Ap Literature And Composition Essay Tips Sat

If you're planning to take the AP English Literature and Composition exam, you'll need to get familiar with what to expect from the test. Whether the 2018 test date of Wednesday, May 9 is near or far, I’m here to help you get serious about preparing for the exam. In this guide I’ll go over the test's format and question types, how it's graded, best practices for preparation, and test day tips. You’ll be on your way to AP English Lit success in no time!

 

AP English Literature: Exam Format and Question Types

The AP Literature Exam is a three-hour exam that contains two sections. First is an hour-long, 55-question multiple choice section, and then a two hour, three question free-response section. The exam tests your ability to analyze works and excerpts of literature and also cogently communicate that analysis in essay form. Read on for a breakdown of the two different sections and their question types.

 

Multiple Choice Section

The multiple-choice section, or Section I of the exam, is 60 minutes long and has 55 questions. You can expect to see 4-5 excerpts of prose and poetry. You will, in general, not be given an author, date, or title for these works, although occasionally the title of a poem is given. Unusual words are also sometimes defined for you.

The date ranges of works could fall from the 16th to the 21st century. Most works will be originally written in English, although you may occasionally see a passage in translation.

There are, generally speaking, eight kinds of questions you can expect to see on the AP English Literature and Composition test. I’ll break each of them down here and give you tips on how to identify and approach them.

 

"Tiny books carried by ladies" is not one of the question types.

 

The 8 Multiple-Choice Question Types on the AP Literature Exam

Without further ado, here are the eight question types you can expect to see on the AP lit exam. All questions are taken from the sample questions on the “AP Course and Exam Description.”

 

Reading Comprehension

These are questions that test your ability to understand what the passage is saying on a pretty basic level. They don’t require you to do a lot of interpretation—you just need to know what is actually going on. You can identify these from words and phrases like “according to,” “asserting,” “mentioned,” and so on. Basically, words that point to a fairly concrete register of meaning. You can succeed on these questions by careful reading of the text. You may have to go back and re-read parts to make sure you understand what the passage is saying.

Example:

 

Inference

These questions ask you to infer something—a character or narrator’s opinion, an author’s intention, and so forth—based on what is said in the passage. It will be something that isn’t stated directly or concretely, but that you can assume based on what is stated clearly in the passage. You can identify these questions from words like “infer,” and “imply.”  

The key to these questions is to not be tripped up by the fact that you are making an inference—there will be a best answer, and it will be the choice that is best supported by what is actually found in the passage. In many ways, inference questions are like second-level reading comprehension questions—you need to know not just what a passage says, but what it means.

Example:

 

Identifying and Interpreting Figurative Language

These are questions in which you have to either identify what word or phrase is figurative language or provide the meaning of a figurative phrase. You can identify these as they will either explicitly mention figurative language (or a figurative device like simile or metaphor) or will include a figurative language phrase in the question itself. The meaning of figurative language phrases can normally be determined by the phrase’s context in the passage—what is said around it? What is the phrase referring to?

Example 1: Identifying

Example 2: Interpreting

 

Literary Technique

These questions involve identifying why an author does what they do: from using a particular phrase to repeating certain words. Basically, what techniques is the author using to construct the passage/poem and to what effect? You can identify these questions by words like “serves chiefly to,” “effect,” “evoke,” and “in order to.” A good way to approach these questions is to ask yourself, so what? Why did the author use these particular words or this particular structure?

Example:

 

Character Analysis

These questions will ask you to describe something about a character. You can spot them because they will refer directly to characters’ attitudes, opinions, beliefs, or relationships with other characters. This is, in many ways, a special kind of inference question since you are inferring the broader personality of the character based on the evidence in a passage. Also, these crop up much more commonly for prose passages than poetry ones.

Example:

 

 

Overall Passage Questions

Some questions will ask you to identify or describe something about the passage/poem as a whole: its purpose, tone, genre, etc. You can identify these by phrases like “in the passage,” and “as a whole.” To answer these questions, you need to think about the excerpt with a bird’s-eye view. What is the overall picture created by all the tiny details?

Example:

 

Structure

Some questions will ask you about specific structural elements of the passage—a shift in tone, a digression, the specific form of a poem, etc. Often these questions will specify a part of the passage/poem and ask you to identify what that part is accomplishing. Being able to identify and understand the significance of any shifts—structural, tonal, in genre, etc—will be of key importance for these questions.

Example:

 

Grammar/Nuts & Bolts

Very occasionally you will be asked a specific grammar question, such as what word an adjective is modifying. I would also include in this category very specific questions like the meter of a poem (i.e. iambic pentameter). These questions are less about the literary artistry and more about the fairly dry technique involved in having a fluent command of the English language.

Example:

That covers the 8 question types!

 

Keep track of these.

 

The AP Literature Free-Response Section

Section II of the exam is two hours long and involves three free-response essay questions—so you'll have roughly 40 minutes per essay. Note, though, that no one will prompt you to move from essay to essay, so you can theoretically divide up the time how you want (but be sure to leave enough time for each essay). The first two essays are literary analysis essays of specific passages, with one poem and one prose excerpt—and the final is an analysis of a given theme in a work selected by you, the student.

 

Essays One and Two - Literary Passage Analysis

For the first two essays, you’ll be presented with an excerpt and directed to analyze the excerpt for a given theme, device, or development. One of the passages will be poetry, and one will be prose. You will be provided with the author of the work, the approximate date, and some orienting information (i.e. the plot context of an excerpt from a novel).

