Free Response Essay Prompts

The AP English Language course is designed to develop critical literacy and facilitate informed citizenship in students. To that end, students examine and discuss non-fiction works of various types and themes, summarizing who is being addressed, what is being said, how the idea is being presented and why it is being said.

According to the AP English Language Course Description the exam strives to test reading and writing skills necessary for successful college careers and intellectual and civically responsible involvement in the world, as a whole. The review includes three free-response prompts within 2 hours and 15 minutes. The Free-response section accounts to 55% of your score.

What is the format of AP English Language Exam?

The exam consists of 52 – 55 multiple-choice questions. You have one hour to complete the multiple-choice section. The free-response section includes three essay responses within 2 hours and 15 minutes. Each piece follows a particular prompt.


Students review several different texts about a common topic. They must create an argument which uses at least three of the sources to support their thesis.

Rhetorical Analysis

Students read a non-fiction passage and interpret how the author’s language choice contributed to his or her intended meaning and purpose for writing.


Students reply to a given topic by creating an evidence-based argument.

You can find AP English Language practice questions on the Guide to AP English Language.

Why is the AP English Language Free-Response Important?

According to CollegeBoard’s 2016 Student Score Distributions Guide only 10.7% of AP English Language students received a 5 in 2016. To achieve the optimal score, you’ll need to present yourself clearly with well-written essays.

Essays are scored 1 – 9. This grade is then multiplied by 3.0556 for the weighted score. An exam must total a minimum of 112 to receive a 5.

What Content is Covered in the Free-Response Section of AP English Language?

There is no set syllabus or recommended reading for the course. However, there are guidelines which AP teachers use to choose included texts. Reading assignments should represent a clear rhetorical situation (e.g. topical fiction), speak to one another through a variety of genres, offer various rhetorical devices, and challenge AP students to understand non-fiction writing. has compiled the Ultimate AP English Language Reading List as a helpful tool for students.

The free-response section of the exam will require you to write three essays, as outlined in the course description on CollegeBoard. There are three types of articles, and each year the content is changed. However, the primary goals remain the same.


You will be presented a topic and must choose a position. Then you will formulate a clear and convincing essay to sway the reader. You must employ appropriate evidence and persuasive arguments, to make your point.

For an in-depth guide read How To Master AP English Language Arguing or How To Craft An Argument For AP English Language on

Rhetorical Analysis

You will read a selected non-fiction text or passage. Your essay must attend to the stylistic and pragmatic choices the author made for the piece. Then surmise how these decisions affect the author’s ability to address their intended audience, or possibly multiple unintended readers.

Read Understanding the Rhetorical Triangle for AP English Language and 3 AP English Language Rhetorical Strategies for specific direction on this subject.


You are given multiple texts with a common theme. It is your assignment to formulate an opinion after analyzing multiple views on the same topic. You must write an informed, authoritative, and convincing argument which answers the prompt and includes data from multiple sources.

Turn to Understanding the AP English Language Synthesis Rubric for help on this topic, as well as How to Ace the AP English Language and Composition Synthesis Essay.

How to Prepare for AP English Language Free-Response Section

How you distribute your time will be a major factor as the AP exams grow closer. There are many invaluable resources online through CollegeBoard and to aid in your test preparation. Take advantage of AP English Language Free-Response Questions from past years on CollegeBoard. Don’t discount’s practice questions and the One Month AP English Language and Composition Study Guide. The following are some quick tips for your AP English Literature study plan.

Familiarize Yourself with AP Questions

Use the resources available to read and practice answering real AP questions. There are free-response questions from past exams, along with example responses, and scoring on CollegeBoard. offers model AP style questions for various topics. Read different prompts, write practice essays and improve your performance.

Self-score Your Practice Essays

Check out How To Score Your Own AP English Language Practice Essay for tips. Be objective, pay particular attention to grammar, syntax, and spelling. Don’t let yourself perpetuate small mistakes. If possible, trade practice exams with a classmate and grade each other using the guide.

