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 high-level rhetorical figures. So you know those questions that directly ask you to identify whether a particular set of lines includes, for example, oxymoron, antithesis, or syncope? They’re gone. (You may, however, see questions testing less technical terms, e.g., abstract language.)

But please note: if you are studying from exams administered before 2014, you may indeed see these terms.

For a description of the College Board’s revised stance on rhetorical terminology, see the 2014 Course Description, p. 2021. 

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. 

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. In addition, some answers may include a rhetorical term, but in such a way that you can eliminate/choose the answer without actually knowing the term.

Nevertheless, there are 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 now on relatively common terms; the more exotic terms that were directly tested in the past have for all intents and purposes 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.

Hyperbole/Hyperbolic – exaggeration

Euphemism – replacing a harsh or offensive term with a milder one

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

Abstract language – vague or generalized speech


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).