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AP Art History Exam Guide

6 min read • april 28, 2021

Format of the 2021 AP Art History Exam

The AP Art History Exam is made up of two sections: 

Section 1: Multiple Choice (MCQ)

80 questions ➡️60 minutes ➡️50% of the exam score

Section 2: Free Response (FRQ)

6 questions (2 long & 4 short) ➡️120 minutes ➡️50% of the Exam score 

Important Information about the 2021 exams:

There will be paper and online administrations, ( your school will decide which one you take )

Online Exam: No going back on MCQ questions

Online Exam: No Identifying of artworks on FRQ questions

The AP Art History Exam assesses content from the following skills learned throughout the course. Every question, whether it be multiple choice or free response, will use one of these art historical thinking skills.

The college board has given us a basic breakdown of how much of each content area will be covered on the exam :, section 1: multiple choice questions  .

NOTE: If you’re taking the online exam , you will NOT be able to go back on the MCQ questions!

Some questions will be grouped in sets (3-6 questions) and are based on color images.

Some questions are individual questions, some may have a color image, some will have no images. 

Some questions will include images outside the 250 set.

  Section 2: Free Response Questions  

Pre-work: set up your study environment.

Before we begin reviewing 250 artworks, take some time to get organized. 

Organize your study materials.

Get your notebook, digital notebook, textbook, prep books, flash cards, or whatever other materials you have. Create a space where you can concentrate and have the least distractions. Start reviewing material that was first taught in the fall semester. Review the big ideas for each content area first, then review the specific artworks, less familiar to you. 

Art history is a lot of notetaking, so start by reviewing the notes you’ve taken all year long, watching some videos over works less familiar, and spending time also looking closely at the works. Remember, visual analysis is going to show up on the test, and this is an area students struggle in. 

Some additional advice would be to create REVIEW notes either on paper or digitally to help keep track of what artworks you’ve reviewed. 

Plan designated times for studying.

The hardest part about studying from home is sticking to a routine. Decide on one hour every day that you can dedicate to studying. This can be any time of the day, whatever works best for you. Set a timer on your phone for that time and really try to stick to it. The routine will help you stay on track.

Decide on an accountability plan.

How will you hold yourself accountable to this study plan? You may or may not have a teacher or rules set up to help you stay on track, so you need to set some for yourself. First set your goal. This could be studying for x number of hours or getting through a unit. Then, create a reward for yourself. If you reach your goal, then x. This will help you stay focused!

Get support from your peers. 

There are thousands of students all over the world who are preparing for their AP exams just like you! Join our Discord channel to chat, ask questions, and meet other students who are also studying for the spring exams. You can even build study groups and review material together!

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ap art history long essay

Ultimate Guide to the AP Art History Exam

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In 2019, only about 24,476 of the more than five million students taking AP exams took the AP Art History exam. If you’re planning to take the AP Art History exam, whether you’ve taken the class or have self-studied, read on for a breakdown of the test and CollegeVine’s advice for how to best prepare for it.

When is the AP Art History Exam?

The 2020 AP Art History exam takes place on Friday, May 8, at 12 pm. For more information on all of the AP exams and their 2020 test times, check out our blog post 2020 AP Exam Schedule: Everything You Need to Know . 

What Does the AP Art History Exam Cover?

The AP Art History course teaches students the nature of art (its uses, meanings, and production) and societal responses to art throughout history. It seeks to immerse students in rich artistic traditions across cultures dating from prehistory to the present while fostering an in-depth understanding and appreciation of the history of art.

In this class, you can expect to learn “visual, contextual, and comparative analysis applied to a variety of art forms, understanding of individual works and connections between processes and products throughout history.” Although there are no official prerequisites for the coursework, students who have excelled in the humanities, such as literature or history, or in studio art classes, will find that these experiences enrich their perspective as they undertake the studying of art history. 

The AP Art History course was redesigned for the 2015-2016 school year, and while much of the course content remains the same, it is now presented alongside clear learning objectives for the exam. The scope was also narrowed to focus more on conceptual understanding, critical thinking, and analysis skills, with less emphasis placed on knowledge of specific artworks. The course does still require that students become familiar with a set of specific artwork, but this set shrunk from over 500 pieces in the previous curriculum to 250 included in the course redesign. 

