AP® English Language Study Guide

The AP® English Language and Composition exam is one of the most popular and often taken AP exams. It tests your ability to read and analyze prose arguments as well as write college-level argument and analysis essays. The AP Lang exam can be challenging, but the best way to improve your score is to practice reading and answering questions like the ones on the test. Fortunately, UWorld has plenty of practice questions with explanations for all the answers. This AP Lang study guide will give you all the information you need to achieve your dream score.

How to Study for the AP English Language and Composition Exam

In this AP English Language and Composition study guide, we will show you how to get the most out of your preparation for the AP English Language exam. From the moment you sign up for an AP Lang course to exam day, you can take the following steps to prepare and improve your chances of getting your dream score.

How to pass AP English Language

The number of multiple-choice questions (MCQs) you correctly answer and the marks you receive on the free-response questions (FRQs) are what determine your overall score on the AP Lang exam. The score is determined on a sliding scale, which means that the more MCQs you answer correctly, the lower the scores you need on the essays to score a 3 or higher. If you have higher FRQ scores, you can answer more of the MCQs incorrectly and still pass. That is why these guidelines for getting scores can vary from student to student.

How to do well on the AP English Language exam

In general, to achieve a minimum score of 3 on the AP Lang exam, you need to correctly answer at least 55% of the MCQs and obtain a 4 on one FRQ and a 3 on the other two FRQs.

In general, to attain a 4 on the AP Lang exam, you should correctly answer around 60% of the MCQs and secure a score of 4 on all the FRQs.

How do you get a 5 on the AP Lang exam?

In general, achieving a score of 5 on the AP Lang exam necessitates correctly answering approximately 70% of the MCQs and obtaining a score of 5 on all the FRQs.

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How do you prepare for the AP English Language class?

Most students take the AP Lang class during their junior year of high school. To enhance your likelihood of earning a good grade and performing well on the exam, you can begin preparing over the summer for the class. Here are some suggestions you can follow to get a head start on success:

  • Talk to your AP Lang teacher about class expectations, essential skills, and knowledge you will need for the next year.
  • Many schools require summer reading for AP English students to improve their reading skills. Check if your school has this requirement, and start reading a book a month before school starts. If your school does not have a summer reading requirement, try to read or listen to national and world news. This will help you know more about current events, which you can use as evidence in the argument essay during the exam.
  • Go through our easy-to-read guide on the AP English Language course and exam description to learn more about the course.
  • Review common rhetorical terms like speaker, audience, exigence, context, diction, syntax, qualifier, claim, concession, counterargument, refute, underscore, and undermine (not the same thing).
  • Read some contemporary nonfiction and speeches and some older speeches from the 1800s or earlier to reinforce what you’ve learned in previous English classes. Using your own words, express what the speakers are trying to say. Identify the position from which each speaker communicates. This will help you read and analyze arguments quickly and accurately on the exam.

How do you improve your score from a 3 to a 4 on the AP English Language exam?

The easiest way to improve your score from a 3 to a 4 on the AP Lang exam is to improve your essay scores on the synthesis and argument FRQs. Here are some tips to help you:

Synthesis FRQ

  • Don't read all six to seven sources. You only need evidence from three sources in your essay. Instead of reading all the sources, spend your time writing a well-developed essay.
  • The prompt for this essay will be a topic on which there's not a clear yes or no, good or bad, opinion. It will have complexity; everybody's perspective will have something positive and negative about it. In your essay, acknowledge that, but write in a more opinionated way about one perspective than the other. In other words, write the essay to include 70% of your opinion and 30% of the opposition's point of view. Do not write a 50/50 essay attempting to balance the two sides.
  • Pick two pieces of evidence to support your argument and one from the opposition to use as a concession or to refute. That strategy will earn points for using three pieces of evidence and let you write a couple of good body paragraphs.

Argument FRQ

  • If you have trouble finding evidence for this essay, try using the "ripple effect." Start with examples of events and situations you are familiar with, then move outward. Think of a personal example, an example from someone you know or something you've seen, then something or someone famous, influential, or historical. Valid examples can come from art, sports, music, gaming, and entertainment. They don't always have to come from what you've learned in school.
  • To receive 1 point, you must compose a thesis. If you explain how one example supports your point, you will earn 2 points in the evidence and commentary category. Opting to elaborate on how two examples reinforce your point can help you earn 3 points for evidence and commentary. Employing more than two examples may be necessary to secure 4 points for evidence and commentary, ultimately reaching an overall score of 5 on this FRQ.
  • Avoid becoming lost in the details of your examples. Instead, concentrate on the aspects that support your point and invest your efforts into explaining how your examples substantiate it.
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How to review for the AP English Language exam

You can look at some FRQ prompts, sample essays, and scoring commentaries from previous exams that will help you review for the AP English Lang exam. You can find these by looking at Past Exam Questions here on the AP English Language page on the College Board® website. The sample questions on how to approach AP English Language MCQs page are also a good place to start your preparation. Also, complete the sample MCQ in the AP English Language Course Guide. It will not provide explanations, but it will give the correct answers.

How to self-study AP English Language

Self-studying for AP English Lang is common for home-schooled students. Self-studying presents two major challenges: you will not have an AP teacher to guide you through difficult concepts, and you will not have access to AP Classroom practice questions. However, you can still prepare yourself to do well on the exam. Here are some resources that can make it easier:

  1. UWorld Question Bank

    The questions available on the UWorld Qbank are designed to provide you with the kind of questions that you will see on the exam. In addition, each question fully explains why the right answer is right, and the wrong answer is wrong. This helps you identify inaccurate thought patterns and correct them before the exam.

