The AP English Language curriculum lists several literary works that will assist you in answering free response questions during the exam as well as some of the multiple choice questions. By being well-read you can get a leg up on the other students, thus vastly improving your score. So get reading! Below is a list of the ultimate AP English Language reading list and a quick synopsis for each work.
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand is a novel depicting Howard Roark and his journey through his struggling life. Ayn Rand focuses on her objectivist manifesto as she tells the story of Roark and simultaneously persuades her audience that the self will triumph over all else. Rand utilizes amazing rhetorical prowess in The Fountainhead, making this novel a great way to introduce students to analyzing rhetorical methods and devices. This is important for the second free response question on the AP English exam, because that essay question will ask the student to pick out how the author uses rhetoric. If you practice with The Fountainhead, then finding rhetorical devices in a work will become much easier.
The Scarlet Letter
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne is a story of a young woman who had an affair with a priest. It is a story of sin, guilt, mystery, and adultery as Hester Prynne makes her way through turmoil when she wore a red letter ‘A’ for adultery. This novel was famous for its use of symbolism, making The Scarlet Letter a fantastic tool for looking beyond the surface of a text. This will serve the student well as he or she analyzes various texts during the multiple choice and the free response section of the AP English Language exam.
The multiple choice exam dictates that the student must be able to look deeply into a passage and see beyond the words. The questions are made to utilize critical thinking skills that one needs to pick apart The Scarlet Letter.
Hamlet by William Shakespeare is a play that follows Hamlet, the son of the newly murdered king of Denmark. Hamlet was sent into a spiraling depression after his mother remarries and he is unable to claim the throne. Therefore, Hamlet plots to kill Claudius, the new king. He eventually did so after his hamartia takes over and all is already lost. At the end, almost the entire cast was slain.
Hamlet is important to the AP English Language exam, because Shakespeare utilizes important figurative language, form, and other important writing techniques in order to convey his messages within the play. It is important to explore Hamlet as well because of the different format. Because some students have difficulty understanding Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter with an interpreter, reading this play will help the student. Hamlet passages often make an appearance in the multiple choice section of the AP English Language exam. Having a working knowledge of the play will put the student at an advantage over others in the multiple choice section.
The Grapes of Wrath
This next novel is a text that utilizes an important rhetorical device, pathos. Pathos is the appeal to the audience’s emotions, and The Grapes of Wrath shows the reader how to captivate an audience with their own emotions. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck took place during the Great Depression. Here, we get to follow a group of people that have been terribly affected by the lack of food and work. The various Americans that are focused on show a different perspective on how horrible the Great Depression was, and the fall and the triumph of the human spirit. It is emotionally captivating and persuading, which is a wonderful model to look at when thinking about how to craft a free response essay.
The Kite Runner
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini is a narrative that depicts two boys, Hassan and Amir, as they grew up in the Middle East. Discrimination was covered in this novel as well as rape culture, victim blaming, and how to deal with trauma in a negative and positive way.
This novel reveals a different perspective than the Eurocentric views that the western world is used to. Its cultural perspective brings into light a point that is essential in the AP Language exams, which is that everyone is going to have a different way of looking at your argument. Make it as accessible as possible. Also, The Kite Runner is a great example of using pathos, a tool that is essential to the essays on the AP English Language exam. This novel also utilizes narrative as a method of revealing a concept to the readers. By reading The Kite Runner the student learns to see the underlying concepts, which is a great skill to have for the multiple choice section of the AP English Language exam.
A Thousand Splendid Suns
A Thousand Splendid Suns is the companion piece to The Kite Runner. Written by Khaled Hosseini as well, this text follows three women through their experiences growing up in the Middle East. The exploration of point of view is useful to a student, because the passages given in the multiple choice section may be nebulous regarding point of view. Being able to figure out who is speaking and why the author is having him or her speak is valuable for the exam. The marginalization of the woman’s experience is highlighted here and the writing is very concise and to the point. Because of the concise language, A Thousand Splendid Suns is a great example for how to eliminate redundancy in the student’s free response question essays.
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The Life of Pi
Another great skill to have going into the AP English Language exam is to be able to think outside of the box. The Life of Pi by Yann Martel is a novel that focuses on Pi, an Indian boy that is shipwrecked with wild animals. These wild animals, whether they are real or not, tormented Pi and took him on a journey through spiritual awakening. The reader was told at the end of the novel that there are two stories and he or she had to choose which the real narrative was. Seeing outside of the confines of the story will allow the student to see deeper aspects of other texts. This will become useful when reading the sources for the synthesis essay or the multiple choice passages that need thorough analysis.
The AP English Language exam emphasizes non-fiction works over the fiction, making the following book even more important. The Overachievers is a non-fiction work by Alexandra Robbins that follows eight high schoolers believed to be pressured into the highest GPA and the “best” college. She puts standardized testing in a very negative light as she reports on her findings. This book is important to the AP English Language exam, because this is a non-fiction source, which embodies much of what the sources will be like for the synthesis essay in the free response section of the exam.
