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A Complete Guide to the AP Literature Exam

Nov 13, 2021

AP Literature Exam We know that studying for your AP exams can be nerve-wracking and demanding at the same time, but don’t worry we have your back! You’ll need to get acquainted with what to expect from the AP English Literature and Composition examination if you’re sincerely planning to appear for this exam. We have created a perfect study plan and guide for you that will help you ace your AP English Literature Exam. In the following blog, we’ll take you through the test’s format & question types. Along with how it’s graded, some best practices for preparation, and useful tips. So let’s get on our way to cracking the AP English Literature Exam! 


Before we pour ourselves into preparing for the exams, let us also take some time to get organized and get everything in place for a smooth learning process. Here are some useful tips. 

  • Create your place to study 

First and foremost you must have a designated place at home to study. Somewhere you can focus on learning, keep all of your study materials, and are comfortable. Spend some time prepping the space with everything you need within reach so that you can concentrate and start right away.  

  • Organize your resources 

Get your notebook, textbook, prep books, or whatever other study materials organized properly. Start from a fresh section to take notes and label everything category-wise. This will help you keep a track of your progress and get yourself set up.  

  • Build a TimeTable 

The hardest part about studying virtually is sticking to a routine. Pick the time of the day that you can dedicate to studying which works best for you. Set a timer on the clock and try to stick to it. The routine will help you stay on track. 

  • Hold yourself accountable 

Since you will not be in a formal classroom setup, you need to hold yourself accountable for your progress. Set a goal and reward for completion of that goal. This will not only motivate you but also keep you focused.  


What does the AP English Literature & Composition Exam comprise? 

The College Board lists 6 Skill Categories that ought to be covered in your AP English Literature and Composition course, or as you get ready for the test: 

  • Character—Characters in the literature show a varied range of values, beliefs, customs, prejudices, and cultural norms, they provide a chance to study and explore what the characters represent. 
  • Setting—A setting and the details related to it epitomize a time and place, but also convey values linked with the setting. 
  • Structure—Structure denotes the provisions of sections and parts of a text, the connection of the parts to each other, and the order in which the text divulges information. These are all choices made by a writer that allows you to understand a text. 
  • Narration— Any narrator’s standpoint controls the details highlighting that readers encounter; therefore, narration affects how readers experience and deduce a text. 
  • Figurative language—Assessments, illustrations, and associations shift meaning from the literal to the figurative. Figurative language can consist of word choice, metaphors, and symbols. Simile, personification, and citations are all examples of figurative language. 
  • Literary argumentation—How do you transcribe literature yourself? You develop your interpretation and then link it. You need to develop a thesis, and a strong claim and back it up with textual evidence.  

 AP English Literature: Exam Structure and Question Types: 

Here is a breakdown of the AP English Literature & Composition exam. The duration of the AP Lit exam is 3 hours and it comprises two sections: a multiple-choice section and a free-response section; 

 Timing Number of questions % of Exam Score 
Section 1 60 minutes 


       55 multiple-choice questions 45% 
Section 2 120 minutes 


(40 minutes recommended per essay) 

        3 free response questions 

  • Question 1: Poetry Analysis 
  • Question 2: Prose Fiction Analysis 
  • Question 3: Literary Argument 

 This has been discussed in detail below for your greater understanding; 


Section I: Multiple Choice 

Section I of the AP Literature exam consists of multiple-choice type questions. You will get 60 minutes to attempt 55 such questions which sum up about 45% of your overall exam score. 

In this section, you are expected to get five extracts of prose and poetry. You will at all times get at least two prose passages (fiction or drama) and two poetry passages. In general, you will not be specified the author, date, or title for these works, however, occasionally the title of a poem will be given. Unfamiliar words are also sometimes defined for you. 


Most works will be originally written in English dating back to the 16th to the 21st century, but you might occasionally see a passage in translation. Generally speaking, you can expect to see eight kinds of questions on the AP English Literature and Composition exam. 

The 8 Multiple-Choice Type Questions you can expect on the AP Literature Exam: 

Let us now dive into the eight types of Multiple Choice questions you are expected to answer in your AP lit exam. 

  • Reading Comprehension 

These questions test your basic ability to understand what the passage is trying to say. They don’t involve a lot of interpretation—you just need to discern what’s going on. You can recognize this question type from words and phrases such as “according to,” “mentioned,” “asserting,” and so on. You’ll do well on these questions if you read the text carefully and understand what the passage is saying.  

  • Inference 

These questions ask you to infer something grounded on what is being said in the passage. It will be to some degree that isn’t specified directly but that you can assume based on what’s written in the passage. You can detect these questions from words such as “infer” and “imply.” The appropriate answer will be the choice that is best supported by what is essentially found in the passage. The key is to know not just what a passage says, but also what it means. 

  • Identifying and Interpreting Figurative Language 

These are the type of questions for which you’ll have to either identify what word or phrase is figurative language or provide the significance of a figurative phrase. You can recognize these as they will either clearly mention figurative language or contain a figurative phrase in the question itself. 

