Creative Writing

2020 AP English Exam: How to Write a Rhetorical Analysis Essay

In light of The College Board recently announcing that this year’s AP English Language and Composition exam will be only one question, a 45-minute rhetorical analysis essay,  it would probably be a good idea to freshen up on your essay-writing skills. The benefits of doing this won’t stop once high-school ends- knowing how to write rhetorical analysis essays will also be extremely helpful for future college and professional endeavors where you might be required to examine a text or prepare a report on one. In this article you will learn the breakdown of every section of the rhetorical analysis essay, and what you should be including in order to earn a five this May.

2020 AP English Language and Composition Exam Changes: How to write a 45-minute rhetorical analysis essay?


The first part of the rhetorical essay is the introduction. The introduction can be broken down into four simple parts, and because of this, if you feel that you are running short on time, don’t be afraid to actually wait until the end to write your introduction. This could possibly be beneficial since you’ll know exactly where the rest of your essay is going.

Before you start writing, make sure to thoroughly read through your text. Try to take note of the SPACECAT features: speaker, purpose, audience, context, exigence, choices, appeals, and tone.

  • Contextualization and Background Information

The beginning of your first paragraph will include naming the piece you are analyzing, then contextualizing it and including any relevant background information. This can include historical events that were taking place during the writing of this essay (for example, World War II, the Civil Rights Movement, a certain political campaign, etc.), the time period, the country, conflict, and anything else that could serve as the something affecting the purpose or exigence for the piece.

  • Background information for the author

After you’ve finished contextualizing the piece itself, you will need to include pertinent information regarding the author, if you are aware of any. What has happened or is happening during their life that caused them to write this piece? If these events did not cause them to write this piece, how did it affect their argument? Are there any personal or political philosophies that they are subscribed to? How does the author themself affect the essay?

  • Overview of the argument

In this section of your paragraph, you’ll give a brief overview of what the author is arguing. You don’t need to go into extreme detail, but you should outline their main points and the reason why they even bothered to write the essay in the first place. This is a very important step because if you do not understand the argument that the author is making, you are not going to be able to correctly write the paper. This is why your first read of the work is so important without taking the time to become familiar with the text, you’ll lose precious time re-reading and panicking because you aren’t sure what to write. It’s best if you make use of annotation and highlighting important information that you can quickly go back to later

  • Thesis

The last portion of the first paragraph is the thesis. The thesis emphasizes the purpose of the writing- the why. Why is the author doing any of this? What’s the reason? Your thesis is basically the entire argument of your essay summed up into one sentence. Another thing that’s important to add in your thesis is the effectiveness of the author’s execution of their argument. Did they do a good job of getting their point across? Make sure to have evidence to back this point up later.

Body Paragraphs

The body of your essay will consist of at least two paragraphs analyzing the rhetorical choices made by the author throughout their work. Rhetorical devices are tactics used by the writer to emphasize their point and draw more people to their side, such as diction, appeals, imagery, etc. You can find a list of twenty different rhetorical strategies here. Unless stated otherwise, you should try and investigate a different rhetorical strategy in each paragraph.

  • Topic Sentence

Each body paragraph will start with you introducing the topic. This can be through starting with a quote from the text that leads into an explanation of how it is an example of your chosen rhetorical device, or it can just simply be a statement about how the author used a certain device in the essay.

Another important aspect to look at is if the author used any appeals in their essay. The appeals are; ethos, appealing by establishing credibility; pathos, appealing to emotion; logos, appealing to logic; kairos, appealing to timeliness. Appeals are great characteristics of any argument and can be very powerful rhetorical choices to discuss in your essay.

  • Analysis

Now you have to analyze the rhetorical device that you mentioned in your topic sentence. To do this, you should start by quoting passages from your text that show usage of the device, then elaborate on why that’s true and how it affects the delivery of the argument, as well as the argument itself. The analysis section will be the largest part of each body paragraph. Always be thinking about the argument that your author is making while doing your analysis. 

  • Connection to the Argument

To end your body paragraph, you should connect how the usage of this rhetorical choice connects to the overall purpose of the essay. Why is the author using this and why does it matter? Who cares? Who should care- and for what purpose?


The contradiction paragraph is typically the last paragraph before your conclusion. In this section you will address the flaws in the author’s essay as well as in their argument. Be careful- do not share whether or not you agree with the author. This is not something that’s important in a rhetorical analysis essay. You are simply analyzing the techniques used by the author to get their point across- you are not making an argument about whether or not their point was right. Be sure to focus on the weaker parts of your author’s argument, find the holes in it. Try to focus on one or two things that stand out despite all of the rhetorical devices used by them. Adding a contradiction paragraph will show complexity in your essay and give depth to your writing. 

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You made it! You are now at the final paragraph of your rhetorical analysis essay. Luckily, you only have three things to accomplish before you can wrap everything up. This paragraph will be spent creating a miniature summary of everything you just wrote.

  •  Sum up your article

Now that you’ve spent so much time examining the author’s argument in tiny pieces, it’s time to bring it all together for the reader. Go back through the main points made throughout the essay and how they showcase the main points of the author. Don’t be afraid to re-mention how the rhetorical choices strengthen said main points.

  • Present relevant conclusions

After you’ve summed up the main points made in the text, you should draw some major relevant conclusions from your essay. Talk about the bigger picture. If you had to sum up your entire essay in only three sentences, what would they be? Try to keep this in mind as you approach this part of your writing.

  • Refer back to the main point

In the final sentences of your essay, you’ll want to both restate your thesis and leave a powerful ending sentence. When re-stating your thesis, try to make use of some rewording so that you aren’t just repeating the same sentence. It doesn’t have to be completely different, but it shouldn’t be a carbon copy of what you’ve already said before. Finally, end with a sentence that both compliments the flow of your last paragraph and leaves the reader with a good leeway into pondering about what they’ve just read, and to take with them as they begin formulating their final opinions on your essay.

Congratulations! You’ve officially finished writing your rhetorical analysis essay. This type of essay can be difficult at first, but once you get the hang of it you’ll be whipping them out in no time. If you’d like to see a sample of a full-length rhetorical analysis essay, you can click here. If you’d like to practice with prompts, the good news is that you can write a rhetorical analysis essay about basically anything. You can take out your favorite book and try and write about what you see in a random passage. What’s the argument behind your favorite book or essay?

Congratulations AP Exam Taker! Your hard work will soon pay off. Good luck!

Works Cited

“AP Exam Schedule 2020.” College Board. Accessed April 22, 2020.

“Examples of Rhetorical Devices.” Your Dictionary. Accessed April 21, 2020.

“Sample Rhetorical Analysis.” Excelsior Online Writing Lab. Excelsior College. Accessed April 21, 2020.                                                                                             

“SPACE CAT: New Rhetorical Analysis Acronym for AP Language.” The English Department. Teachers Pay Teachers. Accessed April 22, 2020.

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