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For more information, please see full course syllabus of AP English Language & Composition
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Rhetorical Analysis Walkthrough

  • Where to Find the Prompt
  • Analyzing the Prompt
    • The prompt offers background information: Banneker was “the son of former slaves” and “a farmer, astronomer, mathematician, surveyor, and author.”
    • The prompt gives the context of the speech: a letter written to Thomas Jefferson, then secretary of state, in 1791.
    • The prompt has a focus: the rhetorical strategies Banneker uses to argue against slavery. Everything else in the passage will probably be secondary (but still potentially important).
  • Reading the Text
    • Banneker begins with an example from Jefferson’s own life—the American Revolution and Jefferson’s unwillingness to be “reduced to a State of Servitude” by the king of England.
    • He even uses a quotation from one of Jefferson’s most famous and revered pieces of writing—the Declaration of Independence (then just 15 years old).
    • He draws an analogy between the situation of Jefferson and the other colonists under British rule and the situation of black slaves in the United States.
    • Note the appeal to authority: Banneker points to Jefferson’s references to God (remember, men are “endowed by their creator” with rights). He also quotes the Bible, both directly (in the reference to Job) and indirectly (“groaning captivity” is a phrase used to describe the Israelites enslaved in Egypt before Moses appeared).
    • Finally, Banneker makes an appeal to values: he charges Jefferson to act on his professed beliefs in liberty and equality, and to end slavery.
  • Scoring Guidelines
    • The scoring guidelines are also available on the College Board’s website. (
    • The high-scoring essays (8 and 9) demonstrate effective analysis, appropriate support (including examples), and wide-ranging, skillful prose. High-scoring essays refer to the passage “explicitly or implicitly”.
    • Essays that score 6 and 7 are like the higher-scoring essays, but less well-developed and skillful in their execution.
    • Essays that score 5 may contain uneven, inconsistent, or limited examples, and more mechanical problems in writing.
    • Lower-scoring essays (4 and below) may misunderstand or misrepresent the passage, and have more prose errors.
    • The Student Q&A ( indicated that top-scoring essays identified Banneker’s main point before going on to explain how he develops it. They also distinguished between Banneker’s deferential tone toward Jefferson and his more passionate appeal for an end to slavery.
    • Essays that had problems included those that stumbled over Banneker’s old-fashioned language and those that misrepresented his main idea or ignored it entirely.
  • The Sample Essays
    • The 2010 sample essays are also available on the College Board’s website. (
    • Let’s look at Sample 2A, which earned an 8.
    • This essay is notable for its structure—its clear organization and its careful marshaling of support for each of its three points.
    • Note also that this essay is far from perfect in terms of its English mechanics (words like reprimand are consistently misspelled) and a little fumble-fingered in its use of language (Banneker “took a huge step and wrote Thomas Jefferson about his negative feelings”; that’s weak phrasing twice over). It still earned an 8 because of the strength of its analysis.
    • Let’s look at Sample 2B, which earned a 5.
    • This student clearly understood Banneker’s point, but its analysis is “inconsistent”—it wanders all over the place.
    • The early points in the essay are fairly strong—see the appeals to the Declaration of Independence and the Bible—but the later discussion of hyperbole is weak. This student seems to have nothing better to say than that American freedoms are due to their founding documents.
    • This essay gets its point across, but very clumsily, which is why it earned a 5.
    • Let’s look at Sample 2C, which earned a 2.
    • While this essay doesn’t have as many mechanical errors as a lot of 2s do, it does have a nasty habit of malapropism—using words incorrectly. “Alliteration” has a specific meaning, and it’s used wrongly here.
    • The descriptions of Banneker’s rhetoric are all quite vague, and the writer refers to Banneker as “Benjamin,” which is considered an insult in reference to an adult writer. Banneker’s point about slavery is barely mentioned, and the support is not well-explained.
  • Tips for the Rhetorical Analysis Essay
    • Dig into the rhetoric. Look for the elements of argument and for rhetorical modes. Make sure you know the writer’s thesis.
    • Outline your ideas clearly in your thesis statement, and stick to your outline.
    • Language, language, language! The author’s use of language will almost always be important, and YOUR use of language can win you extra points. 2A could have been a 9 instead of an 8 with more rhetorical flair.
    • Quoting the text is great, but don’t over-quote, and make sure you don’t miss the point.
    • No filler allowed!

Rhetorical Analysis Walkthrough

Lecture Slides are screen-captured images of important points in the lecture. Students can download and print out these lecture slide images to do practice problems as well as take notes while watching the lecture.

  • Intro 0:00
  • Lesson Overview 0:10
  • Where to Find the Prompt 0:33
    • Question 2
  • Analyzing the Prompt 0:58
    • Background Info
    • Context
    • Focus
  • Reading the Text 2:05
    • Begins with Example
    • Quotation
    • Analogy
    • Appeal to Authority
    • Appeal to Values
    • Scoring Guidelines
    • Score of 8 or 9
    • Score of 6 or 7
    • Score of 5
    • Score of 4 or Below
  • Scoring Guidelines 5:34
    • Top Scoring Essays Identified the Main Point First
    • Essays That Had Problems Included Those That Stumbled Over Banneker's Old-Fashioned Language
  • The Sample Essays 6:27
    • Sample 2A; Score of 8
    • Sample 2B; Score of 5
    • Score 2C; Score of 2
  • Tips for the Rhetorical Analysis Essay 10:28
    • Look for the Elements of Argument
    • Outline
    • Language, Language, Language!
    • Don't Over-Quote!