Choose a Review Book

Employ the use of an AP English Language review book to help you prepare. The Best AP English Language Review Books of 2016 is an excellent resource for that purpose.

Read Comparable Texts

Read all your assigned texts and as many others as you can. Use the Ultimate AP English Language Reading List for insightful suggestions.

Take Notes

Make thoughtful and detailed notes as you read every text that answers the important qualifying questions for any AP English Literature review. Who is the writer addressing? What are they saying? Why are they saying it? And, how is the author presenting this information?

Use all Your Resources

In addition to class work, syllabus and extra reading, online AP English Language practice questions, and CollegeBoard free-response questions, responses and scoring guides for previous years, think outside the box. Form a study group. Watch YouTube videos on the topics you’re researching. Adapt your study tactics for your personal learning preferences.

How to Answer AP English Language Free-Response Questions?

Thoroughly Review Essay Prompts

Read the given instructions and clearly identify the objective. Look at the solution from opposing viewpoints before beginning your outline.

Adopt a Position

Decide what your thesis statement will be. When choosing what position to take, consider the evidence you are provided. Pick a position that is easily dependable with the given information.

Outline Your Essay

Construct a quick outline which will include the main idea, supporting evidence (three items are recommended) and a conclusion.

Write Your Thesis

Create a cohesive and intelligible statement which addresses the given prompt and topic. Answer all questions presented in your introductory paragraph and present the main point of your argument.

Write Supporting Paragraphs

Include evidence to defend your position and cite origin. Expand on how your thesis is justified by your presented information.

Include Provided Resources

Cite passages, statements, and facts from the given texts. It is important to connect your points with supporting information directly. Failing to do so will be detrimental to your performance.

Avoid Ambiguity

Use precise language and specific examples to support your supposition. Each example should work towards the goal of proving your thesis.

Establish a Tone

Your essay should maintain a consistent tone which is suitable for the topic and your intentions.

Use Logic to Your Advantage

The ability to make logical assumptions is imperative to your score on the AP English Literature free-response prompts. Use these inferences to substantiate your claims and clarify your opinions.

Take Time for Style

When writing your essay, utilize sophisticated vocabulary, proper grammar and syntax. Ensure that you understand any words used and that your argument makes sense. A well-written response will engage the reader and use style to entice them.

Manage Your Time

As you organize and write your response, be mindful of the time. You must complete three prompts in 2 hours and 15 minutes. Keep this in mind.

Understand the Scoring Rubric

This is a valuable method for scoring well on the free-response section. Comprehension of the way your essay will be scored can help you model better responses.

Visit Understanding the AP English Language Argument Rubric, Understanding The AP English Language Synthesis Rubric, and How To Score Your Own AP English Language Essay for tips.

What are AP English Language Free-Response Questions Like?

The following are actual free-response prompts from past exams. You can find more released essay questions with example responses and scores on CollegeBoard.

Example one is from the 2016 exam.

“Over the past several decades, the English language has become increasingly globalized, and it is now seen by many as the dominant language in international finance, science, and politics. Concurrent with the worldwide spread of English is the decline of foreign language in English-speaking countries, where monolingualism-the use of a single language-remains the norm.

Carefully read the following six sources, including the introductory information for each source. Then synthesize information from at least three of the sources and incorporate it into a coherent, well-developed essay that argues a clear position on whether monolingual English speakers are at a disadvantage today.

Your argument should be the focus of your essay. Use the sources to develop your argument and explain the reasoning for it. Avoid merely summarizing the sources. Clearly indicate which sources you are drawing from, whether through direct quotation, paraphrase, or summary. You may cite the sources as Source A, Source B, etc., or by using the descriptions in parenthesis”.

To view the sources, take a look at the complete 2016 prompt.

