Ap Exam Essay

If you're planning to take the AP English Literature and Composition exam, you'll need to get familiar with what to expect from the test. Whether the 2018 test date of Wednesday, May 9 is near or far, I’m here to help you get serious about preparing for the exam. In this guide I’ll go over the test's format and question types, how it's graded, best practices for preparation, and test day tips. You’ll be on your way to AP English Lit success in no time!

 

AP English Literature: Exam Format and Question Types

The AP Literature Exam is a three-hour exam that contains two sections. First is an hour-long, 55-question multiple choice section, and then a two hour, three question free-response section. The exam tests your ability to analyze works and excerpts of literature and also cogently communicate that analysis in essay form. Read on for a breakdown of the two different sections and their question types.

 

Multiple Choice Section

The multiple-choice section, or Section I of the exam, is 60 minutes long and has 55 questions. You can expect to see 4-5 excerpts of prose and poetry. You will, in general, not be given an author, date, or title for these works, although occasionally the title of a poem is given. Unusual words are also sometimes defined for you.

The date ranges of works could fall from the 16th to the 21st century. Most works will be originally written in English, although you may occasionally see a passage in translation.

There are, generally speaking, eight kinds of questions you can expect to see on the AP English Literature and Composition test. I’ll break each of them down here and give you tips on how to identify and approach them.

 

"Tiny books carried by ladies" is not one of the question types.

 

The 8 Multiple-Choice Question Types on the AP Literature Exam

Without further ado, here are the eight question types you can expect to see on the AP lit exam. All questions are taken from the sample questions on the “AP Course and Exam Description.”

 

Reading Comprehension

These are questions that test your ability to understand what the passage is saying on a pretty basic level. They don’t require you to do a lot of interpretation—you just need to know what is actually going on. You can identify these from words and phrases like “according to,” “asserting,” “mentioned,” and so on. Basically, words that point to a fairly concrete register of meaning. You can succeed on these questions by careful reading of the text. You may have to go back and re-read parts to make sure you understand what the passage is saying.

Example:

 

Inference

These questions ask you to infer something—a character or narrator’s opinion, an author’s intention, and so forth—based on what is said in the passage. It will be something that isn’t stated directly or concretely, but that you can assume based on what is stated clearly in the passage. You can identify these questions from words like “infer,” and “imply.”  

The key to these questions is to not be tripped up by the fact that you are making an inference—there will be a best answer, and it will be the choice that is best supported by what is actually found in the passage. In many ways, inference questions are like second-level reading comprehension questions—you need to know not just what a passage says, but what it means.

Example:

 

Identifying and Interpreting Figurative Language

These are questions in which you have to either identify what word or phrase is figurative language or provide the meaning of a figurative phrase. You can identify these as they will either explicitly mention figurative language (or a figurative device like simile or metaphor) or will include a figurative language phrase in the question itself. The meaning of figurative language phrases can normally be determined by the phrase’s context in the passage—what is said around it? What is the phrase referring to?

Example 1: Identifying

Example 2: Interpreting

 

Literary Technique

These questions involve identifying why an author does what they do: from using a particular phrase to repeating certain words. Basically, what techniques is the author using to construct the passage/poem and to what effect? You can identify these questions by words like “serves chiefly to,” “effect,” “evoke,” and “in order to.” A good way to approach these questions is to ask yourself, so what? Why did the author use these particular words or this particular structure?

Example:

 

Character Analysis

These questions will ask you to describe something about a character. You can spot them because they will refer directly to characters’ attitudes, opinions, beliefs, or relationships with other characters. This is, in many ways, a special kind of inference question since you are inferring the broader personality of the character based on the evidence in a passage. Also, these crop up much more commonly for prose passages than poetry ones.

Example:

 

 

Overall Passage Questions

Some questions will ask you to identify or describe something about the passage/poem as a whole: its purpose, tone, genre, etc. You can identify these by phrases like “in the passage,” and “as a whole.” To answer these questions, you need to think about the excerpt with a bird’s-eye view. What is the overall picture created by all the tiny details?

Example:

 

Structure

Some questions will ask you about specific structural elements of the passage—a shift in tone, a digression, the specific form of a poem, etc. Often these questions will specify a part of the passage/poem and ask you to identify what that part is accomplishing. Being able to identify and understand the significance of any shifts—structural, tonal, in genre, etc—will be of key importance for these questions.

Example:

 

Grammar/Nuts & Bolts

Very occasionally you will be asked a specific grammar question, such as what word an adjective is modifying. I would also include in this category very specific questions like the meter of a poem (i.e. iambic pentameter). These questions are less about the literary artistry and more about the fairly dry technique involved in having a fluent command of the English language.

Example:

That covers the 8 question types!

 

Keep track of these.

 

The AP Literature Free-Response Section

Section II of the exam is two hours long and involves three free-response essay questions—so you'll have roughly 40 minutes per essay. Note, though, that no one will prompt you to move from essay to essay, so you can theoretically divide up the time how you want (but be sure to leave enough time for each essay). The first two essays are literary analysis essays of specific passages, with one poem and one prose excerpt—and the final is an analysis of a given theme in a work selected by you, the student.

