AP English Language and Composition just might be the most valuable AP course available in that the course trains students to be ready for college reading, writing, and research. Its value reaches far beyond the world of English Language Arts, but to get the most out of the class, students should be astute readers and insightful thinkers. First on the agenda for AP Lang students are 45 multiple-choice questions that test your understanding of rhetoric and your ability to strengthen a text with sound rhetorical choices.
🎥Watch: AP Lang - Multiple Choice Timing and Test-taking Strategies
Here is what you need to know about the AP Lang exam itself: ⏲️
The multiple-choice section of the AP English Language and Composition exam is the first part of the exam; you will complete it before you start to write the three essays.
You will have 60 minutes to answer 45 questions.
You need to answer all of the questions because a blank answer is a wrong answer.
Each question will have 5 possible answers. You will receive a point for every correct answer, and the total number of points will factor into the formula used to calculate your final score.
The multiple-choice score counts 45% of the overall score.
There are 2 kinds of multiple-choice questions you will encounter - reading and writing.
There are 23-25 reading questions and 20-22 writing questions.
There are 5 sets of questions, which means there will be 5 passages with accompanying questions.
There are 2 sets of reading questions with 11-14 questions for each reading passage.
There are 3 sets of writing questions with 7-9 questions on 2 of those passages, and then 4-6 questions on the remaining passage.
Image Courtesy of College Board
Each set of reading multiple-choice questions will begin with a statement similar to this one: “Questions 1 – 8 refer to the passage below,” which indicates how many questions are linked with the passage that follows.
Right after that, you will see a short description of the passage, which usually includes a general time frame in which the passage was written, published, or delivered (depending on the genre). It will also give you some minimal information about the author (usually not the author’s name, though) along with a statement of the genre (for example, "a speech delivered to…" or "in a magazine designed for...").
Just below the introductory information for a reading passage you will see the passage itself. Each passage will have its lines numbered, and the line numbers are included on the left side of the text, posted for every five lines (line 5, 10, 15, 20, etc.). The passages will be printed on the left side of the booklet pages and reprinted on the left side of each page where there are questions for that passage. This way, you won’t have to flip pages back and forth to find the excerpt in question. 😲
When you move to the writing questions, you will see a passage with each sentence numbered at the beginning of each sentence. The introduction information will likely say something like this: "The passage below is a draft." The test writers want you to consider the passage as a text that has been written by someone who now wants to improve it, and the questions that follow will ask you to provide advice on how to strengthen the passage in various ways.
When answering questions for the writing section of multiple-choice questions, there might be a passage or phrase underlined. That would be the section in question, and the answer choices offer multiple ways to restate that underlined phrase in different ways. The purpose of the question will be to determine which answer choice is the most effective modification of the underlined passage.
If none of the answer choices are more effective than the original way the phrase is written, then a student should choose the answer choice that reads, “as it is now.”
Image courtesy of College Board
Here are some types of questions you may be asked in the reading section of the multiple-choice part of the exam:
They may ask you to determine the purpose of a particular rhetorical choice, which means they are asking you why a writer makes that specific rhetorical choice or what the writer hopes to accomplish by making that choice.
Some questions ask about the writer’s line of reasoning - how the writer develops their line of reasoning or what choices they make that reveal their line of reasoning.
🎥Watch: AP Lang - Rhetorical Analysis Multiple Choice Practice
You will also find some questions that ask you about the effect a particular rhetorical choice has on the audience - how the audience might react to a particular choice the writer makes.
A few questions will center on the evidence in the passage the writer has used. You may be asked what type of evidence a writer uses and why the writer would choose that type of evidence. Also, with evidence, you might find a question that asks why a piece of evidence or an assertion the writer makes is relevant to the thesis or claim. Along the same lines are the questions that ask you to explain the link or the connection among the evidence, the line of reasoning, and the claim.
There will definitely be questions about the writer’s claims, and you may have to determine what type of claim the writer is making and why the writer would want to make that type of claim.
Always, as in the past, you must be able to demonstrate an understanding of the writer’s position and to determine the writer’s tone.
Here are some question types you might see during the writing section of the multiple-choice part of the exam.
The exam may ask you to examine the choices and determine which choice would tie the evidence to the claim or would support the claim most clearly.
Another question may ask which answer choice demonstrates the relevance of the evidence or the relevance of an assertion made in the original text. For this kind of question, you will need to determine how the evidence supports the claim by analyzing how it helps to prove that the claim is true or believable. 🤔
The writing test asks questions about introductions (the beginning of a text), but also how to introduce a new claim or evidence. The question may ask you to choose which statement would serve as the best hook or most effective way to introduce a new idea in the text, and this includes bringing in a new piece of evidence.