As you tackle this question, it’s important to observe the following steps for a successful synthesis essay. For more in depth direction refer to How to Ace the AP English Language and Composition Synthesis Essay.

Use the 15 Minute Planning Time Effectively

Read all the sources provided for you. As you examine the evidence, plan your position. Write your outline and the basis of your thesis during this time.

Evaluate Sources Critically

Take into account the background information provided for each source and what biases may be in effect.

Create a Cohesive Argument

Support your cohesive argument with specifically cited information from provided sources.

Proofread Your Essay

Cross check your essay for spelling, grammar, and punctuation mistakes.

Example two was given during the 2015 exam.

“On the tenth anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., labor union organizer and civil rights leader Cesar Chavez published an article in the magazine of a religious organization devoted to helping those in need. Read the following excerpt from the article carefully. Then, in a well-written essay, analyze the rhetorical choices Chavez makes to develop his argument about nonviolent resistance.”

When answering this prompt, it is important that you fully understand the rhetorical triangle, before you begin. As you read the excerpt, mark passages or points that will be relevant to your argument. Refer to 3 AP English Language Rhetorical Essay Strategies for help in developing this type of answer.

Carefully Discern what the Prompt is Asking for.

Collect your thoughts and outline your essay in the planning time allotted.

Organize your thoughts

as you read the text. Make annotations along the margins to direct your writing. Remember to cite relevant passages to support your position.

Begin each body paragraph

with an assertion you will prove within. This clearly outlines what you are attempting to demonstrate with the enclosed citations and explanations

Remember LORA

LORA stands for Language, Organization, and Rhetorical Appeals.

To view the entire prompt,example responses and scoring visit the CollegeBoard.

How can I practice AP English Language Free-Response?

The most efficient AP English Language study plan will include a variety of resources and devices. Take full advantage of the practice prompts provided on, the many free-response questions presented and reviewed on CollegeBoard and helpful articles to pinpoint strategies for exceptional performance.

To that end, check out How To Study For AP English Language and Composition and 9 Things You Need To Remember About The AP English Language and Composition Exam next!

Looking for AP English Language practice?

Kickstart your AP English Language prep with Albert. Start your AP exam prep today.

The thought of writing the AP English Lit essay can be a daunting one, but if you know the texts and understand the themes, there is nothing to worry about.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein deals with many themes that we will go over in this article, and we will explore how the themes and issues can be adapted to suit the question. You’ll often find that the themes in text run parallel with each other, so it can be easier to understand the novel when all the themes run into each other.

We will look at the AP English Literature free response questions from previous years, so you can get a better idea of how to answer them and any future free response questions.

Frankenstein AP English Lit Essay Themes

There are a number of themes in Frankenstein that can be applied to your AP English Lit essay. Nature, knowledge, technology, science, supernatural, secrecy, and the fear of the unknown are all evident in the novel.

Some of the themes run parallel with each other and help to develop other issues in the text, such as science and technology being directly related to knowledge. With the Industrial Revolution sparking new technological developments, these themes of science, technology and knowledge go hand-in-hand.

Frankenstein is a Romantic Gothic novel and during the Romantic period, nature played an important role in art and literature. Natural surroundings are significant to Frankenstein and can be seen through Shelley’s descriptions of the landscape. Shelley also uses nature as devices to create messages, for example, when the monster writes messages for Frankenstein on the trees and stones.

The theme of the supernatural runs throughout the novel, which was significant in Gothic and Romantic literature. Writers and artists were making use of their imaginations, giving light to new ways of looking at the world, and this can be seen through the character of the monster.

Secrecy is an important theme in the novel, as Frankenstein is so secretive about his work and science that it kills his loved ones and eventually himself. The monster is created in secret, and Frankenstein then continues to keep him secret, leading to the events that unfold.

How to use Frankenstein for the 2016 AP English Literature Free Response Questions

“Choose a novel or play in which a character deceives others. Then, in a well-written essay, analyze the motives for that character’s deception and discuss how the deception contributes to the meaning of the work as a whole.”

