As a high school student in America, taking an English class for four years is par for the course. And if you’re somebody who enjoys the subject, there’s good news for you. The AP English Language and Composition course lets you pursue college-level coursework and earn college credit in high school. Also, you won’t have to take too many English classes when you’re in college. Sounds like a good idea? Here is a comprehensive guide to help you prepare thoroughly for the exam and ace it. Keep reading!
First things first
The AP Language and Composition course is far more challenging than a regular high school English class and it’s nearly impossible to pass if you don’t know how to study for it.
The exam is not merely a test of your reading comprehension skills; it is an opportunity for students to develop skills such as rhetorical analysis, master the art of information synthesis and the ability to craft well written, logical arguments. You are expected to understand the various ways in which authors construct effective arguments, the tools they use to do so and learn how to use these tools to create analytical or persuasive essays of your own.
AP English Language and Composition Exam Format
The test consists of two parts: the first 60-minute section consists of 45 multiple-choice questions divided into five sets, each based on one or more passages. About 23-25 questions test students’ rhetorical skills, while the other 20-22 are composition questions where students are required to revise the given texts. The second 135-minute free response section starts with a 15-minute reading session, followed by 120 minutes of writing where students are required to write three analytical essays. You have about 40 minutes per essay but you can structure the allocated time as you wish. One essay requires students to synthesize a variety of texts to craft a logical, well-reasoned argument. One essay calls for a rhetorical analysis of a nonfiction passage. One essay should be an original argument in response to a prompt.
Study Tips for AP English Language and Composition
- Gather your Material
The best way to start is to review works included in your course syllabus and those introduced by your instructor. Look for additional materials such as other works by authors included in your syllabus. Exploring genres such as opinion essays, famous speeches, classic arguments of Greek philosophers like Aristotle and Plato and op-ed pages of newspapers and news websites is likely to pay off too. Below are some free online resources to give you a head start:
2. Be Your Own Teacher
Making a 5 on the AP English Language and Composition exam largely depends on your ability to teach yourself the material. Your teacher does not have time to cover every last detail of the content in the hour or so they have every day. Moreover, there’s no guarantee you will grasp every concept you’re taught in the classroom. So when keeping up with the class becomes a daunting project, you have no option but to research the topic on your own. The internet has loads of explainer videos and articles that clarify difficult concepts; you only have to dig a bit to find whatever you’re looking for.
3. Take and Score Practice Tests
This will help you familiarize yourself with the material and scoring methodology. To get the most out of your practice tests, replicate the test conditions, set time limits and cut off access to supportive material. If you’re unable to complete a section within the allotted time, set it aside and return to it later. Try and keep the practice test conditions exactly as they would be for the actual exam. Take a break between sections to recharge yourself. Scoring the multiple-choice section is easy but you must examine your answers to help guide your study and to connect the question with the answer in order to reinforce the connection. It is important to maintain your objectivity while scoring your essays, but if you feel this is too difficult, consider asking a friend or instructor for help. To gain further insight into the scoring process, check out College Board Guidelines at
4. Avoid missing classes
It is very difficult to keep up with your AP course content if you miss a class. You are also likely to get behind on assignments, which is likely to add to your already high stress levels and have a significant impact on your understanding concepts that will be covered in the exam. Just showing up in class will pay off in the form of a better score in the end of the year exams.
5. Organise a Study Group
This is one of the most effective ways to study for the AP English Language and Composition exam. Each member of the group brings something new to the table; learning different points of view on the subjects covered in the exam will boost your knowledge and help you approach each question from different angles.
6. Try different review methods
Do you prefer to work in a group or alone? Try to recreate conditions in which you are able to review the material most successfully and vary review methods periodically. Mix up various study techniques to keep things interesting and prevent burnout. For instance, try using flashcards when memorizing vocabulary, then switch to another (such as summarizing essays) when tackling free response questions. Try and revisit content and identify areas that need more attention. Strengthen these areas with extra practice and ask your instructor or a friend for help if needed. Find a study partner who can help you focus on the subject and will provide moral support. Lastly, it is important to identify a place where you can study without distractions – try different rooms at home, or a coffee shop or the library.
7. Manage your stress
Studying for the AP English Language and Composition can be highly stressful. And feeling nervous is normal. But if your anxiety is making it difficult for you to focus and affecting on your overall performance, this is what you need to do to keep stress at a minimum:
Before the test
Eat a balanced diet throughout the year and make sure you’re well rested, especially in the week before the exam. Keep yourself hydrated to stay healthy and focused.
During the test
Many AP candidates experience intense feelings of stress and anxiety during the test. Use these time-tested relaxation techniques to get back on track:
- Focus on positive thoughts
- Pause and relax your body at regular intervals
- Breathe deeply
- Read the questions/instructions carefully
- Answer the easy questions first, then go back to the ones you had trouble with when you have time
- Treat stress as a stimulant and use it to spur you on, instead of allowing it to paralyse you
After the test
This is the moment you put the entire experience out of your mind. Instead of worrying about answers you cannot change, focus on productive strategies you can employ to get the best possible score in future.
Here is a useful resource for managing stress:
With a bit of foresight and planning, studying for AP English Language and Composition can be a lot easier than you thought.