I realized after posting yesterday that I had buried the most practical information in the middle of what became a much longer-than-intended meditation/diatribe, so I’m re-posting the key information here in condensed form.

To sum up: since 2014, the AP English Language and Composition exam has not included questions directly testing knowledge of rhetorical figure. So you know those questions that ask you to identify whether a particular set of lines includes a metaphor, an oxymoron, antithesis, etc.? They’re gone.

Most of the major test-prep publishers (Kaplan, Princeton Review, Barron’s, McGraw Hill) have not caught onto this, however, and so they are still including these old-style questions in their AP English Comp books. To reiterate: if you go to the bookstore and buy a guide published by one of these companies, it will contain misleading information about the content of the test. 

(For those of you who haven’t been following my last couple of posts, I am in the process of reworking the original version of The Critical Reader into an AP Comp book; a beta version covering the multiple-choice reading should be available in the next couple of weeks. Had I known how problematic the material currently available is, I would have done this a lot sooner; however, I literally just discovered this two days ago, which is why I’m posting about it now.) 

Now, some multiple-choice questions may still allude to certain common rhetorical figures, but most of these questions will ask about the purpose or function of these figures. In practice, you can answer most of these questions regardless of whether you can identify the particular rhetorical figure or not.

Nevertheless, there a still a handful of rhetorical strategies that get asked about in other ways, and in certain cases, you may need to be able to recognize — or will at least find it extremely helpful to be able to recognize — some of them.

The focus, however, is on relatively common terms; the more exotic terms that were directly tested in the past have been eliminated (see list at the end). 

The terms you should still make sure to know are as follows:

Repetition – pretty self-explanatory, but involves repeating a word or phrase multiple times.

Simile – comparison formed using like or as (e.g. She was like a bird) 

Metaphor – comparison in which something is described as something else (e.g. She was a bird).

Analogy – comparison used for the purpose of clarification (in terms of the AP test, you only need to know that this is a type of comparison).

Allusion – Reference. Note that if the phrase obscure allusions appears in an answer choice, that answer will almost certainly be wrong. Passages do not contain any information that is truly obscure; if they do, it will be accompanied by a footnote.

Assertion – argument or claim

Counterargument/Counterexample – Example that weakens an author’s point and supports an opposing one.

(Personal) anecdote – brief story (personal anecdote signaled by the word I)

Hypothesis – educated guess 

Digression – off topic discussion; usually associated with incorrect answers because passages need to get to the point in about 85 lines; there literally isn’t room to go off on tangents.

Irony – Using a word to signify the opposite of its normal definition. 

Passive voice – construction in which the subject and object are flipped. Instead of saying that x did y, a passive construction indicates that y was done by x. Associated with an impersonal tone.

Concession – Acknowledgment of the validity of an opposing viewpoint. 

Paradox – apparent contradiction 

Synthesis – combination of different elements into a unified whole 

Juxtaposition – the placement of two opposing ideas next to one another to emphasize the contrast between them.

Diatribe – rant

And just to be thorough, here are some terms you do not need to know, at least not for the multiple-choice section (you are of course free to use them in the rhetorical analysis essay).

  • Anadiplosis
  • Anaphora
  • Antithesis
  • Apostrophe 
  • Assonance 
  • Asyndeton
  • Chiasmus
  • Euphemism
  • Hyperbole
  • Litotes 
  • Metonymy
  • Onomatopeia 
  • Oxymoron
  • Parataxis 
  • Synecdoche
  • Zeugma