Why Take AP® English Literature?

AP® English Literature and Composition is a fantastic way to improve your skills in writing and analysis—not to mention give you college credit before you even set foot on campus.

It seems like a no-brainer, but you might still be wondering if taking the course is really worth it.

In most cases, taking an AP® class is absolutely worth the effort. The skills you develop in an AP® English Literature and Composition class are ones that you’ll carry with you throughout your entire educational (and professional) career. Think of all the literary references you’ll be able to make before you even get to college!

Throughout the AP® English Literature and Composition course, students will be exposed to a wide variety of literary works; novels, plays, poems, prose, and short stories. This broad literary exposure is a great opportunity for you to develop an appreciation of the ways that literature reflects and comments on a range of experiences, institutions, and social structures. Most of the works you study will be selected at the discretion of your AP® English Literature teacher. Throughout the course, you may study an entire play, work of fiction, or series of poetry, or you may focus on one or two excerpts from any given literary work. The compositions you study will all be written in, or translated into English, giving you the chance to experience an even greater range of literary works, authors, and styles from all over the world.

How to sign up for AP® English Literature

To register for the AP® Lit exam, you need to contact your school’s AP® coordinator, who can help facilitate your courses and exams.

Bear in mind you’ll likely need to complete requirements to be eligible to enroll in an AP® course. In order to register for the AP® English Literature Exam, you have to join your class section online, on College Board’s My AP® portal. Some schools will automatically register you for the exam if you’re enrolled in an AP® English Literature class, but others won’t, and you will have to register online through the portal. If you are unsure whether or not you are registered for the AP® English Literature Exam, check with your AP® Coordinator.

There is also a deadline for exam registration, so make sure you register through your AP® Coordinator by then to avoid paying any late fees. The deadline to register for exams is in the fall, but specific deadlines may vary by school—be sure to check with your teacher or AP® Coordinator.

How much does the AP® Exam cost?

Each AP® Exam costs a total of $95—if you’re in the mainland United States and its territories and commonwealths, Canada, or a U.S. Department of Defense Dependents School.

If you’re outside of those areas, the AP® Exam will cost $125 per exam.

The College Board has a financial aid program that offers a $33 fee reduction in the exam. Read more about exam fees here.

You cannot use the My AP® portal to pay fees—they will be collected by your AP® Coordinator.

When you take into account the cost of a college course versus the cost of the exam, though, you’ll see that the AP® Exam is actually a bargain. With a passing score, you may be able to earn college credit and save hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

When can I take the AP® English Literature Exam?

The AP® English Literature and Composition date in 2021 is Wednesday, May 5th. You can find more information about dates and late-testing schedules for the 2021 AP® English Literature Exam in our 2021 AP® Exam Dates article.

What’s on the AP® English Literature Exam and course?

 A lot of colleges all over the U.S. require you to fulfill a writing course before you’re allowed to graduate. Students typically take this “expository writing” or “writing and composition” course during their freshman year of college. Taking the AP® English Literature Exam could give you the opportunity to fulfill this requirement without taking a college writing course.

The AP® English Literature course is comprehensive when it comes to English Literature, covering certain skill categories including your ability to:

  • Explain the function of character
  • Explain the function of setting
  • Explain the function of plot and structure
  • Explain the function of the narrator or speaker
  • Explain the function of word choice, imagery, and symbols
  • Explain the function of comparison
  • Develop textually substantiated arguments about interpretations of part or all of a text

When it comes time to take the exam, you’ll have 3 hours and 15 minutes to complete it. There are two sections on the exam. The first consists of excerpts from non-fiction texts with multiple-choice questions. The second is a free-response section made up of three prompts you must answer in essay form.

Section I is a 55-question multiple-choice section which counts for 45% of your exam score. The multiple-choice section includes five sets of 8 to 13 questions per set, with each set of questions constructed around a preceding passage of prose fiction or poetry of varying difficulty. You should expect at least two prose fiction passages and at least two poetry passages in this section.

Section II of the AP® English Literature Exam is the free-response section, and counts for 55% of your overall exam score. In this section, you will have two hours to answer three prompts as handwritten essays. Each of the free-response questions will address the following topics, always in the same order:

Question 1: Poetry Analysis

You will be presented with a passage of poetry of approximately 100 to 300 words, and given a prompt in connection with that passage. You are expected to demonstrate a well-written analysis of the passage by responding to the prompt with a thesis that presents your own interpretation, using appropriate evidence to develop and support your line of reasoning.

