How to Study for AP® English Language and Composition | (2023)

As a high school student, taking an English course is just a fact of life. In fact, it is one of the few areas that you will have to take all four years in most school districts. While this can be frustrating for anyone who doesn’t enjoy their English classes, you do get a unique opportunity.

Through hard work, and by taking the correct courses, you can get college credit while you are in high school. Yes, it’s true.

The AP® English Language and Composition course allows high school students to pursue college-level coursework. At the end of the course, you should be prepared to take the AP® English Language exam. Students who pass the AP® English Language exam will be awarded college credits that are recognized by most accredited college and universities.

And, what does that mean for you? It means you will not have to take as much English when you pursue your college degree. If that sounds like a good deal to you, then keep reading.

How to Study for AP® English Language: What’s on the AP® English Language Exam

Creating an effective AP® English Language study plan requires you to understand how the exam works. Additionally, knowing what kinds of information will be covered makes sure that you are studying the correct material. To help keep you on track, the College Board has standardized the test format. The content of the exam is also designed to reflect what you should learn when doing the course. However, the exact questions presented during the exam will vary from test to test.

AP® English Language and Composition Format

The exam format is the same regardless of where you take it. You will have a total of 3 hours and 15 minutes to complete the exam, which is divided into two sections. Section one is multiple choice and consists of 52 to 55 questions. Some questions will be preceded by selections from non-fiction texts, with the corresponding questions referring to the excerpts’ content. You will have one hour to complete this section. Your score for the multiple-choice questions will account for 45 percent of your overall exam score.

Section two is referred to as the free-response section. Unlike the multiple-choice questions that have set answers, the free-response questions will require a written response in the form of an essay. There are three free-response questions during the exam, with one question focusing on each of these key areas:

• Synthesis
• Rhetorical Analysis
• Argument

The questions test your skills in the area of composition. The question on synthesis will require you to create an argument with at least three cited sources. The rhetorical analysis involves examining the language of a written piece and analyzing how the author’s choices affected the meaning and purpose of the work. Finally, the argument question will have you create an argument, based on evidence, in response to a given topic.

While the free-response section sounds challenging, it is important to remember that your coursework is designed to give you the skills necessary to answer the questions successfully. You will have 2 hours and 15 minutes for this section. These questions will account for 55 percent of your overall exam score.

By successfully completing the exam, you will be awarded college credit that can be transferred to most accredited institutions.

Understanding the Learning Objectives in AP® English Language

The learning objectives for the course can function as an effective AP® English Language study guide. Now that you know how the exam is structured, you can use this information to support your goal of passing the test.

The College Board course description includes information on the primary aims of the course. This includes introducing students to a variety of texts and giving them the tools needed to analyze and compare the information within. Writing skills will be focused on non-fiction pieces with an emphasis on research, analysis, and argument formation.

The core of the class is based on improving your reading and writing skills to match that of college students taking the same course. However, the College Board does not require the use of particular texts during the course. This allows the instructor some flexibility, as they can choose works that seem like the best fit. The selected works are meant to be challenging to students, as this promotes intellectual growth.

Improvements in Reading

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The reading skills taught will help you perform successfully in college and help you become intellectually responsible in civic engagement. In simpler terms, you will learn to examine non-fiction works for a wide variety of purposes, including argument formation and analysis.

Particular attention is paid to rhetorical works written in formal and informal formats. This includes, but is not limited to, advertisements, scientific arguments, and political satires. The goal is to help students understand how language can convey the desired meaning based on the author’s word choice. Critical literacy helps you learn to interpret the texts to find their true agenda.

College-Level Writing

Writing assignments during the course will focus on the following styles: rhetoric, analysis, and argument formation. The writing skills learned in this course will support future college-level work, as the research required and writing styles used will apply to a range of topics and other classwork.

While some written works will be based on research and fact, you will also explore persuasive writing. This helps you craft an effective argument, supported by appropriate citations, to state your point of view.