Sample Questions (from 2011 Free Response Questions)

Poetry:

Prose:



Essay Three - Thematic Analysis

For the third and final essay, you’ll be asked to discuss a particular theme in a work that you select. You will be provided with a list of notable works that address the given theme below the prompt, but you can also choose to discuss any “work of literary merit.”

So you DO have the power to choose which work you wish to write an essay about, but the key word here is “literary merit.” So no genre fiction! Stick to safe bets like authors in the list on pages 10-11 of the Course and Exam Description. (I know, I know—lots of ‘genre’ fiction works DO have literary merit, and Shakespeare actually began as low culture, and so on and so forth. You may well find academic designations of “literary merit” elitist and problematic, but the time to rage against the literary establishment is not your AP lit test.)

Here’s a sample question (from 2011):

 

As you can see, the list of works provided spans many different time periods and countries: there are ancient Greek plays (Antigone), modern literary works (like Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin or Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible), Shakespeare plays (The Merchant of Venice), 19th-century Russian lit (Crime and Punishment), and so on.


You might even see something by this guy.

 

How Is the AP Literature Test Graded?

The multiple-choice section of the exam comprises 45% of your exam score. The three essays comprise the other 55%. Each essay, then, is worth about 18%.

As on other AP exams, your raw score will be converted to a score from 1-5. You don’t have to get every point possible to get a 5 by any means—but the AP English Literature test does have one of the lowest 5 rates of all APs, with only 7.4% of students receiving 5s in 2016.

But how do you get raw scores at all?

 

Multiple-Choice Scoring

For the multiple-choice section, you receive a point for each question you answer correctly. There is no guessing penalty, so you should answer every question—but guess only after eliminating any answer that you know is wrong to up your chances of choosing the correct one.

 


Free-Response Scoring

Scoring for multiple choice is pretty straightforward. However, essay scoring is a little more complicated. Each of your essays will receive a score from 0-9 based on the College Board rubric. You can actually find question-specific rubrics for all of the released free-response questions for AP English lit (see “scoring guidelines”).

While all of the rubrics are broadly similar, there are some minor differences between each of them. I’ll go over the rubrics now—both what they say and what they mean for you.

 

Poetry Passage Analysis Rubric

Score

What the College Board Says

What it Means

9-8

These essays persuasively address the assigned task. These essays offer a range of interpretations; they provide a convincing reading and analysis of the poem. They demonstrate consistent and effective control over the elements of composition appropriate to the analysis of poetry. Their textual references are apt and specific. Though they may not be error-free, these essays are perceptive in their analysis and demonstrate writing that is clear and sophisticated, and in the case of a 9 essay, especially persuasive.

Your argument is convincing and it addresses all elements of the prompt. You interpret the language of the poem in a variety of ways (i.e. your analysis of the poem is thorough). Your essay is particularly well-written and well-organized. You appropriately reference specific moments in the poem to support your argument. A 9 essay is particularly persuasive.  

7-6

These essays reasonably address the assigned task. They are less thorough or less precise in the way they address the task, and their analysis is less convincing. These essays demonstrate an ability to express ideas clearly, making references to the text, although they do not exhibit the same level of effective writing as the 9-8 papers. Essays scored a 7 present better-developed analysis and more consistent command of the elements of effective composition than do essays scored a 6.

You address all elements of the prompt, but your analysis is not as complete or convincing as a 9-8 essay. You do make specific references to the poem and your writing is clear and effective, but not necessarily masterful.

5

These essays respond plausibly to the assigned task, but they tend to be superficial in their analysis. They often rely on paraphrase, which may contain some analysis, implicit or explicit. Their analysis may be vague, formulaic, or minimally supported by references to the text. There may be minor misinterpretations of the poem. These essays demonstrate some control of language, but they may be marred by surface errors. These essays are not as well conceived, organized, or developed as 7-6 essays.

You answer the prompt in a way that is not implausible or unreasonable, but your analysis of the poem is surface-level. You may paraphrase the poem instead of making specific references to its language. You may not adequately support your analysis of the poem, or you may misinterpret it slightly. Your essay is not a total mess, but not necessarily particularly well-organized or argued.

4-3

These lower-half essays fail to offer an adequate analysis of the poem. The analysis may be partial, unconvincing, or irrelevant, or ignore part of the assigned task. Evidence from the poem may be slight or misconstrued, or the essays may rely on paraphrase only. The essays often demonstrate a lack of control over the conventions of composition: inadequate development of ideas, accumulation of errors, or a focus that is unclear, inconsistent, or repetitive. Essays scored a 3 may contain significant misreading, demonstrate inept writing, or do both.

You do not adequately address the prompt. Your analysis of the poem is incomplete or incorrect, or you do not reference any specific language of the poem. Your essay is undeveloped, unclear, or poorly organized. A 3 essay either significantly misinterprets the poem or is particularly poorly written.

2-1

These essays compound the weaknesses of the papers in the 4–3 range. Although some attempt has been made to respond to the prompt, the student’s assertions are presented with little clarity, organization, or support from the poem. These essays may contain serious errors in grammar and mechanics. They may offer a complete misreading or be unacceptably brief. Essays scored a 1 contain little coherent discussion of the poem.

Only minimal attempt is made to respond to the prompt. Essay is disorganized or not supported by evidence from the poem. May contain numerous grammar and mechanics errors. May completely misinterpret the poem or be too short. A 1 essay barely mentions the poem.

0

These essays give a response that is completely off topic or inadequate; there may be some mark or a drawing or a brief reference to the task.

No real attempt is made to respond to the prompt.

