The Ultimate Guide to Acing the AP English Literature and Composition Exam

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

The Ultimate Guide to Acing the AP English Literature and Composition Exam

For high school students who are looking to expand their knowledge and increase their chances of getting accepted to some of the world’s top colleges and universities, AP courses such as the AP English Literature and English Composition Exam have always been an incredible option.

Preparing for the AP English Literature and Composition Exam can be a daunting task, but with the right strategies and study techniques, you can set yourself up for success. This comprehensive guide will walk you through everything you need to know about the exam, from understanding its importance to tips for test day and post-exam advice. Let’s dive in!

What is the AP English Literature and Composition Exam?

The AP English Literature and Composition Exam is a standardized test administered by the College Board. It is designed to assess a student’s understanding and analysis of various forms of literature. This exam is typically taken by high school students who have completed an advanced English course. It consists of both multiple-choice questions and free-response prompts that require critical thinking and literary analysis skills.

Why is the AP English Literature and Composition Exam important?

The AP English Literature and Composition Exam carries significant weight regarding college admissions and credit. Many colleges and universities grant credit or advanced placement to students who achieve a high score on the exam. This means that by performing well on the exam, you can potentially save time and money by earning college credits before even stepping foot on campus.

However, the importance of the AP English Literature and Composition Exam goes beyond just college credit. Excelling in this exam demonstrates your ability to critically analyze complex texts, which is a valuable skill for any major or career path that involves reading and interpreting literature.

By studying for and taking the AP English Literature and Composition Exam, you are not only preparing yourself for success in college but also developing skills that will benefit you throughout your life. The exam requires you to closely read and analyze various literary works, ranging from classic novels to contemporary poetry. This process of close reading and analysis helps you develop a deeper understanding of the texts and the ability to interpret and evaluate their themes, characters, and literary techniques.

Moreover, the exam also assesses your ability to write effectively about literature. You will be asked to write essays that analyze and interpret specific passages or entire works. This requires you to not only have a strong command of the English language but also to be able to articulate your thoughts and ideas in a clear and coherent manner.

Preparing for the AP English Literature and Composition Exam involves not only reading and analyzing a wide range of literary works but also practicing your writing skills. Through practice essays and timed writing exercises, you can hone your ability to craft well-structured and persuasive arguments about literature.

Furthermore, the exam provides an opportunity for you to showcase your passion for literature and your ability to engage with complex texts. By performing well on the exam, you demonstrate to college admissions officers and potential employers that you have the skills and dedication necessary to succeed in a rigorous academic environment.

Ultimately, the AP English Literature and Composition Exam is important because it not only opens doors to college credit and advanced placement, but also helps you develop critical thinking, reading, and writing skills that are essential for success in college and beyond. So, whether you aspire to major in English or pursue a different field altogether, taking the AP English Literature and Composition Exam can be a valuable and rewarding experience.

What can students expect to cover in the AP English Literature and Composition Exam?

The AP English Literature and English Composition Exam and the course teach and challenge students to learn how to read carefully and master the art of critical analysis in fictional literature, which ultimately leads to a much deeper understanding of how some of the English language’s most famous and impactful writers have brought profound meaning, enjoyment, and impact to readers.

Students will also learn about the many different structures, styles, themes, and elements of literature and English. In the process, they will become accomplished and advanced writers as well.

While there is not a required reading list to score a perfect 5 out 5 on the AP English Literature and English Composition Exam, there are several authors that the College Board has provided in previous AP Literature and English Composition course descriptions.

Some of the most common works that are studied in the course include:

  • Great Expectations
  • The Scarlett Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  • East of Eden by John Steinbeck
  • 1984 by George Orwell
  • Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
  • Animal Farm by George Orwell
  • Fahrenheit 451 Ray Bradbury
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
  • Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison
  • King Lear by William Shakespeare
  • Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
  • The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce

AP Courses Prep Books for students to study

Students should not expect to have to read all of these books, and technically, none are required to take the AP English Literature and English Composition Exam, but if enrolled in the course at school, students will read several of these books as a part of their coursework.

What is on the AP English Literature and Composition Exam?

The AP English Literature and Composition curriculum consists of nine units that are organized in a logical sequence. This sequence has been developed through feedback from educators, as well as analysis of high school and college courses and textbooks. The units in this course scaffold skills and knowledge through three genre-based, recurring units. The course framework provides a description of what students should know and be able to do to qualify for college credit or placement.