The AP Art History course is commonly broken into 10 units. Below is a sequence of the units suggested by the College Board, along with the percentage of questions from each unit that will appear on the multiple-choice section of the AP Art History exam. 

AP Art History Exam Content

The AP Art History exam is one of the longer AP exams, clocking in at three hours. It comprises two sections: one section of multiple-choice questions, the other of free response questions. 

Section 1: Multiple Choice 

1 hour | 80 questions | 50% of score

The first section lasts one hour, is made up of 80 multiple-choice questions, and accounts for 50% of your total score. Of these 80 questions, there are approximately 40 individual questions, some of which are based on a color image of a work of art. The other 40 questions are grouped into eight sets of 3-6 questions, each set based on a different color image. 

Section 2: Free Response 

2 hours | 6 questions | 50% of score

The second section is the free response section, which lasts for two hours, includes six questions, and accounts for the remaining 50% of your total score. This section is divided into two 30-minute essays and four 15-minute essays, which often include images of art as stimuli for the given prompt.

30-Minute Essays: The longer of the free response questions will provide you with 3-5 works of art from the AP Art History course with a unifying idea. They may also call upon you to respond with a choice of artwork of your choosing, either from within or outside of the required course content. 

Question 1: The first 30-minute free response question focuses on comparison, tasking you with comparing select artwork from the course (images provided), and articulating the similarities and differences between the works. 

ap art history sample question

Question 2: The second long-answer free response question is about visual/contextual analysis, requiring you to analyze the visual and contextual features of a work of art from the AP Art History course (this is the only free response question which will not provide an image of artwork), and respond to a prompt with a thesis supported by evidence.  

ap art history sample question

Question 3: This question tests visual analysis, and requires you to examine the visual elements of a work of art—image provided—and connect it to a tradition, style, or practice. 

ap art history sample question

Question 4: The fourth question covers contextual analysis and asks you to evaluate the contextual elements from an image set and explain how context can influence artistic decisions. 

ap art history sample question

Question 5: This question focuses on attribution. Here, you must attribute a work of art to an artist and justify your assertion using visual evidence. 

ap art history long essay

Question 6: The final free response question spotlights continuity and change. You’ll need to identify the relationships—including artistic tradition, style, and/or practice—between works of art. 

AP Art History Score Distribution, Average Score, and Passing Rate

The AP Art History exam is a tough one to master, though many students pass it with average scores. In 2019, 63.1% of students who took the AP Art History received a score of 3 or higher. Of these, only 11.9% of students received the top score of 5, with another 24.6% scoring a 4. If you’re curious about other score distributions, see our post Easiest and Hardest AP Exams .

Keep in mind, credit and advanced standing based on AP scores varies widely from school to school. Though a score of 3 is typically considered passing, it is not always enough to receive credit. Regulations regarding which APs qualify for course credits or advanced placement at specific colleges and universities can be found on the College Board website . 

A full course description that can help to guide your studying and understanding of the knowledge required for the exam can be found in the College Board’s course description .

Read on for tips for preparing for the exam.

ap art history long essay

Best Ways to Study for the AP Art History Exam

Step 1: assess your skills.

Take a practice test to assess your initial knowledge of the material. Although the College Board AP Art History website provides a number of sample test questions and exam tips, it does not provide a complete sample test. However, practice tests are readily available in commercial study guides such as Barron’s AP Art History, 3rd Edition . Varsity Tutors also offers a handful of free diagnostic tests for AP Art History . You can also find an older version of test questions from the College Board’s 2011 exam or image-based questions from the 2013 exam to get a general idea of the test’s structure and content.

Step 2: Study the Material

The content and curriculum of the AP Art History course are based on three sets of big ideas and essential questions. These overarching concepts are intended to encourage critical thinking, analysis, and appreciation of art throughout time and place, and to foster your understanding of the field of art history. The big ideas and their associated essential questions are:   

  • Big Idea 1: Artists manipulate materials and ideas to create an aesthetic object, act, or event. Essential Question: What is art and how is it made?
  • Big Idea 2: Art making is shaped by tradition and change. Essential Question: Why and how does art change?
  • Big Idea 3: Interpretations of art are variable. Essential Question: How do we describe our thinking about art?