-

These essays are entirely blank

You didn’t write anything!




Prose Passage Analysis Rubric

Score

What the College Board Says

What it Means

9-8

These essays persuasively address the assigned task. These essays make a strong case for the student’s interpretation. They may consider a variety of literary devices, and they engage the text through apt and specific references. Although these essays may not be error-free, their perceptive analysis is apparent in writing that is clear and effectively organized. Essays scored a 9 reveal more sophisticated analysis and more effective control of language than do essays scored an 8.

Your argument is convincing and addresses all parts of the prompt. You discuss a number of literary devices in your analysis and use specific and appropriate excerpts from the text as evidence in your argument. Your writing is clear, focused, and well-organized. A 9 essay has a particularly well-developed interpretation of the text and is better-written than an 8.

7-6

These essays reasonably address the task at hand. The writers provide a sustained, competent reading of the passage, with attention to a variety of literary devices. Although these essays may not be error-free and are less perceptive or less convincing than 9–8 essays, they present ideas with clarity and control and refer to the text for support. Essays scored a 7 present better developed analysis and more consistent command of the elements of effective composition than do essays scored a 6.  

You address all elements of the prompt. Your interpretation is coherent and you reference multiple literary devices in your analysis. You do reference specific moments in the text for support. Your essay is adequately organized and focused. However, your argument may be less convincing or insightful (i.e. more obvious) than a 9-8 essay.

5

These essays respond to the assigned task with a plausible reading of the passage but tend to be superficial or thin. While containing some analysis of the passage, implicit or explicit, the way the assigned task is addressed may be slight, and support from the passage may tend toward summary or paraphrase. While these essays demonstrate adequate control of language, they may be marred by surface errors. These essays are not as well conceived, organized, or developed as 7–6 essays.

You address the prompt, but your argument may be surface-level. You rely too much on summary or paraphrase of the text in your argument instead of using specific moments in the text. Your essay does have some elements of organization and focus but has some distracting errors.

4-3

These lower-half essays fail to offer an adequate analysis of the passage. The analysis may be partial, unconvincing, or irrelevant; the writers may ignore part of the assigned task. These essays may be characterized by an unfocused or repetitive presentation of ideas, an absence of textual support, or an accumulation of errors. Essays scored a 3 may contain significant misreading, demonstrate inept writing, or do both.

You do not adequately address the prompt, whether because your argument is partly unrelated to the task at hand or simply ignores elements of the prompt. Your essay is poorly focused and/or repetitive and has little textual support. A 3 essay significantly misinterprets the passage and/or is very poorly written.

2-1

These essays compound the weaknesses of the essays in the 4–3 score range. They may feature persistent misreading of the passage or be unacceptably brief. They may contain pervasive errors that interfere with understanding. Although some attempt has been made to respond to the prompt, the student’s ideas are presented with little clarity, organization, or support from the passage. Essays scored a 1 contain little coherent discussion of the passage.

Essay does not adequately address the assigned task. It may be very short or repeatedly misinterpret the passage. May be poorly written enough that it is hard to understand. These essays may be unfocused, unclear, or disorganized.

0

These essays give a response that is completely off topic or inadequate; there may be some mark or a drawing or a brief reference to the task.

No real attempt is made to respond to the prompt.

-

These essays are entirely blank

You didn’t write anything!

 


Student Choice Rubric

Score

What the College Board Says

What it Means

9-8

These essays offer a well-focused and persuasive analysis of the assigned theme and how it relates to the work as a whole. Using apt and specific textual support, these essays address all parts of the prompt. Although these essays may not be error-free, they make a strong case for their interpretation and discuss the literary work with significant insight and understanding. Essays scored a 9 reveal more sophisticated analysis and more effective control of language than do essays scored 8.

Your essay convincingly addresses the task in a way that is clear and focused. You reference many specific moments in the text in support of your argument. You build a strong case—with lots of evidence—in support of your interpretation of the text. Your argument shows a deep understanding of the text. A 9 essay has more complex analysis and is better-written than an 8.

7-6

These essays offer a reasonable analysis of the work of the assigned theme and how it relates to the work as a whole. These essays address all parts of the prompt. While these essays show insight and understanding, their analysis is less thorough, less perceptive, and/or less specific in supporting detail than that of the 9–8 essays. Essays scored a 7 present better developed analysis and more consistent command of the elements of effective composition than do essays scored a 6.

Your essay addresses the task adequately. Your interpretation of the text is apt and shows that you generally understood it, although your analysis may be more conventional or include less specific textual evidence than a 9-8 essay.

5

These essays respond to the assigned task with a plausible reading, but they tend to be superficial or thinly developed in analysis. They often rely upon plot summary that contains some analysis, implicit or explicit. Although these essays display an attempt to address the prompt, they may demonstrate a rather simplistic understanding and support from the text may be too general. While these essays demonstrate adequate control of language, they may be marred by surface errors. These essays are not as well conceived, organized, or developed as 7–6 essays.

Your essay addresses the prompt, but your argument may be very basic and/or rely too much on plot summary instead of true analysis of the text. Your essay may reveal that you do not thoroughly understand the text. Your essay may have some grammar/linguistic errors. Your essay is not especially well-organized or focused.

4-3

These lower-half essays fail to adequately address the assigned task. The analysis may be partial, unsupported, or irrelevant, and the essays may reflect an incomplete or oversimplified understanding of how a given theme functions in the text, or they may rely on plot summary alone. These essays may be characterized by an unfocused or repetitive presentation of ideas, an absence of textual support, or an accumulation of errors; they may lack control over the elements of college-level composition. Essays scored a 3 may contain significant misreading and/or demonstrate inept writing.

