AP Spanish Language and Culture Exam: Your Questions Answered

November 17, 2020
By AdmissionSight
Opened book with the word Spanish on top

AP Spanish Language and Culture Exam: Your Questions Answered

Among the AP foreign language classes offered, the AP Spanish courses are by far the most popular. In fact, there are two different Spanish-related courses and exams available: AP Spanish Literature and Culture and AP Spanish Language and Culture. The latter exam was taken by 185,000 students in 2019, setting the record for most popular of all AP language exams. The AP Spanish Language and Culture Exam assesses a student’s communication abilities by applying presentational, interpretive, and interpersonal skills to real-world situations. When preparing for the exam, you’ll need to practice understanding the language when spoken and being understood when speaking it yourself. Whether you’ve taken the related AP course, can speak Spanish natively, or are relying on self-studying efforts, the AdmissionSight team has put together this guide to answer the most common questions we get asked about the Exam. Read on to learn how the exam is organized, what material you can expect to find, and how you can most successfully prepare.

Row of students taking an exam

When is the AP Spanish Language and Culture Exam?

The College Board administers the AP Exams every year in May, although the exact dates of each test tend to fluctuate. In 2021, the AP Spanish Language and Culture Exam will be held on Tuesday, May 11 at 8:00 am. While other college-prep tests are offered multiple times throughout the year, the AP Exams are unique in that there’s only one date provided for each exam. This makes it paramount that students correctly identify the right time and date when adding the exam to their schedule or calendar. AdmissionSight recommends that students give themselves ample time to make it to the testing facility and to plan out their routes ahead of time. For more information regarding the 2021 schedule for the AP Exams visit the College Board site.

 What does the AP Spanish Language and Culture Exam contain?

The AP Spanish Language and Culture Exam mirrors the major topics and skills covered in the AP Spanish Language and Culture Course – similar to all AP Exams. In other words, the material in this course directly informs the questions that students will find on the exam. Students with an excellent grasp of the content covered in the course can reasonably be assumed to perform well on the subsequent exam. As a foreign language subject, the course is primarily taught in Spanish and covers topics such as cultural awareness, communication strategies, language control, and vocabulary usage.

A pen and a cup with Spanish words written on it

While there are some questions on the exam emphasizing correct grammar usage, the College Board expressly warns students against focusing too much on grammatical correctness at the possible expense of their communication abilities. We advise students to spend more time applying communication, presentational, interpretive, and interpersonal skills in real-world situations when studying for the AP Spanish Language and Culture Exam. Students should also pay attention to cultural aspects in both historical and contemporary contexts and make an effort to build an appreciation and awareness of cultural perspectives, practices, and products. Here are the various skills that will be assessed throughout the AP Spanish Language and Culture Exam.



% of Exam Score (Multiple-Choice)

Make Meanings Construct meanings from expressions and words 10%-15%
Comprehend Text Understand audiovisual, audio, written, and visual text (numbers, pictures, and text) 20%-30%
Interpret Text Translate the content of audio or written text 30%-40%
Make Connections Make cultural and interdisciplinary connections 30%-40%
Speak to Others Speak with others by communicating interpersonally Not assessed in the

MC section.

Write to Others Write to others by communicating interpersonally Not assessed in the

MC section.

Present Orally Use spoken presentations to communicate Not assessed in the

MC section.

Present in Writing Use written presentations to communicate Not assessed in the

MC section.

How is the AP Spanish Language and Culture Exam is broken down?

Another way to understand the structure of the AP Spanish Language and Culture Exam is to look at the different themes or units into which areas the aforementioned skills are applied. After all, the skills directly influence the questions that will be asked on the test and the following units provide some extra clarity into what students can expect to find on the exam. AdmissionSight has further broken down these individual units and provided some recommended context for further studying.

