Making the Most of Your Time: Preparing for the AP Literature Exam in Semester Two

By Heather Garcia

Teachers never have enough days in the year to teach all the skills they know students need. We need to have time to assess where our students are at the start of the year, work with them to fill the gaps that undoubtedly exist, and then teach students the new content that is required for the course we are assigned to teach.

With an Advanced Placement course, the expectation isn’t just to teach content that is high-school equivalent, but rather, to teach content that will demonstrate that a student has met the requirements for collegiate-level coursework. The school year tends to move even faster in these classes because the pacing can seem relentless. In an AP Literature course, the number of skills that need to be taught and practiced with a wide variety of texts means that, sometimes, fitting in all the skills can feel like a steep climb up a mountain- against the wind.

As we head into the Spring, the AP test is looming ever closer. So, how do we manage the time we have left with our students in order to prepare them well for the AP Literature Exam without making our course feel like a trek up Everest?

One approach is to establish routines in the classroom that allow students to cycle through various components of the course skills and AP exam each week. Following a weekly routine of varied skills practice can create a predictable structure for students (and their teacher) to follow. It eliminates the fear of the unknown (because students know what to expect, roughly, each day), and it ensures that students are preparing for the test in an intentional manner.
One weekly structure could look like this:

Day of the week What We Do On This Day Procedure, and Why This Works

Multiple Choice (Multiple Choice Monday)

Each Monday leading up to the AP Exam, your students could take one section of a multiple-choice exam. If the class spends 10-15 minutes taking the one section of the test, then the rest of the period can be spent talking about the passage or poem, reviewing the questions (providing students with immediate feedback), and bolstering student confidence in their ability to approach this portion of the exam.
Tuesday Prompt and Rubric Analysis Choose an FRQ type (perhaps start where students have strength to boost enthusiasm) and provide a prompt for students to work with. I usually start with the Prose Analysis or the Poetry Analysis because it gives us some meat to discuss in the prompt. It works best if you pull from the released tests that College Board has on their website.  Spend the class period dissecting the prompt, the passage/poem, and then looking at the rubric for that specific question and preplanning how students will write about this question in class the following day.
Wednesday Timed Essay (Writing Wednesday) In class today, students will write a timed essay on yesterday’s prompt. They should hand-write this essay in order to prepare for the exam. To extend today’s work, send students home with their essay and instruct them to type it up word for word, mistake for mistake. Then, after they type the essay, ask them to switch fonts and write a small reflection.
● What was their effort level?
● What areas of strength do they think this essay highlights?
● What areas of weakness did they notice?
● What score would they give themselves?
This allows for students to reflect in real-time rather than waiting on their essays to be returned to them.

Scoring Samples

For the same prompt that was used Tuesday and Wednesday, distribute the released essays from that prompt to students. College Board will usually have a high scoring, mid scoring, and low scoring sample essay for each prompt. Have students work in pairs to determine which essay is high scoring, which is mid scoring, and which is low scoring. Then ask students to determine what score each essay would earn on the rubric, and have them defend their responses with annotations on the actual essay.

Novel Analysis

Since the AP Literature course requires students to read novels, in semester two, move this to a homework component of the course. This allows for class time to be spent in test preparation and also allows Fridays to be spent discussing important scenes in the novel that is being read. Provide students with pacing that will help them make progress each week in the novel, and then pull out key excerpts from the week’s reading to do a closer analysis.

Regardless of how you set up your week, it is important that students prepare for the AP Literature exam in a way that allows them to enhance their writing skills to address the College Board’s AP Literature rubric and to also give them ample opportunity to closely read texts that will help them prepare for the AP Literature exam.

Heather Garcia

Heather Garcia is an English teacher at Charlotte High School, Florida, where she teaches AP® English Literature and AP® English Language. She is a professional development leader in her district, running annual new-teacher trainings and is now the Curriculum and Instructional Specialist for her district for grades 6-12. After 16 years of hands-on experience, Heather has developed a series of strategies to help her students navigate challenging texts. Her favorite book is the Steinbeck classic, East of Eden.

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