The Users' Manual

This page is meant to help you approach the multiple choice section of the AP test - I'm going to go over some potential strategies and various several tips (most of which should be review).  Here's how I'd suggest you use this page:

  1. Think about your experience with the multiple-choice samples we've worked with - reflect on your experience.  What's been the most challenge for you?  A particular type of question?  A particular type of passage? Finishing in the allotted time?
  2. Based on your own direct experience, focus on the tips/strategies that you feel would be the most helpful to you.  
  3. For Thursday and for Friday you'll have the option of completing multiple choice sections for homework (we'll review them in class).  Experiment with implementing different strategies - figure out what works for you.
  4. ASK. ME. QUESTIONS.  The more specific the better.

The Strategies

1. Do Whatever It Takes to Understand the Passages

Find what it takes for you to be engaged in the passage. Try underlining words, or mouthing them as you read. Actively look for the main idea, and circle any rhetorical devices that pop out at you. Doing this will prep your mind for the questions to come, and it will keep you from being distracted or bored while you read.  Such annotations will also help with using your time efficiently - it'll help you to avoid wasting valuable time going over the passage repeatedly.  You should also annotate the questions!

Typical things to annotate for (as with any text):

  • Identify any clear statement of the argument or thesis.
  • For each and every point, identify the kind of argument .
  • Identify any figurative language.
  • Mark any shifts in point of view or tone.
  • If you find parallel syntax, note it.
  • Underline unfamiliar vocabulary and use context clues to write a meaning in the margins.
  • Recognize any bold claims or obviously false arguments.

What you annotate isn't as important as the process itself, which aids comprehension immeasurably! 


2. DON’T Feel Obliged To Do the Test in Order

Don't let the questions come to you - go after them! There is no rule saying that you have to start with the first question and end with the last, and the questions and passages that make up the AP English Language multiple choice section do not get progressively easier or harder. Rather, easy, medium, and hard questions are sprinkled randomly throughout, and the difficulty each student will have with each passage often has more to do with his or her reading preferences and styles than with any measurable “difficulty level.”

All questions for all passages count the same, though, so it’s often best to scan through the test, skimming passages and/or questions, before setting pencil to paper – that way, you can start with the easiest questions or the passages that interest you most and get them out of the way before those that will take more time. This will boost your confidence (as you see correct answers piling up) and keep you from missing out on easy points because of time constraints.

If you don’t feel you have time to scan, at least mark questions you think will take a while as you come across them, then skip them and come back later. Again, all the questions are worth the same number of points, and because there are up to 54 questions to be answered in an hour, you have only a little over a minute for each question. Don’t let one doozy cause you to miss out on three or four easy questions’ worth of points! Remember: NO points will be deducted for each incorrect answers - try to hit 'em all!


3. Manage your time well

  • You should try to spend no more than 5 minutes reading and annotating a passage.  
  • That leaves you approximately 10 minutes to answer between 10-15 questions about that passage.
  • 4 passages x 15 minutes each = 60 minutes



When practicing questions like those you will see in the AP English Language multiple choice section, whether in class or at home, try reading all the questions associated with a particular passage before reading the passage itself. Some students find this very helpful in clarifying the meaning of the passage and in that it tells them in advance what they need to look for. However, other students find it disorienting or distracting.

There is no right or wrong way to take the test; you need to find what makes you most comfortable and produces the best results. Take a few AP-style tests during which you read the passages first and then read the questions first while taking the next few. Think about your feelings during each test and/or compare the scores from the two groups. Get this done well before you take the exam so you can keep practicing with your preferred strategy and use it during the test.

5. Identify Main Ideas

Once you finish reading a passage through, quickly jot down the main idea/argument of the piece, the author’s purpose, and the intended audience. This will help you answer overarching passage questions. Additionally, preemptively identifying these points before addressing the questions should help make many of them more clear and help you keep the passage framed in your mind as you work through questions.


6. Always Re-read

Never rely on your memory when the question is about a specific place in the text: always go back and read the line in question. If the answer still isn’t clear once you’ve consulted the text, read a little bit around the specified line for more context and clarity.

The Tips

  1. Most difficult kinds of questions ask you to find “all of the following except”  or any questions that require you to reread a large portion of the text.  You might want to omit these or leave these until later, since these questions consume an inordinate amount of time.
  2. The questions generally follow the chronology of the passage rather than transition from easiest to hardest or vice versa.  Since they all count the same, get credit for the easy and medium answers first!
  3. Each time you see a zero on in item number (10, 20, 30, etc.), double-check to ensure you are on the write spot on your Scantron form.
  4. If you are running out of time, try these approaches:
    • Scan the remaining questions and look for either the shortest questions of the questions that direct you to a specific line or lines.
    • Look for questions that contain the answer without requiring you to refer to the text.
  5. Go with your first answer.


Remember: The different question types

An awareness of the different types of multiple-choice questions can be a valuable for improving your score - it can help you prioritize questions based on your own strengths. Here are the most common types of comprehension questions from the multiple-choice section of the exam:

Main Idea Questions: These very common questions measure your ability to identify the author’s ideas, attitudes, and tone. They may also ask you to identify the subject of the passage or determine which choice best tells what the passage is about. Often, these questions require you to make an inference based on facts that you have to piece together from the passage. Main idea questions usually include one of these key words: think, predict, indicate, feel, probably, seem, imply, suggest, assume, infer, and most likely.

Rhetoric Questions: Rhetoric questions, which are also very common, ask about syntax, point of view, or figurative language. To answer these you must be able to recognize these elements and understand their effect on the entire passage.

Mode Questions: Occasionally, the exam will feature one or more questions that require you to recognize the differences among the various rhetorical modes writers apply, including narration, exposition, description, and persuasion.

Definition Questions: These are basically vocabulary questions about difficult words in a passage or about ordinary words used in unfamiliar ways. The key with these questions is to read the surrounding sentences to decipher the meaning of the word from the context of the passage.

Tone or Purpose Questions: These frequently asked questions require you to determine how or why the author wrote the material. Remember, tone reflects the writer’s attitude toward the audience and/or subject, and purpose defines the effect the author wants to have on the audience. Writers convey purpose through their use of words (diction), images, and the impression those words and images create. Think of tone as “the expression on the face of the words.”

Form Questions: A writer’s method of organizing material in a particular sequence is known as form. Be aware of structure, organization, and development. Some writer’s use only one form, while others combine many forms of development, i.e., comparison/contrast, cause and effect, chronological order, order of importance, problem-solution, a series of examples, spatial order, etc.

English Language Questions: These questions may test your knowledge of grammar, punctuation, or mechanics, or they may test your understanding of literary terminology.