “ruin” society.
Alfred M. Green delivered the following speech in Philadelphia in April 1861, the first month of the
Civil War. African Americans were not yet permitted to join the Union army, but Green felt that they
should strive to be admitted to the ranks and prepare to enlist. Read the speech carefully. Then write
an essay in which you analyze the methods that Green uses to persuade his fellow African
Americans to join the Union forces.
The two passages below, one by John James Audubon and the other by Annie Dillard, describes
large flocks of birds in flight. Read the passages carefully. Then write an essay in which you compare
and contrast how each writer describes the birds and conveys their effect on the writer as observer.
In 1830, John Downe, a weaver, traveled to the United States from England and took a job so that he
could earn enough money to enable his wife and children to join him. Read the following letter from
Downe to his wife. Then write an essay in which you analyze the rhetorical strategies that Downe
uses to convince his wife to emigrate to the United States.
The following passage comes from “The Common Life,” a 1994 essay by the American writer Scott
Russell Sanders. Read the passage carefully and then write an essay that defends, challenges, or
qualifies Sanders‟ ideas about the relationship between the individual and society in the United
States. Use specific evidence to support your position.
Read the following excerpt from a news story. Then, using appropriate support, write an editorial for
your school or local newspaper in which you develop a position on the issues raised in this news
The passage below is an excerpt from a letter written by the eighteenth-century author Lord
Chesterfield to his young son, who was traveling far from home. Read the passage carefully. Then, in
a well-written essay, analyze how the rhetorical strategies that Chesterfield uses reveal his own
Past AP English Language Essay Prompts 9 of 12
Contemporary life is marked by controversy. Choose a controversial local, national, or global issue
with which you are familiar. Then, using appropriate evidence, write an essay that carefully considers
the opposing positions on this controversy and proposes a solution or compromise.
Read carefully the following passage from the introduction of Days of Obligation by Richard
Rodriguez. Then, in a well-written essay, analyze how Rodriguez uses contrasts between Mexico And
California to explore and convey his conflicting feelings.
In 1962, the noted biologist Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, a book that helped to transform
American attitudes toward the environment. Carefully read the following passage from Silent Spring.
Then write an essay in which you define the central argument of the passage and analyze the
rhetorical strategies that Carson uses to construct her argument.
More than one hundred years ago, a writer for The Atlantic Monthly confronted an issue that is still
timely. Read the following essay carefully. Then write an essay in which you analyze the nature of the
writer‟s arguments and evaluate their validity for our own time.
Michael Ignatieff, Professor of the Practice of Human Rights Policy at Harvard University, made the
following observation. Consider how unspoken rules help to define group identity. Then write a
carefully reasoned essay that examines the relationship between unspoken rules and belonging. Use
specific examples to develop your position.
The passage below is from “Training for Statesmanship” (1953), an article written by George F.
Kennan, one of the principal architects of United States foreign policy during the period following the
end of the Second World War. Read the passage carefully and select what you believe is Kennan‟s
most compelling observation. Then write an essay in which you consider the extent to which that
observation holds true for the United States or for any other country. Support your argument with
The following article is a mock press release from The Onion, a publication devoted to humor and
satire. Read the article carefully. Then write an essay in which you analyze the strategies used in the
article to satirize how products are marketed to customers.
In “The Singer Solution to World Poverty,” an article that appeared in The New York Times Magazine,
Peter Singer, a professor of bioethics, calls attention to the urgent need for food and medicine in
many parts of the world. Singer argues that prosperous people should donate to overseas aid
organizations such as UNICEF or Oxfam America all money not needed for basic requirements of life.
“The formula is simple: whatever money you‟re spending on luxuries, not necessities, should be given
away.” Write an essay in which you evaluate the pros and cons of Singer‟s argument. Use
appropriate evidence as you examine each side, and indicate which position you find more
Past AP English Language Essay Prompts 10 of 12
The passage below is an excerpt from a lecture delivered in Boston in 1832 by Maria W. Stewart, an
African American educator and writer. Read the passage carefully. Then write an essay in which you
analyze the rhetorical strategies Stewart uses to convey her position.
In the following passage from Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How it Changed
America, contemporary writer John M. Barry describes the complex mechanics of the Mississippi
River. Read the passage carefully. Then, in a well-written essay, analyze how Barry communicates
his fascination with the river to his readers.
The passage below is from The Medusa and the Snail by biologist Lewis Thomas. Read the passage
carefully. Then, drawing on your own reading and experience, write an essay that defends,
challenges, or qualifies Thomas‟s claims.
The passage below is an excerpt from Jennifer Price‟s recent essay “The Plastic Pink Flamingo: A
Natural History.” The essay examines the popularity of the plastic pink flamingo in the 1950‟s. Read
the passage carefully. Then write an essay in which you analyze how Price crafts the text to reveal
her view of United States culture.
The passage below is an excerpt from “On the Want of Money,” an essay written by nineteenth-
century author William Hazlitt. Read the passage carefully. Then write an essay in which you analyze
the rhetorical strategies Hazlitt uses to develop his position about money.
