AP Lit Multiple Choice Stategies

Preparation for the AP Lit multiple-choice portion of the exam requires critical reading skills acquired throughout the year; last-minute cramming is generally not productive for this type of exam. However, being familiar with the structure of the test and thinking through exam day strategy can be beneficial. Here are a few reminders:

  • Think of multiple choice questions for each work in an hour-glass shape. The first couple and last couple are big-picture and typically deal with the poem or passage as a whole. The ones in the middle are more specific to certain paragraphs, sentences, phrases, and words.
  • Questions generally go in order through the passage. 
  • The complexity level of questions, however, is varied. Each passage will have at least one or two questions to separate the 4s from the 5s. Do not let these questions weigh you down or eat up your time. If you cannot make a reasonable guess within one minute, mark it and come back to it if you have time. BUT make sure your bubbles correspond.
  • Answer questions that require little thought quickly and save whole-text questions until last.
  • Answers will not contradict each other so use prior answers to when narrowing answers.
  • Most, but not all, students choose to tackle the passages in order. Some students, however, will do the prose passages back to back and then the poetry passages. If this is your preference, mark all answers in the book then bubble last instead of skipping around on the answer sheet.
  • Scan the questions (not the answers) before reading a passage and use the questions to guide your reading. Not only will this help you notice details when you read but can also help with the overall understanding of the passage.
  • Read the entire passage. Read poems at least twice (if not three or four times) before answering questions. You cannot answer context questions without reading the full passage. The multiple-choice portion is a reading test so read closely.
  • Read everything on the page – the title, footnotes, etc. Every little bit helps and can make a difference. 
  • Annotating while reading takes time but yields for greater understanding of the passage. This is non-negotiable for passages on the exam. I have heard other teachers tell their students that there is no refund for a clean exam; mark it up.
  • You are not penalized for guessing, so narrow down as far as you can and make your best guess.
  • Plan your strategy before test day. There are many ways to take a test, and you should know your plan. Whatever you do, don’t try anything new or different on exam day.   
  • Finally, SLOW DOWN; most students have more time than they think.

I love what Lisa Boyd, the AP Lit teacher at Luella High School in Georgia, tells her students: “Take the test; don’t be taken by the test.” After a year of skill building, take a few minutes to familiarize students with the structure of the exam and think through their strategies so they are not taken by the test.

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