Tips for Preparing for the AP Language and Composition Exam
The AP Language & Composition exam can be intimidating because unlike other exams, it’s not just a test of knowledge. To succeed, you must become an effective close-reader, a persuasive writer, and even an engaging storyteller. This can’t be done overnight, but don’t worry! There is a clear path to success, especially if you begin preparing early.
First, let’s review the basics.
Tuesday May 9, 2023, 8 AM Local
Section I: Multiple Choice
- This section contains 45 questions to be completed in 1 hour
- 45% of exam score
Excerpts from nonfiction texts are accompanied by several multiple-choice questions including:
- 23-25 Reading questions: read and analyze nonfiction texts
- 20-22 Writing questions: read like a writer and consider revisions to the text
Section II: Free Response
- 3 essay questions in 2 hours 15 minutes
- 55 % of exam score
- Synthesis: After reading 6-7 texts about a topic (including visual and quantitative sources), you will compose an argument that combines and cites at least three of the sources to support your thesis.
- Rhetorical Analysis: You will read a nonfiction text and analyze how the writer’s language choices contribute to the intended meaning and purpose of the text.
- Argument: You will create an evidence-based argument that responds to a given topic.
Preparing for the multiple-choice section
- Read lots of nonfiction. The best way to prepare for the multiple-choice section is to read nonfiction texts such as literary essays, op-eds from The New York Times and other publications, and anything else that might interest you. The section will include a variety of passage types, so you need to be comfortable reading in many genres.
- Challenge yourself with older texts. When you read older nonfiction texts by writers such as Sojourner Truth, Virginia Woolf, Richard Wright, consider their rhetorical situations and find as many rhetorical devices in their works as you can.
- Know the question types. Some questions test general comprehension of the passage, while others require closer reading (inference-making, detection of figurative language, and analysis of rhetorical devices). The College Board has provided a limited number of sample questions that you should use for practice (see p. 115 – 122), but you can also practice these skills by using SAT Reading sections.
- Master reading comp strategies. Some questions on a given passage will require a nuanced overall understanding of the passage, so you will need to read the entire passage and try to understand it before moving on to the questions. For questions that ask what a word or phrase means in context, underline the word or phrase in the passage and reread at least the full sentence. If the word or phrase isn’t clear to you from that, also read the sentence before and after for context. Whenever possible you should try to come up with your own answer to a question before reading the multiple-choice answers even once. This helps avoid trap answer choices and helps you to come up with answers by referring to the passage and not only by memory, which can be unreliable in the timed, stressful atmosphere of the test. This technique takes practice to master.
- Know what is covered on the writing questions and how to best to tackle them.
The writing questions on the AP Lang exam will ask you to choose the appropriate order of sentences, decide on appropriate transition words, and meet particular provided rhetorical and syntactic goals. While these questions are fairly similar to some SAT Writing and ACT English questions, AP Lang exam questions do not focus on testing grammar and punctuation rules. Instead, writing questions on the AP Lang exam will ask you to carefully read and fulfill provided goals. Carefully read each question and make sure that you look for the answer choice that meets the goal provided, and not simply the choice that sounds the best in context.
Preparing for the Free Response section
- Explore past AP Language prompts. The College Board has an extensive archive of past exam questions – with over 20 years of exams to choose from, you’ll never run out of material.
- Read student samples of past essays – especially the high-scoring ones! Think of each of the three essays as a unique genre with specific audience expectations. You can get intimately familiar with these expectations by reading the Scoring Guidelines and the highly detailed Reader Reports. After you’ve read a few examples and understand what your audience expects, practice writing!
- Focus your practice on writing thesis statements. If you don’t have time to write a full essay in response to these prompts, writing the thesis statement should be your priority. Whether you are making an argument about a writer’s tone within their rhetorical situation, or you’re making an argument about civic participation, your thesis statement should take a clear and defensible position on the subject in the prompt. A strong thesis statement will provide you with a structure to follow as you write and the foundation you need to get the highest possible score.
- Practice your moves. Your audience wants to be engaged, so show off the rhetorical moves you’ve learned and try to entertain. Your argumentative essay, for example, should support your position with a variety of vivid supporting details. Are there fictional characters relevant to the topic? Many students brought Hamlet – a famously indecisive character – into their response to last year’s prompt about indecision. For the argument essay, you may refer to material you learned in history or literature, current events, and even anecdotal experiences. The graders will not evaluate the quality of the source of the evidence, but rather how good a job you do explaining the evidence and how it connects to your overall argument.
- Know the rubrics for the three essays.
- Get reactions. Whether it’s a teacher, tutor, or classmate, find an audience for your essays. It’s important to see how your synthesis of various sources, your attempts at persuasion, land with readers. Contact Marks Education to work with an expert tutor.