The question may make a distinction between types of evidence. An example would be to distinguish between the best way to introduce an anecdote after a series of statistics or the most effective way to introduce factual data after a descriptive passage.
Along with introducing evidence comes documented sources, and the test might ask you to pick the answer choice that best integrates a quotation serving as evidence. You will also need to be able to acknowledge sources clearly as some questions ask which change or revision posted would give credit to a source clearly and correctly. This almost always involves providing clear in-text citations.
🎥Watch: AP Lang -Composition Multiple Choice Practice
Organization is a popular topic in the writing section, and you will find questions that ask you to determine whether a sentence needs to be deleted or added and where that additional sentence would best fit in order for the writer to accomplish a particular goal. There will also be questions about the best way to transition from one claim to the next or from one type of evidence to another.
There may be questions that ask about organization overall For example, you might be asked to find the best arrangement of paragraphs or ideas, but there may also be questions that ask you to determine the best order for sentences within a paragraph. These organization questions often align themselves with line-of-reasoning questions since the method of organization reveals a writer’s line of reasoning. Therefore, expect to see questions that ask which arrangement of sentences best supports a certain line of reasoning.
Knowing the writer's purpose is key in reading and writing questions. The test will ask you which choice or method best accomplishes the writer's purpose or helps the write achieve a particular goal. Multiple questions about individual rhetorical choices will center on why that choice helps the writer achieve the purpose of the passage.
For a complete list of skills asked on the multiple-choice part of the AP English Language and Composition Exam, follow this link to the course description, and look under the header Developing Course Skills.
Tip #1 - Don’t skip the intro!
Read the background information for each text. Knowing the genre and audience of a text can help a reader understand particular rhetorical choices the author makes. Plus, knowing the time period in which the text was produced will help a reader understand certain word choices the author makes and /or societal constraints placed on the author.
Tip #2 - A change may not be needed!
The writing questions sometimes have an option listed “as it is now,” which indicates that the best way to convey meaning/accomplish purpose is through the structure/method originally written in the piece instead of making any of the offered changes.
Tip #3 - Practice in AP Classroom on your College Board account.
When you are in class and using Progress Check questions from College Board’s website (AP Classroom), make sure you read the explanations for the correct and incorrect answers when you have completed a set of questions. This will help you to understand the what the test writers were thinking as they wrote the questions, which will help you eliminate wrong answers, identify the distractor, and narrow your choices.
Tip #4 - Run through all the options.
Try out each answer choice in the writing questions as a replacement for the underlined section. Read the sample as it would read with each answer choice in place of the underlined section. The more you do this in practice, the faster it will come to you, and you will begin to see which types of answers make the writing more succinct. Especially with the writing questions, this will take a little more time, so as you practice, plan on allowing at least 30-35 minutes or so for writing questions, even though they may not make up 50% of the total number of questions.
Tip #5 - If you are clueless….
If you have absolutely no idea what the correct answer might be, see what you can eliminate first. Try to find the answers that have little to do with the topic of the passage first for reading questions, and mark out those options. When answering writing questions, mark out the questions that seem too vague, too broad, or too colloquial. Then for the remaining options, examine what makes the choices different. Then, see which aligns most closely with the purpose and tone of the selected passage/sentences. Check to see if the answer choices apply to the passage as a whole or to a particular area, and then choose the answer that suits the spirit of the question.
Tip #6 - Mark it and go.
Don’t get get stuck for too long on one question. Do your best to narrow your answer choices, then make a choice and move on. You should probably try not to spend more than one minute per question, and if you have time, you can come back to look at the ones that stumped you.
You can put a star beside the questions you want to reexamine, but marking each answer as you go will help you stay on track with bubbling in order and reduce the likelihood of bubbling an answer to the wrong question.
Facts to Remember about Language Questions:
Clarity is always your first priority. Try to find the answer that makes the passage clear and understandable. This often that means writing a shorter version of the sentence, but not always.
Look for answers that fit with the overall tone and purpose of the passage; while option "A" may be a logical choice, if option "B" is better suited to the tone or purpose of the passage, then option "B" is probably the correct answer.
Passive voice and extra pronouns generally make writing less than clear and therefore should be avoided when selecting an answer choice.
Introductions at the beginning of passages serve more than one purpose. They both generate a reader’s interest in the text and they also preview or set up the claims or major ideas that follow.
Transitions and organizational patterns are key indicators of line of reasoning. The way a writer moves between topics and the way the writer has arranged the paragraphs will inevitably provide clues as to the writer’s reasoning - whether the writer is comparing/contrasting or describing or telling a story, etc.