 

Essays One and Two - Literary Passage Analysis

For the first two essays, you’ll be presented with an excerpt and directed to analyze the excerpt for a given theme, device, or development. One of the passages will be poetry, and one will be prose. You will be provided with the author of the work, the approximate date, and some orienting information (i.e. the plot context of an excerpt from a novel).

Sample Questions (from 2011 Free Response Questions)

Poetry:

Prose:



Essay Three - Thematic Analysis

For the third and final essay, you’ll be asked to discuss a particular theme in a work that you select. You will be provided with a list of notable works that address the given theme below the prompt, but you can also choose to discuss any “work of literary merit.”

So you DO have the power to choose which work you wish to write an essay about, but the key word here is “literary merit.” So no genre fiction! Stick to safe bets like authors in the list on pages 10-11 of the Course and Exam Description. (I know, I know—lots of ‘genre’ fiction works DO have literary merit, and Shakespeare actually began as low culture, and so on and so forth. You may well find academic designations of “literary merit” elitist and problematic, but the time to rage against the literary establishment is not your AP lit test.)

Here’s a sample question (from 2011):

 

As you can see, the list of works provided spans many different time periods and countries: there are ancient Greek plays (Antigone), modern literary works (like Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin or Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible), Shakespeare plays (The Merchant of Venice), 19th-century Russian lit (Crime and Punishment), and so on.


You might even see something by this guy.

 

How Is the AP Literature Test Graded?

The multiple-choice section of the exam comprises 45% of your exam score. The three essays comprise the other 55%. Each essay, then, is worth about 18%.

As on other AP exams, your raw score will be converted to a score from 1-5. You don’t have to get every point possible to get a 5 by any means—but the AP English Literature test does have one of the lowest 5 rates of all APs, with only 7.4% of students receiving 5s in 2016.

But how do you get raw scores at all?

 

Multiple-Choice Scoring

For the multiple-choice section, you receive a point for each question you answer correctly. There is no guessing penalty, so you should answer every question—but guess only after eliminating any answer that you know is wrong to up your chances of choosing the correct one.

 


Free-Response Scoring

Scoring for multiple choice is pretty straightforward. However, essay scoring is a little more complicated. Each of your essays will receive a score from 0-9 based on the College Board rubric. You can actually find question-specific rubrics for all of the released free-response questions for AP English lit (see “scoring guidelines”).

While all of the rubrics are broadly similar, there are some minor differences between each of them. I’ll go over the rubrics now—both what they say and what they mean for you.

 

Poetry Passage Analysis Rubric

Score

What the College Board Says

What it Means

9-8

These essays persuasively address the assigned task. These essays offer a range of interpretations; they provide a convincing reading and analysis of the poem. They demonstrate consistent and effective control over the elements of composition appropriate to the analysis of poetry. Their textual references are apt and specific. Though they may not be error-free, these essays are perceptive in their analysis and demonstrate writing that is clear and sophisticated, and in the case of a 9 essay, especially persuasive.

Your argument is convincing and it addresses all elements of the prompt. You interpret the language of the poem in a variety of ways (i.e. your analysis of the poem is thorough). Your essay is particularly well-written and well-organized. You appropriately reference specific moments in the poem to support your argument. A 9 essay is particularly persuasive.  

7-6

These essays reasonably address the assigned task. They are less thorough or less precise in the way they address the task, and their analysis is less convincing. These essays demonstrate an ability to express ideas clearly, making references to the text, although they do not exhibit the same level of effective writing as the 9-8 papers. Essays scored a 7 present better-developed analysis and more consistent command of the elements of effective composition than do essays scored a 6.

You address all elements of the prompt, but your analysis is not as complete or convincing as a 9-8 essay. You do make specific references to the poem and your writing is clear and effective, but not necessarily masterful.

5

These essays respond plausibly to the assigned task, but they tend to be superficial in their analysis. They often rely on paraphrase, which may contain some analysis, implicit or explicit. Their analysis may be vague, formulaic, or minimally supported by references to the text. There may be minor misinterpretations of the poem. These essays demonstrate some control of language, but they may be marred by surface errors. These essays are not as well conceived, organized, or developed as 7-6 essays.

You answer the prompt in a way that is not implausible or unreasonable, but your analysis of the poem is surface-level. You may paraphrase the poem instead of making specific references to its language. You may not adequately support your analysis of the poem, or you may misinterpret it slightly. Your essay is not a total mess, but not necessarily particularly well-organized or argued.

4-3

These lower-half essays fail to offer an adequate analysis of the poem. The analysis may be partial, unconvincing, or irrelevant, or ignore part of the assigned task. Evidence from the poem may be slight or misconstrued, or the essays may rely on paraphrase only. The essays often demonstrate a lack of control over the conventions of composition: inadequate development of ideas, accumulation of errors, or a focus that is unclear, inconsistent, or repetitive. Essays scored a 3 may contain significant misreading, demonstrate inept writing, or do both.

You do not adequately address the prompt. Your analysis of the poem is incomplete or incorrect, or you do not reference any specific language of the poem. Your essay is undeveloped, unclear, or poorly organized. A 3 essay either significantly misinterprets the poem or is particularly poorly written.

