/ AP

How to Prepare for the AP English Language Multiple Choice

AP English Language and Composition is definitely not one of the hardest courses for you to have picked. In fact, the two English courses - AP Language and AP literature - fall under the most popular courses that students pick.

According to College Board,

The AP English Language and Composition course cultivates the reading and writing skills that students need for college success and for intellectually responsible civic engagement.

Now, this might seem pretty standard knowledge. However, perhaps the reason students pick the English courses might be since it seems a bit familiar. By this point in your academic career, you have already probably taken even scarier looking tests, and English might prove to be one of the easier-looking courses from the subject list.

However, it is important to know that you must still put in the work. Now, I don't mean to scare you, but the average score for AP Language and Composition is 2.86.

When the admission officers go through your application in the near future, this average score states you are possibly qualified. If you think this score is a bit low, you would be right rather than wrong. This average score is unfortunately lesser than scoring a C in your college grade equivalent, and is thus not too flattering.

Getting an AP Score of 3 and above is ideal. And the good news is, it is not too hard to score atleast a 3, if you practice and start getting familiar with the test's format.

From the 3 hours and 15 minutes that the AP Language Examination will take from your day, the Multiple Choice Section constitutes one-thirds of that time, a total of 60 minutes.

For each correct answer in the multiple choice section, you get one point. Each incorrect answer has a small penalty of 0.25 points from your score. An omitted answer gives you zero, neither giving not taking. Plus, the total weightage of the multiple choice questions is 45% of your total score - making up 67.5 points in total.

Some of the multiple choice questions will be standard comprehension questions while others will question the author's writing style - why the author might have chosen a particular authorial style for their passage. Sometimes, these style questions may overlap with the comprehensive, content questions.

Let's take a look at the structure and format of the Multiple Choice section without further ado:

Photo by Kelly Sikkema / Unsplash

1) Vocabulary

These questions will often appear in the Multiple Choice section, and they usually ask you about the meaning of a word or phrase, according to how they fit into the meaning of the larger paragraph.

Since the question is focusing on the meaning, you need to read the whole paragraph so you can understand the context in which the word or phrase is chosen by the writer.

Most vocabulary in context questions might look like the following:

  • What is the meaning of "___" in lines xx-xx?
  • In the context of line xx, what is the best definition of ''___''?
  • In line xx , ''___'' may be defined as...

Sometimes, these vocabulary questions will be using very old language, which might make it a bit hard to decipher. Let's take an example from the following passage titled “Samuel Johnson on Pope,” from The Lives of the English Poets (1779–1781).



The language here is from the 18th century, and it is important to note that test passages can be up to 400 years old, so make sure to read and appreciate the style of older texts. You need to be able to easily comprehend them, so get familiar with these types of texts, if you have a bit of time for your exam.

Here, the text is stating that the poet Alexander Pope, always demanded perfection from himself and his writings. The answer is thus option D).

2) Literary technique

These questions are very similar to the Vocabulary questions. The difference is, they aren't asking you for the context, they are asking you to identify the literary devices used by the writer.

Like any other subject, English has it's own unique language elements that are quite technical. These questions are usually very straighforward and easy to anwer if your theoretical knowledge is good.

Questions about such literary terms might look like the following:

  • What is the dominant rhetorical device in lines xx-xx?
  • All of the following appear in lines xx-xx except ...
  • Lines xx-xx employ which of the following?

As the reader, you know writers usually employ figurative language to elevate your understanding of the concept they are speaking about. Let's look at the following passage from a collection of personal essays by Margaret Atwood, titled Curious Pursuits:



This might intitally seem like a vocabulary question, however you can see that it is testing something very different from the context that the phrase belongs to.

It is testing the rhetorical purpose that the author has used the phrase for. Here, the phrase is making a reference to a desire of a thing not permitted, which can be a clear biblical allusion to Adam, Eve, and the forbidden fruit. The answer is thus B).

3) Antecedents

This is one of the lesser common question types, and also one that you can easily get past as you are going through the various passages. They involve pronouns, and the question will ask you to find the word the pronoun is referring to - the antecedent.