Through the exploration of big ideas and answering essential questions, you should develop a foundational set of art historical thinking skills. Below are eight distinct art history skills you’ll develop in the AP Art History course and the percentage of the multiple-choice section of the AP Art History exam you can expect them to represent. 

In addition to these specific art history thinking skills, you will also need to be familiar with the official AP Art History image set which contains “250 works of art categorized by geographic and chronological designations, beginning with works from global prehistory and ending with global contemporary works.” These works are found in the College Board AP Art History Course Description .   

The College Board refers students to Khan Academy’s comprehensive AP Art History Study Guide . This website has a wealth of free material for effectively and efficiently learning what you’ll need to know for the exam. The College Board also provides a series of useful videos on the AP Art History teacher site that give an overview of the curricular framework, exam format, and writing tips.

There are also a number of free study resources available online. Many AP teachers have posted complete study guides, review sheets, and test questions—for example, this website from Valerie White , a ceramics teacher. Be careful when accessing these, as many will be from previous versions of the exam.

Finally, another convenient way to study is to use one of the recently-developed apps for AP exams. These can make studying on-the-go a lot easier. Make sure you read reviews before choosing one—their quality varies widely. Here’s an AP Art History app from Varsity Tutors that currently has 4.2 stars.

Step 3: Practice Multiple-Choice Questions

Once you have your theory down, test it out by practicing multiple-choice questions. You can find these in most study guides or through online searches. You could also try taking the multiple-choice section of another practice exam.

The College Board Course Description includes many practice multiple-choice questions along with explanations of their answers. There are additional questions available in commercial study guides. As you go through these, try to keep track of which areas are still tripping you up, and go back over this theory again. Focus on understanding what each question is asking and keep a running list of any vocabulary that is still unfamiliar.

Step 4: Practice Free Response Questions

All free response questions on the AP Art History exam include either images of works of art (from the required course content, except in the case of attribution questions) or a list of works from the required course content to prompt student responses. For questions that ask you to identify a piece of work, you should try to include all available identifiers including title or designation, name of the artist and/or culture of origin, date of creation, and materials. You should be able to provide at least two correct identifiers, but you will not be penalized for any additional identifiers that are incorrect. 

On the free response section of the AP Art History exam, a distinct emphasis is placed on the strength of your writing. To be successful, you will need to use clear, appropriate, and descriptive language. Your ideas should be organized logically with coherent evidence to support your assertions. You will need to make fact-based inferences and closely align your writing with the prompt’s directives.

As you complete the free response questions, make sure to keep an eye on the time. Though you will be reminded of the time remaining by the exam proctor, you will not be forced to move on to another question. Make sure you stay on track to address each section of every question. No points can be awarded for answers left completely blank when time runs out.

A fantastic way to prepare for the free response questions on the AP Art History exam is to practice with them. The College Board has the free response questions from the 2019 , 2018 , 2017 , and 2016 exams posted on its website. Another helpful resource when preparing for the AP Art History exam is also found on the College Board website— this presentation from Heather Madar of Humboldt State University provides a small sampling of the free response questions, along with insight into how students performed and the places they struggled.

Step 5: Take Another Practice Test

As you did at the very beginning of your studying, take a practice test to evaluate your progress. You should see a steady progression of knowledge, and it’s likely that you will see patterns identifying which areas have improved the most and which areas still need improvement. If you have time, repeat each of the steps above to incrementally increase your score.

Step 6: Exam day specifics

If you’re taking the AP course associated with this exam, your teacher will walk you through how to register. If you’re self-studying, check out our blog post How to Self-Register for AP Exams .

For information about what to bring to the exam, see our post What Should I Bring to My AP Exam (And What Should I Definitely Leave at Home)?