2-1

These essays compound the weaknesses of the papers in the 4–3 range. Although some attempt has been made to respond to the prompt, the student’s assertions are presented with little clarity, organization, or support from the poem. These essays may contain serious errors in grammar and mechanics. They may offer a complete misreading or be unacceptably brief. Essays scored a 1 contain little coherent discussion of the poem.

Only minimal attempt is made to respond to the prompt. Essay is disorganized or not supported by evidence from the poem. May contain numerous grammar and mechanics errors. May completely misinterpret the poem or be too short. A 1 essay barely mentions the poem.

0

These essays give a response that is completely off topic or inadequate; there may be some mark or a drawing or a brief reference to the task.

No real attempt is made to respond to the prompt.

-

These essays are entirely blank

You didn’t write anything!




Prose Passage Analysis Rubric

Score

What the College Board Says

What it Means

9-8

These essays persuasively address the assigned task. These essays make a strong case for the student’s interpretation. They may consider a variety of literary devices, and they engage the text through apt and specific references. Although these essays may not be error-free, their perceptive analysis is apparent in writing that is clear and effectively organized. Essays scored a 9 reveal more sophisticated analysis and more effective control of language than do essays scored an 8.

Your argument is convincing and addresses all parts of the prompt. You discuss a number of literary devices in your analysis and use specific and appropriate excerpts from the text as evidence in your argument. Your writing is clear, focused, and well-organized. A 9 essay has a particularly well-developed interpretation of the text and is better-written than an 8.

7-6

These essays reasonably address the task at hand. The writers provide a sustained, competent reading of the passage, with attention to a variety of literary devices. Although these essays may not be error-free and are less perceptive or less convincing than 9–8 essays, they present ideas with clarity and control and refer to the text for support. Essays scored a 7 present better developed analysis and more consistent command of the elements of effective composition than do essays scored a 6.  

You address all elements of the prompt. Your interpretation is coherent and you reference multiple literary devices in your analysis. You do reference specific moments in the text for support. Your essay is adequately organized and focused. However, your argument may be less convincing or insightful (i.e. more obvious) than a 9-8 essay.

5

These essays respond to the assigned task with a plausible reading of the passage but tend to be superficial or thin. While containing some analysis of the passage, implicit or explicit, the way the assigned task is addressed may be slight, and support from the passage may tend toward summary or paraphrase. While these essays demonstrate adequate control of language, they may be marred by surface errors. These essays are not as well conceived, organized, or developed as 7–6 essays.

You address the prompt, but your argument may be surface-level. You rely too much on summary or paraphrase of the text in your argument instead of using specific moments in the text. Your essay does have some elements of organization and focus but has some distracting errors.

4-3

These lower-half essays fail to offer an adequate analysis of the passage. The analysis may be partial, unconvincing, or irrelevant; the writers may ignore part of the assigned task. These essays may be characterized by an unfocused or repetitive presentation of ideas, an absence of textual support, or an accumulation of errors. Essays scored a 3 may contain significant misreading, demonstrate inept writing, or do both.

You do not adequately address the prompt, whether because your argument is partly unrelated to the task at hand or simply ignores elements of the prompt. Your essay is poorly focused and/or repetitive and has little textual support. A 3 essay significantly misinterprets the passage and/or is very poorly written.

2-1

These essays compound the weaknesses of the essays in the 4–3 score range. They may feature persistent misreading of the passage or be unacceptably brief. They may contain pervasive errors that interfere with understanding. Although some attempt has been made to respond to the prompt, the student’s ideas are presented with little clarity, organization, or support from the passage. Essays scored a 1 contain little coherent discussion of the passage.

Essay does not adequately address the assigned task. It may be very short or repeatedly misinterpret the passage. May be poorly written enough that it is hard to understand. These essays may be unfocused, unclear, or disorganized.

0

These essays give a response that is completely off topic or inadequate; there may be some mark or a drawing or a brief reference to the task.

No real attempt is made to respond to the prompt.

-

These essays are entirely blank

You didn’t write anything!

 


Student Choice Rubric

Score

What the College Board Says

What it Means

9-8

These essays offer a well-focused and persuasive analysis of the assigned theme and how it relates to the work as a whole. Using apt and specific textual support, these essays address all parts of the prompt. Although these essays may not be error-free, they make a strong case for their interpretation and discuss the literary work with significant insight and understanding. Essays scored a 9 reveal more sophisticated analysis and more effective control of language than do essays scored 8.

Your essay convincingly addresses the task in a way that is clear and focused. You reference many specific moments in the text in support of your argument. You build a strong case—with lots of evidence—in support of your interpretation of the text. Your argument shows a deep understanding of the text. A 9 essay has more complex analysis and is better-written than an 8.

7-6

These essays offer a reasonable analysis of the work of the assigned theme and how it relates to the work as a whole. These essays address all parts of the prompt. While these essays show insight and understanding, their analysis is less thorough, less perceptive, and/or less specific in supporting detail than that of the 9–8 essays. Essays scored a 7 present better developed analysis and more consistent command of the elements of effective composition than do essays scored a 6.

Your essay addresses the task adequately. Your interpretation of the text is apt and shows that you generally understood it, although your analysis may be more conventional or include less specific textual evidence than a 9-8 essay.