Your essay does not address the prompt. Your analysis shows that you either do not understand how to address the prompt, cannot build support for your interpretation, or do not understand the text. Your essay may be poorly organized, poorly written and/or repetitive.  A 3 essay significantly misinterprets the chosen work and/or is very poorly written.

2-1

Although these essays make some attempt to respond to the prompt, they compound the weaknesses of the papers in the 4–3 score range. Often, they are unacceptably brief or incoherent in presenting their ideas. They may be poorly written on several counts and contain distracting errors in grammar and mechanics. Remarks may be presented with little clarity, organization, or supporting evidence. Essays scored a 1 contain little coherent discussion of the text.

Your essay does not address the prompt. It may be too short or make little sense. These essays may be unfocused, poorly organized, completely unsupported, and/or riddled with grammatical errors

0

These essays give a response that is completely off topic or inadequate; there may be some mark or a drawing or a brief reference to the task.

No real attempt is made to respond to the prompt.

-

These essays are entirely blank

You didn’t write anything!

 

As you can see, the rubric for the poetry essay is focused more on poetic devices, and the rubric for the prose essay is focused more on literary devices and techniques. Both of those essays are very specifically focused on the analysis of the poem/prose excerpt. By contrast, the student choice essay is focused on how your analysis fits into the work as a whole.

To get a high-scoring essay in the 9-8 range, you need to not only come up with an original and intriguing argument that you thoroughly support with textual evidence, your essay needs to be focused, organized, clear, and well-written. And all in 40 minutes per essay! If getting a high score sounds like a tall order, that’s because it is. The mean scores on each of the essays last year was around a 4 out of 9. That means, most essays were scored lower than a 5. So even getting a 7 on these essays is an accomplishment.

 

If you write it down, it must be true!

 

Skill-Building for Success on the AP Literature Exam

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

 

Read Some Books, Maybe More Than Once

One of the most important things you can do to prepare yourself for the AP Literature and Composition exam is to read a lot, and read well. You’ll be reading a wide variety of notable literary works in your AP English Literature course, but additional reading will help you further develop your analytical reading skills. You might check out the College Board’s list of “notable authors” on pages 10-11 of the “Course and Exam Description.”

In addition to reading broadly, you’ll want to become especially familiar with the details of 4-5 books with different themes so that you’ll be sure to be prepared to write a strong student choice essay. You should know the plot, themes, characters, and structural details of these 4-5 books inside and out. See my AP English Literature Reading List for more guidance.

 

Read (and Interpret) Poetry

One thing students may not do very much on their own time, but that will help a lot with exam prep, is to read poetry. Try to read poems from a lot of eras and authors to get familiar with the language. When you think you have a grip on basic comprehension, move on to close-reading (see below).

 

Hone Your Close Reading and Analysis Skills

Your AP class will likely focus heavily on close reading and analysis of prose and poetry, but extra practice won’t hurt you. Close-reading is the ability to identify which techniques the author is using and why they are using them. You’ll need to be able to do this both to gather evidence for original arguments on the free-response questions and to answer analytical multiple-choice questions.

Here are some helpful close-reading resources for prose:

And here are some for poetry:

 

Learn Literary and Poetic Devices

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

Here are some comprehensive lists of literary terms with definitions:

 

Practice Writing Essays

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

 

Take Practice Tests

Taking practice tests is a great way to prepare for the exam. It will help you get familiar with the exam format and experience. You can get sample questions from the Course and Exam Description, there are released College Board exams here, and we have a complete article on AP English Lit practice test resources.

Be aware that the released exams don’t have complete slates of free-response questions, so you may need to supplement with released free-response questions (see link in above section). Since there are two complete released exams, you can take one towards the beginning of your prep time to get familiar with the exam and set a benchmark, and one towards the end to make sure the experience is fresh in your mind and to check your progress.

 

Don't wander like a lonely cloud through your AP lit prep.

 

AP Literature Test Day Tips

Here are my top 6 tips for taking the exam:

  1. On the multiple-choice section, it’s to your advantage to answer every question. If you eliminate all of the answers you know are wrong before guessing, you’ll up your chances of guessing the correct one.

  2. Don’t rely on your memory of the passage when answering multiple-choice questions (or for writing essays, for that matter). Look back at the passage!

  3. Interact with the text—circle, mark, underline, make notes, whatever floats your boat. This will help you retain information and actively engage with the passage.

  4. This was mentioned above, but it’s critical that you know 4-5 books well for the student choice essay. You’ll want to know all the characters, the plot, the themes, and any major devices or motifs the author uses throughout.

  5. Be sure to plan out your essays! Organization and focus are critical for high-scoring AP Literature essays.

  6. Manage your time on essays closely. One strategy is to start with the essay you think will be the easiest to answer. This way you’ll be able to get through it while thinking about the other essays.

 

And don't forget to eat breakfast! Apron optional. 

 

Key Takeaways

The AP Literature exam is a three-hour exam: It includes one 55-question, hour-long multiple-choice section based on four-five prose and poetry passages, and a two hour free-response section with three essays—one analyzing a poetry passage, one analyzing a prose passage, and one analyzing a work chosen by the student.

The multiple-choice section is worth 45% of your total score and the free-response section is worth 55%. Essays are scored on a rubric from 0-9. Raw scores are converted to a score from 1-5.