Frankenstein is a good choice to use for answering free response questions that deal with deception, as deception features prominently in the text. The character of Victor Frankenstein is where we see the most deception.

The novel focuses on Victor’s attempts to keep the monster a secret. The fact that Victor has created a monster is kept secret until the end, when he confesses everything to Walton just before he dies. Victor spends most of the novel trying to kill the monster that he created, but he keeps this ambition hidden from everyone.

Victor is deceiving those around him by keeping the monster’s existence to himself. Victor’s creation is responsible for the death of his younger brother. Justine, the innocent young girl in the Frankenstein family, gets blamed for the murder of Victor’s brother and is executed as a result.

Victor loses two younger members of his family as a direct result of the creation of his monster. The monster then goes on to kill Victor’s friend, Henry, before killing his new wife, Elizabeth. If Victor had informed someone of the existence of his creation, he might have avoided losing his loved ones.

Victor deceives others to protect his scientific discovery and his own knowledge. It is this deception by Victor that is the reason for his demise. By deceiving people he suffers extreme guilt, which leads him to become obsessed with trying to stop the monster.

This obsession with trying to eliminate the monster consumes Victor. His life revolves around his trying to correct the mistake he made by creating the monster in the first place. Keeping his creation of the monster a secret, he has to deal with the consequences alone. The theme of secrecy is reflected through Victor and through his deception of others.

By keeping such a secret, Victor’s mental health deteriorates from guilt, as it is he who is responsible for the death of his loved ones. The secrecy is important to the plot of Frankenstein and contributes to the other aspects of the novel, such as the quest for knowledge and science, as well as the fear of the unknown.

How to use Frankenstein for the 2015 AP English Literature Free Response Questions

“Select a novel, play, or epic poem in which acts of cruelty are important to the theme. Then write a well-developed essay analyzing how cruelty functions in the work as a whole and what the cruelty reveals about the perpetrator and/or victim.”

For free response questions that ask you to analyze cruelty in a text, Frankenstein is an ideal choice. The novel features various acts of cruelty that can link back to the question.

With Frankenstein’s creation of the monster he is ultimately unleashing cruelty into his society. The character of Justine suffers cruelty when she is blamed for the murder of Frankenstein’s brother, causing her to be executed. She has to endure the grief of losing a loved one before she is wrongly convicted of William’s murder.

With the monster murdering William, Henry, and Elizabeth, these are clearly cruel acts. However, it is Frankenstein who then has to suffer the grief of losing his loved ones and the guilt over what his creation has done.

We learn at the end of the novel that Frankenstein’s monster has also suffered. When Frankenstein created the monster, he didn’t factor in the consequences that could arise as a result. He created a life without any consideration for its feelings and he brought it into a world that was not accepting of it.

The monster has intelligence and emotions, and the cruelty he suffers is the reason for his behavior. Society has excluded him because Frankenstein has kept his science secret, and the monster is seen as hideous and terrifying, due to his appearance. Frankenstein also immediately regrets making the monster, fueling the monster’s anger and prompting him to seek revenge.

We can see that there are a range of cruel acts that can be investigated in the novel, and from different vantage points. The cruelty that is suffered by both the monster and Frankenstein helps to shape the novel and reflect the themes of secrecy and the supernatural, as well as the dangers of knowledge and science.

How to use Frankenstein for the 2014 AP English Literature Free Response Questions

“Select a character that has deliberately sacrificed, surrendered, or forfeited something in a way that highlights that character’s values. Then write a well-organized essay in which you analyze how the particular sacrifice illuminates the character’s values and provides a deeper understanding of the meaning of the work as a whole.”

For free response questions that deal with sacrifice, Frankenstein is an ideal text to use. The original publication of Mary Shelley’s novel was Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus. Prometheus was a god from Greek mythology who is said to have created humanity and gifted them fire after stealing it from Mount Olympus, sacrificing himself to be doomed to eternal punishment by Zeus.