Expansion of Vocabulary

As part of your AP® English Language course, you can expect to be introduced to higher level vocabulary. Not only will this help you while reading the selected works for the course, but will also help you articulate your arguments in your writing. However, there are no specific vocabulary requirements, so your experience may vary from those who take courses under other instructors.

How to Study for AP® English Language and Composition: Gathering Your Materials

Since there are no strict requirements regarding the included texts, it can be challenging to determine what materials will best serve your needs. Works that are introduced by your instructor are a great place to start, but you should look for additional materials on your own as well.

Review the materials that are included in your course syllabus, and use them as a guide for your other efforts. You can select other works by included authors, as well as compare the materials to others that served a similar function. Some categories that will be explored include essays, speeches, journalistic works, as well as individual images.

For guidance on selecting appropriate works, consult the following resources.

College Board Materials for AP® English Language and Composition

AP® English Language and Composition Course Description – A full review of the courses goals, requirements, and recommendations.
AP® English Language and Composition Course Overview – An overview of the course content and exam format, including a sample question.
AP® English Language and Composition Reading Study Skills – An overview of recommended techniques for advancing your reading study skills.
AP® English Language and Composition Writing Study Skills – An overview of recommended techniques for improving your writing study skills.

Online Educational Resources for AP® English Language and Composition

Free educational resources are available for anyone who wishes to study the subjects. Here is a selection that provides coursework on various English and grammar skills.

Khan Academy-Grammar – A variety of free course work focusing grammar and the English language.
Coursera – Access to college coursework from recognized universities from across the globe. AP® English Language and Composition Guide and Posts

At, we have a large selection of informational articles and posts available for students interested in pursuing AP® subjects. Here are some geared specifically to AP® English Language and Composition:

The Ultimate List of AP® English Language Tips – A selection of tips designed to help you excel in your AP® English Language class.
The Ultimate AP® English Language Reading List – A list of works that can help you develop the needed skills for the exam.
How to Craft an Argument for AP® English Literature – A review of how to write a persuasive piece.
5 Ways to Identify Rhetorical Devices – Tips to help you spot rhetorical devices within texts.

How to Study for AP® English Language and Composition: Practice Tests and Exam Skills

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Now that you understand the information being presented, it is time to put that knowledge to the test. Practice exams offer the opportunity to simulate the test-taking experience. This will prepare you for the exam format, and provide information regarding which areas you should focus on.

Practice Tests

The first step for taking a practice test is to locate one. offers some practice questions to help you familiarize yourself with the material. The College Board also has information on practice questions and scoring methodology.

Guide to AP® English Language Multiple Choice and Free Response Questions – A selection of questions based on texts of recognized significance.
Exam Questions and Scoring Information – Questions and sample responses for the free-response questions on the AP® English exam.

To get the most out of your practice exam questions, consider replicating the testing conditions. This includes setting appropriate time limits and restricting your access to supportive materials.

If you do not complete a section within the time allotted, set the section aside. You can return to it later to complete the questions that were incomplete for additional experience. This helps keep the practice exam conditions exactly as they would be for the actual test.

If you take both sections during your practice test, take a break between each one to give yourself a chance to stretch and recharge.

Scoring Your Practice Exams

Scoring the multiple-choice section is a breeze. For each question, simply mark if you were right or wrong. Every incorrect response can help guide your future studies. Correct responses should be examined, allowing you to connect the question with the response. This helps reinforce the connection, in case your correct answer was partially a lucky guess.

Evaluating your written answers can be more difficult. It is important to be objective when reviewing your work, as this will help provide you with the information you need to improve. has a guide to help you score your own AP® English Practice Essay if you require further guidance. The AP® English Language and Composition 2016 Scoring Guidelines from the College Board can also provide insight.

If you do not feel capable of scoring your free-response answers, consider working with a friend. This way, you can score each other’s work, allowing you both to gain knowledge and experience. In some cases, your course instructor may be able to offer assistance, depending on their schedule.

Exam Skills

There is more of taking a test than simply having the knowledge. Test-taking can be a skill in its own right. Taking practice exams under realistic conditions helps you improve those skills, and develop strategies. You can also learn from your experience to help you perform more favorably during the actual exam.