As I Lay Dying
Sometimes it is the journey that matters. In Faulkner’s novel As I Lay Dying, a journey is used as to support the greater whole of the novel and the argument that Faulkner makes. As I Lay Dying is a southern gothic novel that embodies the dysfunctional family. The family treks forty miles toward the city of Jefferson with their dead mother in a coffin. This was her last wish. Through calamities the family goes to the city and finally buries her decaying corpse.
This novel can be directly related to the free response questions in the AP English Language exam, because every supporting detail makes a difference. Every character in As I Lay Dying contributed to Faulkner’s overall argument.
In this non-fiction text the author looks into a different topic in every chapter ranging from cheating teachers to legalizing abortion to lowering poverty. He does this by using many sources and bringing other data. This is important to the AP English Language exam, because the exam’s free response questions will demand that you use a certain amount of the sources provided to craft your argument. Without this ability you will not score well.
A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Soldier Boy
Have you ever felt studying for AP exams is too hard? Well, your troubles will definitely be put into perspective with this next novel. A Long Way Gone was the memoir of a young boy, Beah, who grew up in Sierra Leone amidst the violence. He was taken into an army at a young age and became a child soldier. After becoming addicted to drugs, Beah was rehabilitated by UNICEF.
This non-fiction book is another great addition to your AP English Language repertoire, because learning how to analyze a memoir and pick out the important parts of the argument will assist you in answering multiple choice questions and writing your essay.
How Starbucks Saved My Life
How Starbucks Saved My Life is another memoir. This one is about an executive who loses his job and has to work at Starbucks in order to make a living. The main character learns from his supervisor about minorities and real hard work. This non-fiction work utilizes time and facts in order to get across a message. These concrete details and support allows the author to proficiently persuade the audience. The credibility that the author creates for himself is a tool that the student will need to create for him or herself. The student can do this by maintaining clear and persuasive language as How Starbucks Saved My Life does.
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Profiles in Courage
Do you have a love of history? Then Profiles in Courage is for you. It is a non-fiction collection of autobiographies written by John F. Kennedy after he researched senators who tried to stop the Civil War from happening.
The relevancy of the work historically that shows how people can do great deeds in a terrible time. This message is even more powerful after you have read each of the autobiographies. By doing something like this and adding many supporting examples to your argument, then you will gain a large impact.
By reading this work the student gets used to working with real life texts, which is mainly what the free response sources for the synthesis essay will be.
1984 by George Orwell is a dystopian novel about a man trapped in a world where it feels like Big Brother was always watching. The man, Winston, starts a sexual relationship with a woman and begins to rebel against the totalitarian society. Winston does this until he is tortured at the end of the novel.
1984 is Orwell’s cautionary tale that he argues for very well. Orwell shows examples of what will happen to society, why it will happen, and the effects of this. If you can pick out the rhetorical methods put forth by Orwell, and answer questions about the persuasive technique, then you will have be more prepared for the multiple choice portion. This is because the multiple choice section contains passages with rhetorical devices that the student needs to be able to identify. Practicing with 1984 will get the student ready for that.
A Room of One’s Own
We will now journey into the world of feminism for A Room of One’s Own, an essay by Virginia Woolf. This non-fiction piece reveals the plight of the woman and how a woman in that time period lived. Woolf used her persuasive writing in order to reveal the problem of the repression of women. She did this predominantly by using a bedroom as a symbol for equality. Woolf convinced her readers that women deserve a room of their own.
Virginia Woolf was an enticing author not only because of her persuasive talent. She utilized grammar, diction, and syntax in order to truly enhance her own writing and in turn, her argument. One example of this is in the title of the essay. A Room of One’s Own is a feminist essay, but Woolf specifically uses the word, “one’s” instead of “her”. This careful diction allows Woolf to push equality is every aspect of her argument from her style to the words itself.
Politics and the English Language
This essay by George Orwell showcases the murky political language that English is turning into. He criticizes the politicians that make lies sound truthful, causing strife within the nation. Orwell lays out his solutions in points very clearly, showing how print needs to be.
This essay is important to doing well on the AP English Language Exam, because if you follow his advice on the economy of language, then you will clarify your argument. Orwell’s issue with the language was that people cloud their arguments with it, so be sure to read and follow his advice.
This non-fiction book is by Malcolm Gladwell, who argues that he knows the story of success. He illustrates how to succeed in everything: from ice hockey to accumulating a Bill Gates level of wealth.
This is important for the betterment of your score, because this author not only seems to have the recipe for success, but he also makes a clear argument that is a wonderful example for crafting an argument.
The Unknown Citizen
The Unknown Citizen is a poem written by W. H. Auden. He criticizes individualism in the United States that he does not believe exists. Auden also speaks of a time before. This was a time where individuals were only to be known for their number. He then discusses controlling government agencies that micromanage the people’s lives.