Question 2: Prose Fiction Analysis

You will be presented with a passage of prose fiction of approximately 500 to 700 words, and given a prompt in connection with that passage. You are expected to demonstrate a well-written analysis of the passage by responding to the prompt with a thesis that presents your own interpretation, using appropriate evidence to develop and support your line of reasoning.

Have a look at this YouTube playlist for an in-depth walkthrough of the Prose Fiction Analysis essay.

Question 3: Literary Argument

This is also called the thematic analysis. In this essay, you will write about a specific theme in reference to a work that you get to choose. We’ll say that again: the theme itself is given to you in the exam, but you can choose which work of fiction you want to write your essay about. For example, the exam might require you to discuss the topic of “unrequited love” and then suggest a list of different books and plays (around 40 different works) for you to analyze that theme. You can still choose a work from beyond that list, so you have a lot of control over this section.

What is the Test Format for the AP® English Literature Exam?

Here’s what the structure of the exam looks like broken down by section and question type, along with how much each section impacts the ultimate score:

  • Section I: Multiple choice
    • 55 questions that cover excerpts from short fiction, poetry, and longer fiction or drama
    • One hour
    • 45% of final exam score
  • Section II: Free response
    • Three questions with prompts covering synthesis, rhetorical analysis, and argument
    • Two hours and 15 minutes including a 15-minute reading time
    • 55% of final exam score

How is the AP® English Literature Exam Scored?

Each AP® Exam is scored on a scale of one to five. The higher your score, the better it is for you.

Check out the table below for a breakdown of what each score means.

AP® Score What it means

5

Best. The highest score you can get on your AP® English Language Exam. This score typically guarantees college credit or placement out of a required course at colleges that accept AP® Exams.

4

Good. While not the highest, this is still a very good score. You’ll usually get college credit with it.

3

Okay. Not the worst, but plenty of room for improvement. This is the usual threshold for colleges to give you credit, though not at the most competitive colleges.

2

Bad. Not a good score at all. If you can, you’ll want to retake the exam, as schools will rarely ever give credit for it.

1

Worst. If you really want to perform well on this exam, you would probably need to do a lot of studying before taking the exam a year later.

When it comes to AP® English Literature and Composition, you’ll want to aim for a score of three or higher. Many colleges will give you college credit or placement out of a required course if you score within that range.

College credit for AP® Exams varies from school to school though. So, if you want to know the score that a specific school will accept in exchange for credit, you’ll need to check with the school’s registrar’s office to find out information about AP® credit for English Literature and Composition. Often, you can find this information on the school’s website. You can also check out the College Board’s search tool for AP® credit policies.

NOTE: Colleges sometimes change their requirements for awarding college credit or offering placement out of required courses. Always check in with the college to make sure you have the most relevant and recent information.

The multiple-choice section is scored via computer. When the computer analyzes your answers, it does not deduct points if your answer is incorrect or unanswered. You read that right. You only stand to gain points when you answer questions. It is always in your best interest to answer every question and leave nothing blank.

The free-response section is a bit more complicated. Rather than using a computer, the free-response section is scored by actual humans. This occurs during an event called the AP® Reading, an annual convention in June during which thousands of college professors and AP® teachers nationwide convene to help judge and score AP® essays.

The free-response essays are each scored on a scale of 0–6, with 6 being the best score you can get and 0 being the worst.

Combined, the raw points you get from both sections give you your composite score. It’s your composite score that determines your scaled score of 1–5.

Bottom line: Graders are looking for essays that showcase a strong command of literary texts, the ability to craft compelling and well-sourced arguments, and the ability to analyze text for its rhetorical structure.

What’s the Difference Between AP® English Literature and AP® English Language?

Ok, so there’s an AP® English Literature and Composition Exam and an AP® English Language and Composition Exam. What’s the difference between the two, and how do you know which one to take?