  • Literary Technique 

These questions encompass identifying why an author does what they do, from using a specific phrase to repeating certain words. You can find these questions by words/phrases such as “serves chiefly to,” “effect,” “evoke,” and “to.” A smart way to approach these questions is to probe yourself: so what? Why did the author use these exact words or this particular structure? 

  • Character Analysis 

These questions examine if you can describe something about a character. You can spot them because they will mention directly about characters’ attitudes, opinions, beliefs, or relationships with other characters. Here, you will be deducing the broader personality of the character established on the evidence in a passage. Also, these come up much more frequently for prose passages than they do for poetry ones. 

  • Overall Passage Questions 

In some questions, you will be asked to define or describe something about the passage or poem in its entirety. You can classify these by phrases such as “in the passage” and “as a whole.” To be able to answer these questions, you must ponder the excerpt with a bird’s-eye view.  

  • Structure 

Some AP Lit questions will examine detailed structural elements of the passage: a shift in tone, a departure, the specific form of a poem, etc. Every so often these questions will postulate a part of the passage/poem and ask you to ascertain what that part is accomplishing. Being able to identify and comprehend the significance of any changes will be of key importance for these questions. 

  • Grammar/Nuts & Bolts 

Very rarely you will be asked a particular grammar question, such as what word an adjective is altering. These questions are less about literary creativity and more about the properly dry skill involved in having a fluent command of the English language. 

This covers the eight-question categories in the multiple-choice section. Now, let’s have a look at the free-response section of the AP Literature exam. 

Section II: Free Response 

The AP Literature Free Response section is two hours long and comprises three free-response essay questions, so you’ll have approximately 40 minutes per essay. That’s not a lot of time bearing in mind this section of the test counts for 55% of your overall exam score! The first two essays are literary breakdown essays of detailed passages, with one poem and one prose excerpt. The final essay is an analysis of a given theme in a work carefully chosen by you, the student. 

Essays 1 & 2: Literary Analysis of a Passage

For the first two essays, you’ll be given an excerpt and directed to study the excerpt for a given theme, device, or development. One of the passages will consist of poetry, and the other one will contain prose. You will be provided with the author of the work, the estimated date, and some familiarising information (i.e., the plot setting of an excerpt from a novel). 

Essay 3: Thematic Analysis 

For the third and final essay, you’ll be tested to deliberate on a particular theme in a work that you select. You will be given a list of notable works that address the given theme below, but you can also select to discuss any “work of literary merit.” So although have the power to choose which work you wish to write an essay about, the keywords here are “literary merit.” This means no genre fiction! Also, note that you can pick out a work of “comparable literary merit.” So for instance, Jane Eyre or East of Eden would be amazing choices, but Twilight or The Hunger Games would not. 

How Is the AP Literature Test Graded? 

The multiple-choice segment of the exam comprises 45% of your total exam score; the three essays, or the free-response section, comprise the other 55%. Each essay, then, is worth approximately 18% of your grade. As on other AP exams, your raw score will be adapted to a score from 1-5. The AP English Literature test has one of the lowermost 5 rates of all APs, with about 9.3% of students receiving scores in 5s as recent as 2020-2019. Therefore you shouldn’t have to worry about getting every point conceivable to get a 5 one way or another. 

So, how do you compute your raw scores? 

Multiple-Choice Scoring 

For the multiple-choice segment, you get 1 point for each question you answer correctly. There’s no solving penalty, so you must answer every question, but guess only after you’re able to eliminate any answer you know is incorrect to up your chances of picking the right one. 

Free-Response Scoring 

Scoring for multiple choice is fairly straightforward; however, essay scoring is a little more complex. Each of your essays will also comprise question-specific rubrics on which you will be graded from 0 to 6 based on the College Board rubric. All the rubrics are very alike, with only minor differences between them. Each essay rubric has three elements you’ll be graded on: 

We’ll be considering the current rubric for the AP Lit exam, which was released in September 2019, and what every score means for each of the three elements below: 

Score Thesis Evidence and Commentary Sophistication 
0 Repeats prompt. Makes a comprehensive comment. Describes work rather than making a claim. Is disjointed or does not address promptly. Maybe just an outlook with no textual references or references that are unrelated. Tries to contextualize understanding consist mainly of sweeping generalizations. Only tipoffs at other interpretations. Does not steadily maintain thematic interpretation. Overgeneralizes complexities. Uses overly complex language. 
1 Delivers defensible interpretation in answer to prompt. Emphases on broad elements, summary, or description rather than precise details or techniques. Mentions literary elements, devices, or methods with little or no explanation. Recognizes and explores intricacies/tensions within work. Situates interpretation within a broader context. Accounts for alternate interpretations. Style is consistently vivid and persuasive. 
2  Consists of an assortment of specific evidence and broad generalities. May contain some basic, inaccurate, or repetitive explanations. Does not make multiple supporting claims or does not upkeep more than one claim. No clear connections or progression between claims.  
3  Homogeneously offers evidence to support claims. Focuses on the significance of specific words and details. It also categorizes argument as a method of reasoning which is composed of numerous secondary statements. Commentary may fail to assimilate some evidence or support the key claim.  
4  Consistently offers evidence to support claims. Emphases the importance of specific words and details. The method of argument is seen as a coherent way of reasoning which is in turn made up of several auxiliary assertions, each with satisfactory proof. Clarifies how the use of literary techniques contributes to interpretation.  

