How to Prepare for AP Literature's Multiple Choice Section
Are multiple choice questions known to be fun? With 5 options per question, they may not be - but it isn't too hard to understand them.
In AP English, the one hour multiple choice section can be challenging, since you cannot predict the content of the questions you are likely to encounter on the exam. However, the question types are predictable.
Some of them are standard comprehension questions while others are more challenging, as they ask you for more specific details. The following sections are the most common types of questions:
1) Vocabulary in Context
Let's get real - vocabulary in literature can be hard to decipher. Everyone knows this, but here's the catch: the meaning of the word itself doesn't matter.
The word can sometimes even be extremely common, but it can be used to convey an obscure meaning. This is the hard part, and this is also the skill you need to acquire to understand the implied meaning of the vocabulary!
Take for example,
A poem by the famous Irish poet W. B. Yeats, titled 'That the Night Come', about a woman unsatisfied:
This might be one of those poems which look complicated at first glance. So, let us first read it as prose, and stress the words emboldened:
"Her soul had such desire for what proud death may bring that it could not endure the common good of life."
The answer is C) Soul. It is the soul that cannot endure the common good of life in this instance, since it is desiring death.
Now, reading poetry as prose does not work every single time. Poetry can of course be very complicated. However, I hope this example was clear. If it wasn't, just keep in mind, it is the overall meaning that matters for these questions.
2) Literal Comprehension
AP examiners like to check whether you clearly understand explicit meaning, and can you blame them? Comprehension can be difficult in literature. Simple sentences are often hiding behind more complex expressions that may reflect, let's say, the human condition.
Most often, these questions are asking you to either summarise, or note all the aesthetic techniques that are used within a sentence or paragraph. In order to do so, you will have to understand the complicated syntax (structure of sentences) to reach the simple fact that is being expressed in a literary manner.
Let us take an extract from Joseph Conrad's 'Heart of Darkness,' a colonial novella. The question follows right below the extract:
What a rollercoaster these options are.
I might say the speaker is relieved to see 'the black fellows' because he seemed to be musing beforehand, deep in thought - he sees them and he is brought back. Often times, the answer in your mind will have nothing to do with the options given.
Or so it may seem. The answer here is C), again. The workers are reassuring the speaker, who is looking for meaning (26). He sees them going about their day with vitality and strength. They are not questioning their world - they ground him with their sense of truth, and thus gives him a sense of verity.
With questions like these, you need to really gain a sense of what is being asked, and check the facts given in the passage. Now, decoding passages can seem like they are making your hair turn gray.
If so, check in with us here and get some guidance so you are good to go for the rest of your course - as well as the for rest of your journey in literature and the arts.
3) Tone and Diction
These are such a common question for the multiple choice section. One might easily be able to understand when a passage is 'sad'. But is it sadness due to envy, betrayal, nostalgia, disappointment or grief?
Pay attention to the cues within the words, both in the question as well as the given text.
As our example, we can look at this passage from the early chapters of Mary Shelley's gothic novel, Frankenstein:
With a look at these options, you realise this might be more of a vocabulary question than the ones in those 'vocabulary in context' sections.
There are methods to know what to expect with these sort of questions. Over here however, let us decifer the sentence first. It seems to be saying something along the lines of:
You will be happy to hear that there has been no disaster since I began my task/business, although you said bad things might happen.
Here, the person is letting 'Mrs. Saville' know that she had been wrong, and they seem to be happy with their own success.
However, they sound a bit smug about it! The answer here is D), santimonious.
These questions may seem hard, and rightly so. As you are reading the passage, try to hear the speaker's tone in your mind. Think about how the author is using language, and what they are using it for - so you can piece them all together.
We have a list of literary tones within the general AP book list, and methods to decipher them. Click here to get clarity on this skill and expert guidance for approaching these questions - but keep reading to find out more anyway!
4) Inference and Attitude
The inference questions are easy to spot because they often ask you what the text is suggesting. You have to move beyond what is explicitly stated in the text and prepare to make an assumption, according to what the text is implicitly suggesting.
You may be asked to figure out the attitude of the author or a character, or of a speaker toward a certain topic or issue, based on their behaviour in the text, or cues that you can notice from the text.
Let's take an example from Franz Kafka's existentialist novella, 'The Metamorphosis':
It is important to note that the speaker here is now an insect. A giant insect who has just woken up and is confounded by his new, insect body.
The passage appeared in a previous AP exam, and the text is recommended on the set book list. Now, the answer may seem explicit: lines 23 - 28 is plainly mentioning he does not like his job, leading you to A). However, why think of his job when he is facing a slightly bigger existential issue?
You might then divert to Option E) as your answer. The thing is, this option is only mentioning part of it - it is a divertion, but it has an intended purpose.
The answer here is C). The protagonist is overcome by dread for his job although he now has more pressing concerns. One can say this line of thinking might his be usual concern each morning.
It is not belittling, nor is it a symbol. It is simply the worry that nags away at his mind, and perhaps the primary source of Gregor's transformation into an insect.
The inference questions can be a bit hard to decipher. You do need knowledge about the texts themselves, or knowledge about how to decipher the subtle connotations within literary texts in general. An expert can guide you with this. Click here to get in touch with us and set aside a few hours to upskill your ability to analyse literature.
5) Figurative Language
Good literature is usually packed with figurative language. It is one of the biggest tools possessed by authors to convert the mundane into an aesthetic experience for the reader. Being able to recognise and interpret them is a key skill you require, in order to do well for the AP Literature exam.
The following is a poem titled 'Morning at the Window', written by American poet T. S. Eliot:
This one is more of a phonetics question, since assonance is a literary device associate with sounds. You will have to assess each option for assonance - and check whether the internal vowel sound of multiple words are in close succession with each other.
Here, we can immediately cross out rattling, E), since it does not respond to the question in any way.
It is useful to be familiar with the Phonemic Chart, but even while considering their sounds aloud, we can pick Option C), which is the answer.
These type of questions in the multiple choice section are surprisingly the most straightforward, as it is quite technical in nature. If you know all the theory off the back of your mind (which takes some practice), then you are mostly all equipped to handle them!
6) Form, Structure and Style
Finally, even though questions that are testing the form, structure and style of given literary texts are quite sparse, you can expect to find questions that are somehow merging the other five types, with an inquiry into how the text is written.
This is how these questions have been appearing in more recent years. You might even find them in the last two examples I have given.
We will look at one of the more explicit examples of this kind of question. Here are the first 4 lines of a poem titled 'Home', by Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore:
Here, sentences are not to be mixed with lines - we are looking at two sentences placed across four lines.
The answer is E), since the second sentence contains an appositive. An appositive phrase usually follows the word or phrase it is identifying - such as the 'widowed land' further described in an appositive to be a land whose 'harvest had been reaped'.
These questions require theoretical knowledge, and your ability to apply it within the given texts.
These kind of questions can be hard since you only receive a minute or two to critically examine a paragraph, and figure which of the 5 terms might apply to it. It is best to have your theoretical knowledge sorted, and examine only the segment of the text the question is highlighting - see what fits the most, and go for it without much ado.
With a bit of guidance, you can go a long way on the AP Lit exam.
If you will like guidance on AP Lit 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.