Ap English 12 Essay Prompts For Sat

A lot of students wonder if there’s a specific AP English reading list of books they should be reading to succeed on the AP Literature and Composition exam. While there’s not a designated College-Board AP reading list per se, there are books that will be more useful for you to read than others as you prepare for the exam. In this article, I’ll break down why you need to read books to prepare, how many you should plan on reading, and what you should read—including poetry.

 

Why Do You Need to Read Books for the AP Literature Test?

This might seem like kind of an obvious question—you need to read books because it’s a literature exam! But actually, there are three specific reasons why you need to read novels, poems, and plays in preparation for the AP Lit Test.

 

To Increase Your Familiarity With Different Eras and Genres of Literature

Reading a diverse array of novels, poetry and plays from different eras and genres will help you be familiar with the language that appears in the various passages on the AP Lit exam’s multiple choice and essay sections. If you read primarily modern works, for example, you may stumble through analyzing a Shakespeare sonnet. So, having a basic familiarity level with the language of a broad variety of literary works will help keep you from floundering in confusion on test day because you’re seeing a work unlike anything you’ve ever read.

 

To Improve Your Close-Reading Skills

You’ll also want to read to improve your close-reading and rhetorical analysis skills. When you do read, really engage with the text: think about what the author’s doing to construct the novel/poem/play/etc., what literary techniques and motifs are being deployed, and what major themes are at play. You don’t necessarily need to drill down to the same degree on every text, but you should always be thinking, “Why did the author write this piece this way?”

 

For the Student Choice Free-Response Question

Perhaps the most critical piece in reading to prepare for the AP Lit test, however, is for the student choice free-response question. For the third question on the second exam section, you’ll be asked to examine how a specific theme works in one novel or play that you choose. The College Board does provide an example list of works, but you can choose any work you like just so long as it has adequate “literary merit.” However, you need to be closely familiar with more than one work so that you can be prepared for whatever theme the College Board throws at you!

 

Note: Not an effective reading method.

 

How Many Books Do You Need to Read for the AP Exam?

That depends. In terms of reading to increase your familiarity with literature from different eras and genres and to improve your close-reading skills, the more books you have time to read, the better. You’ll want to read them all with an eye for comprehension and basic analysis, but you don’t necessarily need to focus equally on every book you read.

For the purposes of the student choice question, however, you’ll want to read books more closely, so that you could write a detailed, convincing analytical essay about any of their themes. So you should know the plot, characters, themes, and major literary devices or motifs used inside and out. Since you won’t know what theme you’ll be asked to write about in advance, you’ll need to be prepared to write a student choice question on more than just one book.

Of the books you read for prep both in and out of class, choose four-fivebooks that are thematically diverse to learn especially well in preparation for the exam. You may want to read these more than once, and you certainly want to take detailed notes on everything that’s going on in those books to help you remember key points and themes. Discussing them with a friend or mentor who has also read the book will help you generate ideas on what’s most interesting or intriguing about the work and how its themes operate in the text.

You may be doing some of these activities anyways for books you are assigned to read for class, and those books might be solid choices if you want to be as efficient as possible. Books you write essays about for school are also great choices to include in your four to five book stable since you will be becoming super-familiar with them for the writing you do in class anyways.

In answer to the question, then, of how many books you need to read for the AP Lit exam: you need to know four-five inside and out, and beyond that, the more the better!

 

Know the books. Love the books.

 

What Books Do You Need to Read for the AP Exam?

The most important thing for the student choice free-response question is that the work you select needs to have “literary merit.” What does this mean? In the context of the College Board, this means you should stick with works of literary fiction. So in general, avoid mysteries, fantasies, romance novels, and so on.

If you’re looking for ideas, authors and works that have won prestigious prizes like the Pulitzer, Man Booker, the National Book Award, and so on are good choices. Anything you read specifically for your AP literature class is a good choice, too. If you aren’t sure if a particular work has the kind of literary merit the College Board is looking for, ask your AP teacher.

When creating your own AP Literature reading list for the student choice free-response, try to pick works that are diverse in author, setting, genre, and theme. This will maximize your ability to comprehensively answer a student choice question about pretty much anything with one of the works you’ve focused on.

So, I might, for example, choose:

  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare, play, 1605

    • Major themes and devices: magic, dreams, transformation, foolishness, man vs. woman, play-within-a-play

  • Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte, novel, 1847

    • Major themes and devices: destructive love, exile, social and economic class, suffering and passion, vengeance and violence, unreliable narrator, frame narrative, family dysfunction, intergenerational narratives.

  • The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton, novel, 1920

    • Major themes and devices: Tradition and duty, personal freedom, hypocrisy, irony, social class, family, “maintaining appearances”, honor

  • Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys, novel, 1966

    • Major themes and devices: slavery, race, magic, madness, wildness, civilization vs. chaos, imperialism, gender

As you can see, while there is some thematic overlap in my chosen works, they also cover a broad swathe of themes. They are also all very different in style (although you’ll just have to take my word on that one unless you go look at all of them yourself), and they span a range of time periods and genres as well.