Here are some things you can do to prepare for the exam:

  1. Read books, and be particularly familiar with 4-5 works for the student choice essays
  2. Read poetry
  3. Work on your close-reading and analysis skills
  4. Learn literary devices
  5. Practice writing essays
  6. Take practice tests!

On test day, be sure to really look closely at all of the passages and closely interact with them by marking the text in a way that makes sense to you. This will help on multiple-choice questions and the free-response essays. Be sure also to outline your essays before you write them!

With all this mind, you’re well on your way to AP Lit success!

 

What's Next?

If you're taking other AP exams this year, you may be interested in our other AP resources: from the Ultimate Guide to the US History Exam, to the Best 2016 Review Guide for AP Chemistry, to the Best AP Psychology Study Guide, we have articles on tons of AP courses and exams.

Looking for practice exams? Here are some tips on how to find the best AP practice tests.

We also have comprehensive lists of practice tests for AP Psychology, AP Biology, AP Chemistry, and AP US History.

 

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:

 

The AP English Literature and Composition exam is designed to test your ability to think critically and analyze literary excerpts. The test is three hours long and consists of a multiple-choice portion (worth 45% of your grade) and an essay portion (worth 55% of your grade). Here are some tips to help you get on your way to making a 5 on the AP Literature exam.

AP Literature Course Study Tips

Before you start studying for the AP Literature exam at the end of the year, you need some tips on how to survive the course itself. Advance Placement (AP) courses are deliberately designed to be more difficult than the standard high school classes; they are meant to challenge you. AP courses, English Literature included, require a great deal of studying to make good grades throughout the year. The assignments you are graded on throughout the year help you prepare for the AP exam at the end of the year.

Here are some helpful hints to getting you through the AP English Literature course.

1. Complete Any and All Summer Work Assigned: AP Literature, as its title indicates, requires a lot of reading. Chances are, your teacher will provide you with a reading list and expect the required titles to be read when you walk into your first day of class. In some cases, you may even be assigned a report or project to be completed before you begin the class. This is more for the teacher to view what literary skills you already possess and what skills will need to be taught to you. However, this doesn’t mean you should take the work assigned lightly. If you take it seriously and complete a proficient assignment, it will show your teacher that you are in the course to learn. This attitude will make the school year a lot more bearable for both you and your instructor.

2. Go to Class: Missing class leads to missing material. Missing material leads to lower scores on assignments. Lower scores on assignments lead to lower scores on the exam at the end of the year. The bottom line is: don’t miss class if you can help it.

3. Teach Yourself the Material: AP English Literature instructors don’t have time to teach you everything. Since you are probably only in their presence for an hour or two, they have learned to prioritize the material they have to teach. Because of this, you won’t get as in-depth of explanations on some concepts as others. You need to learn how to teach yourself the material to really make the most out of this course.

You can really get creative with this. You can teach yourself by conducting good old fashioned research, or just by reading the assigned texts. Or, you can expand your knowledge a little more. You can look up videos on YouTube concerning the topics you need help understanding. You can also use Albert.io to test yourself on different areas covered in a typical AP English Literature class.

4. Learn How to Analyze Text: Analyzing literary text is an incredibly large portion of the AP English Literature course. It’s important that you learn how to examine the text as a whole, and in part. Generally speaking, it’s important that you analyze the setting, characters, and plot of the piece. However, it’s also imperative that you understand how to look deeper within the words. Deconstruct the text and examine its theme, look for literary devices, and motives.

5. Read: This is literature! Therefore, you should be getting a good amount of reading done. This does not necessarily mean that you have to aim to read an outrageous number of books or anything. You just need to at least make an attempt to read every day. As you read, try to dissect the depth of the text. After a few days of this, you’ll be surprised at how easy analysis can come to you once you train your mind to question everything.

6. Ask Questions: Your teacher is there to help; it’s their job. If there’s anything you don’t understand, be sure to ask your instructor. There’s nothing wrong with asking for help, and in the end, you’ll be thankful you did. Understanding a concept you previously had trouble with is sure to be a huge weight off of your shoulders.

7. Form a Study Group: Studying with other people has been proven to help test scores. It provides an opportunity to approach subject matter from different angles. Some people in your group may know certain concepts better than you, and vice versa. One of the best ways to make sure you know the material is to teach it to others.

8. Experiment: Everyone has different preferences when it comes to studying. Maybe you’re a visual learner. Perhaps you like to listen to material to really understand it. The best way to find out what form of studying helps you best is to experiment. Try different methods to see what works best for you. Plus, keeping a variety in your study routine helps keep boredom at bay.

Now that you have a grasp on how to get through the actual coursework of your AP English Literature and Composition class, it’s time to learn how to study for the exam at the end of the year.

First, we’ll take a look at some tips that are sure to help you ace the first portion of the AP Literature exam: the multiple-choice section. This portion is worth 45% of your total score and it consists of several passages to read and 55 questions to answer, which you have exactly one hour to complete.

Let’s get started.

Start your AP English Literature Prep today

AP English Literature Multiple-Choice Tips

1. First, Read the Passages: Yes, you read that correctly. It’s a common misconception that you should read the questions before reading the passage, so you can work quickly and scan the text for the correct answer. One vital thing to remember is this: quicker isn’t always better. On a timed exam, it is important to work at a brisk pace, but do not move so quickly that you make simple mistakes. It’s best to read the passages before even glancing at the questions because it prevents error. By merely scanning the passage for the answers, you’re missing out on a plethora of content that could be vital to answering questions correctly later on in the test.