To achieve a high-scoring essay in the 5-6 point range, you’ll want to not only come up with a unique and captivating argument that you methodically support with textual proof, but also stay concentrated, organized, and clear.  

Build your Skill for Success on the AP Literature Exam:  

Here are several things you can do to sharpen your skills and best prepare for the AP Lit exam. 

  • Read Some Books 

One of the most vital steps you can take to prepare for the AP Literature and Composition exam is to read more and read well. You’ll be reading an extensive selection of notable literary works in your AP English Literature course, but extra reading will help you further improve your analytical reading skills. In addition to reading largely, you’ll want to become particularly acquainted with the details of four to five books with diverse themes so you’ll be prepared to write a solid student-choice essay. You should know the plot, themes, characters, and essential facts of these books inside and out. 

  • Read and try to Interpret Poetry 

One thing students might not do very much on their time but that will benefit a lot with AP Lit exam prep is to read poetry. Try to read poems from a lot of eras and authors to get acquainted with the language.  

  • Enhance Your Close Reading and Analysis Abilities 

Your AP class will probably focus deeply on close reading and analysis of prose and poetry, but added practice won’t hurt you. Close reading is the skill to identify which techniques the author is using and why. You’ll want to be able to do this both to collect evidence for original arguments on the free-response questions and to retort to analytical multiple-choice questions. 

  • Learn about Literary and Poetic Devices 

You’ll want to be conversant with literary terms so that any test questions that ask about them will make sense to you. Again, you’ll almost certainly learn most of these in class, but it doesn’t hurt to brush up on them. 

  • Practice Essay Writing 

The majority of your evaluation on the AP English Lit exam comes from essays, so it’s acute that you practice your timed essay-writing skills. You should use the College Board’s released free-response questions to practice writing complete timed essays of each category, but you can also practice swiftly outlining detailed essays that are well supported with textual evidence. 

  • Take Practice Tests 

Going for more & more practice tests is the correct way to prepare for the exam. It will aid you in getting familiar with the exam format and general experience. Be mindful that the released exams don’t have complete slates of free-response questions, so you might need to supplement these with released free-response questions. In the meantime there are three complete released exams, you can take one to the beginning of your prep time to get accustomed to the exam and set a yardstick, and one toward the finale to make sure the experience is fresh in your mind and to check your improvement.

AP Literature: 6 Important Test-Day Tips: 

Before we finish up this blog, here are my six best tips for AP Lit test day: 

  1. On the multiple-choice segment, it’s to your benefit to answer every question. You can raise your chances of guessing the correct answer if you remove all the answers you know are wrong before guessing. 
  2. Don’t count on your recollection of the passage when answering multiple-choice questions. Go back and take a look back at the passage. 
  3.  Pay heed to the text: circle, mark, underline or make notes, whatever suits you best. This will benefit you recollect information and keenly engage with the passage. 
  4. It is pertinent that you are aware of at least four to five books well for the student choice essay. You should be familiar with all the characters, the plot, the themes, and any major strategies or themes the author uses during the story. 
  5. Be certain to strategize your essays! Organization and concentration are vital for high-scoring AP Literature essays. A sketch will take you hardly any time, but it will help your writing process go considerably faster. 
  6. Manage your time on essays carefully. One approach is to start with the essay you think will be the easiest to write. In this manner, you’ll be able to get over and done with it while thinking about the other two essays. 

AP Literature Exam: Crucial Takeaways: 

The AP Literature exam is a three-hour test that consists of; 

  • An hour-long multiple-choice section based on five prose and poetry passages and with 55 questions 
  • A two-hour free-response section with three essays: one examining a poetry passage, one analyzing a prose passage, and one studying a work chosen by you. 
  • The multiple-choice section is about 45% of your total score, and the free-response section is worth 55%. The three essays are each scored on a rubric of 0-6, and raw scores are converted to a final scaled score from 1 to 5.

Here are a few things you can do to get ready for the exam: 

  • Read more & more books and be above all familiar with at least four to five works for the student choice essays 
  • Read prose & poetry 
  • Work on your close reading and analysis skills 
  • Learn common literary devices 
  • Practice writing essays 
  • Take practice tests! 

On the day of your AP literature exam, be certain to look thoroughly at all the passages and engage with them by marking the text in a way that makes the most sense to you. This will benefit you on both multiple-choice questions and the free-response essays. You should also have a rough draft of your essays before you write them. 

With all these amazing tips to guide you through your AP Literature Exam, we are sure you will sail through and success is waiting for you just around the corner!

AP Literature Exam


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