5

These essays respond to the assigned task with a plausible reading, but they tend to be superficial or thinly developed in analysis. They often rely upon plot summary that contains some analysis, implicit or explicit. Although these essays display an attempt to address the prompt, they may demonstrate a rather simplistic understanding and support from the text may be too general. While these essays demonstrate adequate control of language, they may be marred by surface errors. These essays are not as well conceived, organized, or developed as 7–6 essays.

Your essay addresses the prompt, but your argument may be very basic and/or rely too much on plot summary instead of true analysis of the text. Your essay may reveal that you do not thoroughly understand the text. Your essay may have some grammar/linguistic errors. Your essay is not especially well-organized or focused.

4-3

These lower-half essays fail to adequately address the assigned task. The analysis may be partial, unsupported, or irrelevant, and the essays may reflect an incomplete or oversimplified understanding of how a given theme functions in the text, or they may rely on plot summary alone. These essays may be characterized by an unfocused or repetitive presentation of ideas, an absence of textual support, or an accumulation of errors; they may lack control over the elements of college-level composition. Essays scored a 3 may contain significant misreading and/or demonstrate inept writing.

Your essay does not address the prompt. Your analysis shows that you either do not understand how to address the prompt, cannot build support for your interpretation, or do not understand the text. Your essay may be poorly organized, poorly written and/or repetitive.  A 3 essay significantly misinterprets the chosen work and/or is very poorly written.

2-1

Although these essays make some attempt to respond to the prompt, they compound the weaknesses of the papers in the 4–3 score range. Often, they are unacceptably brief or incoherent in presenting their ideas. They may be poorly written on several counts and contain distracting errors in grammar and mechanics. Remarks may be presented with little clarity, organization, or supporting evidence. Essays scored a 1 contain little coherent discussion of the text.

Your essay does not address the prompt. It may be too short or make little sense. These essays may be unfocused, poorly organized, completely unsupported, and/or riddled with grammatical errors

0

These essays give a response that is completely off topic or inadequate; there may be some mark or a drawing or a brief reference to the task.

No real attempt is made to respond to the prompt.

-

These essays are entirely blank

You didn’t write anything!

 

As you can see, the rubric for the poetry essay is focused more on poetic devices, and the rubric for the prose essay is focused more on literary devices and techniques. Both of those essays are very specifically focused on the analysis of the poem/prose excerpt. By contrast, the student choice essay is focused on how your analysis fits into the work as a whole.

To get a high-scoring essay in the 9-8 range, you need to not only come up with an original and intriguing argument that you thoroughly support with textual evidence, your essay needs to be focused, organized, clear, and well-written. And all in 40 minutes per essay! If getting a high score sounds like a tall order, that’s because it is. The mean scores on each of the essays last year was around a 4 out of 9. That means, most essays were scored lower than a 5. So even getting a 7 on these essays is an accomplishment.

 

If you write it down, it must be true!

 

Skill-Building for Success on the AP Literature Exam

There are several things you can do to hone your skills and best prepare for the AP Lit exam.

 

Read Some Books, Maybe More Than Once

One of the most important things you can do to prepare yourself for the AP Literature and Composition exam is to read a lot, and read well. You’ll be reading a wide variety of notable literary works in your AP English Literature course, but additional reading will help you further develop your analytical reading skills. You might check out the College Board’s list of “notable authors” on pages 10-11 of the “Course and Exam Description.”

In addition to reading broadly, you’ll want to become especially familiar with the details of 4-5 books with different themes so that you’ll be sure to be prepared to write a strong student choice essay. You should know the plot, themes, characters, and structural details of these 4-5 books inside and out. See my AP English Literature Reading List for more guidance.

 

Read (and Interpret) Poetry

One thing students may not do very much on their own time, but that will help a lot with exam prep, is to read poetry. Try to read poems from a lot of eras and authors to get familiar with the language. When you think you have a grip on basic comprehension, move on to close-reading (see below).

 

Hone Your Close Reading and Analysis Skills

Your AP class will likely focus heavily on close reading and analysis of prose and poetry, but extra practice won’t hurt you. Close-reading is the ability to identify which techniques the author is using and why they are using them. You’ll need to be able to do this both to gather evidence for original arguments on the free-response questions and to answer analytical multiple-choice questions.

Here are some helpful close-reading resources for prose:

And here are some for poetry:

 

Learn Literary and Poetic Devices

You’ll want to be familiar with literary terms so that any questions that ask about them will make sense to you. Again, you’ll probably learn most of these in class, but it doesn’t hurt to brush up on them.

Here are some comprehensive lists of literary terms with definitions:

 

Practice Writing Essays

The majority of your grade on the AP English Lit exam comes from essays, so it’s critical that you practice your timed essay-writing skills. You of course should use the College Board’s released free-response questions to practice writing complete timed essays of each type, but you can also practice quickly outlining thorough essays that are well-supported with textual evidence.

 

Take Practice Tests

Taking practice tests is a great way to prepare for the exam. It will help you get familiar with the exam format and experience. You can get sample questions from the Course and Exam Description, there are released College Board exams here, and we have a complete article on AP English Lit practice test resources.

Be aware that the released exams don’t have complete slates of free-response questions, so you may need to supplement with released free-response questions (see link in above section). Since there are two complete released exams, you can take one towards the beginning of your prep time to get familiar with the exam and set a benchmark, and one towards the end to make sure the experience is fresh in your mind and to check your progress.