2. Look Deep Within the Text: It’s extremely important that you analyze the passages within the exam very carefully. Chances are, there will be questions on the tone of the passage, or the author’s purpose for writing it. Was it to inform or persuade the audience? Perhaps the author used some literary devices like allusions or irony. Closely read the passages and you will have no problem identifying the answers to questions that are specific to the literature side of AP English.

3. Carefully Read the Questions: If you don’t understand what the question is asking, you can’t possibly expect to know the answer. Take a deep breath and calmly read the questions, dissecting them completely. This will be easier to do for some questions than for others. Once you understand what it is exactly the question is asking, try to recall where in the passage the answer could be located. Also be sure to read the question in its entirety. Sometimes, the writers of the test will throw in certain words or phrases that lead the question in a different direction. For example, the words “EXCEPT” and “NOT” are often used at the end of questions, and this can confuse you. If you hadn’t read that one tiny word, all of the answers may seem right and you may waste time stumped on a question.

4. Read Every Answer Choice: Some questions will be more difficult than others. Some questions are even designed to trip you up. Be sure to read every single word in every single answer choice; sometimes one word can make all the difference as to whether or not an answer is correct.

5. Reread Parts of the Passage: If time permits, reread the parts of the text in which answers are located. Be sure the information matches one of the answer choices. You may even want to put a star, dash, or some other marking beside portions of the text that contain answers. That way, if you have extra time at the end of the test, you can go back and check your answers more quickly.

6. Use Your Time Wisely: This is a timed exam. 60 minutes to complete 55 questions. This allows for an average of a minute per question, with some leftover time to account for reading passages. You have absolutely no time to sit at your desk staring blankly at questions you don’t quite understand. Luckily, there is no penalty for answers marked wrong—or answers not marked at all—on the AP English Literature exam. This means you should definitely skip the questions you’re unsure of. Mark them in some sort of way so that it is noticeable that you haven’t answered them yet. Then, if you have some time at the end of the test, you can go back and see if you can come up with the answer. Alternatively, if you can’t seem to find an answer: guess! Remember, you’re only graded on the number of questions you get right; there’s absolutely no penalty for getting a question wrong.

7. Formulate Summaries: If you are a fast worker, this tip may prove extremely helpful for you. A few of the multiple-choice questions may test your overall comprehension of the passages you read. In the margins of the page beside the passage, jot down a few bullet points outlining the plot progression. This way you can refer back to your notes when answering questions rather than searching the entire text.

8. Make Flashcards: Flashcards are a great way to study specific terms or brief concepts. Since you will be tested on your understanding of certain terms, it is important that you know them like the back of your hand. Try making flashcards of different literary devices and review them periodically throughout the semester.

9. Study Everywhere: This may seem a bit extreme, but it really helps. Take the flashcards you’ve made with you wherever you go. Keep them in your wallet, in your purse, or even in your car. Whenever you have a moment of free time, instead of scrolling through Twitter or Facebook on your phone, run through a review of your terms. It’ll stick better in your memory and help your AP Literature exam score in the long run.

10. Test Yourself: The most helpful and effective way to prepare for the multiple-choice portion of the AP English Literature exam is by testing yourself. Prepare early in the semester for the exam. Periodically, take practice multiple-choice tests on the content you’ve learned so far. There are several websites out there dedicated to helping you quiz yourself for the AP Literature exam. One of these is Albert.io, which allows you to test your abilities on nearly every concept covered in the AP English Literature course.

11. Don’t Stress It: The AP English Literature exam is one big test. Sure, it affects the amount of college credit you receive coming out of high school. But at the end of the day, it’s just a test. Anxiety and stress can severely affect your ability to function correctly. Over time, it can even start to have negative effects on your mind and body. Some people even develop anxiety disorders. Just remember, your mental health is more important than your grades. Take a deep breath periodically throughout the test. It’ll help calm your body and soothe your mind so you can concentrate better. Now that you have some tips on how to tackle the multiple-choice portion of the AP English Literature exam, it’s time to focus on the most challenging part: the free response portion. In this portion, you have two hours to complete three essays. This section tests your ability to analyze passages and dissect them to form logical interpretations to be illustrated in your essays.

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Here are some tips for nailing the free response portion of the AP English Literature and Composition exam:

AP English Literature Free Response Portion Tips

1. Read the Question: The first step towards writing an awesome essay on the AP Literature exam is reading (and understanding) the question. What are the authors of the test asking for specifically? The answer to this question is the key to writing a well-rounded essay. The scorers of the free response portion want essays that are clear and straight to the point. Simply restating the prompt will result in a huge deduction of points. Regurgitating the question will show the reader that you may not be confident in your ability to dissect passages. This is an extremely bad impression to give, since the interpretation of text is the basis of the entire course.

2. Come Up with a Thesis: A well-written thesis is the basis of all successful essays. As mentioned previously, do NOT restate the question. Come up with your own unique topic sentence to answer the question. Make it brief and to the point. You have the rest of the essay to elaborate on your thesis; that will be your body.

3. Stay Organized: Organization is key to writing a great essay. Prepare an outline within the first few minutes of writing your essay. Perhaps even use a diagram, if you’re a visual learner. A clear and precise outline can help prevent rambling when answering the question in your essay.

4. Use a High-Level Vocabulary: Since this is an exam for an Advanced Placement English course, it is imperative that you use a vocabulary that reflects a higher level of education. However, be sure that you use your impressive vocabulary in context. Nothing looks worse than using a word incorrectly in your essay. Be careful: only use words in which you know the definition.