The wording of an antecedent question is very straightforward. They will look like the following:

  • What is the antecedent of _____?
  • The antecedent of ''_____'' is ...

Trust me, this question type is a blessing, and uncovering the antecedent can even be a fun task in the world of AP's reading comprehension in general, just because you can solve them quickly. Let's look at this passage from The Knight by Alan Baker:


Finding an antecedent is fairly easy, and these questions only require you to know your grammar - in particular, pronoun-antecedent agreements. You need only substitute each answer for the pronoun and determine which option makes the most sense.

Here, the passage is stating how most nations had a heirarchy resembling a pyramid, but goes on to state a slight exemption, Germany. The answer is thus A).

Let's take a quick break here to reflect on how the majority of passages on the AP exam are nonfictional texts from a variety of essays, speeches, letters, biographies, etc. Subjects will range from history, to arts, to politics, to science, to even fiction - sometimes.

There is no reading list, and the texts are unseen until you begin the examination. Although this sounds like a bad thing, it is actually a good foundation for you to begin preparing for the exam - in other words, your skills are all you need for this examination. Start making notes as you read, and practice your reading skills.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema / Unsplash

4) Factual comprehension

This is a very common question, and the exam asks you to identify a stated fact. These questions are only testing your reading comprehension. However, it is important to note this type of question is usually attached to older passages, which might have more formal language.

Don't worry too much about these questions since they will usually have line references in the question itself, which will take you to a very specific segment of the passage. If there is a line reference, you will know the answer falls somewhere near the referenced area.

The good news with this type of question is, the answers are usually mentioned quite explicitly, within the passage itself. Let's look at the following example, a passage from an eighteenth century proto-feminist work by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, titled A Vindication of the Rights of Woman:


This question unfortunately is not giving us a line reference, but it is still explicitly stating that you need to take only the one paragraph into consideration. However long the rest of the passage may be, the rest of the content is not relevant.

In this instance, men are not mentioned anywhere in the paragraph, so you can eliminate the first three options immediately. The factual suggestion which the paragraph is putting forward lies in lines 6-7, where the writer says she wants women to acquire strength, of both mind and body. If the answer were to be D), the writer would likely have said 'heart and body', which is not the case here. The answer is thus E).

5) Inference

Many times, the Multiple Choice section will ask you to infer the meaning of something, based on the evidence given in the passage. An Inference question is meant to push you into the blank spaces "between the lines", for you to take one step further from the text.

The wording of the inference questions are not too predictable but they might look like the following:

  • Lines xx-xx imply that...
  • The ___ in paragraph 3 suggests that...
  • From ___, you can infer that...

When you are asked to infer, you need only look at what the text is suggesting, in a manner that is not explicit. Let's take a look at the following passage from a contemporary article published in a scholarly magazine about Jonathan Swift's "Gulliver's Travels":


None of the options are explicitly stated in the passage, and the only ones that seem relevant for consideration seem to be B) and C). This is simply because the rest are not even stated in the passage, and are thus off-topic.

Here, in lines 18-19, we learn how Jonathan Swift 'shared this fascination with his fellow Scriblerians', from which we can infer he was an active member of the circle. The answer is thus C).

There are various other questions in the Multiple Choice section, but these 5 question types are the best places for you to start your preparation. If you're here for your last-minute revision, do not fret too much! The good news is that you can get a bunch of multiple choice questions wrong and still pass, supposing you score above a 6 or a 7 for the Essay section.

However, if you have some time, practice. If you have signed up for AP, it is good to aim for a score above 3. Most colleges will wholeheartedly consider you if they see a score of 3, 4 or 5, although a few competitive ones will usually look for students with a score of 4 or above.

It is just one of those things - a good AP score will improve your chances for admission.

With a bit of guidance, you can go a long way on the AP Language exam.

If you will like guidance on AP Language theory, and an insight on how to apply them in different texts, get in touch with our subject matter experts here, and watch your grades skyrocket! Happy studying.

How to Prepare for the AP English Language Multiple Choice
Share this