If you are interested in more exam strategies, check out the posts on AP® English Language and Multiple Choice Strategies and 11 AP® English Language Test Taking Strategies.

How to Study for AP® English Language and Composition: Learn from Your Mistakes

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One of the benefits of practice exams is the opportunity to learn from your mistakes. You can look for patterns in your incorrect answers to help guide your study efforts. It may also point out some texts that would be helpful to review before the exam.

Before you jump in and start studying again, you should examine these three primary categories that may need improvement. This will help you address each problem area effectively, instead of simply focusing on core knowledge.

Issues of Timing

Taking a practice exam under realistic conditions can reveal issues regarding time management. If time ran out before you were able to answer more than a few multiple-choice questions, then you may need to adjust your strategy. Review the questions to see if some of them took up a disproportionate amount of your time. This can show you which areas need improvement in regards to skills.

When making adjustments for time, many consider it wise to skip questions that you are not immediately confident in your ability to answer. This allows you to answer all the questions in which you do feel confident and return to the more challenging ones after the others are complete. This may increase your total number of correct answers in comparison not to be able to review them all before time expires.

While issues of time can be apparent during the multiple-choice section, they are more commonly experienced during the free-response portion. It is easy to become absorbed in a question longer than you anticipated. This can cause you to have insufficient time to complete one or both or your other responses. The essays are not graded on length, so it is unnecessary to write anything that does not add to your position.

A technique that can help you work more productively is to review all three questions first. Then, select the one you feel you can answer most easily. Remain concise and focused in your response while ensuring the information presented is thorough. Once you are done, move to the next question on which you are most comfortable, and use the same writing technique. This leaves the most difficult question for last. This can provide you with extra time to manage the harder question if you finish the other more quickly. If you begin to run out of time, it makes sure that your other two responses are of the highest quality, which may help elevate your overall score.

Stress Management

Studying for, and subsequently taking, the AP® English Language and Composition exam can be overwhelming. Feelings of anxiety can make it difficult to focus, and may affect your overall performance.

It is important to remember that it is normal to feel nervous. In fact, it may be more surprising if you weren’t a little anxious. Not only is this feeling normal, but also a feeling that is shared among the other test-takers in your class.

Keeping stress at a minimum may sound challenging, but some simple things can help. For example, eating a well-balanced diet before the test gives you the nutrition and energy you will need to perform. Additionally, getting enough rest can help you feel more relaxed. Maintaining proper hydration will also contribute to keeping you focused.

If feelings of stress or anxiety begin to build up during the exam, use the following relaxation techniques to help regain your footing:

• Focus on positive thoughts, such as, “I reviewed all of this material, so I have the knowledge needed to do well.”
• Treat your feelings of anxiety as signs of excitement. The shift in perspective can make you see the situation more positively.
• Pause at regular intervals. Consciously relax your shoulders, release tension in your stomach, and shake out your hands and wrists if they begin to feel fatigued.
• Don’t forget to breathe.
• Take your time reading any instructions or passages, giving yourself the opportunity to understand them fully
• Answer the questions you know first, and give yourself a mental high five after answering each one.
• Skip questions that you are having trouble with. If you have time after reviewing every question at least once, you can always come back to them.

Proactively managing your feelings of stress and anxiety can help you remain calmer throughout the entire exam. As you complete each exam section, put the experience out of your mind. No good comes from worrying about answers that cannot be changed. Instead, focus on what you can do moving forward to get the best score possible.

Incorrect Responses

An incorrect response can come about in a variety of ways. Review your incorrect answers to help determine why you chose an incorrect response. Did you misread the instructions or questions? Did you not understand the material in the question? Was there a particular word with which you were not familiar? By asking those questions, you can determine what was truly responsible for the wrong answer. Then, you can adjust accordingly.

For incorrect responses that relate to a lack of knowledge, look for patterns. This can indicate what areas you need to focus on to improve your overall score. Use that information to develop a personal AP® English Language study plan to strength those weak areas.