However, while there’s not necessarily a specific, mandated AP Literature reading list, there are books that come up again and again on the suggestion lists for student choice free-response questions. When a book comes up over and over again on exams, this suggests both that it’s thematically rich, so you can use it to answer lots of different kinds of questions, and that the College Board sees a lot of value in the work.

To that end, I’ve assembled a list, separated by time period, of all the books that have appeared on the suggested works list for student choice free-response questions at least twice since 2003.  While you certainly shouldn’t be aiming to read all of these books (there’s way too many for that!), these are all solid choices for the student choice essay.  Other books by authors from this list are also going to be strong choices. It’s likely that some of your class reading will overlap with this list, too.

I’ve divided up the works into chunks by time period. In addition to title, each entry includes the author, whether the work is a novel, play, or something else, and when it was first published or performed. Works are alphabetical by author.

 

Warning: Not all works pictured included in AP Literature reading list below.

 

Ancient Works

Title

Author

Genre

Date

Medea

Euripides

play

431 BC

The Odyssey

Homer

epic poem

(no date)

Antigone

Sophocles

play

441 BC

Oedipus Rex

Sophocles

play

429 BC

1500-1799

Title

Author

Genre

Date

Don Quixote

Miguel de Cervantes

novel

1605

Tom Jones

Henry Fielding

novel

1749

As You Like It

Shakespeare

play

1623

Julius Caesar

Shakespeare

play

1599

King Lear

Shakespeare

play

1606

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Shakespeare

play

1605

The Merchant of Venice

Shakespeare

play

1605

Othello

Shakespeare

play

1604

The Tempest

Shakespeare

play

1611

Candide

Voltaire

novel

1759

1800-1899

Title

Author

Genre

Date

Emma

Jane Austen

novel

1815

Mansfield Park

Jane Austen

novel

1814

Pride and Prejudice

Jane Austen

novel

1813

Jane Eyre

Charlotte Bronte

novel

1847

Wuthering Heights

Emily Bronte

novel

1847

The Awakening

Kate Chopin

novel

1899

The Red Badge of Courage

Stephen Crane

novel

1895

Bleak House

Charles Dickens

novel

1853

David Copperfield

Charles Dickens

novel

1850

Great Expectations

Charles Dickens

novel

1861

Oliver Twist

Charles Dickens

novel

1837

A Tale of Two Cities

Charles Dickens

novel

1859

Crime and Punishment

Fyodor Dostoyevsky

novel

1866

Madame Bovary

Gustave Flaubert

novel

1856

Jude the Obscure

Thomas Hardy

novel

1895

The Mayor of Casterbridge

Thomas Hardy

novel

1886

Tess of the d’Urbervilles

Thomas Hardy

novel

1891

The Scarlet Letter

Nathaniel Hawthorne

novel

1850

A Doll’s House

Henrik Ibsen

play

1879  

The American

Henry James

novel

1877

The Portrait of a Lady

Henry James

novel

1881

Moby-Dick

Herman Melville

novel

1851

Frankenstein

Mary Shelley

novel

1818

Anna Karenina

Leo Tolstoy

novel

1877

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Mark Twain

novel

1885

The Queen of AP Literature surveys her kingdom.

 

1900-1939

Title

Author

Genre

Date

My Ántonia

Willa Cather

novel

1918

The Cherry Orchard

Anton Chekhov

play

1904

Heart of Darkness

Joseph Conrad

novel

1902

Sister Carrie

Theodore Dreiser

novel

1900

Murder in the Cathedral

T.S. Eliot

play

1935

Absalom, Absalom!

