How to Approach the Multiple-Choice Questions on the AP English Literature Exam (page 2)
Introduction to the Multiple-Choice Section of the Exam
Multiple choice? Multiple guess? Multiple anxiety? The day after the exam students often bemoan the difficulties and uncertainties of Section I of the AP Literature exam.
“Was that in English?”
“Did you get four Ds in a row for the second poem?”
“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, thus, 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 because, by its very nature, it 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 literature has a richness that allows for ambiguity. When you are taking the exam, you are expected to match someone else’s take on a work with the answers you choose. This is what often causes the student to feel that the multiple-choice section is unfair. And maybe, to a degree, it is. However, the test is designed to allow you to shine, not to be humiliated. To that end, you will not find “cutesy” questions, and the test writers will not play games with you. What they will do is to present several valid options as a response to a challenging and appropriate question. These questions are designed to separate the perceptive and thoughtful reader from the superficial and impulsive one.
This said, it’s wise to develop a strategy for success. Practice is the key to this success. You’ve been confronted with 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 the AP Literature exam.
What should I expect in Section I?
For this first section of the AP Literature exam, you are allotted 1 hour to answer between 45 and 60 objective questions on four or five prose and poetry selections. The prose passages may come from works of fiction, or nonfiction, or drama. You can expect the poems to be complete and from different time periods and of different styles and forms. In other words, you will not find two Shakespearean sonnets on the same exam.
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 literary terminology
• Make inferences
• Be sensitive to irony and tone
• Recognize components of style
The good news is that the selection is self-contained. This means that if it is about the Irish Potato Famine, you will not be at a disadvantage if you know nothing about it prior to the exam. 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 literature, but the passage will never require you to have any specifi c 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 will not be 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.
Although the test naturally breaks into 15 minute sections, you may take less or more time on a particular passage, but you must know when to move on. The test does not become more diffi cult as it progresses. So, you will want to give yourself adequate 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 other students as well. 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. Do not waste time reading questions before you read the selection.
Most people read just with their eyes. We want you to slow down and read with your senses of sight, sound, and touch.
• Underline, circle, bracket, or highlight the text.
• Read closely, paying attention to punctuation and rhythms of the lines or sentences.
• 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 fi nger 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 the information given to you about the passage, such as title, author, date of publication, and footnotes.
• Be aware of foreshadowing.
• Be aware of thematic lines and be sensitive to details that will obviously be material for multiple-choice questions.
• When reading poetry, pay particular attention to enjambment and end-stopped lines because they carry meaning.
• With poetry, it’s often helpful to paraphrase a stanza, especially if the order of the lines has been inverted.
You can practice these techniques any time. Take any work and read it aloud. Time yourself. A good rate is about 1 1/2 minutes per page.
Types of Multiple-Choice Questions
Multiple-choice questions are not written randomly. There are certain formats you will encounter. The answers to the following questions should clarify some of the patterns.
Is the structure the same for all of the multiple-choice questions?
No. Here are several basic patterns that the AP test makers often employ:
1. The straightforward question, such as:
• The poem is an example of a
• The word “smooth” refers to
B. his skin
2. The question that refers you to specifi c lines and asks you to draw a conclusion or to interpret.
• Lines 52–57 serve to
A. reinforce the author’s thesis
3. The “all . . . except” question requires extra time because it demands that you consider every possibility.
• The AP Literature exam is all of the following except:
A. It is given in May of each year.
B. It is open to high school seniors.
C. It is published in The New York Times.
D. It is used as a qualifi er for college credit.
E. It is a 3-hour test.
4. The question that asks you to make an inference or to abstract a concept that is not directly stated in the passage.
• In the poem “My Last Duchess,” the reader can infer that the speaker is
5. Here is the killer question. It uses Roman Numerals, no less! The question employing Roman numerals is problematic and time-consuming. You can be certain that each exam will have several of these questions.
• In the poem, “night” refers to
I. the death of the maiden
II. a pun on Sir Lancelot’s title
III. the end of the affair
A. I only
B. I and II
C. I and III
D. II and III
E. I, II, and III
This is the type of question to skip if it causes you problems and/or you are short on time. Remember, it will cost you a quarter of a point if you are wrong and 0 if you skip it.
What kinds of questions should I expect on the exam?
The multiple-choice questions center around form and content. The test makers want to assess your understanding of the meaning of the selection as well as your ability to draw inferences and perceive implications based on it. They also want to know whether you understand how a writer develops his or her ideas.
The questions, therefore, will be factual, technical, analytical, and inferential. The two tables that follow illustrate the types of key words and phrases in these four categories that you can expect to fi nd in questions for both the prose and poetry selections.
Note: Do not memorize these tables. Also, do not panic if a word or phrase is unfamiliar to you. You may or may not encounter any or all of these words or phrases on any given exam. You can, however, count on meeting up with many of these in the practice exams in this book.
Prose: Key Words and Phrases Found in Multiple-Choice Question
|words refer to||sentence structure||rhetorical strategy||effect of diction|
|allusions||style||shift in development||tone|
|antecedents||grammatical purpose||rhetorical stance||inferences|
|pronoun referents||dominant technique||style||effect of last paragraph|
|genre||imagery||metaphor||effect on reader|
|setting||point of view||contrast||narrator's attitude|
|organization of passage||comparison||image suggests|
|narrative progress of passage||cause/effect||effect of detail|
|irony||description||author most concerned with|
|how something is characterized|
|passage is primarily concerned with|
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