If misreading the questions or instructions were to blame, consider if you rushed through that portion of the exam. While answering as many questions correctly as possible is important, it is worth taking your time to avoid incorrect answers solely because you were moving too quickly. Review the information on time and stress management, and work to integrate those techniques for your next practice exam.

How to Study for AP® English Language and Composition: Dedicating the “Right” Amount of Time

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The amount of time required to study effectively can be hard to determine. First, you will need to factor in the amount of work required to meet your class requirements. Then, consider these guidelines to help you determine what you need beyond the standard coursework.

Use Your Current Grade as a Guide

If your AP® English Language course has begun, your grade can be an excellent signal in regards to your studying needs. Even though a class grade does not directly relate to the score you can get on the exam, it is a great indicator of your current level of understanding.

For students who find the class difficult, more time dedicated to studying may be necessary. Not only can this help improve your grade, but will also leave you better prepared for the exam. That does not mean that you have to study in large blocks of time. In fact, it can be more effective to concentrate on your studies for short bursts of time. This may help you retain information more effectively, and can limit the stress involved with having to study in the first place.

If test anxiety is a major culprit of your lower grade, focus time on stress management techniques. By practicing deep breathing exercises, and other relaxation techniques, you may be able to use them more effectively when the next test arrives.

For students with higher grades, you may want to adjust the focus of your studies. For example, reading a wider range of texts that may be on the exam can increase your comfort level should those works appear in your tests. It can also help you sharpen your critical thinking skills.

Review the Scoring Rubric

Since scoring the free-response questions is standardized, becoming familiar with the scoring rubric will help you keep your writing focused. This provides guidance as to how the ideal response is crafted and makes it easier to include desired features in your own responses.

Fit in More Reading

E-books make it easier to fit more reading into your day. Consider downloading some of the recommended texts and use your downtime to complete a piece here and there. Since AP® English Language includes examining essays, many of the written works can be reviewed fairly quickly. This can make them ideal for the bus ride home, in between classes, or during lunch.

How to Study for AP® English Language and Composition: Studying Mistakes

Now that you know how to choose what to study, it is important to consider how you should study as well. Many students make mistakes when it comes to studying effectively. This can hurt your ability to retain information, or may have you focused on less than ideal topics. Before you finalize your AP® English Language study guide, consider the following points.

Not Studying Based on Priority

Many students study chronologically based on when the information was introduced in their coursework. While this method works fine for those who are struggling in general, it is not ideal if you are already comfortable with certain sections.

Instead of wasting time reviewing information that you already know, focus on the areas that give you trouble. This allows your time studying to do the most good, as you are improving the areas in which you are weak.

Always Cramming

Cramming is a common practice among students. Instead of spreading out their studying over a reasonable period, they try to force in as much information as possible as fast as possible. While this may work for the occasional quiz, it is not effective for the exam.

If you take a little time every day, you can allow yourself to fully absorb the information. For example, spend some time every evening to read just one essay, consider one question, or review one key point. Then, you won’t have to sacrifice large chunks of time to studying because you used 30 minutes here and 15 minutes there.

Wrapping Up

After reading this piece, you should feel more prepared to face the AP® English Language and Composition course with confidence. You can plan your studies in a way that will provide you the most benefit, and work with supplemental materials to support your assigned work.

If you ever feel nervous about your progress, remember that you are not alone. Don’t be afraid to return to this study guide for assistance, or discuss your concerns with your instructor. Friends that are taking the class can also be a great support system, and you can work together to reach your common goal.

Will your studies require a large amount of effort? Yes, they will. Will you become frustrated with certain portions of the material? Probably yes. Is it worth the trouble? It definitely is.

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Kickstartyour AP® English Language prepwith Albert. Start your AP® exam prep today.


How to Study for AP® English Language and Composition | ›

All in all, AP Lang isn't so bad of a class to self-study. You're going to do great on the exam, especially if you commit to practicing, getting feedback from others, and staying motivated throughout the year!

