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How to Survive & Thrive: AP English Language and Composition
Tuesday, November 24, 2015

According to the College Board, AP English Language & Composition “focuses on the development and revision of evidence-based analytic and argumentative writing and the rhetorical analysis of nonfiction texts.”  Many students who take the course or just the exam think of it as a good warm-up for the verbal portions of other standardized tests, such as the SAT or ACT.

We consulted with teachers, tutors, and recent AP English students to come up with six very useful tips--three “how to survive” tips to help you achieve a score of 3 on the AP exam, and three “how to thrive” tips to help you earn a 4 or even a 5.  Here they are:

How to Survive:

1. Read cartoons. No, it’s not the time to pull out your old Calvin and Hobbes; read political cartoons. Analyze them. What are they trying to convey? What are they protesting or satirizing? These analytic skills are necessary for reading graphs, analyzing pictures, or parsing passages. Read news articles, and answer the same questions. Two of the essays on the exam are based on your ability to read passages or graphs and use them to form an argument. A smart way to create an argument or thesis is to reference back to the passage and the rhetorical devices used. Speaking of…

2. Do you know your rhetorical devices? The multiple choice questions focus on identifying and analyzing an author’s rhetorical devices, as well as understanding an author’s point of view and reasoning. You should have a working knowledge of tone, structure, grammar and the like and you should be able to identify them in a passage. What is the purpose of the passage?  

3. Can you craft a strong, concise, and specific argument? The third essay question of the AP Language test is often based around two abstract ideas, and it will be your job to craft and argue a position. Having a working knowledge of two or three books with differing themes and ideas is a good way to cover your bases, as you’ll most likely be able to use a book in your essay.

How to Thrive:

1. When you read a passage, you should be able to own that passage. You should know exactly who’s speaking, what they’re speaking about, and how they get their point across. Knowing how to identify an author’s tone is important. Knowing how to identify and analyze an author’s purpose is important. Knowing the grammatical and literary nuances of a passage is important. Getting inside the author’s head is key to doing well on the exam.

2. You should be able to synthesize analyses of graphs, passages, and pictures, and craft an argument with a specific position based on the given graphs, passages, and pictures. Your arguments should be concrete; if you take a position, you need to support it. In the essay section, there won’t necessarily be one definitively correct answer, which is one of the reasons why arguing and supporting your thesis is so important.

3. The AP Language exam tests your ability to analyze nonfiction, but this doesn’t mean you should throw all your novels and books of poetry out the door. Most of these works will help you succeed, as literature not only has a base in rhetoric (for example, Animal Farm was a commentary on communism), but analyzing literature is also good practice for analyzing passages on the exam in terms of devices used, grammar, and vocabulary. A working knowledge of four or five books with differing themes is important.

Good luck!