Strategies and Tips

It is generally agreed that the essay is much more difficult than the multiple choice section of the AP Exam. Mostly because in the multiple choice the correct answer is always there and you can always guess. However, the multiple choice still counts for 45% of your total score, so you should still be prepared.

In the course of an hour, you will have to answer 55 questions on 4-5 passages of whatever the AP Exam creators deemed worthy of their exam – usually fiction, poetry, and/or drama. What this means for you, my fellow procrastinators, is that at the start of the exam at 8 A.M. you will have to read somewhat lengthy (normally around one page) passages filled with the diction AP teachers love ever so much. Then answer questions about said passages. So what do you do?

First, don’t freak out. Yes, the exam is timed. Yes, the time is there just to make things difficult. But you should not freak out about the time. Freaking out makes you lose focus. Losing focus is bad. When you realize you’re losing focus you freak out even more. And then you throw your desk in a fit of rage. Just don’t freak out. Deep breaths. Calming exercises. Whatever works for you, but just don’t freak out. You got this.

Read the passage to figure out what’s going on, then the questions. After reading the passage, some of the answers will just jump out at you when you’re reading the questions. For others, you may need to go back and skim the line/paragraph/whatever to figure out what the answer is. But, if you read the passage first, then you have a general idea of context.

Read quickly while still understanding what’s going on. The test is timed. Quick readers will not have a problem with the time limit so long as they can also understand what they read. If you are not a quick reader, you should probably try to become one or adjust your strategy (like reading the questions first and answering them as you find answers in the passage instead, although I really recommend doing it in the opposite order).

Make sure you answer all the questions. Unlike the SAT, the AP Exam does NOT take points off for incorrect answers. 55 bubbles on your scantron should be filled in no matter what. Even if you have absolutely no idea what the answer is, your score would be the same if you left it blank or got the answer wrong. You have a 20% chance of getting it right, so answer all the questions. If you take too long and your teacher calls time, quickly bubble in the rest of the answers. Maybe you’ll get lucky.

Eliminate answers. You can write on the test. If you’re not sure what the right answer is, cross out options you know aren’t right. Every time you do this, you increase your odds of choosing the correct answer. I suggest literally marking the test (putting a line through incorrect answers or crossing out the letter), but if you want to just do this in your head that works too.

Go with your gut. Multiple choice exams are designed to make you question everything you thought you knew. Most of the time, you do know the correct answer. If you read all the possibilities and one really jumps out at you, it’s probably right. You’ve spent time in class going over all this stuff for a year. You know more than you think you do. Trust yourself.

Watch out for NOTs! This is very important. A lot of times, the AP exam will throw questions at you like “Pick the theme NOT included in the passage” or “Which of the following literary devices is NOT used in paragraph 1.” The test tends to be nice and make the “not” capitalized like I did in the examples, but it is still pretty easy to skip over it if you are skimming the question. And, like the second example, sometimes a question only refers to part of the passage, and you could trip up if you forget that. My teacher stressed annotating the questions, I stress just knowing what the questions want you to do before trying to answer them. Do whatever works for you.

If the question asks for a concrete detail of one part of the passage, the rest of the passage doesn’t exist. (ie: Which literary device is not used in paragraph 1?) Don’t even look at the rest of the passage. Don’t even think about the rest of the passage. It doesn’t exist. You are only talking about the section.

If the question asks for an interpretive detail, the rest of the passage should be used for context. (ie: What tone does Character A convey in Line X?) In this case, the rest of the passage can be used only in the sense of gathering context. For example, if Character A spent the whole passage whining about going to a party they find incredibly dumb and then while they were at the party they said, “Oh what I lovely party, I’ve been looking forward to this for so long” the rest of the passage gives you enough context to understand Character A is being sarcastic.

“All of the above” is a pretty safe choice. While not always true, “all of the above” tends to be right more than wrong. If you get one of these types of questions and you are pretty confident that at least two of the possible answers are correct, go with it.

“None of the above” – not so much. Like I said before, multiple choice exams are designed to make you question yourself. What better way than to say “The answer is A, B, C, D, or I’m just screwing with you – they’re all wrong BWAHAHAHAHA!!!” Most of the time, they just put this in to distract you.

Specificity is your friend. The more specific an answer is, the more likely it’s the correct one. It’s like if you’re trying to lie and say “I definitely didn’t sneak out of my room at 3:05 A.M.” versus “I was asleep.” Which one do you think is the truth? The same works for multiple choice. If two of your choices are “The plant is symbolic of death” and “The plant’s slowly decaying leaves are symbolic of the battle for life,” nine times out of ten the more specific one is the correct answer.

It’s probably the one that maybe, perhaps sounds slightly less sure of itself…or something. Answers that use “always” or “never” typically are incorrect. Like, “The sky’s always blue” – unless it’s raining or there are lots of clouds or you’re on an alien planet where the sky shines neon purple. On the other hand, “The sky’s usually blue” is true.

Think about grammar and other clues in the question itself. If the question says “An example of a large, South American reptile is an _______” and your options are A) Gecko B) Anaconda C) Piranha D) Ostrich E) Dragon, you can eliminate all the incorrect answers because of the wording of the question. A, C, and E are out because grammatically they can’t come after “an.” A and C are small animals. C and D aren’t reptiles. E doesn’t exist. D isn’t found in South America. In any case, B is the correct answer.

When all else fails, guess B or C.

One comment on “Strategies and Tips
  1. Gayle says:

    Love it!

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Summer reading, while annoying and generally the bane of all students-enjoying-their-well-deserved-vacation’s existence, is still important. Not because the book will change your life, but because the first couple weeks of school (not counting the arbitrary getting-to-know-you first day) center around it. Make sure you know what your summer reading is, read it, and remember enough of it to get by.