The nine units in the AP English Literature and Composition curriculum are as follows:

  1. Short Fiction
  2. Poetry
  3. Longer Fiction or Drama
  4. Short Fiction
  5. Poetry
  6. Longer Fiction or Drama
  7. Short Fiction
  8. Poetry
  9. Longer Fiction or Drama

The exam weighting for the multiple-choice section is as follows:

Units Exam Weighting (Multiple-Choice Section)
Units 1, 4, and 7: Short Fiction 42%–49%
Units 2, 5, and 8: Poetry 36%–45%
Units 3, 6, and 9: Longer Fiction or Drama 15%–18%

The AP English Literature and Composition framework included in the course and exam description outlines distinct skills that students should practice throughout the year—skills that will help them learn to read texts critically. The College Board has identified the following skills as major components of the course:

Skill Categories Exam Weighting (Multiple- Choice Section)
Explain the function of character. 16%–20%
Explain the function of setting. 3%–6%
Explain the function of plot and structure. 16%–20%
Explain the function of the narrator or speaker. 21%–26%
Explain the function of word choice, imagery, and symbols. 10%–13%
Explain the function of comparison. 10%–13%
Develop textually substantiated arguments about interpretations of a part or all of a text. 10%–13%

How long is the AP English Literature and Composition Exam?

The AP English Literature and Composition exam is 3 hours long and consists of two sections: multiple-choice and free-response. The multiple-choice section is worth 45% of the exam score and consists of 55 questions that students have 1 hour to complete. The free-response section is worth 55% of the exam score and consists of 3 questions that students have 2 hours to complete.

Format of the AP English Literature and Composition Exam

The exciting thing about every AP exam is that the content of the exam is not the only thing that tests the students. The format of each AP exam is also something that the students who are most determined to succeed and score a perfect 5 out of 5 also study and prepare for.

That is the case for the AP English Literature and English Composition Exam, which is one of the longer AP exams available. In all, the exam is made up of two different sections. The first section is the multiple-choice section, while the second section is a free-response.

Let AdmissionSight break down what to expect in both sections for you!

Multiple Choice

The first section of the AP English Literature and English Composition Exam will include 55 total multiple-choice questions, and every student will get one hour to complete the entire team. The questions are grouped up into 5 sets of questions that will include anywhere from 8 to 13 questions that are linked to a single bit of poetry or prose writing.

The purpose of the multiple-choice portion of the AP English Literature and English Composition Exam is to test the student’s ability to analyze and deconstruct English and literature in five different ways. They are as follows:

Understand and break down word choice, comparisons, and figurative language: These questions test a student’s ability to answer questions related to a word’s meaning or the meaning of an entire phrase. Students will also be asked how specific terms can impact the meaning of the rest of a more significant sentence. Finally, students will need to be able to understand and identify the figurative language within a sentence.

Understand the theme of a poem or prose passage: Students will be expected to be able to summarize and explain what a given excerpt from a poem or prose passage is saying. Whether it be about love, conflict, human nature, and more. These can be quite varied and will test the student’s ability to analyze literature at a deep level.

Explain and reformulate selected lines from a passage: In these types of multiple-choice questions, students will be asked to explain and paraphrase a passage that is provided to them. This will test their ability to understand both basic and complex styles of writing that may rely heavily on metaphor.

Explain the function of multiple different factors regarding a poem or prose passage: In these types of questions, students will be asked to explain the function of many different factors including the narrator or speaker, characters, structure of plot and story, symbolism and motif, and parts of speech, verb forms, and poetic rhythm/meters. Students must be able to analyze and break down the narrator’s ability to control perspective and emphasize important details to impact the reader’s experience.

They must also understand how characters allow readers to explore many different lessons within great works of literature such as values, belief systems, biases, societal norms, and more. Additionally, students must be able to understand what story the author is intending to tell based on the arrangement of the work including text, sequence, and how these two interact to impact how the work is understood and interpreted. Finally, students must be able to accurately describe the purpose of symbolism and use of motif within works of literature. They will also be expected to identify technical aspects of speech and explain the different aspects of poetic meter.

An unidentified female student writing her personal growth essay

Free Response

Following the multiple-choice section of the AP English Literature and English Composition Exam, students will then dive into the final section of the exam. A two-hour trial in which they will be asked to read prompts and answer three questions related to those prompts.

The prompts that students will be expected to answer include:

  • A deep literary analysis of a poetic work
  • A deep literary analysis of a work of prose fiction or play
  • A deep analysis in which the student is able to examine a specific issue, idea, concept, element, or literary work that the student themselves selects.

