The AP Language and Composition test is one of the most popular AP exams. In 2019, over 10% of the more than five million students who took AP exams took the Language and Composition test. AP Lang is most often taken by high school juniors, many of whom go on to take the AP English Literature exam their senior year. Plenty of seniors and even sophomores take this test too, contributing to its popularity. If you’re planning to take the AP Language and Composition exam, check out our top tips to help you earn that high score you want.

#1: Use Practice Tests to Assess Your Readiness

Take a practice test to assess your initial knowledge. Though the College Board AP Language and Composition websiteprovides a number of sample test questions, it does not provide a complete sample test. You can find a practice test in many of the official study guides or online. Some even include a diagnostic test to act as your initial assessment.

Once you have taken some kind of formative assessment, score it to identify your areas of strength and areas in need of improvement. Ask a teacher or friend to score your free-response essays, as these are a bit more subjective than the multiple-choice section. With an accurate baseline, you’ll have a better idea of where to focus your studying efforts.

Later, as test day approaches, take another practice test to evaluate your progress and identify persistent areas of weakness. Over time, you should begin to notice areas that require further study and those which you are strong in. Repeat the above steps if time permits to incrementally increase your score.

# 2: Be Ready to Analyze and Compose

In the case of AP English Language and Composition, this means focusing on your reading and writing skills.

When reading, make sure to preview important elements such as the title, author’s name, and any other information available like the table of contents or introduction. As you read, make sure to stop periodically to consider the main ideas and the way the author supports them. Underline important evidence as you go. Reread complex or important sentences.

Consider using the “SOAPSTone” approach to reading, which is an acronym for a series of questions that students should ask themselves when analyzing a piece of prose. The questions are:

  • Who is the Speaker?
  • What is the Occasion?
  • Who is the Audience?
  • What is the Purpose?
  • What is the Subject?
  • What is the Tone?

Writing high-quality free-response essays takes practice and time. Make sure to organize your ideas using a rough outline before you begin writing. Use direct evidence from the text to support your ideas, and quote judiciously with correct citations. As you’re writing, be aware of rhetorical elements and use them effectively.

# 3: Practice Multiple-Choice Questions

Keep in mind, the key to answering questions correctly is understanding the passage, so practice active reading skills as you tackle the multiple-choice questions. This includes underlining, mouthing words, and circling key points. Remember, the answer will always be found in the text.

#4: Practice Free-Response Essays

As indicated on your exam, it is recommended that you spend 15 minutes reading the question, analyzing, and evaluating the sources, and 40 minutes writing your response. Try to stick to this timeline when practicing your free-response essays to see if it works for you. You do not have to follow it on exam day, but having a good idea of how much time it typically takes for you to plan and write will be an advantage.

As you tackle your open responses, identify what each is asking you to do. When asked to synthesize, you know you will be taking pieces of evidence from multiple sources to form a single argument. Use specific examples and make them stand out by explicitly stating, “For example…” or “As Source C indicates in paragraph 3…” Also, be sure to cite your sources appropriately while writing.

When writing an analysis of an author’s rhetorical strategies, first consider the elements of SOAPSTone as discussed above. Also consider the five canons of rhetoric. This means thinking about the author’s invention, arrangement, and style. Memory and delivery are obviously less apparent in written pieces, but their roles in a speech are still important. As you read, try to underline specific places that highlight relevant examples.

Finally, when writing your own persuasive argument, support your ideas with concrete examples from current events, literature, etc. Try to vary your sources to build credibility and address counterpoints to craft an even stronger response.

As you prepare for the writing portion of your exam, be sure to review how your free responses will be scored. The College Board supplies free response questions and authentic scored student responses with written explanations dating back to 1999; these are an invaluable tool for this exercise.

#5: Exam Day 

Get a good night’s sleep and eat a nutritious breakfast in the morning. Relax and know that you have studied well, and go into your test with confidence. If you find yourself nervous, try practicing some deep breathing exercises while you wait to begin.

If you are looking for guidance during your AP test prep, our tutors take an individual approach to each student when creating a custom AP exam prep program. Get in touch with us today!