How to Prepare for the Multiple-Choice Section
of the AP Language and Composition Exam

  1. Know and understand the “nuts and bolts.”
    a. This portion of the test counts for 45% of the entire score and typically has 50 – 60 questions, most commonly around 55, based on 4 – 5 passages. Most recently there have been four passages.

    1. At least one will be pre-20th century.

    2. At least one will include footnotes/endnotes/bibliographic citations and 5 – 7 questions in that passage will be specifically about those footnotes/endnotes/ bibliographic citations.

    3. Two or three of the passages will be relatively contemporary passages of non-fiction sources.

    4. The passages could come from any realm of non-fiction, so it is incumbent for the instructor to assign readings with great breadth as well as to read them in great depth (close reading).

    b. The entire question is called the item. The stem is the part of the item that asks the question. The options are the five answers choices. The key is the correct answer. The distracters are the incorrect answer choices.

    c. Students have one hour to complete the multiple choice.

    d. Students do not have to work on the passages in the order in which they are presented, but it is critical that when skipping around or leaving questions unanswered, the alignment of question to response on the answer sheet be intact. Every ten questions, double check that the question matches the appropriate place on the answer sheet.

    e. There is no penalty for an incorrect response. So, guess when appropriate: when running out of time or if you have narrowed the choices down to two or three out of five. When guessing after narrowing the choices down to two or three, you might choose the option that seems most specific.

  2. Read aggressively and actively. Underline words, phrases and sentences that seem important. This improves concentration. Concentration is critical as students must complete, on average, one question/minute. There is little time to ponder at length, so trust your intuition, which likely has been developed well through practice sessions in class.

  3. Before starting, eyeball the number of and how many questions need to be answered per passage. Then set a rate of completion. Passage # 1 completed in fifteen minutes, passage #2 in twelve minutes etc.

  4. Questions that ask to find “all of the following except” or are set up to combine possible answer choices [A + B are accurate, B + C are accurate, none or all are accurate] take a longer time to answer, so if rushed, leave them or guess at them. Questions that demand the rereading of long portions of the passage can be left for later as well...or guessed at, if time is an issue.

  1. The questions generally follow the chronology of the passage. Some are easier than others, but all count for the same point value.

  2. Sometimes a question refers to part of a sentence, often a very long and complicated sentence, looking for the meaning of a word or phrase, how a word functions, or seeking the antecedent for a pronoun. It is helpful with these types of searches to read the sentence preceding the referred to sentence and, sometimes, the sentence following it.

  3. If running out of time, scan the remaining questions for either the shortest questions or the questions that refer to specific line or lines. These often can be answered more quickly.

  4. Learn to distinguish among the different types of multiple-choice questions. Some of the most common types on this test are:

  1. Main idea Questions: These commonly asked questions measure the reader’s ability to identify the author’s ideas, attitudes and tone. They may ask to determine what the passage is most about or the overall tone. Often these questions require the reader to make an inference based on facts the reader has to piece together from the passage. Main idea questions usually include on these key words: think, predict, indicate, feel, probably, seem, imply, suggest, assume, infer, and most likely.

  2. Rhetoric Questions: These are common and ask about aspects of syntax, point of view and figurative language. It is important to know, in a functional way the key terms of rhetoric, (somewhere between 25 – 100 terms/concepts - see the rhetorical tool box or the forest of rhetoric).

  3. Definition Questions: These are basically vocabulary questions about difficult words in the passage or about ordinary words used in unfamiliar ways. The key to answering these questions is to read the surrounding sentence or sentences. This process should help to discover the meaning in context.

  4. Tone or Purpose Questions: These are frequently asked questions and require the reader to determine how or why the author wrote the material. Tone reflects the writer’s attitude toward the audience and/or subject, and purpose defines the effect the author wants to have on an audience (readers). Writers convey purpose through choices in diction and images, and the impression those words and images create. Think of tone as “the expression on the face of the words.”

  5. Form Questions: A writer’s method of organizing material in a particular sequence is known as form. Be aware of structure, organization, and development. Some writers use only one form, while others combine many forms of development: comparison/contrast, cause and effect, chronological order, order of importance, problem – solution, a series of examples, spatial order, etc.

9. PRACTICE OFTEN. Keep track of success on the practice tests. Students should be able to analyze their progress on these tests throughout the months of preparation.

Concentration is critical!

Trust your intuition!