AP English Language Overview
The College Board AP English Development Committee sets the course framework for AP English courses and exams. Given the scope and importance of the instruction of English as a subject, and the many approaches taken by colleges in designing their introductory english courses, The committee elected to break AP English into 2 seperate programs, AP English Literature and Composition, and AP English Language and Composition. This page focuses on the AP English Language program, see here for our information on AP English Literature Prep Books.
We’ll cover the course, exams, and our picks for the best AP English Language and Composition books, and Review Guides for test year 2021 below, but if you just can’t wait, here’s the short list:
Getting a jump start on college level studies in English can be extremely helpful for students regardless of your field. Most college programs have significant English course requirements, and all disciplines benefit from the ability to express thoughts and communicate clearly. Whatever your motivation for studying AP English Language, we’re here to help you succeed!
A full Course Description for AP English Language is available from collegeboard.org.
AP English Language is meant to be the equivalent of an entry level college English course with an emphasis on reading, writing, and interpreting english prose. Its main goal is to facilitate informed citizenship and student’s capacity to enter meaningful conversations with others through reading the written word.
Effective writing is a secondary goal of the course, with the primary focus placed on the students ability to read. It teaches students to answer 4 fundamental questions about what is being read:
- What is being said?
- To whom is it being said?
- How is it being said?
- Why is it being said?
Unlike with AP English Literature, there is no set list of texts which are read as a part of the AP English Language course, and it’s left to the instructor. Generally, the text selected should:
- Represent a clear rhetorical situation
- Speak to one another through a variety of genres
- Rate as upper high school on a lexile chart
- Require teacher direction to discern meaning
As part of this course, it’s expected that: * Students should spend 8 or more hours per week engaged in reading and wriitng. * A student should be reading challenging texts every day * Students should employ reading as an interpretive strategy
Writing assignments in AP English Language generally take the form of responses to an assigned piece of text. Writing should be viewed as a tool for both formulating and communicating their responses to a piece of text. Texts include primarily non-fiction works such as newspaper articles, critical essays, or political treatises. What other people are doing, thinking, and saying in the world and how to understand, think critically about it, and respond is the overarching goal of the class.
Students taking the AP English Language Exam are responsible for demonstrating knowledge of the above mentioned skills and abilities. The student’s knowledge is assessed through a 3 hour exam containing questions in both multiple choice or free response format. The exam is broken up into 2 parts, with the multiple choice section accounting for 45% and free response accounting for 55% of a final score between 1 and 5.
Section 1: Multiple Choice
- 60 minutes long, 52-55 questions
- Accounts for 45% of the final score
Points are awarded for each correct answer, and no points are subtracted for incorrect or unanswered questions.
Section 2: Free Response
- 120 minutes long and contains 3 open ended questions
- Accounts for 55% of the final score.
The free response section begins with a 15 minute reading period during which the student may begin writing if they finish reading early.
For exam dates, refer to The College Board AP Calendar.
Best AP English Language Books
AP English Language has several strong contenders for the best textbooks and review guides which we’ve ranked for you above. Continue on for detailed information on each one!
5 Steps to a 5: AP English Language
Pros: Huge number of practice exams and online content.
Cons: Info can be somewhat sparse in sections.
Best For: Complimenting course assignments and as self assessment leading up to the exam.
Our Rating: 5 / 5
5 Steps to a 5: AP English Language is our number one pick for best AP English Language review book this year. It’s jam packed with resources both online and off, and does a great job of covering both the key elements from the course and the tips and tricks needed to do well on the exam questions. The full list of features include:
- 6 full length practice tests (3 in book + 3 online)
- Proven strategies for both multiple choice and free response sections
- Strategies for deconstructing essay prompts and planning your essay
- Hundreds of practice exercises with thorough answer explanations
- Practice activities to hone your reading and critical thinking skills
With 5 Steps to a 5: AP English Language, you supplement your learnings from the reading and writing assignments you’ve done all year long. The coverage of test format and huge selection of sample questions make sure you’re well prepared for the exam when the time comes.
Cracking the AP English Language & Composition Exam
Pros: Narrow focus is easy to get through in a hurry.
Cons: Limited practice test resources, somewhat out of date.
Best For: Last minute review and cramming leading up to the exam..
Our Rating: 4.5 / 5
Cracking the AP English Language & Composition Exam from Princeton Review is another solid book for preparing to take the AP English Language exam. It’s not our top recommendation, but if you’ve used and enjoyed any of the other Princeton Review series of books, this one won’t disappoint. Features include:
- 2 Full length practice exams with detailed answer keys and explanations
- Pacing drills to help you stay on track in the multiple choice section
- Access to online study guide and key terms
- Comprehensive review of same essays
The online resources that come with this book are very useful for anyone preparing for the exam. Test tips and strategies for all the major course topics are well thought out, and useful.
Barron’s AP English Language and Composition
Pros: Comprehensive coverage of course themes and concepts.
Cons: Some readers find explanations to be a bit sparse on multiple choice examples.
Best For: Supplementing course assignments and last minute review
Our Rating: 5 / 5
Barron’s AP test review guides are typically found at or near the top of our lists of best AP review books for all subjects, and this is no exception. They offer a huge number of practice tests, as well as a wealth of online resources. The full list of features for this book include:
- 5 full length practice exams with bonus online exam
- Sample student essays with critiques
- Guide to writing focused and organized essay responses
- Complete overview of major course topics and the exam
Barron’s AP English Language and Composition is another strong review guide in this year’s list. It has everything a student needs to supplement their course work to ensure high marks on the exam. With it’s low price tag and rich features, you can’t go wrong!
CliffsNotes AP English Language and Composition
Pros: Very focused review of exactly what is needed for the exam.
Cons: Lack of bonus online content.
Best For: Review and practice leading up to the exam.
Our Rating: 4.5 / 5
CliffsNotes AP English Language and Composition isn’t at the top of our list, but it’s still an extremely solid resource. It has a number of full length practice tests, as well as coverage of actual essay prompts from past years. Features include:
- Introductory chapters on different question types
- Four full length practice exams with detailed answer keys and explanations
- Past AP essay topic examples
- Suggested reading list
CliffsNotes is well known for condensing huge amounts of information down into an easily digestible format, and this guidebook is no exception. It’s broad enough to be useful for general review, but provides enough exam specific information to be very useful in the days leading up to the test.
Getting a leg up on universal college english requirements can be a huge time (and money) saver, and AP English Language and Composition is a great choice for practically any student. The course focuses on reading, interpreting, and writing about actual events happening in the world today.
We’ve gone ahead and rounded up our list of top picks for Best AP English Language books. Ultimately, which one suits you best will be a matter of your circumstance and preference. Here’s a recap of our recommendations:
|Top Overall Recommendation||5 Steps to a 5: AP English Language|
|Top Pick For Course Supplement||5 Steps to a 5: AP English Language|
|Top Pick For Last Minute Prep||CliffsNotes AP English Language and Composition|
For students with the goal of supplementing their other assigned course materials in year long study, our top pick (and top pick overall) is 5 Steps to a 5: AP English Language. The book is comprehensive and contains a wealth of valuable bonus materials.
If your study timeline is more compressed, the CliffsNotes AP English Language and Composition is your best bet. As with all of CliffsNotes material, the do a great job zeroing in on only the most important and relavent information you’ll need to score a 5 on the test.
Whatever your circumstance, supplemental study and review materials are a key part of ensuring success on the exam. We’ve listed some of the best AP English Language resources available. Good luck, and study hard!