What is the test format of the AP® English Literature Exam?

The format of the Advanced Placement® English Literature and Composition Exam is simple:

SECTION I: Multiple choice

SECTION II: Free response

  • One hour
  • 55 questions that cover excerpts from from short fiction, poetry, and longer fiction or drama
  • 45% of final exam score
  • Two hours (40 minutes recommended per prompt)
  • Three questions with prompts covering poetry analysis, prose fiction analysis, and literary arguments
  • 55% of final exam score

 

But there is a bit more to it that’s useful to know about the format of the AP® English Literature and Composition Exam than this. That’s why we want to quickly go through how the exam is formatted and what will be covered on the test.

How the AP® English Literature and Composition Exam works

A lot of colleges all over the country 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.

Luckily, you may have the opportunity to fulfill this requirement before you’re even accepted into college. Through the AP® English Literature and Composition course, you can learn the writing skills necessary to earn the college credit.

The course is comprehensive when it comes to the 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 can expect the same format and structure. You’ll have 3 hours and 15 minutes to complete the exam. There are two sections on the exam. The first is comprised 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 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 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 3: Literary Argument

You will be presented with a literary concept or idea, along with a list of approximately 40 literary works. You are required to select a work of prose fiction either from your own reading or from the provided list and analyze how the literary concept or idea described in the question contributes to an interpretation of the work as a whole. You are expected to respond to the prompt with a thesis that presents your own interpretation and use of appropriate evidence to develop and support your line of reasoning.

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

The multiple-choice section is scored by computer. When the computer calculates your answers, it does not deduct points for incorrect answers, which means only stand to gain points when you answer questions. So you should never leave any questions blank on the multiple-choice section of the AP® English Literature Exam!

The free-response section is a bit more complicated however. 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 section is scored on a scale of 0–6, with 6 being the best score you can get and 0 being the worst.