Theme/Unit Recommended Contexts
Families and Communities ●     Social networking

●     Human geography

●     Global citizenship

●     Family structure

●     Education communities

●     Values and customs

Personal and Public Identities ●     Self-image

●     Personal interests

●     Personal beliefs

●     Ethnic and national identities

●     Historical figures and heroes

●     Assimilation and alienation

Beauty and Aesthetics ●     Performing and visual arts

●     Literature and language

●     Design and fashion

●     Defining creativity

●     Defining beauty

●     Architecture

Science and Technology ●     Ethics and science

●     Natural phenomena

●     Innovations

●     Medicine and health care

●     Effects of technology on society and self

●     Access to Technology

Contemporary Life ●     Social values and customs

●     Relationships

●     Lifestyles

●     Travel and leisure

●     Entertainment

●     Careers and education

Global Challenges ●     Social conscience

●     Social welfare

●     Demographics and population

●     Religions and philosophical thought

●     Environmental issues

●     Economic issues

What is the format of the AP Spanish Language and Culture Exam?

Given the density of the subject, the  AP Spanish Language and Culture Exam clocks in at 3 hours and 3 minutes – one of the longest AP exams. Their exam is comprised of two main sections. The first section consists of multiple-choice questions while the second one includes free-response questions exclusively. The multiple-choice section can further be broken down into distinctive parts – one of which relies on text stimuli while the other uses audio.

Section 1(a): Multiple-Choice Text

The first part of the multiple-choice section eats up 40 minutes of the overall exam time, includes 30 questions, and will decide 23% of your overall score. This section of the AP Spanish Language and Culture Exam provides students with a range of printed material including tables, maps, charts, letters, advertisements, announcements, literary texts, and journalistic pieces before asking accompanying questions. You’ll be requested to identify details and ideas, explain certain words, reveal an author’s target audience or point of view, and display your knowledge of interdisciplinary or cultural information found within the text.

Section 1(b): Multiple-Choice Audio

The second part of the AP Spanish Language and Culture Exam’s multiple-choice section relies on audio material such as brief presentations, conversations, PSAs, podcasts, and interviews as stimuli. This section lasts for 55 minutes, consists of 35 questions, and makes up 27% of your overall exam score. Students will be confronted with two different types of questions in this portion of the exam. The primary subsection features questions that use two audio sources along with accompanying print material. The second subsection includes three audio sources and no printed materials.

A notebook with written Spanish words

Section 2 (a): Free Response Written

The AP Spanish Language and Culture Exam’s free-response section can also be divided into two distinct sections – one of which focuses on writing and the other on speaking. The writing portion of the free-response section takes an hour and ten minutes to complete includes two questions and makes up one-fourth of your exam score. The two questions in this section focus on interpersonal writing and presentational writing. Students have to read and write a reply to an email in the first question which takes up 15 minutes of the section and is worth 12.5% of the exam. The second question comes along with three sources (either an infographic, graph, table, chart, or an article) and a relevant audio source that offers opposing viewpoints on a given topic. You’re instructed to use these to create an argumentative essay. Although this question is also worth 12.5% of the exam score, you have 55 minutes to answer it.

Section 2 (b): Free Response Spoken

The second portion of the free-response section is focused on presentational and interpersonal speaking skills. It consists of two questions, lasts for 18 minutes, and makes up for 25% of your overall test score. For the interpersonal speaking part, students must participate in a simulated conversation with five different exchanges. You’ll have 20 seconds to formulate each response. For the presentational speaking part, you’re asked to deliver a presentation lasting two minutes comparing a particular cultural aspect of a Spanish community with another you’re most familiar with.

What are the passing rates of the AP Spanish Language and Culture Exam?

Exam 1 2 3 4 5
AP Spanish Language and Culture 1.8% 9.5% 29.4% 34.2% 25.2%

In addition to being one of the most popular AP Exams, the AP Spanish Language and Culture Exam also sees many students perform quite well. In 2019, over half of all test-takers earned a score of 4 or 5. Almost 90% of all students passed the exam with a score of 3 or higher. Although students who heard or spoke Spanish regularly outside of school performed slightly higher than the overall student group, all test takers ended up performing well.