Wondering what your odds of acceptance are to your dream school? Using your GPA, standardized test scores, extracurricular activities, and other data points, our chancing engine lets you know your chances of acceptance to over 500 colleges in the U.S. You can also see how you stack up against other applicants, and learn how to improve your profile. Sign up for your free CollegeVine account to start using our chancing engine today!

Looking for more great information about AP exams? Check out these other posts from CollegeVine: 

2020 AP Exam Schedule

How Long is Each AP Exam?

Easiest and Hardest AP Exams

Related CollegeVine Blog Posts

ap art history long essay

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AP® Art History

How long is the ap® art history exam tips to manage your time for a 5.

  • The Albert Team
  • Last Updated On: March 1, 2022

How Long is the AP® Art History Exam - Tips to Manage Your Time for a 5

AP® Art History covers art from a variety of different cultures throughout history. This course will open your eyes to how art is created, has a deeper meaning, and reflects society. AP® Art History will cover 250 different pieces of art. This course will enable you to experience, learn, write about, and respond to a variety of art. At the end of this course, you will be able to demonstrate your comprehension and skills you learned during the exam. How long is the AP® Art History Exam? What can you expect the exam to entail? This article will break down all aspects of the AP® Art History Exam. We will review how to manage your time in each section to ensure you receive a 5.

How Long is the AP® Art History Exam?

The AP® Art History Exam is three hours. The exam has a multiple-choice section and a free-response section. These two sections are put together to determine your score. Students have one hour to complete the multiple-choice section and two hours to complete the free-response section. All the questions will be based on your learning objectives for the course. A single question can cover multiple learning objectives and address various works of art from different cultures. This helps you apply analytic skills obtained throughout AP® Art History. Throughout the exam, a proctor will announce time designations. However, you can go through the sections of the test at your own pace. Take a practice exam under the same time conditions to help your prepare. This will give you an idea on how to pace yourself. In addition, taking a practice exam will allow you to relax and perform better at exam time.

How Long is Section I of the AP® Art History Exam?

Section I is made up of multiple-choice questions. You will have one hour to complete this section. There are 80 questions total. The questions are made up of 35 discrete questions and 45 sets of questions. An incorrect answer does not deduct points from your score, so do not skip any questions. Also, remember to give yourself a few minutes to check your answers. Below are two sample multiple-choice questions from CollegeBoard:

1. Although the cave paintings in the Great Hall of the Bulls at Lascaux were originally interpreted as depictions of hunting scenes, they have more recently been interpreted as paintings intended to

(A) warn people about dangerous animals threatening villages

(B) portray scenes of animal domestication

(C) document a series of animal-based rituals

(D) tell a mythic narrative of human origins

Correct Answer: C

2. Which of the following statements is true of both the Standard of Ur from the Royal Tombs at Ur and the Palette of King Narmer?

(A) They portray dynastic succession.

(B) They celebrate military victory.

(C) They designate the king as a sun god.

(D) They depict an enemy’s military banner.

Correct Answer: B

Time Management AP® Art History

How to Manage Your Time in Section I of the AP® Art History Exam

You should aim to spend an hour on Section I of the exam. You will want to move promptly through this section so you can effectively respond to all questions and leave time to complete Section II. Time your practice exam to help pace yourself to complete the multiple-choice section. According to CollegeBoard, multiple-choice questions will determine your ability to identify works, artists, and cultures from the required course content of 250 works of art. Due to the variety of artwork covered, a great tip is to create flashcards while you study. This will improve your memory of all the artwork. In addition, you will need to use analysis skills to show you grasped historical concepts. You will have the opportunity to use the art skills you learned to make decisions about unfamiliar art. Remember that it is not just about memorization, but being able to apply art analytical skills to breakdown different art. The multiple-choice questions will serve as a way to show your comprehension of the art and the relationships of their form, function, content, and context.

How Long is Section II of the AP® Art History Exam?