 

Don't wander like a lonely cloud through your AP lit prep.

 

AP Literature Test Day Tips

Here are my top 6 tips for taking the exam:

  1. On the multiple-choice section, it’s to your advantage to answer every question. If you eliminate all of the answers you know are wrong before guessing, you’ll up your chances of guessing the correct one.

  2. Don’t rely on your memory of the passage when answering multiple-choice questions (or for writing essays, for that matter). Look back at the passage!

  3. Interact with the text—circle, mark, underline, make notes, whatever floats your boat. This will help you retain information and actively engage with the passage.

  4. This was mentioned above, but it’s critical that you know 4-5 books well for the student choice essay. You’ll want to know all the characters, the plot, the themes, and any major devices or motifs the author uses throughout.

  5. Be sure to plan out your essays! Organization and focus are critical for high-scoring AP Literature essays.

  6. Manage your time on essays closely. One strategy is to start with the essay you think will be the easiest to answer. This way you’ll be able to get through it while thinking about the other essays.

 

And don't forget to eat breakfast! Apron optional. 

 

Key Takeaways

The AP Literature exam is a three-hour exam: It includes one 55-question, hour-long multiple-choice section based on four-five prose and poetry passages, and a two hour free-response section with three essays—one analyzing a poetry passage, one analyzing a prose passage, and one analyzing a work chosen by the student.

The multiple-choice section is worth 45% of your total score and the free-response section is worth 55%. Essays are scored on a rubric from 0-9. Raw scores are converted to a score from 1-5.

Here are some things you can do to prepare for the exam:

  1. Read books, and be particularly familiar with 4-5 works for the student choice essays
  2. Read poetry
  3. Work on your close-reading and analysis skills
  4. Learn literary devices
  5. Practice writing essays
  6. Take practice tests!

On test day, be sure to really look closely at all of the passages and closely interact with them by marking the text in a way that makes sense to you. This will help on multiple-choice questions and the free-response essays. Be sure also to outline your essays before you write them!

With all this mind, you’re well on your way to AP Lit success!

 

What's Next?

If you're taking other AP exams this year, you may be interested in our other AP resources: from the Ultimate Guide to the US History Exam, to the Best 2016 Review Guide for AP Chemistry, to the Best AP Psychology Study Guide, we have articles on tons of AP courses and exams.

Looking for practice exams? Here are some tips on how to find the best AP practice tests.

We also have comprehensive lists of practice tests for AP Psychology, AP Biology, AP Chemistry, and AP US History.

 

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:

 

The AP Language and Composition exam tests your ability to not only read content, but also to analyze what you have read and draw conclusions to present in an argument. The test consists of two parts: multiple choice and free response.

These AP English Language tips can help you feel confident about scoring a 5 on the AP Language and Composition exam. Let’s get started.

AP English Language Course Study Tips

Before you learn how to study for the specific portions of the AP Language exam, it’s time to learn how to study for AP courses in general. AP stands for Advanced Placement; meaning, the courses are designed to challenge you more so than a regular high school class. It’s safe to say that it’s nearly impossible to pass the AP Language and Composition exam if you don’t have a grasp on how to study for a class as stimulating as an Advanced Placement course.

1. Become Familiar with AP Style Questions: Before you can even begin to study for the AP exams, you need to familiarize yourself with the overall format of the questions being asked on the exam. AP Central is a study aid website developed by the College Board, who writes the AP exam. Here, they have the formats of the questions being asked on specific AP exams. They even have copies of the questions present on previous AP exams. Take a look at the questions they have specifically for the AP Language and Composition exam on AP Central.

2. Complete Any Summer Work Assigned: Many AP English courses require you to read a few books over the summer vacation months. The teachers expect you to have read the content, and in some cases, they’ll even want you to complete a book report or project during the first week of class. It would be incredibly unwise to procrastinate and try to cram reading three or more books in the span of the last few weeks of summer. Not only will you stress yourself out, but you also will hinder your understanding of the content. If you plan on procrastinating and not doing what is asked by your AP teachers, be prepared for a rude awakening at the beginning of the school year in the form of a bad project grade. This can develop into your end of the year exam scores suffering.

3. Teach Yourself the Material: A good portion of Advanced Placement courses is based on teaching yourself the content. I can guarantee that you won’t understand every single concept covered in the hour or so that you’re actually in the classroom. When this inevitably happens, you’re going to feel lost and the subject matter becomes a little daunting. But the rest is up to you: you can either take it into your own hands and research the topic when you get home, or you can ignore the topic completely and hope you understand the next one. Here’s a hint: you should choose the first one. There’s a huge abundance of extra content out there for you to discover. Of course, there are the obvious choices like YouTube review videos and articles explaining the content you find a little hazy. However, there’s also an incredible amount of hidden gems around the Internet just waiting to be discovered.

Teachers don’t have time to cover every single tiny detail of content in the sixty minutes or so that they have you every day. At the end of the year, it’s up to you to make sure you understand everything to make a 5 on the AP exam.