What are the best ways to prepare for the AP Spanish Language and Culture Exam?

Test your knowledge – Before diving into intense studying, it’s a good idea to start off by getting an accurate assessment of your current skills. This initial test can highlight your strengths and make it easier to identify weaker points that you need to focus on while preparing for the exam. Unfortunately, the College Board doesn’t provide a full practice test, although we’ll reference some reliable sources later on. What you can find on the College Board site is some sample questions and scoring explanations that can give you a good idea of what you’ll find on the test and how the questions will be formulated. For a better assessment of where your skills lie in the beginning, there are diagnostic exams and practice tests in the commercial study guides we talk about in the following sections.

Rehearse the material – As we mentioned earlier, the AP Spanish Language and Culture Exam features theory that falls into six different themes: science and technology, personal and public identities, global challenges, families and communities, contemporary life, and beauty and aesthetics. Most textbooks or study guides you’ll find will have units corresponding to these themes. When rehearsing material, always reference back to these themes to make sure your studying is covering each topic. The College Board has some helpful materials to kickstart your studying such as the official Course and Exam Description and sample exam audio files.

Perhaps the most effective studying tools for the AP Spanish Language and Culture Exam are commercial study guides. The Princeton Review has one of the most highly recommended study guides for this exam aptly named Cracking the AP Spanish Language & Culture Exam. This official study guide comes with two comprehensive, full-length sample tests along with detailed answer explanations. Barron’s AP Spanish Language and Culture is another great option that also features two complete practice tests. Both of these resources come with audio files or CDs for the audio sections of the exam.

Engage with the language – You’ve heard it said a million times, but the veracity of the advice can’t be overstated: The best way to learn a language is by immersing yourself in it. Even if you’re enrolled in the AP Spanish Language and Culture Course, you’re really only getting a small portion of listening comprehension completed. It’s important to start engaging more with the language in natural contexts in preparation for the exam. For comprehension purposes, you could listen to Spanish music or watch foreign films. When it comes to speaking abilities, you could practice with friends or find a language exchange partner who can help you improve. Don’t forget that engaging with the language also involves reading. You can browse your favorite websites in Spanish and read Spanish books.

A woman smiling while looking at her laptop

Practice each question type  –  Another excellent way to prep for the AP Spanish Language and Culture Exam is to practice answering each type of question found on the test. Although there are only two types of questions – multiple-choice and free-response – there are different variations as we previously described. Familiarizing yourself with these question formats and practicing providing answers will make it easier to handle the variety you’ll find on the real exam. Due to their simplicity, sample multiple-choice questions will be easier to find than free-response questions. For example, you can find 50 on Study.com. The AP Spanish Language and Culture Course description on the College Board’s site also has some helpful examples.

When preparing for the free-response questions, you’ll want to focus on grammar and vocabulary for speaking and comprehension when listening to questions. Flashcards are an excellent tool for rehearsing vocab and grammar rules so you can have a wider grasp of the language when expressing yourself. Barron has some worthwhile AP Spanish Flash Cards. Don’t forget to study the conjugations of each verb to ensure you’re using it correctly. The College Board has a wealth of previously administered free-response questions dating all the way back to 1999. This is a gold mine for preparing for this section of the exam. Just be sure to have a teacher or friend grade your responses since free-response questions are more subjective than multiple-choice questions.

Mimic test settings – At the beginning of your studying, we recommend you to assess your initial skills in order to determine which areas require greater focus and need in the AP Spanish Literature and Culture Exam. In order to bring things full-circle to see how far you’ve come, we advise students to take a full-length sample test in a setting that’s similar to the real exam. You should find a quiet room with limited distractions, clear the area of any studying materials, and set a timer to most accurately mimic the real test settings. You should use a full-length exam that includes both multiple-choice and free-response questions. Ideally, it’s not one that you’ve used before. This practice is a great way to see how you’ll fare on the real exam.

A female student very focused in writing

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