Section II is free response part of the exam. This section consists of short and long essay questions. Section II is comprised of 6 questions. There will be two 30-minute essay questions and four 15-minute essay questions. This section will call for you to apply the art historical skills you have obtained. All of the questions in this section will include images of works of art or a list of works from the required course content. As stated by CollegeBoard, “For questions that require students to identify a work of art, students should try to include all of the following identifiers: the title of designation, name of the artist and/or culture of origin, date of creation, and materials”. If you give two correct identifiers, you will earn credit for the identification. If additional identifiers are incorrect or inaccurate, you will not be penalized. All of the questions in this section must be written in essay form. Similarly to the multiple-choice section, make sure you give yourself a few minutes to go over your responses! Below are two sample essay questions from CollegeBoard:

Long Essay Questions Sample

1. Many works of art are intended to convey an interpretation of a culture’s history.

Select and completely identify one work of art that conveys an interpretation of a culture’s history.

Identify the intended audience of the work.

Describe the historical content that the work is intended to convey.

Then, using specific visual and contextual evidence, analyze how the work conveys that historical content.

To answer this question, you may select a work from the list below or any other relevant work of art. When identifying the work you select, you should try to include all of the following identifiers: title or designation, the name of the artist and/or culture of origin, date of creation, and materials. You will earn credit for the identification if you provide at least two accurate identifiers, but you will not be penalized if any additional identifiers you provide are inaccurate. If you select a work from the list below, you must include at least two accurate identifiers beyond those that are given.

  • Alexander Mosaic from the House of Faun, Pompeii
  • The Burghers of Calais
  • Lukasa (memory board)

Short Essay Questions Sample

2. Attribute this painting to the artist who painted it.

Mont Sainte-Victoire and the Viaduct of the Arc River Valley

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Completely identify the painting by the same artist in the required course content.

Then, using specific visual evidence, justify your attribution by comparing the two works.

How do both works demonstrate the artist’s ongoing experimentation with form through landscape?

When identifying the work you select, you should try to include all of the following identifiers: title or designation, the name of the artist and/or culture of origin, date of creation, and materials. You will earn credit for the identification if you provide at least two accurate identifiers, but you will not be penalized if any additional identifiers you provide are inaccurate.

How to Manage Your Time in Section II of the AP® Art History Exam

Time management is key in Section II of the AP® Art History Exam. You will have two hours to complete all six essay questions. Questions 1 and 2 are long essay questions. It is recommended that students spend 30 minutes on each question. Questions 3 through 6 are short essay questions. It is recommended that students spend 15 minutes on each question. CollegeBoard assures students that a test proctor will announce when each time interval has elapsed to help you manage your time.

The two 30-minute essay questions allow you to discuss and respond to the art and topic in more depth. In this section, you can apply your perspective and analytical skills that you have learned throughout your course study. The long essay questions were created to give you the chance to discuss a different part of the artwork, analyze the relationship of works of art, and show your deeper understanding. For Questions 1 and 2 (the long essay questions) you can use additional works of art to add depth to your answer. The extra artwork can be from the work covered in the course or from outside research. Questions 3 through 6 (the short essay questions) will give you the opportunity to inspect and describe art historical concepts and relationships.

How can You Practice Time Management for AP® Art History?

Time Management for AP® Art History

As stated earlier, the AP® Art History exam will be three hours long with a mix of multiple-choice and essay questions. It is imperative to manage your time so that you are able to complete all sections of the exam and have a chance to review your work. One of the best tips to help you stay relaxed and obtain that 5 is to take a practice test with the same time conditions. In addition, making sure you take the time to study and go over all of the work you learned with help you succeed and do well with the exam. Albert has a variety of study materials and information to help assist you! On the website, you can find articles and sample questions for both multiple-choice and essay questions. Make sure to take your time, study, relax, and go into your AP® Art History Exam with confidence!

What’s your next step for preparing for the exam and getting that 5?

Looking for AP® Art History practice?

Kickstart your AP® Art History prep with Albert. Start your AP® exam prep today .

Need help preparing for your AP® Art History exam?

AP® Art History practice question

Albert has hundreds of AP® Art History practice questions, free response, and full-length practice tests to try out.