4. Develop Critical Thinking Skills: A good portion of Advanced Placement courses is designed to test your ability to think critically. Critical thinking is a skill that will be extremely beneficial for you to acquire, not only for AP courses, but also for real life. To pass many AP courses, you need to understand that everything covered isn’t simply black and white. There are an incredible number of gray areas within the content that you need to learn to approach from every angle. If you keep an open mind and combine your observations as well as inferences you’ve made with the material, critical thinking will be a skill you’ll build with ease. This will drastically increase your odds of scoring high on AP exams.

5. Go to Class: Avoid missing your AP classes at all costs. If you’re not in class, how can you possibly expect to learn the content? You’re more likely to get behind on assignments if you miss class, which can become very stressful. Any amount of added stress can severely affect your understanding of vital concepts covered on the end of the year exams.

6. Form a Study Group: One of the most effective ways to study for any exam is to form a study group. Ideally, this group will contain members of all knowledge levels. Each person will bring something to the table—maybe you know more about symbolism than Susan, while Susan understands literary devices better than Ryan, and so on. Learning other people’s viewpoints on the subjects covered on the different exams will help you approach questions from every angle.

Now that you’ve followed the previous general Advanced Placement study tips, you can focus on studying specifically for the AP Language and Composition exam.

This part of this article will focus on the multiple-choice portion, which amounts to 45% of your overall score. So you could say that it’s pretty important.

Start your AP English Language Prep today

AP English Language Multiple Choice Tips

1. Prepare Early: The most important tip for acing any standardized exam is to develop good study habits. Prepare early. If possible, start at the beginning of the semester. Once you learn your first new topic or cover a key concept, review it that night. Then, when you learn your second, study that in addition to the previous learned concept. The process should go on throughout the semester which will be a surefire way to remember important content at the end of the year.

2. Test Yourself: If you’re one of the many high school students who don’t spend most of their time studying, preparing early, and following the system of the previous study tip, we understand. You have cheer practice, guitar lessons, homework and everything in between. Studying every single night may be a bit of a struggle. If this sounds like you, then the best option for studying for the AP Language exam is to test yourself. Periodically throughout the semester, look up practice exams to test your comprehension of the material.

3. Read the Passages FIRST: Everyone knows the classic shortcut when it comes to multiple choice tests—read the questions first, then scan the passages to look for the answers. This is a method of approaching the exam that is completely wrong. It will leave you without a deep understanding of what the passage is about. With less comprehension, you’re more likely to make mistakes and choose the wrong answer.

4. Read the Questions Thoroughly: This goes without saying. If you don’t have a good grasp on the content of the question, you’re going to get it wrong. Read the questions carefully and determine what it is asking, where in the text the answer can be found, and whether any of the choices provide a logical answer to the question.

Sometimes the answer to the questions can be complicated and rather unnerving. To avoid getting overwhelmed by this, try covering up the multiple choice answers with your hand or ignore them completely while you read just the stem of the question. Try to come up with an answer for the question before you even glance at the possible choices.

5. Reread Portions of the Text: When you have determined where in the passage an answer can be found, reread that portion. Dissect it thoroughly and from there, decide what the correct answer might be.

6. Use the Process of Elimination: This tip may be a little bit obvious. Ever since you were young, you’ve heard the helpful suggestion of deducing answers. If you’re familiar with the subject matter of the question, it should not be hard to rule out at least one of the choices that you have determined not to be the answer. Physically mark through the answers you believe are wrong. It will help you to visually see which answers couldn’t possibly be the right one. Be sure to take your time when deducing an answer. Sometimes the writers of the test will write two answer choices that seem almost identical. However, one of them will have the slightest difference that makes it incorrect.

It might also help you to circle or underline the terms or reasoning within the wrong answer choices that proves they are incorrect. This may help you further into the test. If you get stumped on a similar question, you may look back onto these incorrect responses. With this information, you can deduce which answers are incorrect and which are correct.

7. Skip Difficult Questions: Because the multiple-choice portion is timed, you may not have time to answer every single question if you are unsure of a few. The simplest way to clear your mind and focus on the easier question is to immediately skip the more difficult questions that require more critical thinking. Then, once you have answered all of the questions you feel more confident about, go back to the more difficult questions, if time permits.

8. Use Circles or Check Marks: Whenever you skip a question, be sure to circle its number. That way, when you’re going back through your test, the search time for unanswered questions will be cut drastically. Alternatively, you can put a check mark beside every question you have answered, leaving unanswered questions with a blank space beside the numbers.

9. When in Doubt, Guess: On the AP Language and Composition exam, like every other Advanced Placement exam, your score on the multiple-choice portion is based on the number of questions you answer correctly. There is no penalty for incorrect answers. So there’s no logical reason not to guess on questions you are stumped on.

10. Make Flashcards: For terms or concepts that are crucial for you to memorize, make flashcards. It may seem like an elementary study tip, but it truly works. Pay special attention to terms or concepts that you don’t fully understand.

11. Study before Bed: If you’ve made flashcards, a great time to study them, or really any notes you’ve taken, is before you go to bed. The brain remembers the most information right before you go to sleep. This is because when you’re asleep, it processes the most important memories of your day for storage. If you review right before bedtime, your brain prioritizes this information and stores it for quick access. Because of this, it’d be a good idea to study first thing in the morning, too. This will remind your brain that the subject you’re studying really needs to be remembered.