One of the most exciting aspects of the AP English Literature and English Composition Exam is that this section is graded by college and AP lit teachers who follow a standardized rubric. This means that, to a certain extent, the grading of the free-response section is subjective. Of course, the standardized grading rubric has been created to take as much subjectivity out of the grading process as possible, however.

Below are sample questions and answers were taken from an official AP English Literature and English Composition Exam:

samples from AP English Literature and Composition exam samples from AP English Literature and Composition exam samples from AP English Literature and Composition exam samples from AP English Literature and Composition exam samples from AP English Literature and Composition exam

AP English Literature and Composition Scoring Breakdown

The AP English Literature and Composition Exam is scored on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest score. The multiple-choice section accounts for 45% of your overall score, while the free-response section makes up the remaining 55%. In the free-response section, you will be scored based on your understanding of the prompt, your analysis and interpretation of the text, your use of evidence and textual support, and your overall writing skills.

The scoring process involves a careful evaluation of each essay, taking into consideration the depth of analysis, the clarity of expression, and the coherence of the argument. Scorers look for essays that demonstrate a strong command of the English language, a sophisticated understanding of literary concepts, and a clear and logical organization of ideas. They also value originality and creativity, rewarding students who offer unique perspectives and interpretations.

The scoring process is rigorous and impartial, ensuring that each student’s work is evaluated fairly and accurately.

How hard is the AP English Literature and Composition exam?

The difficulty level of the AP English Literature and Composition Exam can vary from student to student. However, it is widely regarded as one of the more challenging AP exams due to the complex analysis and critical thinking skills required. The exam pushes students to think beyond surface-level interpretations and encourages them to explore the deeper meanings and implications of literary works.

To succeed in this exam, it is crucial to have a deep understanding of literary techniques, genres, and various literary works. This requires extensive reading and analysis of a wide range of texts, including classic novels, plays, and poems. Students must develop the ability to identify and analyze literary devices, such as metaphor, symbolism, and irony, and understand how these devices contribute to the overall meaning and impact of a work.

Adequate preparation and practice can greatly improve your chances of acing the exam. This includes reading and annotating texts, practicing close reading and analysis, and honing your essay writing skills. It is also beneficial to engage in discussions and participate in literature-focused activities, such as book clubs or literary analysis workshops. By immersing yourself in the world of literature and actively engaging with the texts, you can develop the skills and knowledge necessary to excel in the AP English Literature and Composition Exam.

How to study for the AP English Literature and Composition exam

Now that you have a basic understanding of the format of the exam itself let’s break down the very best ways in which you can prepare for the exam at home. Whether you are taking the course at school or are self-studying for the exam, here are some of the best tips we at AdmissionSight have found.

Analyze your ability and understanding

The very first step the excelling at nearly every AP exam is to first take a practice version of the exam to see where you currently stand. There are some fantastic options where you can find great examples of sample multiple-choice and free-response questions. Additionally, you will be able to find official examples of the AP English Literature and English Composition Exam from previous school years that you can use to test your ability.

From there, you will want to identify the areas of the exam that you are already strong at, as well as remember the places that you need to work on. The best way to do this is to take the exam and then compare your answers to the answer key that is provided with the sample or past exam that you have used. This will not only serve as a way to identify places that need work but also help serve as a valuable learning experience for you.

Mastering the material

Unlike many AP exams, the AP English Literature and English Composition Exam does not allow a person to rely on memorizing equations that can help students get to the correct answer. Instead, students will have to train themselves to master the material and the lessons of the English language to approach the exam with as much knowledge and confidence as possible. There are practices that students can carry out throughout the studying process in order to improve their chances of earning that elusive 5 out of 5 scores.

The first way to improve your chances is to make sure that you are behaving as an active, critical reader when you are reading books, plays, and poems. Treat everything you read like an opportunity to sharpen your essential reading and thinking ability so that it is almost second nature by the time the exam arrives.

You will also want to write a lot. According to the College Board, the goal for all students taking the AP English Literature and English Composition Exam is to become a “practiced, logical, clear, and honest” writer. To succeed on the exam, you will be able to map out your ideas and arguments ahead of time so that you can get to writing and mapping out your introductory paragraph and thesis as clearly as possible before defending your statement. Also, if you feel like you may need to, make sure that you are testing yourself on grammar, vocabulary, correct sentence structure, and more.

If you are looking for resources that you should use to ensure you are getting the most out of your critical reading and writing practice, don’t hesitate to purchase and refer to some of the most popular study guides on the market. Similarly, there are also many online resources and even smartphone apps that you can use to study while you are on the go.

