AP English Language

Develop Strategies for Success


Section I of the Exam—The Multiple-Choice Questions

Strategies for Answering the Multiple-Choice Questions

As observed earlier, you’ve been answering multiple-choice questions most of your academic life, and you’ve probably figured out ways to deal with them. There may, however, be some points you have not considered that will be helpful for this particular exam.

General Guidelines

• Work in order. We like this approach for several reasons:

— It’s clear.

— You will not lose your place on the scan sheet.

— There may be a logic to working sequentially which will help you to answer previous questions. BUT, this is your call. If you are more comfortable moving around the exam, do so.

“One of my biggest challenges in preparing for the exam was to learn not to jump to conclusions when I was doing the multiple-choice questions.”

—Samantha S., AP student

• Write on the exam booklet. Mark it up. Make it yours. Interact with the test.

• Do not spend too much time on any one question.

• Do not be misled by the length or appearance of a selection. There is no correlation between this and the difficulty of the questions.

• Don’t fight the question or the passage. You may know other information about the subject of the text or a question. It’s irrelevant. Work within the given context.

• Consider all the choices in a given question. This will guard against your jumping to a false conclusion. It helps you to slow down and to look closely at each possibility. You may find that your first choice was not the best or most appropriate one.

• Maintain an open mind as you answer subsequent questions in a series. Sometimes a later question will contradict an answer to a previous one. Reconsider both. Likewise, even the phrasing of a question may point to an answer in a previous question.

• Remember that all parts of an answer must be correct.

• When in doubt, go back to the text.


Specific Techniques

• Process of Elimination—This is the primary tool, except for direct knowledge of the answer.

1. Read the five choices.

2. If no choice immediately strikes you as correct, you can

— eliminate any which are obviously wrong;

— eliminate those choices which are too narrow or too broad;

— eliminate illogical choices;

— eliminate answers which are synonymous;

— eliminate answers which cancel each other out.

3. If two answers are close,

— find the one general enough to contain all aspects of the question


— find the one limited enough to be the detail the question is seeking.

• Substitution/Fill In the Blank

1. Rephrase the question, leaving a blank where the answer should go.

2. Use each of the choices to fill in the blank until you find the one that is the best fit.

• Using Context

1. Use this technique when the question directs you to specific lines, words, or phrases.

2. Locate the given word, phrase, or sentence and read the sentence before and after the section of the text to which the question refers. Often this provides the information or clues you need to make your choice.

• Anticipation

As you read the passage for the first time, mark any details and ideas that you would ask a question about. You may second-guess the test makers this way.

• Intuition/The Educated Guess

You have a wealth of skills and knowledge in your language and composition subconscious. A question or a choice may trigger a “remembrance of things past.” This can be the basis for your educated guess. Have the confidence to use the educated guess as a valid technique. Trust your own resources.


A Survival Plan

If time is running out and you haven’t finished the last selection,

1. Scan the remaining questions and look for:

— the shortest questions; and/or

— the questions that point you to a line.

These two types of questions are relatively easy to work with and to verify.

2. Look for specific detail/definition questions.

3. Look for self-contained questions. “The jail sentence was a bitter winter for his plan” is an example of C. an analogy.

You did not have to go to the passage to answer this question.


Some Thoughts About Guessing

You can’t be hurt by making educated guesses based on a careful reading of the selection. Be smart. Understand that you need to come to this exam well prepared. You must have a foundation of knowledge and skills. You cannot guess through the entire exam and expect to do well.

This is not Lotto. This book is not about how to “beat the exam.” We want to maximize the skills you already have. There is an inherent integrity in this exam and your participation in it. With this in mind, when there is no other direction open to you, it is perfectly fine to make an educated guess.

Is There Anything Special I Should Know About Preparing for the Multiple-Choice Questions?

After you have finished with the Diagnostic/Master exam, you will be familiar with the format and types of questions asked on the AP English Language and Composition exam. However, just practicing answering multiple-choice questions on specific works will not give you a complete understanding of this questioning process. We suggest the following to hone your multiple-choice skills with prose multiple-choice questions.


• Choose a challenging passage from a full-length prose work or a self-contained essay, plus choose another that contains documentation/citations. (Take a close look at your science and social studies texts for examples.)

• Read the selection a couple of times and create several multiple-choice questions about specific sections of the selection.

— Make certain the section is self-contained and complex.

— Choose a speech, a philosophical passage, an essay, an editorial, a letter, a preface or epilogue, a significant passage from a chapter, or a news article.

• Refer to the chart given earlier in this chapter for suggested language and type.

• Administer your miniquiz to a classmate, study group, or class.

• Evaluate your results.

• Repeat this process through several different works during your preparation for the exam. The selections can certainly come from those you are studying in class.

• Create a variety of question types.

Here’s What Should Happen as a Result of Your Using This Process

• Your expectation level for the selections in the actual test will be more realistic.

• You will become familiar with the language of multiple-choice questions.

• Your understanding of the process of choosing answers will be heightened.

• Questions you write that you find less than satisfactory will trigger your analytical skills as you attempt to figure out “what went wrong.”

• Your understanding of terminology will become more accurate.

• BONUS: If you continue to do this work throughout your preparation for the AP exam, you will have created a mental storehouse of literary and analytical information. So, when you are presented with an analytical or argumentative essay in Section II, you will have an extra resource at your disposal.


You might want to utilize this process throughout the year with selections studied in and out of class and keep track of your progress. See the Bibliography at the back of this book.