From talk radio to television shows, from popular magazines to Web blogs, ordinary citizens, political
figures, and entertainers express their opinion on a wide range of topics. Are these opinions
worthwhile? Does the expression of such opinions foster democratic values? Write an essay in which
you take a position on the value of such public statements of opinion, supporting your view with
In many national elections, only a fraction of eligible voters actually cast ballots. For local elections
the voter turnout is often even smaller. To prevent this state of affairs, some countries, such as
Australia, make voting compulsory for all adults. In a well-written essay that draws upon your reading,
experience, or observations for support, take a position on the issue of compulsory voting.
In the following passage from George Bernard Shaw‟s play Saint Joan which is based on the life of
Joan of Arc (1412?-1431), Joan, a young French woman, is on trial in a church court for allegedly
spreading heresy (beliefs at variance with established religious doctrine). Dressed in armor, Joan led
French troops against the English. She was eventually captured, turned over to the English, and then
tried by French clerics who supported the English. The most serious crime she was charged with was
her claim that she had received direct inspiration from God. Carefully read the Inquisitor‟s speech to
the church court whose members were to decide Joan‟s fate. Then, in a well written essay, analyze
the rhetorical strategies the Inquisitor uses to argue his case against Joan.
Past AP English Language Essay Prompts 11 of 12
Museums are collections of artifacts. Although museums can represent interests from fine arts to
whaling, people who visit museums sometimes fail to realize that every exhibit, every display case,
represents a series of human decisions: some individual or group of individuals has to decide to
include a particular piece of art or specific artifact in the museum‟s collection. Read the following
sources (including the introductory information) carefully. Then write an essay in which you develop a
position on the most important considerations facing the person responsible for securing a new work
of art or an artifact for a museum. Synthesize at least three of the sources for support.
Do you agree with Mitford‟s view that it is an honor to be called a “muckraker,” or do you think that
journalists who search out and expose real or apparent misconduct go too far in the pursuit of their
stories? Explain your position in a well-written essay that uses specific evidence for support.
Read the selection carefully. Then write an essay in which you analyze the strategies that the
speaker uses to praise his subject and move his audience.
That advertising plays a huge role in society is readily apparent to anyone who watches television,
listens to radio, reads newspapers, uses the Internet, or simply looks at billboards on streets and
buses. Advertising has fierce critics as well as staunch advocates. Critics claim that advertisement is
propaganda, while advocates counter that advertising fosters free trade and promotes prosperity.
Read the following sources (including the introductory information) carefully. Then, write an essay in
which you develop a position on the effects of advertising. Synthesize at least three of the sources for
In the passage below from Staying Put: Making a home in a Restless World, Scott Russell Sanders
responds to an essay by Salman Rushdie, a writer who left his native India for England. Rushdie
describes the “effect of mass migrations” as being “the creation of radically new types of human
being: people who root themselves in ideas rather than places.” Read the Sanders passage carefully.
Then write an essay in which you analyze the strategies Sanders uses to develop his perspective
The practice of offering incentives for charitable acts is widespread, from school projects to fund
drives by organizations such as public television stations, to federal income tax deductions for
contributions to charities. In a well-written essay, develop a position on the ethics of offering
incentives for charitable acts. Support your position with evidence from your reading, observation,
Some nations have a defined national school curriculum, while others, such as the United States, do
not. As a result, students in high school English classes in the United States can read texts that vary
widely from school to school, while students in other countries may all read the same books in high
school. Read the following sources (including the introductory information) carefully. Then write an
Past AP English Language Essay Prompts 12 of 12
essay that develops a position on whether or not there should be specific texts that all students of
high school English must read. Synthesize at least three of the sources for support.
Read the following passage from “America Needs Its Nerds” by Leonid Fridman. Then write an essay
in which you analyze how Fridman develops his argument.
Read the following excerpt from The Decline of Radicalism (1969) by Daniel J. Boorstin and consider
the implications of the distinction Boorstin makes between dissent and disagreement. Then, using
appropriate evidence, write a carefully reasoned essay in which you defend, challenge, or qualify
In 2001 United States Representative Jim Kolbe introduced legislation to Congress to eliminate the
penny coin in most transactions. Although this legislation failed, there are still consistent calls to
eliminate the penny as the smallest-denomination United States coin. Read the following sources
(including the introductory information) carefully. Then write an essay in which you develop a position
on whether or not the penny coin should be eliminated. Synthesize at least three of the sources for
In the following passage from The Great Influenza, an account on the 1918 flu epidemic, author John
M. Barry writes about scientists and their research. Read the passage carefully. Then, in a well-
written essay, analyze how Barry uses rhetorical strategies to characterize scientific research.
For years corporations have sponsored high school sports. Their ads are found on the outfield fence
at baseball parks or on the walls of the gymnasium, the football stadium, or even the locker room.
Corporate logos are even found on players‟ uniforms. But some schools have moved beyond
corporate sponsorship of sports to allowing “corporate partners” to place their names and ads on all
kinds of school facilities-libraries, music rooms, cafeterias. Some schools accept money to require
students to watch Channel One, a news program that includes advertising. And schools often
negotiate exclusive contracts with soft drink or clothing companies. Some people argue that corporate
partnerships are a necessity for cash-strapped schools. Others argue that schools should provide an
environment free from ads and corporate influence. Using appropriate evidence, write an essay in
which you evaluate the pros and cons of corporate sponsorship for schools and indicate why you find
one positions more persuasive that the other.