  2. College Board AP Daily videos

    While you cannot access the practice materials on the College Board’s AP Classroom, you can watch their Daily Videos for AP English Lang that are available on YouTube. These videos walk you through MCQ and FRQ strategies to show you how to succeed in each exam section.

  3. The Garden of English

    The Garden of English website is hosted by a successful English teacher who posts videos and print resources that explain key concepts for success on the AP English Lang exam. The videos are free to view, and many of the print resources are available for purchase.

  4. Printed exam study guides

    Many printed resources can be found on Amazon, in used bookstores, and even at your local public library. However, try to get the most recently published versions available. Test questions change in subtle ways on a regular basis. Printed materials have a harder time providing you with the most up-to-date material, while online resources often include the most current reflection of the actual test.

Most students learn best by combining instructor explanations with MCQ and essay practice. We suggest that you do both. 

  • Start by watching videos designed to help with MCQ strategies because many students find this section the hardest part of the test. 
  • Practice with some MCQs from an online question bank or printed exam study guide. First, go at your own speed. As you gain confidence, time yourself so that you can read a passage and answer the questions at a pace of about a minute apiece. For example, if there are 10 questions about a passage, you should try to read the passage and answer all the questions in 10 minutes.
  • Once you have spent time working on the MCQ section, watch videos about one type of FRQ.
  • Write a practice essay to simulate what you must do on the exam. Once again, take as much time as you need at first. Later, practice writing your essays in 40 minutes, because that is what you will need to do on the exam.
  • Continue this process until you have learned about all three of the FRQ types and can write one in 40 minutes.

You may also find it helpful to consult with a friend who has previously taken the AP Lang exam and may have some helpful advice. Several online communities, such as the APStudents Reddit group, are happy to make suggestions about how to successfully self-study.

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AP English Language Study Exam Tips

It is hard to study for the AP English Lang exam at the last minute because it tests specific skills you have developed throughout your educational journey: reading and writing. Trying to cram just before the exam is like trying to train for a marathon by taking up jogging a month before the race! However, you can improve your chances of success by taking some steps in the 1-2 months before the exam.

How to plan AP English Language study schedule

  1. Every week, read two speeches - one from before 1900 and one from after 1900—and practice rewriting the paragraphs. This will help you get used to the unusual sentence structure that is present in many older pieces of writing. Many times, the hardest part of reading an older passage is the archaic language that it uses, which isn't very common anymore. Paraphrasing speeches will also expand your vocabulary if you look up unfamiliar words as you go. One place where you can find lots of speeches to practice reading is on the American Rhetoric website.
  2. Practice two sets of MCQs weekly - one over a reading selection and one over a writing passage. You can select these from a study workbook or online question bank you've purchased or ask your teacher to assign some practice questions to you from AP Classroom. Be sure to read any explanations that accompany the answers to get the most out of your practice and pick up some helpful tips along the way.
  3. Write an essay using an FRQ from a previous AP Lang exam once a week. Compare your response to the rubric and sample essays on the College Board website to score yourself. Be sure to write an equal number of essays for all three types of FRQs.
  4. Pay close attention to your classwork in your AP English Lang class. Most teachers begin hitting their classes with intensive exam preparation right after Spring Break. Everything you do in class will be designed to get you ready, so take advantage of the practice and take every assignment seriously.

How much time do you need to dedicate to the AP English Language exam to score a 3, a 4, or a 5?

The amount of time you need to dedicate to preparing for the AP English Language exam and scoring a 3, 4, or 5 can vary depending on several factors, including your current level of proficiency, study habits, prior experience with the subject matter, and the quality of your in-class experience. To score a 3 or above, you should aim to dedicate at least a moderate amount of time (2-4 hours) for consistent weekly preparation over an extended period leading up to the exam.

Be sure to split your time between the following categories of practice:

  1. Reading contemporary and older prose nonfiction
  2. Answering MCQs and writing FRQ responses
  3. Untimed practice and timed practice

Starting early, establishing a study schedule, and maintaining consistent effort are essential steps to enhance your likelihood of success.

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AP English Language Review/Study Materials

Here's a list of all the study resources mentioned in this AP Lang study guide. We have given you many ideas for study resources throughout this guide, but here is a list of them all in one place. Make use of as many of them as you can!

  • UWorld AP English Lang question bank: AP-level MCQs with in-depth explanations that help you learn from your mistakes
  • AP Classroom: Direct from the College Board and includes actual past AP test questions, but you must be enrolled in an AP class to access it
  • AP Course Description Guide: Explains how the test is set up, what skills are covered, and offers some practice questions
  • Past AP Questions: Lists prompts, sample essays, and commentaries to show you what to do and not do in your essay responses
  • AP Daily Videos: Available to anyone on YouTube, they contain valuable instruction from successful AP teachers 
  • The Garden of English: A website run by a well-respected AP English teacher with bite-sized videos and tips

Related Topics

Answering FRQs can be tough at times! See our how-to guide to approaching AP English Language FRQs, including sample questions and strategies to master your exam.
Answering MCQs appears simple, but the correct answer can differ by a small margin. Here, we’ll show you how to approach the right answer in AP English Language MCQs.
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