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Tips for the AP Literature Exam


Prepping for the AP Literature exam in May? We can help! First, the basics:

Exam Date:

Wednesday May 8, 2024, 8 AM Local

Exam Format:

Section I: Multiple Choice

  • 55 Questions
  • 1 hour
  • 45% of score
  • Includes 5 sets of questions with 8–13 questions per set.
  • Each set is preceded by a passage of prose fiction, drama, or poetry of varying difficulty.
  • The multiple-choice section will always include at least 2 prose fiction passages (this may include drama) and at least 2 poetry passages.

Section II: Free Response

  • 3 Questions
  • 2 hours
  • 55% of score

Students write essays that respond to 3 free-response prompts from the following categories:

  • A literary analysis of a given poem
  • A literary analysis of a given passage of prose fiction (this may include drama)
  • An analysis that examines a specific concept, issue, or element in a work selected by the student. In responding to Question 3, students should select a work of fiction that will be appropriate to the question. A general rule is to use a work that is similar in quality to those they have read in their AP class(es).

Our Tips for Preparing

Start Now! Unlike some content heavy classes (think US History or Biology), the AP Literature exam largely tests skills that you can be practicing in class right now! Your close reading skills are especially important.

As you read and analyze literary texts for school – texts that should include plays, novels, short stories and poetry:

  1. Practice identifying figurative language and note how this language contributes to the overall theme of a novel, play or poem. For example, note:
    • Metaphors and similes
    • Allusion
    • Personification
    • Diction and Tone
    • Symbols and Motifs
  2. Make notes about characters, specifically:
    • How characters evolve over the course of a short story or novel
    • Who are the protagonists, character foils, character archetypes? [should we link to definitions as we did above for figurative language?]
    • What are the relationships between characters and groups?
    • How do characters interact with settings?
    • What are the motives or perspectives of different characters?
    • How does conflict between or within characters drive plot development?
    • For short stories – how do character epiphanies drive the plot?
  3. Think about how themes, the central ideas or meanings of a story, are revealed through:
    • Plot events
    • Settings
    • Characters
    • Symbols
  4. As you read poetry, practice:
    • Identifying traits of closed form v. free verse poetry
    • Noting figurative language such as imagery, hyperbole, personification, allusion, alliteration
    • Identifying and interpreting extended metaphors
    • Looking at punctuation (or its absence) and structural patterns
    • Recognizing juxtaposition, paradox, and irony
    • Noting ambiguity and how it can allow for various interpretations

Preparing for the Multiple-Choice section:

  1. Read a variety of texts including novels, poetry, short fiction, and poetry. A list of 101 books suggested by the College Board in the past is here.
  2. Practice close reading of texts using the ideas listed above. Think about what the author is doing with their writing and why. What techniques are they using and to what effect?
  3. Take a practice exam.  The College Board has released three official AP Literature exams.  The 2012 exam follows the current format.

Preparing for the essays:

  1. Be familiar with the three different essay prompts and what is required for each.  Make sure you clearly understand the scoring rubric for each.
  2. Explore past AP Literature and Composition prompts. The College Board has an extensive archive of past essay prompts.
  3. Read student samples of past essays – especially the high-scoring ones! The College Board also provides Scoring Guidelines and highly detailed Reader Reports. After you’ve read a few examples and feel that you understand what your audience expects, practice writing!
  4. Mark up the sample passages and create thesis statements and outlines. While you should write at least one full essay for each of the three prompts as part of your prep, you can also practice simply annotating the passages and developing thesis statements and outlines if you don’t have time to write full essays.
  5. Create detailed notes for 4-5 literary works that you have read. The final essay asks you to analyze a work of literature of your choice. You won’t know the exact prompt ahead of time, but you can make sure that you are ready to discuss a literary work in detail by reviewing the characters, themes, conflicts, symbols, motifs, settings and other literary devices of 4 – 5 books that you have already read in high school. Make sure you know these books well so that you are ready to write about one of them on test day.
  6. Work with a tutor. Contact Marks Education to work with an expert tutor.
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