12. Focus on Your Weaknesses: When you don’t quite understand a concept as well as you should, be sure to take time to break it down. Run over it many times in your head and you can even research it for a better understanding. It’s crucial that you’re at least familiar with all concepts that are going to be covered on the exam.

13. Don’t Stress: This is easier said than done, we understand. But there is nothing worse than working your way through multiple choice questions and having your brain freeze because you’re stressed out. This makes it difficult to even read the question, let alone understand it.

14. Remember to Breathe: The best thing you can do when you get overwhelmed by the pressures of the exam is to take a deep breath. Have confidence that you know the material well enough to get through this portion with ease.

The next part of this article will focus on the seemingly daunting free response portion of the AP Language and Composition exam, worth 55% of your score. This portion consists of three different essays you must write within a two-hour period after a mandatory fifteen-minute reading period. Ultimately, these essays will assess your ability to quickly formulate arguments form inferences and analysis drawn from the sources provided to you. If you don’t understand early on how to go about following the instructions that are asked on the exam, you might find this portion more difficult than the multiple-choice section.

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Here are some tips to help you ace this portion of the exam:

AP English Language Free Response Question Tips

1. Understand the Question: Make sure you read the essay prompt many times and identify the key question being asked. Approach the question from each side of the possible argument that it poses.

2. Choose Your Side: Based on the evidence provided for you in the passages you’ve read, come up with an argument. It is often helpful to choose an argument that has more evidence and references to support it, even if you do not necessarily agree with every tiny detail.

3. Create a Thesis: Come up with a strong thesis statement that clearly and effectively approaches the topic and the argument you are presenting. Don’t bother regurgitating the prompt in your introductory paragraphs—the scorers will just assume you are filling space and it will make your argument seem weak and lacking confidence. Answer all of the questions asked by the prompt in your introductory paragraph and include the main point of your argument in your thesis.

4. Build a Strong Body: Once you have your thesis statement, construct body paragraphs around it. Be sure to mention how the supporting evidence you are citing within your essays relates back to your argument.

5. Be Specific: Ambiguity and vague sentences have no place within an AP Language and Composition exam essay. The readers of your essay expect you to be exact and to the point. They want you to prove a point to them, not dance around it aimlessly. The more specific you are with your information, the better.

6. Use Your Resources: You’re given sources for a reason. Use these to strengthen your argument and convince your audience of its legitimacy. Failing to use the resources provided to you will result in an incredibly low score. Why should you be given a high score when you couldn’t even follow the directions of the exam?

7. Develop a Tone: The tone of an essay is what sets the stage for your argument. If there is no tone, it makes the essay seem sloppy and poorly structured. The argument itself may even seem scattered and all over the place. The tone of your essay should reflect your side of the argument. If it doesn’t, how can the readers be expected to understand completely what side you are taking?

8. Learn How to Make Assumptions: A great deal of the scoring of this portion is based on the assumptions you make. The assumptions and inferences made from your sources are crucial. Use them to explain your viewpoints and strengthen your argument. Logical assumptions give interesting perspectives to the scorers of the essays. The use of inferences and assumptions in your essays also demonstrates your ability to think critically (as we discussed earlier).

9. Organize Your Thoughts: As you work through planning your argument in the essays, make sure you take time to organize your thoughts. This will strengthen your argument and the overall structure of your essay. If your essay is neat and clean, the scorers can easily find what they are looking for in a well-written argument.

10. Know the Fundamentals of Writing: If you are unfamiliar with the structure of an essay, you definitely need to learn it before the exam. Think of an essay as a skeleton: the introductory, body, and conclusion paragraphs are the bones; the actual muscle, tendons, and organs holding it together are the bulk of the essay. This is what you add to it, including arguments and supporting evidence.

11. Use Variety: If you write your essay with choppy, short sentences having a simple vocabulary, the reader is going to assume that you are not well-versed in the English language. This can severely hurt your score—especially considering you are taking an exam in AP Language and Composition. If anything, this course should make your writing shine and appeal to the scorer. You wouldn’t want the person grading your essay to assume that you are lacking in style and grammar.

12. Work Quickly: Although you want to keep all of these tips in mind, remember that this is still a timed portion of the exam. You don’t have much time to spend trying to make every single part of your essays perfect.

13. Develop Time Management Skills: Learning time management skills early on can help tremendously when it comes to timed exams. Practice taking timed exams frequently throughout the semester to build confidence and skill. This will really help when you’re forced to formulate multiple arguments for different essays in a limited amount of time.

14. Know the Rubric: Knowing the rubric is an incredibly strategic move in acing the AP Language and Composition essay portion. When you know what exactly it is the scorers usually look for, you can be at ease. This is because you know exactly what to put into your arguments to make for a high-scoring essay.

15. Develop a Good Attitude: Having a good attitude going into the course will show the teacher that you are there to learn. Teachers are more willing to help students that seem upbeat and overall well-rounded. This can also translate into confidence when it comes exam time.

16. READ!: This may seem obvious, but many students don’t understand how much reading is required for this course. AP Language and Composition covers writing styles throughout several centuries and it’s crucial to become familiar with all of them. Reading a few books for leisure in between assignments will help drastically in developing a writing style of your own as well.

