How to Approach the Multiple-Choice Questions on the AP English Language Exam

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By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Apr 22, 2013

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 multiplechoice 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 catand- 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.

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 specifi c 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 fi nd “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 superfi cial 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 specifi c 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 ex pected 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.

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