How to study for AP English Language and Composition? ›

Keep these 7 tips in mind as you study and as you take the test:
  1. In your essays, be as specific as you can. ...
  2. Don't write down anything you can't back up logically, especially any kind of broad generalizations – the AP® English Language examiners hate those.
  3. Think critically and eliminate easy-to-fix problems.
Mar 1, 2022

How hard is it to get a 5 on AP English Language and Composition? ›

The Pass Rate
AP Class/ExamPass Rate (3 or Higher)Perfect Score (5)
AP English Language and Composition62.1%12.6%
All AP Classes71.13%19.57%
Mar 3, 2022

Can you self study for AP Lang? ›

All in all, AP Lang isn't so bad of a class to self-study. You're going to do great on the exam, especially if you commit to practicing, getting feedback from others, and staying motivated throughout the year!

What is the easiest AP class? ›

The easiest AP classes – ranked by student difficulty ratings
  • Computer Science Principles: 2.8 – Very Easy.
  • Psychology: 3.5 – Very Easy.
  • Chinese: 3.9 – Very Easy with especially high pass rate [1]
  • Human Geography: 4.2 – Quite Easy.
  • Comparative Government and Politics: 4.2 – Quite Easy.
  • Computer Science A: 4.3 – Quite Easy.

Can you self study AP English Language and Composition? ›

AP English Language and Composition and AP English Literature and Composition. If you have a particular proclivity for English, one (or even both!) of the English APs could be a good self-study choice for you. The most important skill you will need to work on is timed analytical essay writing.

Is AP Lang and Comp hard? ›

Is AP English Language Easy Or Hard? AP English Language and Composition is considered moderate difficulty, with class alumnae rating it 5.2/10 for overall difficulty (the 16th-most-difficult out of the 28 large AP classes surveyed). The pass rate is lower than other AP classes, with 56% graduating with a 3 or higher.

What is the best way to prepare for AP Lang exam? ›

Preparing for the multiple-choice section
  1. Read lots of nonfiction. ...
  2. Challenge yourself with older texts. ...
  3. Know the question types. ...
  4. Master reading comp strategies. ...
  5. Know what is covered on the writing questions and how to best to tackle them.
Feb 22, 2023

How do I study for multiple AP exams at once? ›

How To Study for Multiple AP Exams at Once
  1. Make sure to take a 1 to 2-day study break each week.
  2. Break up long study sessions to increase focus while studying.
  3. Only focus on one course at a time and take a long break between studying different courses.

How can I get good at AP Lang exam? ›

AP® English Language Free Response Question Review: 19 Tips
  1. Spend time analyzing the question. ...
  2. Choose your side of the argument. ...
  3. Create a compelling and well-developed thesis statement. ...
  4. Build a strong set of body paragraphs. ...
  5. Use specific, concise language. ...
  6. Cite your sources. ...
  7. Develop a persuasive tone.
May 9, 2022

Do colleges care if you self study for AP exams? ›

First off, colleges measure students' coursework and performance based on the curriculum offered and the grades earned. Not the AP exam scores. Hence, self-studying for additional subjects is irrelevant because it isn't the same as taking a class and earning semester grades in it.

What is the hardest AP class to self study? ›

The Hardest AP Classes

Traditionally, courses like English Literature, Physics 1, and Chemistry are difficult to self-study for or complete at home because of the need for conversation and 1:1 instruction — like the lab element necessary to understand the science courses' material.

Do colleges like AP self study? ›

Demonstrates academic excellence. Self-studying for and scoring well on AP exams shows that you have a deep understanding of college-level subject matter. This is especially impressive to college admissions officers, who are looking for students willing to push themselves and take on challenging coursework.

How hard is AP English Literature and Composition? ›

AP English Literature and Composition is considered very hard, with class alumnae rating it 7.5/10 for overall difficulty (the 2nd-most-difficult out of the 28 large AP classes surveyed). The pass rate is higher than other AP classes, with 78% graduating with a 3 or higher.

Should I take AP English Language and Composition exam? ›

AP® English Language and Composition is a fantastic way to improve your skills in writing and analysis—not to mention give you college credit before you even set foot on campus.


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