5. Use Your Resources: On the first two essays, you will be asked to read a passage and analyze it according to the instructions given in the question. Use the passage to your advantage. Frequently refer back to specific parts of the text. This will show the readers that you paid very close attention to detail when reading the passage. The specific references display the ability to close read, which is a skill covered frequently in an AP English Literature course.

6. Prepare Early: The third free response question on the AP Literature exam is more open ended than the first two. You will be asked a question and you will be given the opportunity to answer it pertaining to a work of literature that you have read in class. It’s important that you keep this particular essay question in mind as you work throughout the semester. If a particular work of literature stands out to you, prepare early to choose this as the piece to write about in your third essay.

7. Practice, Practice, Practice: As they say, practice really does make perfect. A good option for practicing free response questions involves searching the Internet for old exam rubrics. These show you exactly what the scorers are looking for in an essay. The AP Literature section of AP Central, a website created by the College Board to help with studying for exams, has several practice exams for your use. Take advantage of this and practice writing essays using different prompts from previous exams.

8. Use a Good Writing Utensil: Nothing is worse than getting halfway through an essay and having your pen run out of ink, or your pencil getting smudged. Often, readers prefer the look and clarity of black ink to colored ink or the graphite of pencil. Take that into mind when going into the free response portion of the exam.

9. Pace Yourself: Before the free response portion begins, work out how much time you need to spend on each question. It may even be helpful to bring a watch to time yourself on each essay. You need to give yourself ample time to complete each question. However, you also need to be sure that you are not rushing through the questions and leaving vital information out of your essays.

10. Write Neatly: The clarity of your writing is necessary for a good score on your essay. If the reader cannot decipher your chicken scratch, how can they possibly score it?

11. Don’t Leave Questions Blank: Although this may be acceptable for the multiple-choice portion of the exam, it is absolutely inexcusable for your essays. You only get three chances to prove your competency in the free response portion. Take advantage of this opportunity to show the readers how much you’ve learned from taking this AP course.

12. Understand What the Readers are Looking For: As we said earlier, rubrics are a great resource to use when preparing for the AP Literature exam. They reflect exactly how your essay will be scored. It’s vital to understand exactly what the readers are looking for in a good essay. This includes:

a) Plot comprehension: Whether or not you understand what is happening in the passages given to you to read. Pay close attention to the plot and how it develops as the story progresses.

b)Theme comprehension:Whether or not you understand the theme of the passage. The theme is the dominating central idea in a work. It’s vital that you recognize the theme very early on in your essay.

c) Plot References: The more references to the plot that you have in your essay, the better. However, this does not mean restate the entire storyline. This will bore the reader and make it seem like you are dancing around the question. Scorers like for you to be very clear and to the point in your essays.

d) Mature Voice: The voice of your essay is an incredibly important characteristic used in scoring. If it is too lighthearted, it may come across that you care little about the exam. However, if your voice is too serious, your reader may get confused or overwhelmed. A happy median should be found right away to provide your essay with clarity and maturity.

13. Listen to Your Teacher: This is perhaps the most important of all the free response tips. Over the course of the semester, your teacher will provide you with ample advice for the exam. Pay close attention to your teacher’s guidance. If the information your teacher gives you wasn’t relevant, they wouldn’t waste their time giving it to you. Your instructor knows the exam; it’s only logical to follow their advice.

The AP English Literature and Composition exam is all about analysis of different literary works. Hopefully these tips will help you tackle this massive exam with ease.

Tips Submitted by AP English Literature Teachers

1. Always remember the author’s purpose. Retelling what happened in the story is not an analysis. You must understand and relay why the author wrote it the way he/she did and what he/she is trying to tell readers! That’s crucial! Thanks for the tip from Kim F. from Tavares High.

2. Be original. Think about the fact that the AP Test readers have been looking at essays on the same topics for three days. What will you do to be original and stand out that will surprise the reader at 4:30 pm on day three? Brainstorm what everyone else will say before writing. Then, don’t write on those topics. Thanks for the tip from Mike G. from MPS.

3. “Box the but because shift happens.” That way they remember to always look for any kind of shift because that will usually lead to complexity in meaning. Thanks for the tip from Amber B. at Madison County Schools.

4. Answer the question as it is actually asked. It’s easy to see a title or an author and jump to conclusions, and sometimes that means students are writing about what they think the question is asking instead of what the question actually is asking. In the pressure to complete three essays in 120 minutes, it’s an easy mistake to make … and a good one to avoid! Thanks for the tip from Heather I. from Niles North.

5. Answer the question in the introduction. Thanks for the tip from Rhonda G. from Sante Fe Public Schools.

6. Focused writing on two or three aspects of the text (characterization, use of devices, etc) accompanied with analysis will generate a higher score than lightly touching on 5 to 7 aspects. As a reader we are happy that you can identify techniques, but what we are looking for is analysis. Thanks for the tip from Matt U. at Liberty High.

7. Always answer the question: “So What?” Yes, the writer used an extended metaphor, so what? Why did they chose that metaphor? How does that choice reflect the author’s intent? What effect does it create within the text and within the reader? Provide the reader with the “so what” to help drive your analysis deeper. Thanks for the second tip from Matt U. at Liberty High.

8. Brush up on your vocabulary – if you don’t understand the vocabulary used in the questions and/or answers, you will not be able to find the correct answer. There are many words with multiple meanings / nuances of meaning that will bring you to the wrong conclusion. Pay attention to the wording of the questions and answers! Thanks for the tip from Susan R. from Palm Beach Gardens High.

