AP English Language and Composition Reading Study Skills

In an AP English course, you may feel you have never been given so much to read. AP English demands plenty of serious reading, and you might be tempted to “speed-read.” You may try to scan paragraphs and pages as fast as you can while hunting for main ideas. In a word: Don’t. First, main ideas usually aren't quickly accessible from “speed-reading” complex texts.

Also, if you race through good writing, you are likely to miss the subtlety and complexity. A paragraph of text by Frederick Douglass or Joyce Carol Oates, a speech by Abraham Lincoln, or a letter by E. B. White cannot be appreciated—or even minimally understood—without careful, often-repeated readings.

In reading your AP assignments, be sure to:

  • Read slowly
  • Reread complex and important sentences
  • Ask yourself often, “What does this sentence, paragraph, speech, stanza, or chapter mean?”

Make your reading efficient.

How can you balance the careful reading AP English requires with your demanding chemistry and calculus workloads, plus get in play practice, soccer games, and whatever else you’ve got on your busy schedule? We’ve compiled some helpful tips to make your AP reading more efficient, fun, and productive.

Get a head start.

Obtain copies of as many assigned texts as you can. Then you won’t waste time searching for a text when you absolutely need it.

Preview important reading assignments.

By previewing, you carefully note:

  • Exact title
  • Author’s name
  • Table of contents
  • Preface or introduction; this section often states the author’s purpose and themes
  • In essays and certain types of prose, the final paragraph(s)

Pause to consider the author’s principal ideas and the material the author uses to support them.

Such ideas may be fairly easy to identify in writings of critical essayists or journalists, but much more subtle in the works of someone such as Virginia Woolf or Richard Rodriguez.

Know the context of a piece of writing.

This technique will help you read with greater understanding and better recollection. A knowledge of the period in which the authors lived and wrote enhances your understanding of what they have tried to say and how well they succeeded. When you read Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, find other sources to learn about social attitudes and cultural conditions that prevailed in the late 1950s.

Read text aloud.

Slow down when you are having trouble with complex prose passages, and read them aloud. Reading aloud may help you to understand the tone of the passage.

Reread difficult material to help you understand it.

Complex issues and elegant expression are not always easily understood or appreciated on a first reading.

Form the habit of consulting your dictionary, thesaurus, encyclopedia, or atlas.

Through such resources, you’ll discover the precise meanings of words as well as knowledge about the content of what you are reading. Similar resources are available online or as computer software.