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Home > AP Courses and Exams > AP English Literature and Composition Frequently Asked Questions

AP English Literature and Composition Frequently Asked Questions

Who develops the Advanced Placement courses and exams?
AP courses and exams are designed by AP Development Committees made up of college faculty and expert AP teachers who ensure, through data collected from a range of colleges and universities, that AP courses reflect current scholarship and advances in each discipline. Committee members define the scope and goals of each course, articulating what students should know and be able to do upon completion; work with Educational Testing Service to develop multiple-choice and free-response exam questions; and write and review each course description.

How do I determine who should be in an AP class?
The College Board recommends allowing any students who are motivated and prepared academically to take an AP course. We encourage the elimination of barriers that restrict access to AP for students from ethnic, racial, and socioeconomic groups that have been traditionally underserved. Schools should make every effort to ensure their AP classes reflect the diversity of their student population.

Do colleges and universities give credit or advanced placement for a grade of 3 on an AP Exam?
Students should check the credit-and-placement policy at the schools they are considering. Policies vary from one institution to another; they may also vary from department to department within an institution. The AP Credit Policy Info tool provides information on specific college and university credit policies.

How many students take the AP English Literature Exam each year?
In 2011, more than 367,000 students took the exam, and each year the number of test takers grows.

How do the two AP English courses relate to college and university curricula?
AP English Literature and Composition equates to an introductory literary analysis course in college, so exam results apply to credit for a literature course. AP English Language and Composition equates to an introductory college course in rhetorical analysis and composition, so exam results apply to credit for a composition course.

Some college composition courses are literature-based, so how students apply the AP English courses to college requirements depends on the composition course offered. If a college offers literature-based composition, use the results of the AP English Literature Exam for credit or advanced placement. If the college has a nonliterary composition program, it will most likely accept the AP English Language Exam.

In some cases, students can use the results of the literature exam for advanced placement (but not credit) in nonliterary composition programs. The literature exam may also apply to general education requirements in literature.

How can I ensure that students have the skills to enroll in AP English?
The most successful AP English students come to the course with the necessary skills. AP English Vertical Teams can prove invaluable in helping to prepare students for AP, as they involve teachers from different grade levels working together to develop and implement a sequential curriculum. The AP Program offers workshops to help middle and high school teachers understand the concept of vertical teams and learn how to organize them, align their curriculum, and develop content—specific teaching strategies.

Our school has block scheduling. Can we teach AP English Literature?
Yes, provided that the class meets all year long. Given the amount of outside reading most students need to do, a half-year course is impractical. While class time may be doubled in a block schedule, the number of days and evenings for reading cannot be "doubled." A course of this nature requires time.

How many novels and plays should an AP English Literature class cover in a year?
There is no prescribed number, but you should consider quality over quantity. Novels and plays that feature a complex plot, a range of three-dimensional characters, and compelling prose are good choices. Since most of the exam focuses on the skills of close reading, covering fewer texts and focusing on key passages in depth makes the most sense.

Is there a required reading list?
No. But a list of authors whose writing reflects the range and quality appropriate for the course is available in the AP English Course Description. It is important to remember that each list is intended as a guide only; teachers should feel free to include quality works by authors not on the list.

What textbook does the AP Program recommend?
The AP Program does not recommend textbooks. However, a list of textbooks appropriate for the course appears on AP Course Audit. Since the course requires developing skills in critical reading, students should read mainly primary texts. Anthologies of readings can therefore substitute for traditional textbooks, as long as they feature a wide range of readings. For success on the exam, students should engage in close, deep reading of a range of rhetorical and generic categories.

Are students expected to do summer reading?
Most AP courses embrace summer reading as an integral part of the course, but it is not required.

When is the AP English Literature Exam administered?
The exam is given each year in early May. Students who have a legitimate excuse for missing the general administration may take an alternate form of the exam in late May. See AP Central for the most current exam dates.

How is the AP English Literature Exam structured?
The exam is divided into two sections: multiple-choice and free-response (essay). The multiple-choice section is one hour long and contains about 55 questions based on four or five readings of prose (usually fiction), poetry, and sometimes drama.