17. Practice Dissection: No, don’t worry; you won’t have to know how to dissect a dead frog for the AP Language exam. However, it is a good idea to practice dissecting everything you read. When reading, ask yourself: Who is the audience in this piece? What is it that the author is trying to accomplish by writing this? What is the main idea? Is there any symbolism used in vague sentences?

18. Write Neatly: Legible writing is a scorer’s best friend. They are very busy people with thousands of essays to grade. They do not have much time trying to decipher your chicken scratch. The more the scorers can read, the more there is to grade.

19. Plan Out Your Essays: Even though the essay portion is timed, you should still take a few minutes to plan out your arguments. The last thing you want to do is confuse your readers by having a sloppy essay with little to no organization or planning. Plans help bring structure and life to your writings.

20. Avoid Clichés: Sure, a cliché may bring a sense of familiarity to your writing. But mostly, it just bores the reader. If you must use a common cliché phrase, try to change it up a bit by using synonyms for the verbs.

21. Be Specific: When writing your essays for the AP Language and Composition exam, be specific. The prompt may ask you to discuss the rhetoric devices used in a passage. Instead of just listing them, provide a brief description of each device and how it is used. This will display a sophisticated understanding of the material sure to impress the readers.

22. Stay on Topic: This goes hand in hand with number five. If you have planned out your essay well, you’ll be more conscious as to when your writing is deviating from the main topic. Periodically look back at the prompt as you are writing to make sure you’re answering everything required in your essay.

23. Stay Healthy: A healthy body leads to a healthy mind; they go hand in hand. Be sure to fuel your body and brain with water and a good hearty breakfast before your exam. Moreover, be sure to get enough exercise and eat healthy throughout the rest of the year. You’ll come to see both your mood and your school performance increase.

24. Learn How to Handle Stress: Stress can take a toll on each and every one of us. Learning how to handle it is a skill that is vital to every aspect of life, especially when it comes to school. Be sure to remember that your mental and physical health is more important than a score on a high school exam. Know your limits and take breaks when needed so you can assure a happy and healthy brain.

25.Be comfortable in uncertainty, for that will lead to clarity. The essence of all art, and literature is no exception, is that it dwells in the realm of ambiguity and multiplicity; this is what makes great art. Consider Moby Dick, especially the chapter “The Whiteness of the Whale,” this is fundamentally the world of art. If students can only manage or see one answer, they will never be able to truly understand literature and will always succumb to superficial interpretations and debilitating stress. Thanks for the truly insightful tip from Dan B. from Holy Cross High School.

26. Say you have to read two articles, one in the San Francisco Chronicle and one posted on a blog. You know nothing about either author. You know nothing about the content (topic). Brainstorm about what credibility factors you can deduce before you even see the articles. Thanks for the tip from Mark M.

27. Multiple choice always presents a combination of easy, medium, and hard questions for each passage. Generally speaking, these questions follow the chronology of the passage, but they are all worth the same amount of points. Therefore, the best approach is to go for easy and medium questions first and skip questions that will require a significant amount of time up front. Thanks for the tip from Fred B.

28. When dealing with questions asking about things in context, the best approach is to return to the beginning of the sentence or the previous sentence and read the end of that sentence to understand its meaning. It may also be a good idea to read the sentence that follows as well. Thanks for the tip from Fred B.

29.If you’re running out of time, you should either scan the remaining questions and find the shortest questions or look for questions that contain the answer without requiring you to refer back to the text. Thanks for the tip from Fred B.

30. A great way to pace yourself is to take the number of multiple choice questions and to divide the number by two. Therefore, if you have 60 questions to answer and an hour to do so, you should be at question 30 by the 30 minute mark. You can also use this approach by dividing by the number of passages. Thanks for the tip from Fred B.

31.Create your own excitement about the prompt and what you have to say about it. If you can find a way to be passionate about it, you will write faster, easier, and better. After this year’s test one of my students said she remembered the tip and intentionally generated her own enthusiasm about her topics, so she came out feeling happy about what she wrote. She scored a 4. Thanks for the tip from Pam S.

32. Students need to enhance their vocabulary through adding quality verbs in order to read and write more effectively. This study should embrace the verb in both active and passive voice; likewise, the verb should be mastered for gerundive and participial uses. Thanks for the tip from Mike M.

33.Read credible newspapers daily. Connect current world events to classic essays and memoirs. Look for the connection between the human condition and the speaker’s purpose. Always ask why? Why that word? Why that tone? Why that call to action? Thanks for the tip from Bobbi C.

34. The two skills of the course are argument and rhetorical analysis.One bit of advice that is central to impart to students is the tenet “acknowledge complexity.” This is relevant in arguments (e.g. take time to address reasonable counter-arguments) and rhetorical analysis (e.g. a letter can be both threatening and conciliatory — check out Banneker’s letter to Jefferson from the 2010 test). Passing the AP English Language and Composition exam is never going to be easy. But with the right amount of studying, motivation, and understanding (along with these tips, of course), you should have more than what it takes to score well on this exam. Prepare early, be confident in your comprehension of the material, and watch yourself work through the exam with certainty. Thanks for the tip from Peter D.

Tips Submitted by AP English Language Teachers

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