The AP English Exam: The Rhetorical Analysis Essay

The second essay on the AP English Language and Composition Exam is a rhetorical analysis essay. For this essay, you will be asked to explain how an author uses rhetorical strategies to make his argument. Though the wording in the prompt will vary, that is always the purpose of this essay.

There are two crucial things to keep in mind in order to write this essay successfully.

The first is something that I've mentioned before: your thesis needs to be about the author's argument AS WELL AS about rhetorical strategies. For example, "this author uses irony," is an incomplete thesis, while "this author uses irony to demonstrate that society holds men and women to different standards" is a complete thesis.

The second tip might go against your natural instinct: don't try to analyze all the rhetorical strategies used in the passage. One or two is enough.

Even though the prompt might seem like it is asking you to name every rhetorical strategy used in the passage, you should not try to do that. In any given passage an author uses several different rhetorical devices; some will be working together, and some may be working independently of each other to get at different sides of the argument. If you try to account for all the rhetorical strategies, it will be almost impossible to write a cohesive essay.

Instead, you should focus on the one or two rhetorical strategies that you find are most prevalent and most important to the argument made in the passage. Your goal is to write a strong essay, so you want to identify a rhetorical strategy with several examples that you can tie together over the course of your essay.

If there are two rhetorical strategies that complement each other, such as the use of both hyperbole and grand metaphors to emphasize the importance of an experience, then you can bring them together with a generalizing label such as "language of emphasis" and then write a body paragraph or two about each.

As you can gather from these two tips, your rhetorical analysis essay needs to have the coherence and persuasiveness of a typical essay. Don't just jump in and start analyzing the passage line by line or paragraph by paragraph. Build a clear argument with compelling evidence and you will get a great score.

Good luck on the AP English exam!