The free-response section is two hours long and consists of three essays. For the first two questions, students read a poem and a work of prose fiction and write an analytical essay based on each text. Students write the third essay in response to an "open question" that allows them to choose an appropriate literary text on which to base their essay.

How can I help students review for the exam?
You can review the characters, details, key passages, and literary devices featured in the prose, poetry, and drama read in the course. This will aid students in developing a better "open question" response, the best of which invariably contain specific supporting details from the selected text. The best review texts are likely to be those written by teachers who have firsthand knowledge of the AP course and exam. But remember, no review text can substitute for a background rich in literature and analysis.

How is the AP Exam scored?
The multiple-choice section is machine scored. Students receive one point for each correct answer. Each essay is read by a different AP Reader, who has attended a week-long session to learn how to evaluate student essays. The Readers, who are college English professors and secondary school AP English Language and Composition teachers, score the essays using a 0- to—9—point scale. The scores for the multiple-choice section (45 percent of the total grade) are then combined with the three essay scores. A final grade of 1 to 5 is then derived from this composite score.

What should students do if they make a mistake on a free-response question?
Students should simply draw a line through the text that they wish to delete. Readers will understand this editing mark. Readers are reminded regularly that these essays are essentially rough drafts written under time constraints and not final drafts. Points are neither added nor deducted for neatness.

When is it okay to discuss the passages on the multiple-choice section of the exam?
Never! You can discuss only the passages in released exams.

May students use colored pencils or highlighters on the exam?
Students must use a number two pencil to complete the multiple-choice answer sheet and a dark blue or black pen to write the essays.

Who writes the AP English Literature questions?
Questions for the AP English Literature and Composition Exam come from its Development Committee, which is comprised of AP English Literature teachers and literature professors. The Chief Reader and testing-and-measurement specialists also participate in the development of questions. It takes about three years for a question to go from the proposal stage to its appearance on an AP Exam. Committee members scrutinize and revise question proposals to insure that they are reliable for holistic scoring and valid for the curriculum. If they are, the proposed questions are field-tested. Some question proposals may be discarded after field-tests, and others may be further revised and tested. Finally, the committee selects a combination of questions for the exam.

How can I become a Reader?
Current AP English Literature and Composition teachers with three years of AP experience can apply to be Readers. Applications are available online at AP Central. College professors or adjunct professors who have taught the equivalent introductory college literature course may submit an application as well, since the AP Reading requires a balance between high school and college readers. Because fewer college staff apply, college applicants are typically appointed more quickly.

How can I learn about teaching AP English Literature?
The AP English Course Description and the AP English Literature and Composition Teacher's Guide outline the scope and skills that best serve the course. Additionally the College Board periodically releases an entire AP English Literature and Composition Exam to the public. These include answer keys, essay scoring guides, scored student essays with commentary, and statistical information about the exam. The College Board's regional offices offer one—day workshops and specialty conferences throughout the school year, and during the summer numerous schools offer weeklong AP Summer Institutes for in—depth introductions to the course. There are also curricular and instructional resources posted on AP Central.

Another great resource is the AP English Teacher Community. This site allows you to share with colleagues and create a library of resources. You may also join in active discussion groups with other teachers to get new ideas for instruction.

What is the AP® Course Audit? Where can I find more information about it?
The AP Course Audit provides teachers and administrators with clearly articulated guidelines on curricular and resource requirements for AP courses. It also gives colleges and universities confidence that AP courses are designed to meet the same clearly articulated college criteria across high schools. For more information visit AP Course Audit.

Are resources available to support course authorization?
The AP Course Audit website is designed to support teachers in creating a syllabus for authorization. The website features information and guidelines, which include the following resources:

  • Syllabus Development Guide, which provides a detailed explanation of each curricular requirement, including scoring components, evaluation guidelines, definitions of key terms, and samples of evidence that highlight the level of detail reviewers expect to see in a college syllabus.
  • Four Annotated Sample Syllabi, which demonstrate ways teachers can fulfill the curricular requirements within the context of a syllabus.


If you have other questions about the AP English Literature and Composition course, please email AP Services.

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