9. Students who read widely and regularly are far more prepared to write and communicate clearly with a deeper understanding than students who do not read. Reading expands knowledge, vocabulary usage and comprehension and enables students to make connections within and between content areas which real world applications. Thanks for the tip from Elizabeth B. from Harrison High.

10. Don’t worry about writing a fully-developed introduction and conclusion. Instead, use your time to focus on meaning. What important insights do you have to share? Make sure you provide much more analysis than plot summary. Begin with a clear thesis and end with one strong concluding statement. Thanks for the tip from Julie H. from Greenville High.

11. Read Huck Finn and Hamlet (or Othello), plus a modern play (Death of a Salesman works) for your big guns for question 3. Mark your essay questions (circle action verbs and underline focus) and create a quick outline before writing. The time spent will prevent the heartache of not addressing the prompt. It’d be Peggy C. from Cherokee County Schools.

12. Each essay is worth the same amount of points, but one is set for you to shine — know three books really well so that you can rock the free-response essay. On the test – do it first while your mind is still fresh. Thanks for the tip from Diane S. from Frederick High School.

13. Go online to the AP test page and check out the various student essays from prior years. What makes an essay a 9? 7? or even a 4? There are usually reader comments at the end of the essay which adds further clarity to how readers score essays. Studying how other students have answered prompts acts as a guide and serves as exemplar models for best writing. Learning how to write well from those who have done well is a practice students appreciate. Thanks for the tip from Pam W. from Sandpoint High.

14. Find a good literary timeline to conceptualize what you read in terms of the art movement and historical time period. These can provide insight into the texts as well as help you remember what you have read. Thanks for the tip from Paul H. at Walled Lake Central High.

15. Have four novels of literary quality and one play that the student is comfortable analyzing so no question #3 can stump the student. Thanks for the tip from Bill O. from El Molino High.

16. For all poetry: a. analyze the central purpose, b. explain the speaker’s attitude toward the subject, c. Analyze any figurative language. Thanks for the second tip from Bill O. from El Molino High.

17. Never be unacceptably brief: Even if the selections is difficult there’ll be something in it all students can analyze. Analyze that and then keep writing! Thanks for the third tip from Bill O. from El Molino High.

18. Learn and practice using the language and function of literature, poetry, and rhetoric. Plan and execute their usage in your style, syntax, and art, and use the language when critiquing in workshops and discussing classics. Thanks for the tip from Jon A. from Arts and Communication Magnet Academy.

19. Do not merely skim to point out literary devices. (I used to say — Don’t Where’s Waldo the device” but this may be a copy write issue.) Zoom deep into the text to identify the device, explain in detail how the device is functioning and then zoom out to explain how it works to support the passage as a whole and how it connects to the universal human condition. This means the difference between writing a college level paper and writing a high school level paper. Thanks for the tip from Jodi G. from Saugus High. Thanks for the tip from Erin M. at Mercy County Senior High.

20. Deconstruct the prompt – make sure you understand exactly what it is asking you to do – then use it as a focus for your annotation of the text on Q1 and Q2 and as a launching point for your notes and thesis for Q3. Thanks for the tip from Erin M. at Mercy County Senior High.

21. Focus on two primary ideas (literary devices, elements of composition, etc…) for each essay in order to go deeper in analysis of each. Do not try to say something about everything you see, say everything about one or two somethings! Thanks for the tip from Erin M. at Mercy County Senior High.

22. Take 10-12 minutes to read and deconstruct the prompt, annotate the poem or passage and develop a thesis before you begin writing the essay. That thinking and planning time will help you remain focused which will ensure that your essay is clear and cohesive. Thanks for the tip from Erin M. at Mercy County Senior High.

23. Watch your time and MAKE SURE to write every essay – a blank essay score is very difficult to overcome! Thanks for the tip from Erin M. at Mercy County Senior High.

24. Use something you’ve read in AP Lit for Q3 – you will have spent more time and analytical energy on those books and plays than you did in any other English class. Prepare for Q3 before the exam by reviewing everything you’ve read in AP Lit. Thanks for the tip from Erin M. at Mercy County Senior High.

25. Pick two texts, one classic and one modern, get to know them backward and forward as well as the historical context around them. Thanks for the tip from Michelle Y. from Forest Park High.

26. Address all aspects of the prompt! Look for complexity! Thanks for the tip from Lori Mill Creek High School.

27. Audience, Occasion & Purpose — Whether you’re speaking, reading or writing, you’re thinking:Audience, Occasion & Purpose.  Thanks for the tip from Mike L at Tilton School.

28. Turn your words into pictures and your pictures into words.Meaning: If you have an idea, anchor it to something concrete. If you have something concrete, associate it with an idea. Thanks for the tip from Jeff T at Lynden Christian High School.

29. When writing essays, always tie your thoughts to the text (embed quotes)! Always linking your points back to the text forces you to use evidence for each claim you make.

30. Analyze not summarize! Thanks for the tip from Lynne B. at Buchholz High School.

31. Debate the questions.  Get students to debate the answers to AP multiple choice questions without your help. After they “quiz” on a passage and the questions for it, ask them how they think they did. The answer is always mixed, so give them an option: Keep the score they currently have OR discuss the answers in a large group without teacher’s help and take that community grade. They always pick the latter. Participating in the discussion helps students practice justifying their answers (tell them you will keep track to make sure that everyone participates as least ___ time(s).) As you observe their process,you will gain all kinds of insight into students’ thinking process, they will learn from the ways their classmates explain their choices, and their scores are almost always 100!  Thanks for the tip from Wendy R from Weslaco East High School.

Are you a teacher or student? Do you have an awesome tip? Let us know!

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