I had the opportunity recently to help a student preparing for the AP English Language and Composition test. I would like to make a few comments that might help students and parents who are considering AP courses and exams. As you know, if you have read my prior blog posts, I am a firm believer in AP and Honors classes. Students who take such courses tend to be better prepared for the rigors of college. These courses often make the first year of college much easier; because, often, at least the first semester is a bit of a repetition. It is very hard for students to make the transition from high school to college, because they don’t really know at first how much they need to study in order to succeed. These AP and Honors courses set the stage for success.
That being said, such courses are not for every student. It is unwise to take such courses if a student is not at an above average ability level in the curriculum area. Then, students are struggling and likely will get poor grades in high school, which will not help them with their attitude, nor with the grades they will need for admission to the college of their choice. Students who are not above average are best served in the regular high school curriculum, but need to take four solid years of English, mathematics, and a foreign language.
In terms of the AP English Language and Composition exam, I find this test inherently unfair. I would only advise this test for students who have taken an AP English Language and Composition class or an equivalent Honors English class every year. This test really would be a great test at the end of a college English major’s sophomore year! It is that rigorous. For this reason, one finds few people who will tutor students to prepare for this test; the odds of success on the exam (a grade of 4 or greater, in most cases) is not at all insured.
I think that many parents and students whose son or daughter has obtained a high score on the SAT or ACT test might consider this exam. That would be a mistake. This exam requires students to know a large laundry list of literary terms that are far beyond the standard high school curriculum. I also found the test assumes the student has read certain authors that are required in college English comparative literature and English classes – authors not usually read in typical high school courses. In addition, it is very difficult to finish the multiple choice section within the time allotted. Each question requires a very careful and painstaking look back at every possible answer from within the text. That is just the multiple choice section! The essay section involves comparisons between two texts. Even students who have taken an AP English or Honors class may not have had enough exposure to all of the literary terms and the authors that one needs to read in order to approach this exam. The only good news here is that one does not have to show the college recruiter their score if they do poorly on the exam.
Then, who should take the exam? I would say that “A” students in the AP or Honors English classes who have taken advanced English courses every year in high school should definitely attempt the exam, but I would not advise anyone take it without practice. Some colleges grant a semester or year credit in English, based upon achieving a certain score on the exam, but every college is different. If your desired college will grant units in English in exchange for a high score, it can save on the cost of tuition. You need to consult your college recruiter to see if your desired college grants credit for the test, how much credit, and for what score. Also, a score of four or higher on the exam may sway a college to choose you over another applicant.
The test is only given once a year in May, so one needs to plan ahead. The literary terms fill quite a few pages of the test prep book, and it is no small matter to be fluent with all of them. I would suggest that students who have just completed their sophomore year obtain the Cliff Notes test prep book and began looking at the literary vocabulary in the back of the book. Students need to know the vast majority of those words, even the very subtle distinctions between the words. An example from my last practice session with my student is that the test writers wanted students to be able to make a very subtle distinction between metaphors, personifications, and literary apostrophes (This is not the same as the grammatical mark we place on a page to show ownership; it is something very different!).
Also, and equally important, is that students have a strong exposure to the recommended author list. Again, if you have the Cliff Notes book, you can look in the Appendix and find a list of recommended authors. I found from working with my student that there are certain authors that students need to have read in order to grasp the overall meaning of the passage. This is one of the reasons I find the test inherently unfair. None of those authors are read in the traditional high school curriculum and tend to not be read until the sophomore year in college.
I have decided to provide test preparation for this exam through Google Helpouts. I have a listing that will hopefully be approved soon. Until the listing is approved, you can find contact information in the About Me section and instead take my Helpout entitled “SAT Reading and Writing Preparation.” I will provide AP English Language and Composition test prep through that Helpout for now. Your first lesson is free for as long as the coupon code: “LAURIE15Z” works (likely until March 22, 2015). I will only work with very serious students, who want to tackle this.
I hope this helps parents and students with some of the myriad of choices confronting college-bound high school juniors and seniors.