AP English Language

Develop Strategies for Success


Section I of the Exam—The Multiple-Choice Questions


Summary: Become comfortable with the multiple-choice section of the exam. If you know what to expect, you can prepare.


Key Ideas

image Prepare yourself for the multiple-choice section of the exam.

image Review the types of multiple-choice questions asked on the exam.

image Learn strategies for approaching the multiple-choice questions.

image Score yourself by checking the answer key and explanations for the multiple-choice section of the Diagnostic/Master exam.

Introduction to the Multiple-Choice Section of the Exam

Multiple choice? Multiple guess? Multiple anxiety? It’s been our experience that the day after the exam finds students bemoaning the difficulties and uncertainties of Section I of the AP English Language and Composition exam.

“It’s unfair.”

“I didn’t understand a word of the third reading.”

“Was that in English?”

“Did you get four Ds in a row for the last reading?”

“I just closed my eyes and pointed.”

Is it really possible to avoid these and other exam woes? We hope that by following along with us in this chapter, you will begin to feel a bit more familiar with the world of multiple-choice questions and, thereby, become a little more comfortable with the multiple-choice section of the exam.

What Is It About the Multiple-Choice Questions That Causes Such Anxiety?

Basically, a multiple-choice literature question is a flawed method of gauging understanding. Why? Because, by its very nature, a multiple-choice question forces you to play a cat-and-mouse game with the test maker, who demands that you concentrate on items that are incorrect before you can choose what is correct. We know, however, that complex literary works have a richness that allows for ambiguity. In the exam mode, you are expected to match someone else’s reading of a work with your choice of answers. This is what often causes the student to feel that the multiple-choice section is unfair. And, perhaps, to a degree, it is. But, get with the program! It’s a necessary evil. So, our advice to you is to accept the difficulties and limitations of Section I and to move on.

“You know, when my teacher required us to make up multiple-choice questions that came from the AP prompts we wrote essays on, I really became more confident about how to answer these types of questions on the exam.”

—Samantha T., AP student

This said, it’s wise to develop a strategy for success. Once again, practice is the key to this success.

You’ve answered all types of multiple-choice questions during your career as a student. The test-taking skills you have learned in your social studies, math, and science classes may also apply to this specific situation.

A word in defense of the test makers is in order here. The test is designed to allow you to shine, NOT to be humiliated. To that end, the people who design the multiple-choice questions take their job seriously and take pride in their product. You will not find “cutesy” questions, and they will not play games with you. What they will do is present several valid options in response to a challenging and appropriate question. These questions are designed to separate the knowledgeable, perceptive, and thoughtful reader from the superficial and impulsive one.

What Should I Expect in Section I?

For this first section of the AP English Language and Composition exam, you are allotted 1 hour to answer between 45 and 60 objective questions on four to five prose passages. The selections may come from works of fiction or nonfiction and be from different time periods, of different styles, and of different purposes. In other words, you will not find two essays by Thoreau in the multiple-choice section of the same test.

At least one of the readings will contain some type of citation, attribution, footnote, and so on. You will be expected to be able to determine HOW this citation, etc., is employed by the author to further his purpose. You will NOT be asked about specific formats such as MLA or APA.

These are NOT easy readings. They are representative of the college-level work you have been doing throughout the year. You will be expected to:


• follow sophisticated syntax;

• respond to diction;

• be comfortable with upper-level vocabulary;

• be familiar with rhetorical terminology;

• make inferences;

• be sensitive to irony and tone;

• recognize components of organization and style;

• be familiar with modes of discourse and rhetorical strategies; and

• recognize how information contained in citations contributes to the author’s purpose.

THE GOOD NEWS IS … the selection is self-contained. If it is about the Irish Potato Famine, you will NOT be at a disadvantage if you know nothing about Irish history. Frequently, there will be biblical references in a selection. This is especially true of works from an earlier time period. You are expected to be aware of basic allusions to biblical and mythological works often found in literary texts, but the passage will never require you to have any particular religious background.

DO NOT LET THE SUBJECT MATTER OF A PASSAGE THROW YOU. Strong analytical skills will work on any passage.

How Should I Begin to Work with Section I?

Take no more than a minute and thumb through the exam, looking for the following:

• The length of the selections

• The time periods or writing styles, if you can recognize them

• The number of questions asked

• A quick idea of the type of questions

This brief skimming of the test will put your mind into gear, because you will be aware of what is expected of you.

How Should I Proceed Through This Section of the Exam?

Timing is important. Always maintain an awareness of the time. Wear a watch. (Some students like to put it directly in front of them on the desk.) Remember, this is not your first encounter with the multiple-choice section of the test. You’ve probably been practicing timed exams in class; in addition, this book provides you with three timed experiences. We’re sure you will notice improvements as you progress through the timed practice activities.

“Even though it’s time-consuming, I find it invaluable to take class time to accurately simulate exam conditions.”

—Cynthia N., AP teacher

Although the test naturally breaks into 15-minute sections, you may take less or more time on a particular passage, but know when to move on. The test DOES NOT become more difficult as it progresses; therefore, you will want to give yourself the opportunity to answer each set of questions.

Work at a pace of about one question per minute. Every question is worth the same number of points, so don’t get bogged down on those that involve multiple tasks. Don’t panic if a question is beyond you. Remember, it will probably be beyond a great number of the other students taking the exam. There has to be a bar that determines the 5’s and 4’s for this exam. Just do your best.

Reading the text carefully is a must. Begin at the beginning and work your way through.

Most people read just with their eyes. We want you to slow down and to read with your senses of sight, sound, and touch.


• Underline, circle, and annotate the text.

• Read closely, paying attention to punctuation, syntax, diction, pacing, and organization.

• Read as if you were reading the passage aloud to an audience, emphasizing meaning and intent.

• As corny as it may seem, hear those words in your head.

• This technique may seem childish, but it works. Using your finger as a pointer, underscore the line as you are reading it aloud in your head. This forces you to slow down and to really notice the text. This will be helpful when you have to refer to the passage.

• Use all of the information given to you about the passage, such as title, author, date of publication, and footnotes.

• Be aware of organizational and rhetorical devices and techniques.

• Be aware of thematic lines and be sensitive to details that will obviously be material for multiple-choice questions.

• Quickly skim the questions, ignoring the choices. This will give you an idea as to what is expected of you as a reader of the given text.


You can practice these techniques anytime. Take any work and read it aloud. Time yourself. A good rate is about 1½ minutes per page.