While the two share a lot of similarities, there are some crucial differences between the two courses. Knowing which one you want to take will determine the knowledge you’ll gain before going to college. In turn, this can help you decide:

  • Whether you prefer fiction or nonfiction writing
  • Which classes you take in college
  • Your skills as a reader and writer

Here is a brief overview of both courses:

The AP® English Literature and Composition course teaches the basics of college-level literary analysis and close reading. You will dive deep into texts and be challenged to think about literature deeply and critically. In the course, you will learn topics such as:

  • Close reading
  • Textual analysis
  • Literary devices
  • Language and vocabulary
  • Stylistic maturity in writing
  • Written organizational skills

In the AP® English Language and Composition course, you will learn the rhetorical and writing skills necessary to interpret ALL kinds of texts.

The AP® English Language exam course is comprehensive when it comes to rhetoric and writing, covering topics such as:

  • Rhetorical analysis of prose
  • Reading comprehension
  • Written argumentation
  • MLA, APA, and Chicago-style citation
  • Reputable sourcing
  • Synthesis of information from multiple texts

The AP® English Literature course will give you an understanding and appreciation for reading and analyzing literature. This skill is important in order to understand the context of the world around you. The course will give you the tools to approach topics thoughtfully and deeply.

For a more in-depth look at the differences between the AP® Lit and AP® Lang courses, check out this article: AP® English Literature vs  AP® English Language.

What Can I Bring to My AP® English Literature Exam?

Below is a list of all the things you can bring with you into the exam room. Note: It’s possible that not all of the items will apply to you (e.g., the Student Accommodations Letter).

  • Two No. 2 pencils with erasers. These will be used on the multiple-choice portion of the exam.
  • Two black or dark blue ink pens. These will be used for the free-response questions. Be sure to bring black or dark blue ink pens only. Leave your turquoise gel pens at home.
  • A watch. This is a simple analog or digital watch with no internet access or alarms. Don’t even try to bring your smartwatch in the room.
  • The AP® Student Pack. This is given to you just before you take your exam and contains a label that you need to place on your exam. Follow the labeling instructions carefully.
  • Government- or school-issued ID. If you don’t attend the school where you’re taking the AP® English Literature Exam, you must also bring a government- or school-issued ID.
  • College Board SSD Student Accommodation Letter. If you require accommodations beyond the regular exam, you’ll receive a letter that verifies this (e.g. you need extra time or a large-type exam).
  • Remember, you won’t have to bring all these things—but it’s in your best interest to be as prepared as you can for the exam.

Take a look at our Test Day Checklist to make sure you are 100% prepared to take your AP® English Literature and Composition Exam when the time comes!

How do I study for AP® English Literature?:

#1: Read, read, read!

…But try to read with PURPOSE! The more time you spend devouring all kinds of literature and reflecting on what you’re reading, the better! This is a great way to prepare for the Poetry and Prose Fiction Analysis Essays in the free-response section of your AP® Lit exam. Both of these questions will require you to make astute analyses of whatever texts you are given.

Don’t let yourself get caught off guard with a passage you are unfamiliar with; make sure your literary intake is broad enough that you feel just as comfortable analyzing a sonnet as a play. To answer the questions well, you should be able to read and annotate the given passages speedily. Where you can, try to practice annotating whatever you’re reading in the lead up to the AP® English Literature Exam. This will be immensely helpful for formulating your answers!

#2: Take practice tests

Take some advice from the Boy Scouts and ‘Be Prepared’! You don’t want to take your first AP® English Literature Exam on test day. To that end, take as many practice tests as you can before the big day. Take note of the areas you performed the weakest in and dedicate extra study time to those areas. Only by practicing over and over again can you expect to be better at any skill—including test-taking. If you don’t have much experience taking practice tests, check out John Moscatiello’s Step-by-Step Guide to taking a practice test like a pro.

A lot of students tend to worry most about the free-response sections. With enough practice, these will get easier and easier to answer! For more tips, Marco Learning’s AP® Literature teacher, Heather Garcia, has some excellent advice on How to Crush It on the AP® English Literature Exam Essays.

#4: Find resources that work

When it comes to studying for your exam, there is no “one size fits all”. Just because your older brother studied best by comparing and contrasting Shakespearean sonnets, doesn’t mean that’s right for you. (It probably isn’t too effective for most people, to be honest!) We encourage you to take some time to figure out what study methods you are most comfortable with; it could be a mixture of everything!

We know it can be overwhelming starting from scratch. If you feel stuck, we suggest downloading our free AP® English Literature study guide as a jumping-off point and going from there.

If you’re looking for live video reviews before the  AP® Exams, Marco Learning hosts live AP® review sessions on our YouTube channel.