Return to practice tests

As the exam day approaches, you will want to set aside the studying material and instead focus heavily on practicing questions that are in the format of questions that you may very well see on the actual day of the exam.

The best resources for multiple-choice questions are the study guides that you have. Before you purchase any study guide, make sure that it comes with an ample amount of sample questions that you can use to test your growing knowledge and skills.

When you are reviewing your answers by cross-referencing with the key that is provided, make sure that you are keeping track of the kinds of questions or topics that seem to get in your way. That way, you will know what information you need to put extra emphasis on as you continue to study.

With that being said, make sure that you do not end up ignoring the topics that you are comfortable with. You do not want any of your strengths to become a weakness simply because you stop studying them. When it comes to practicing for the free-response section of the exam, make sure that you are focusing heavily on your writing skills and making sure that you can form cohesive and clear-to-understand arguments and ideas within your writing. It is your job to make sure that your essay is excellent and will earn excellent marks from the college or AP Lit professor who is grading your specific exam.

Another great way to improve your chances of getting a great score is to understand that standardized scoring. , each free-response essay is graded on a scale from 0 to 6 points. Points are awarded for three elements of the response essay: Thesis, Evidence and Commentary, and Sophistication. Gaining a deep understanding of what earns top scores in each section will give you the knowledge you need to construct your free-response answer in the best way possible.

To win the International Math Olympiad, the US team trained with its rivals

Take another full practice exam

As the exam day nears, you will want to make sure that you are not only taking sample questions but taking the time necessary to take a full sample exam. Not only that, but you will want to be sure that you are timing yourself using the time you will get on the day of the exam. This will allow you to get used to how to manage your time in both sections so that you can answer all of the questions to the very best of your ability.

Test-taking Tips on the Day of Exam

On the day of the AP English Literature and Composition Exam, it is essential to be well-prepared and focused. Here are some tips to help you perform your best:

First and foremost, make sure you have all the necessary materials for the exam. Double-check that you have your identification, pencils, erasers, and any other required items. Being prepared with the right tools will give you peace of mind and prevent any last-minute stress.

Next, it’s crucial to get a good night’s sleep. Adequate rest is essential for your brain to function optimally. Aim for at least eight hours of sleep the night before the exam. This will ensure that you are well-rested and able to stay alert and focused throughout the test.

In addition to a good night’s sleep, starting your day with a nutritious meal is equally important. Fueling your brain with a healthy breakfast will provide you with the energy you need to tackle the challenging questions that await you. Choose foods that are rich in protein, whole grains, and fruits to give your brain the nutrients it needs to perform at its best.

Before heading to the exam, take a few minutes to review key literary devices. Quickly revisit common literary techniques such as simile, metaphor, personification, and symbolism. This quick refresher will help refresh your memory and ensure that you can identify and analyze these devices effectively during the exam.

Once you begin the exam, it’s crucial to read each question carefully. Pay close attention to the wording of each question to avoid misinterpretation. Take your time to fully understand what the question is asking before formulating your response. This will help you provide accurate and concise answers that address the question’s requirements.

Time management is another critical aspect of test-taking. Pace yourself during the exam to ensure that you have enough time to complete all sections. Allocate a specific amount of time for each question or section, and stick to your plan. Avoid spending too much time on one question, as it may cause you to rush through the remaining questions. Remember, it’s better to answer all questions to the best of your ability than to leave some unanswered due to time constraints.

Lastly, it’s essential to stay calm and confident throughout the exam. Trust in your preparation and believe in your abilities. Remember that you have spent countless hours studying and preparing for this moment. Trust that your hard work will pay off and that you are capable of performing well. Take deep breaths, stay focused, and approach each question with confidence.

When is the AP English Literature and Composition Exam in 2024?

The exam will take place on Wednesday, May 8, 2024, at 8:00 am local time. For a complete list of the 2024 AP Exam dates, here’s a complete list:

Week 1 Morning 8 a.m.

Local Time

Afternoon 12 p.m.

Local Time


May 6, 2024

United States Government and Politics Art History



May 7, 2024

Human Geography





May 8, 2024

English Literature and Composition Comparative Government and Politics

Computer Science A


May 9, 2024

Chinese Language and Culture

Environmental Science


May 10, 2024

European History

United States History


Spanish Literature and Culture

Art and Design: Friday, May 10, 2024 (8 p.m. ET), is the deadline for AP Art and Design students to submit their three portfolio components as final in the AP Digital Portfolio.
Week 2 Morning 8 a.m.

Local Time

Afternoon 12 p.m.

Local Time

Afternoon 2 p.m.