Quoted evidence is most effective when the writer has three parts: a set-up sentence that prepares the audience for the evidence they are about to read; The quotation itself embedded in an original sentence that also gives complete attribution for the speaker/writer of the quotation; A sentence that explains the relevance of the quotation and clearly ties the evidence to the writer’s purpose/thesis.
Tip #1 - Practice as you play✏️
Practice taking AP multiple-choice questions in a situation as close to testing conditions as you can. Here are some suggestions:
Practice using paper questions and a pencil, especially marking your answers on an answer sheet as this is what the AP exam will require you to do.
Use your pencil for more than just marking your answer. On the real exam, you may write all over the testing booklet, so practice using that pencil by:
Tip #2 - Time yourself ⏱️
The test itself has 45 questions with 60 minutes to complete them, which averages to about a minute and 15 seconds per question. If you can train yourself to answer each question in about a minute, then you will have plenty of time to complete the test – with some time left over for reviewing.
If you are practicing with fewer questions, regulate your time based on one minute, 15 seconds per question (12 questions x 75 seconds = 900 seconds, or 15 minutes).
Tip #3 - Change it up
Practice using different methods and compare your results. See which method fits your learning style best by practicing to see which system results in the most correct answers. Here are some methods to try:
Traditional method - Read the text, annotate as you go, and then answer the questions in order.
Questions first – Read through the questions first and then read the passage, paying especially close attention to what you remember from the questions.
Question/text/answer – Read the question, find an answer, read another question, find the answer, etc. (The exam questions are arranged in order as they appear in the passage – the first question will deal with an excerpt early in the passage, for example.)
Tip #4 - Don’t choose too quickly 🔮
Read all answer choices before choosing. One answer may be a distractor – an answer that is close to being accurate or looks like it might be accurate, but it won’t be as clearly aligned to the question as another answer. One answer that looks to be accurate may not address all of the questions or may not apply to the passage in question, so look through all answer options to determine the answer that most appropriately addresses the passage indicated and answers just what the question asks. A few questions will have “all of the following except...” as a prompt. A savvy test taker will apply each option to the question before deciding which answer choice does not apply.
Questions 1 - 3 are based on the following passage. The passage below is a draft.
(1) We argue in our society not necessarily to convince another person that our side is the right side or that our policy is the best option to take – that would be persuasion instead of argumentation. (2) We argue for more noble reasons, all based in the philosophy that free exchange of ideas brings a more equitable and democratic society. (3) We argue to explore various perspectives on an issue or problem so that we gain a fuller understanding of the issue or situation. (4) Often, when we are asked to confront or respond to a difficult social issue, we react, go with our gut, and these reactions are steeped in our cultural, social, familial, and religious upbringings. (5) We develop opinions based on the values we’ve been taught and the circumstances we have experienced. (6) Yet, going with our gut isn’t always logical, and when we examine why we feel the way we do, we sometimes discover that we don’t have reasons (claims) we can put into sentences that support our reaction (thesis). (7) Even if we have logical reasons to support our gut reaction, that gut reaction is limited to our personal experiences, but a well-formed argument can expand our understanding.
Which of the following sentences, if placed before sentence 1, would both capture the audience’s interest and provide the most effective introduction to the topic of the paragraph?
Arguing offers our society great benefits.
Argument has a central place in American culture because we believe democracy is best served by granting everyone a say in the decisions that affect our future.
Americans argue because of our pluralistic belief system.
Americans are quite argumentative and believe that arguments are good for our society.
There are many different reasons argumentation is essential to American society.
The writer wants to add a phrase at the beginning of sentence 3 (reproduced below), adjusting the capitalization as needed, to set up a transition from the introductory sentences to the more detailed information that follows.
(3) We argue to explore various perspectives on an issue or problem so that we gain a fuller understanding of the issue or situation.
Which of the following choices best accomplishes this goal?
One of such noble reasons we argue is to explore...
First, we argue to explore...
One reason that we argue is to explore...
In our society, we argue to explore…
That philosophy means that we argue to explore...
The writer wants to add the following sentence to this paragraph to provide additional explanation.
Our pluralistic society offers a myriad of perspectives regarding the problems we commonly face, but we often find ourselves surrounded by people who see the problem in the same way we do because of our shared common values or experiences.
Where would the sentence best be placed?
After sentence 1
After sentence 2
After sentence 3
After sentence 4
After sentence 5
Terms likely to be found on the multiple-choice questions:
Definition (as method of development)
Purpose (author’s purpose)
Line of reasoning
Revise / revision
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