In understanding the original title of the novel you can see that Shelley wanted the reader to think of Victor Frankenstein as a Prometheus character and for us to draw parallels between them. While Victor Frankenstein didn’t create humanity, he did create a supernatural being that was human-like in appearance and, as we discover at the end, also has human-like emotions.

Victor Frankenstein ultimately sacrifices his own life and his family’s for the sake of science. Scientific discoveries and the quest for knowledge are important to Victor. In his attempt to create life, he endangers the lives of his family members and suffers himself as a consequence, just as Prometheus did.

Frankenstein’s brother, friend and wife are all murdered by the monster he has created. The young Justine is blamed for the murder of Frankenstein’s brother and is executed after a trial. Lives are lost because of Frankenstein’s creation and his secrecy surrounding it. Even Frankenstein is sent to prison for the death of his friend, Henry, when it was the monster who physically murdered him.

With the deaths of his loved ones, Frankenstein is suffering from grief and guilt, but it is at his own hands, as he is the one responsible for the monster being alive in the first place. Frankenstein had dedicated his life to science, but he then dedicates himself to eliminating the monster.

He succeeded in creating a life, although it was not as he had expected, but the sacrifice of his life and his family’s lives had already been made when Frankenstein first decided to create the monster. Keeping his science secret seems to be more important to Frankenstein than his own life, which is ironic since it is the secret to life that he is trying to keep.

Frankenstein sacrificing lives highlights one of the main themes in the novel, which is the growth of science and knowledge and the dangers that it can bring.

How to use Frankenstein for the 2013 AP English Literature Free Response Questions

“Select a single pivotal moment in the psychological or moral development of the protagonist of a bildungsroman. Then write a well-organized essay that analyzes how that single moment shapes the meaning of the work as a whole.”

For free response questions that ask you to analyze a bildungsroman, Frankenstein is not the best book to use. Other texts you could use for this question are Emma or Great Expectations.

How to use Frankenstein for the 2012 AP English Literature Free Response Questions

“Choose a novel or play in which cultural, physical, or geographical surroundings shape psychological or moral traits in a character. Then write a well-organized essay in which you analyze how surroundings affect this character and illuminate the meaning of the work as a whole.”

For free response questions that require an analysis of surroundings, Frankenstein works well.

The monster is affected by his surroundings, and it is his experiences in these surroundings that cause him to seek revenge on Frankenstein. The environment into which Frankenstein brings the monster is not prepared for him. Frankenstein’s society is unprepared for the science behind the monster’s creation, leading the people to react in fear and highlighting the theme of fear of the unknown.

The monster learns language and how to communicate from observing the peasants. He makes further use of his surroundings by using his newly learned language skills to write words and messages on trees and rocks.

When Frankenstein creates a female version of the monster, he destroys it. Being excluded from society, the monster sees this female version as his only hope to have a companion and when it was destroyed by Frankenstein this further fueled his feelings of abandonment and loneliness.

By being different from the rest of society, the monster’s personality is shaped by the suffering he experiences, causing him to become even further cast out from society. When the reader learns that the monster has suffered a cruel life, it reinforces the theme of science and that perhaps it shouldn’t be practiced without full knowledge of the consequences.


After reading the past free response questions you should have a better understanding of how to approach writing your AP English Lit essay. It’s a good idea to study the themes of Frankenstein when you re-read the novel, as you will often find additional aspects of the text that weren’t obvious on your first reading.

You can always find additional study resources on, including practice exam questions and links to past exam papers. You also might find it helpful to read The Ultimate Guide to 2016 AP English Literature FRQs and The Ultimate Guide to 2015 AP English Literature FRQs for extra advice on the exam.

Looking for AP English Literature practice?

Kickstart your AP English Literature prep with Albert. Start your AP exam prep today.


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