Local Time


May 13, 2024

Calculus AB

Calculus BC

Italian Language and Culture



May 14, 2024

English Language and Composition African American Studies

Physics C: Mechanics

Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism

May 15, 2024

French Language and Culture

World History: Modern

Computer Science Principles

Music Theory


May 16, 2024

Spanish Language and Culture Biology

Japanese Language and Culture


May 17, 2024

German Language and Culture

Physics 1: Algebra-Based


Physics 2: Algebra-Based

When do AP scores come out?

AP scores are typically released in early to mid-July of the year the exams were taken. The exact release date may vary slightly from year to year, but students who took their AP exams in May can generally expect their scores to become available.

If you are waiting for your AP scores, you can check for updates on the College Board’s official AP scores website. They will also send you an email notification when your scores are added to your score report. If you haven’t received your scores by mid-August, it’s recommended to contact AP Services for Students for assistance.

Post-Exam Tips

After completing the AP English Literature and Composition Exam, it is essential to reflect on your performance and take necessary steps for improvement or celebration. Here are some post-exam tips:

  1. Assess your performance: Take some time to evaluate how well you think you did on the exam and what areas you could improve in.
  2. Review your essays: Read through your essays and identify areas where you could have provided stronger analysis or improved your writing.
  3. Celebrate your accomplishments: Regardless of your score, acknowledge your hard work and dedication to the subject.
  4. Continue building your skills: Keep reading and analyzing literature to further enhance your literary analysis skills.
  5. Seek feedback: If possible, ask your teacher or peers for feedback on your essays to gain insights for future improvement.
  6. Set new goals: Whether you plan to take additional English courses or pursue literature in higher education, set new goals to continue your literary journey.

After the intensity of the AP English Literature and Composition Exam, it is natural to feel a mix of emotions. You may feel relieved that the exam is over, anxious about your performance, or even a sense of accomplishment for completing such a challenging task. Take a moment to acknowledge and process these emotions. Reflecting on your performance is an important step in your post-exam journey.

When assessing your performance, consider the different sections of the exam. Did you feel confident in your multiple-choice answers? Were there specific essay prompts that you found more challenging? By identifying areas of strength and weakness, you can gain valuable insights into your test-taking strategies and areas for improvement.

Once you have evaluated your performance, it’s time to review your essays. Take the opportunity to read through your essays with a critical eye. Look for areas where you could have provided stronger analysis, supported your arguments more effectively, or improved your writing style. Consider the feedback you received from your teacher or peers during the exam preparation process and see if there are any recurring patterns or areas of improvement to focus on.

While it is important to strive for improvement, it is equally important to celebrate your accomplishments. Regardless of your score, recognize the effort and dedication you put into preparing for the exam. Completing the AP English Literature and Composition Exam is no small feat, and you should take pride in your commitment to the subject.

As you move forward, continue building your skills by reading and analyzing literature. This ongoing practice will not only enhance your understanding of literary works but also strengthen your ability to critically analyze complex texts. Explore different genres, authors, and time periods to broaden your literary horizons.

Seeking feedback is another valuable step in your post-exam journey. If possible, reach out to your teacher or peers and ask for their insights on your essays. Their perspectives can provide you with valuable feedback and different ways of approaching literary analysis. Use this feedback to refine your writing skills and develop a deeper understanding of the subject.

Finally, set new goals for yourself. Whether you plan to take additional English courses, pursue literature in higher education, or simply continue your literary journey independently, setting goals will help you stay motivated and focused. Consider what aspects of literature you are most passionate about and tailor your goals accordingly. Whether it’s exploring a specific literary movement, mastering a particular writing style, or delving into the works of a favorite author, let your goals guide your literary pursuits.

By following this ultimate guide and implementing effective study techniques, you can increase your chances of acing the AP English Literature and Composition Exam. Remember, this exam not only tests your knowledge of literature but also your ability to think critically and analyze complex texts. With dedication and practice, you can conquer this challenging exam and set yourself up for success in your literary endeavors.

AdmissionSight is here for you.

If you’re preparing for college but are struggling with the admission process, the AdmissionSight team is here to help. We’ve helped students from across the country find their way into some of the best schools – including the most respected Ivy League Universities. After decades of practical experience, we’ve mastered the admission process. Whether you need help editing supplemental essays, choosing a summer program, or taking your AP exams, we have the expertise to help you succeed. We’re only happy when our students can achieve their academic goals, so you can count on us to do everything in our power to help you succeed. Feel free to contact us today to learn more about our services, our success stories, and how we can help you on your path toward academic success.

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