AP Language & Composition with Chris Cullen at MEK
MEK’s Advanced Placement Course & Exam Prep classes are opening in January 2023. We’re offering small group virtual classes and private tutoring designed to give students the strategies and skills to ace their challenging AP classes and earn a 5 on the AP exam in May.
This Spring, we are offering AP Language & Composition taught by expert instructor Chris Cullen.
Mr. Cullen is a graduate of Saint Peter’s University and an encouraging voice for his students. He uses his skills as a professional writer to help students perfect their own craft and believes that positive reinforcement helps students build the confidence to succeed.
We interviewed Mr. Cullen to get his insights as to what mindset students need to succeed in AP Language & Comp, actionable steps students can take to succeed in their AP Language & Comp classes, and how students can build confidence in their reading and writing skills.
Read on to see what he had to say!
Essential AP Lang Skills
What skills should students have going into their AP Lang classes?
Cullen: Going into their AP Language classes, students should have time management skills. The AP Language and Composition test is a timed exam. Students get one hour to answer 45 multiple choice questions and two hours and fifteen minutes to answer three essay prompts. So, it’s essential that students come in knowing how to manage their time.
Also, having foundational skills like annotating is pivotal.
Why is having time management skills so important?
Cullen: The AP Lang test consists of a multiple choice section and an essay, or free response, section. Students get one hour to answer 45 multiple choice questions and two hours and fifteen minutes to write three analysis essays based on different categories: synthesis essays, rhetorical analysis, and argument. In order for students to complete these sections confidently and to the best of their ability, they need to know how to manage their time.
MEK’s AP Language & Composition Curriculum
How does the MEK curriculum ensure students get the practice they need?
Cullen: Unfortunately in high schools, students don’t get multiple choice question practice. That’s why I alternate each week of the AP Lang course between focusing on the multiple choice section and the essay section.
Students who completed MEK’s SAT Prep Program actually have skills they can transfer from the SAT to their AP Exam. They’ve learned a lot of test-taking skills and strategies specifically for answering multiple choice questions.
Within AP Lang, I teach students how to brainstorm properly for essay writing and make space to help them get the necessary writing practice in. Writing an essay in a timed setting is a very specific skill, and it’s important to get students to think about concepts like theory, purpose, and audience when they are planning their writing.
Beyond the AP exam, MEK’s curriculum prepares students so they can apply the skills they learn in class in everyday life, like when they are reading for fun. I like to go through reading passages in class and model my thought process and how I draw connections.
Does having a strong understanding of AP Lang help students succeed in other AP Humanities courses?
Cullen: AP Language helps students with any class where there is a good amount of writing, from AP Humanities courses to their regular high school classes. Also, the fact that students are writing essays under time constraints helps them practice for other AP courses where they will be writing in a timed situation.
Beyond the AP exam itself and preparing students to get top scores on standardized tests, we are giving students skills that they can carry over into their everyday lives. We’re teaching students how to write properly, strengthening their analysis skills, and helping them draw connections between texts. This is the benefit of an AP course.
Why do some students find AP Lang to be a difficult subject?
Cullen: AP Lang is difficult because of the nature of the test. Students often struggle with timed writing, usually because it is a skill that they haven’t yet tackled in their classes. However, with MEK we give students timed simulation tests that help them build confidence for the actual exam. Since they’ve taken a complete AP exam with MEK, they can walk into test day knowing what to expect. It’s like training for a marathon.
I’ve also found that students find analysis daunting. Part of the MEK curriculum is teaching students the “how and why” behind concepts like syntax and diction, the effect of specific words on the overall passage, and the function of punctuation and font, like italicized words. Understanding these concepts is important for deeper level analysis. Students can use these AP Lang concepts in future classes to be more active readers and writers.
How do you help students build confidence in their reading and writing skills?
Cullen: I help students focus on the positives. Even if they failed a section of the AP Lang test, they need to think about why they got that result and how to improve for next time. The AP Lang simulation tests are helpful, but eventually, students find that their scores stagnate. It’s my job to encourage students to go back to the drawing board, come up with a plan to progress, and believe in themselves.
There are also a lot of students who don’t believe they can write three essays in two hours. So, I provide them the space to model and practice the skills that will help them build confidence. In class, they have the luxury of practicing the drafting process, which is helpful for becoming stronger writers. I often model writing. For example, I show students how I edit a paragraph that I just wrote, how to annotate a passage, or how to forecast questions while reading to predict questions you might encounter on the test.
Building confidence in reading and writing skills takes practicing analysis skills, completing timed exercises, and putting the skills, concepts, and strategies learned in class into practice repeatedly, so that it becomes second nature. Repetition goes a long way.
Progress & Skill Mastery for AP Language & Composition
What are your specific teaching methods for student engagement?
Cullen: I believe in motivating through positive reinforcement and keeping students accountable. I also encourage them to look at every assessment as a learning experience they can gain from. If they failed a multiple choice section, I have them consider what’s good about that and what they can do better next time. I don’t focus on the negative.
How do you get students to progress and master skills to succeed in AP Lang in both the course and on the exam?
Cullen: It’s all about studying student score reports. Once students see how they’re doing on different question types, they are able to create a strategy for strengthening their weaknesses and take ownership over the learning process.
Actionable Steps to Success
What are actionable steps students can take to succeed in AP Lang?
Cullen: Success starts with good habits. Everyone procrastinates, but if you dedicate a little time each day to your studies, you’ll know the test inside and out by exam day. All it takes is 15 minutes a day looking over your notes. Daily practice is what builds skills.
Don’t complete assignments the day or hour before a session and think you are going to see expedited growth. You need to put in the work independently outside of class. The students who succeed and see regular growth are the ones who put time toward studying everyday.
AP courses are tough and may seem intimidating at first. But with a solid study plan and good study habits, students can get high grades and ace the exams.
Many AP teachers focus on only the course material, leaving students underprepared for the actual 2-3 hour exam. At MEK, we take a two-pronged approach to AP Prep. Through providing students with both lectures by experienced teachers and practice exams, students gain a solid understanding of the material and learn test-taking skills to maintain their performance under time pressure.
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