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 poem by W.H. Auden, or a play by Shakespeare cannot be appreciated — or even minimally understood — without careful, often-repeated readings.

In reading your AP assignments, keep in mind 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 like Virginia Woolf or Emily Dickinson.

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 John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, find other sources to learn about the difficult conditions for migrant laborers in California in the 1930s.

Read text aloud. 

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

To understand and appreciate much of English and American literature, you should have some acquaintance with the major themes of Judaic and Christian religious traditions and with Greek and Roman mythology. These religious concepts and stories have influenced and informed first English and then American literary traditions from the Middle Ages through modern times.