This poem will be useful, because the exam focuses on real world criticisms within unfamiliar texts. The poem is all about criticizing the world in which Auden lived, making this poem great practice for the exam.
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Silent Spring was an environmental look at society written by Rachel Carson. This non-fiction book focused on the destruction of bird species because of the pollution of pesticides. This book led to the banning of the dangerous pesticide, DDT. This was a great book to read, because this was an argument that won the day. Carson got what she wanted, and she also spread awareness for her cause. This was what you want to do on exam day. Silent Spring is also a non-fiction work; therefore, the intense analysis of the work will be good practice for the AP test.
Utopia by Thomas More was a book that was written in 1516 in Latin. This was written to convey his ideas about political, social, and religious norms in society. Strong arguments are spurred forward by More’s use of fiction. Because of this, Utopia is a valuable work to have a working knowledge of for the AP English Language Exam. More’s use of fiction is a popular and effective way to persuade, and knowing this will assist you in your multiple choice portion of the exam. Since Utopia was written in a much older vernacular, this gives the students a different approach to prose that will prove useful if older texts come up on the exam.
One of Shakespeare’s most famous plays, King Lear, is another great work to have in your repertoire. This tragedy is about a man called Lear who splits his estate between his three girls based on how well they flatter him. Naturally, everything falls apart as human nature destroys Lear. This is an important one to have in your mind on exam day, because the writers of the exam love to throw in a Shakespeare excerpt in the multiple choice section, and this is one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays. Being able to pick this work apart will set you apart from the others.
Julius Caesar is another famous play by William Shakespeare. Even though the play is called Julius Caesar, the psychological tragedy focuses more on Brutus’s patriotism and his guilt. The amazing language that is used within the play makes the work stand out. The figurative language is so compelling that it would be remiss if we had not mentioned it. To have a great argument you may need some beautiful figurative language, and this is a great example. In the multiple choice section you will have to pick out certain figurative language terms, so practicing identifying them in this work will be helpful.
The Handmaid’s Tale
The Handmaid’s Tale is a work of fiction that speculates about the dystopian future of a Christian theocracy that overthrows the United States government. This is another example of how working with a concrete, definite message through fiction will cement your argument in the minds of your readers. While it may not be possible to write in fiction on your AP English Language Exam, you will get extra practice in analyzing that argument under the layers of fable. Analysis is extremely important in every aspect of the AP English Language exam, from the multiple choice to the free response section.
Kabul Beauty School
Deborah Rodriguez, the author of the novel Kabul Beauty School, writes in her book about her experiences traveling to war-torn Afghanistan. This heart-warming tale reveals the social and political issue of war-torn nations and the treatment of women. This more modern novel is a great addition to your reading list, because the message of equality is sent through this novel, utilizing subtlety and a ton of pathos. This appeal to the emotions allows the audience to get close to the argument and buy into it. Doing this on your exam will give you a leg up. Also, being able to think in different ways, like Rodriguez does, will allow you to see different angles on the multiple choice sections. Some questions do not have a straightforward answer and must be thought of differently.
The Great Gatsby
The Great Gatsby, a novel by Fitzgerald, is the story of an outsider who meets a man named Gatsby. Gatsby is a rich man who covers his insecurities and traumas by throwing extravagant parties. Symbolism runs rampant in this tale as the “green light” that Gatsby stares at longingly represents his unattainable love, Daisy. Gatsby’s life unfortunately ends as he is shot in the closing of the novel. Fitzgerald uses a stunning precision and beautiful phrasing in order to convey his point. He looks at Gatsby as he looks at society, once again showing that symbolism. This is a great way to strengthen your argument and practice identifying different elements of figurative speech for the multiple choice section.
The Crucible is a play written by Arthur Miller that focuses on Puritans and the Salem Witch Trials. The Salem Witch Trials originated when girls blamed men and women they disliked in order to get rid of them. This play focuses on how religious zeal can cause mass hysteria and paranoia. Having that dramatic aspect added to a historical aspect puts even more power in the play. The story focuses on how characterization can fuel an argument or message. By revealing the character of the individual you can enhance your essays. You can also think about this idea in terms of applying what you know to questions you are given in the multiple choice section. If you are not sure about one of the questions, then apply a work that you understand to the question. This may illuminate the answer.
In Cold Blood
In Cold Blood was written by Truman Capote to document the Herbert Clutter murders. The author does extensive research of these murders and on Clutter himself in order to get his message across. Without this skill you will not be able to properly answer your free response questions adequately. After all, the most important piece of the free response essays is your argument. You need to be able to make a claim and support it as Capote does. Also, the non-fiction element of Capote’s work relates well to other passages that you will see on your multiple choice section of the AP English Language exam.
Reading for Success
This AP English Language reading list, while it does not encompass every book that will be useful during the AP English Language Exam, is a great place to start and finish. This is a ton of reading material, and by completing this list you will increase your AP score.
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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.
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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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