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  1. AP Art History Exam

    AP Art History Exam Add to Calendar Exam Format The AP Art History Exam has consistent question types, weighting, and scoring guidelines every year, so you and your students know what to expect on exam day. Section I: Multiple Choice 80 Questions | 1 Hour | 50% of Exam Score Questions on the exam will appear both as:

  2. PDF 2022 AP Student Samples and Commentary

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  3. AP Art History Exam

    Section 1: Multiple Choice 80 questions 50% of Score There are two types of multiple-choice questions on the exam: Sets of 2-3 questions, with each set based on color images of works of art. Individual questions, some of which are based on color images of works of art.

  4. PDF AP ART HISTORY: LONG ESSAY

    AP ART HISTORY EXAM I. FREE RESPONSE SECTION: LONG ESSAYS Two-long essays that comprise about 25% of the points For each, student must SELECT AND FULLY IDENTIFY two specific works of art that are appropriate for the essay prompt The first essay requires a student to choose at least one example of art from beyond the European tradition (ABET).

  5. AP Art History Exam Guide

    Section 1: Multiple Choice (MCQ) 80 questions ️60 minutes ️50% of the exam score Section 2: Free Response (FRQ) 6 questions (2 long & 4 short) ️120 minutes ️50% of the Exam score Important Information about the 2021 exams: There will be paper and online administrations, ( your school will decide which one you take)

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  9. Ultimate Guide to the AP Art History Exam

    30-Minute Essays: The longer of the free response questions will provide you with 3-5 works of art from the AP Art History course with a unifying idea. They may also call upon you to respond with a choice of artwork of your choosing, either from within or outside of the required course content.

  10. PDF AP Art History

    1 point Response accurately uses visual evidence to explain ANOTHER similarity in how features of the Forbidden City and one comparison object communicated ideals of political power. Comparison object: Palace of Versailles. Versailles

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    Contextual Analysis. A contextual analysis looks at how the work of art fits into and impacts the world around it. Contextual analysis requires you consider other works of art of the time, historical events, the place of creation, and the patron of the work. 3. Comparative Analysis.

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    In 1998, the AP Art History Exam premiered the long essay question requiring informed discussion of art beyond the European tradition. Changes to the AP Art History Exam beginning with the 2010 exam administration: Questions 1 and 2 will be 30-minute essay questions.

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    Long Essay #2: the influence of other cultures on later European and American art. 35% of students were unable to identify a single work of European or American art between 1750 and 1980 that had been influenced by another culture, earning 0 out of 5 points possible on this long essay.

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    In this AP Daily: Live Review session for AP Art History, we will review the Long Essay - Comparison practice assignment on Islamic architecture and the appl...

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    6 points General Scoring Notes Except where otherwise noted, each point of the rubric is earned independently. For instance, a student could earn one or two points for evidence (Row C) or earn the point for analysis and reasoning (Row D) without earning a point for claim or thesis (Row B).

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  18. How Long is the AP® Art History Exam? Tips to Manage Your ...

    The Albert Team Last Updated On: March 1, 2022 AP® Art History covers art from a variety of different cultures throughout history. This course will open your eyes to how art is created, has a deeper meaning, and reflects society. AP® Art History will cover 250 different pieces of art.

  19. DOC AP ART HISTORY: LONG ESSAY

    AP ART HISTORY: LONG ESSAY AP ART HISTORY EXAM MUTLIPLE CHOICE AND FREE RESPONSE (Short and Long Essays) MULTIPLE CHOICE 115 questions total in 60 minutes constituting 40% of the student's grade; it is divided into two parts Part A will have students answer about 30 questions based on color picture inserts.

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  21. DOC Ap Art History: Long Essay

    AP ART HISTORY: LONG ESSAY. Two-long essays that comprise about 25% of the points. For each, student must choose two specific works of art that are appropriate for the essay. One of the essays requires a student to choose an example of art from beyond the European tradition. Each essay is graded on a 9-point scale (9 is the highest, multiply ...

  22. PDF Scoring Guidelines Aligned with the 2020 Rubric

    6 points General Scoring Notes Except where otherwise noted, each point of the rubric is earned independently. For instance, a student could earn one or two points for evidence (Row C) or earn the point for analysis and reasoning (Row D) without earning a point for claim or thesis (Row B).