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AP English Literature and Composition Frequently Asked Questions


Who designs the AP English Literature and Composition Course and Exam?
While each teacher can design his or her own course, the AP course and exam description is designed by a committee of higher education faculty and expert AP teachers recruited and selected by the director of that AP course. The committee members and the course director work together to ensure that each AP course reflects college and university-level expectations. The AP Development Committee defines the scope and goals of the AP course, articulating what students should know and be able to do upon completing it. The committees work is informed by data collected from a range of colleges and universities to ensure that AP curricula reflect current scholarship and advances in the discipline. The committee then works with the Educational Testing Service to develop multiple-choice and free-response exam questions.

Who writes the AP English Literature and Composition Exam questions?
Questions for the course originate with the Development Committee, which is comprised of AP English Literature teachers and rhetoric and composition professors. The exam's Chief Reader, the subjects director, and specialists in testing and measurement also participate in developing exam 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 proposed questions to insure reliability for holistic scoring and validity for the curriculum. The acceptable questions are then field-tested, and based on the results and further testing, the committee selects a combination of questions for the exam.

How do I determine who should be in an AP class?
The College Board recommends allowing any motivated and academically prepared student 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 underrepresented. Schools should make every effort to ensure their AP classes reflect the diversity of their student population.

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.

Do colleges and universities give credit or advanced placement for a score 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. For example, some institutions will not grant credit for both AP English Literature and Composition and AP English Literature and Composition Exam scores. 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.

The Course

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 or university, so exam results apply to credit for a literature course. AP English Language and Composition equates to an introductory higher education course in rhetorical analysis and composition, so exam results apply to credit for a composition course.

Colleges and universities may offer Introduction to Literary Studies (or something similar) credit for the AP Literature and Composition course while also offering Introduction to Composition (or something similar) credit for the AP Language and Composition Course. However, some higher education composition courses are literature-based, so how students apply the AP English courses to college or university requirements depends on the courses and policies of the school in question. For instance, if a higher education institution offers literature-based composition, that institution might use the results of the AP English Literature and Composition Exam for credit or advanced placement in the composition.

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.

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 can I learn about teaching AP English Literature?
The AP English Literature and Composition 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 offers 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 Literature Arts 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.

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.

Which textbooks does the College Board recommend?
The College Board 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.

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.

The Exam

Where can I find a practice exam?
A practice exam for the AP English Literature and Composition course is available through the AP Course Audit website. Because many teachers asked to have practice exams located in a secure environment, you can find these resources through your AP Course Audit account. Just click on the Secure Documents link within the Resources section of your Course Status page.

Note that practice exams are for classroom use only. To ensure their integrity, please keep them in a secure location; do not give them to students as take-home assignments; make sure to collect them after administering them in class; and do NOT post them on school or other websites. You may use questions from the practice exam to create shorter assessments, as long as they are paper-based, administered in your classroom, and collected from students following the testing period.

Where can I find released questions from past exams?
A wealth of exam information is available at the AP English Literature and Composition Exam Information page on AP Central. Free-response questions are released annually, two days after an exam is administered. By the end of summer, additional information about the current year's administration becomes available, including scoring guidelines, student samples (with commentary that explains the scoring of each sample), and the total score distributions.

When is the AP English Literature and Composition 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 and Composition 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 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 is the AP English Literature and Composition 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 higher education English professors and secondary school AP English Literature and Composition teachers, score the essays using a 0- to-9point 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?
Unfortunately, neither colored pencils nor highlighters are permitted. 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.

AP® Course Audit

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 and university-level criteria across high schools. For more information, visit AP Course Audit.

What resources are available to support the course authorization process?
The AP Course Audit website is designed to support teachers in creating a syllabus for authorization. The website features information and guidelines, and contains the following essential resources:

  • Syllabus Development Guide: 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-level syllabus.
  • Four Annotated Sample Syllabi: demonstrate the variety of ways teachers can fulfill the curricular requirements within the context of a syllabus.

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