William Faulkner

novel

1936

As I Lay Dying

William Faulkner

novel

1930

Light in August

William Faulkner

novel

1932

The Sound and the Fury

William Faulkner

novel

1929

The Great Gatsby

F. Scott Fitzgerald

novel

1925

A Passage to India

E.M. Forster

novel

1924

The Little Foxes

Lillian Hellman

play

1939

Their Eyes Were Watching God

Zora Neale Hurston

novel

1937

Brave New World

Aldous Huxley

novel

1931

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

James Joyce

novel

1916

Billy Budd

Herman Melville

novel

1924

Major Barbara

George Bernard Shaw

play

1905

The Grapes of Wrath

John Steinbeck

novel

1939

The Age of Innocence

Edith Wharton

novel

1920

Ethan Frome

Edith Wharton

novel

1911

The House of Mirth

Edith Wharton

novel

1905

Mrs. Dalloway

Virginia Woolf

novel

1925

1940-1969

Title

Author

Genre

Date

Things Fall Apart

Chinua Achebe

novel

1958

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Edward Albee

play

1962

Another Country

James Baldwin

novel

1962

Waiting for Godot

Samuel Beckett

play

1953

The Plague

Albert Camus

novel

1947

Invisible Man

Ralph Ellison

novel

1952

Lord of the Flies

William Golding

novel

1954

A Raisin in the Sun

Lorraine Hansberry

play

1959

Catch-22

Joseph Heller

novel

1961

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’ s Nest

Ken Kesey

novel

1962 

A Separate Peace

John Knowles

novel

1959

To Kill a Mockingbird

Harper Lee

novel

1960

The Crucible

Arthur Miller

play

1953

Death of a Salesman

Arthur Miller

play

1949

House Made of Dawn

N. Scott Momaday

novel

1968

Wise Blood

Flannery O’Connor

novel

1952

1984

George Orwell

novel

1949

Cry, the Beloved Country

Alan Paton

novel

1948

All the King’s Men

Robert Penn Warren

novel

1946

The Chosen

Chaim Potok

novel

1967

Wide Sargasso Sea

Jean Rhys

novel

1966

The Catcher in the Rye

JD Salinger

novel

1951

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

Tom Stoppard

play

1966

Cat’s Cradle

Kurt Vonnegut

novel

1963 

The Glass Menagerie

Tennessee Williams

play

1945

A Streetcar Named Desire

Tennessee Williams

play

1947

Black Boy

Richard Wright

memoir

1945

Native Son

Richard Wright

novel

1940

 


Don't get trapped in a literature vortex!

 

1970-1989

Title

Author

Genre

Date

Bless Me, Ultima

Rudolfo Anaya

novel

1972

The House on Mango Street

Sandra Cisneros

novel

1984

“Master Harold” . . . and the boys

Athol Fugard

play

1982

M. Butterfly

David Henry Hwang

play

1988

A Prayer for Owen Meany

John Irving

novel

1989

The Woman Warrior

Maxine Hong Kingston

memoir

1976

Obasan

Joy Kogawa

novel

1981

Beloved

Toni Morrison

novel

1987 

The Bluest Eye

Toni Morrison

novel

1970

Song of Solomon

Toni Morrison

novel

1977 

Sula

Toni Morrison

novel

1973

Jasmine

Bharati Mukherjee

novel

1989

The Women of Brewster Place

Gloria Naylor

novel

1982

Going After Cacciato

Tim O’Brien

novel

1978

Equus

Peter Shaffer

play

1973

Ceremony

Leslie Marmon Silko

novel

1977

Sophie’s Choice

William Styron

novel

1979

The Color Purple

Alice Walker

novel

1982

Fences

August Wilson

play

1983

The Piano Lesson

August Wilson

play

1987

1990-Present 

Title

Author

Genre

Date

Reservation Blues

Sherman Alexie

novel

1995

The Blind Assassin

Margaret Atwood

novel

2000

Oryx and Crake

Margaret Atwood

novel

2003

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter

Kim Edwards

novel

2005

Cold Mountain

Charles Frazier

novel

1997

Snow Falling on Cedars

David Guterson

novel

1994

The Kite Runner

Khaled Hosseini

novel

2003

A Thousand Splendid Suns

Khaled Hosseini

novel

2007

Never Let Me Go

Kazuo Ishiguro

novel

2005

The Poisonwood Bible

Barbara Kingsolver

novel

1998

The Namesake

Jumpa Lahiri

novel

2004

All the Pretty Horses

Cormac McCarthy

novel

1992

Atonement

Ian McEwan

novel

2001

Native Speaker

Chang Rae-Lee

novel

1995

The God of Small Things

Arundhati Roy

novel

1997

A Thousand Acres

Jane Smiley

novel

1991

The Bonesetter’s Daughter

Amy Tan

novel

2001

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

David Wroblewski

novel

2008

 

Don't stay in one reading position for too long, or you'll end up like this guy.

 

An Addendum on Poetry

You probably won’t be writing about poetry on your student choice essay—most just aren’t meaty enough in terms of action and character to merit a full-length essay on the themes when you don’t actually have the poem in front of you (a major exception being The Odyssey). That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be reading poetry, though! You should be reading a wide variety of poets from different eras to get comfortable with all the varieties of poetic language. This will make the poetry analysis essay and the multiple-choice questions about poetry much easier!

See this list of poets compiled from the list given on page 14 of the AP Course and Exam Description for AP Lit, separated out by time period. For those poets who were working during more than one of the time periods sketched out below, I tried to place them in the era in which they were more active.

I’ve placed an asterisk next to the most notable and important poets in the list; you should aim to read one or two poems by each of the starred poets to get familiar with a broad range of poetic styles and eras.


14th-17th Centuries

  1. Anne Bradstreet
  2. Geoffrey Chaucer
  3. John Donne
  4. George Herbert
  5. Ben Jonson
  6. Andrew Marvell
  7. John Milton
  8. William Shakespeare*


18th-19th Centuries

  1. William Blake*
  2. Robert Browning
  3. Samuel Taylor Coleridge*
  4. Emily Dickinson*
  5. Paul Laurence Dunbar
  6. George Gordon, Lord Byron
  7. Gerard Manley Hopkins
  8. John Keats*
  9. Edgar Allan Poe*
  10. Alexander Pope*
  11. Percy Bysshe Shelley*
  12. Alfred, Lord Tennyson*
  13. Walt Whitman*
  14. William Wordsworth*

 

Early-Mid 20th Century

  1. W. H. Auden
  2. Elizabeth Bishop
  3. H. D. (Hilda Doolittle)
  4. T. S. Eliot*
  5. Robert Frost*
  6. Langston Hughes*
  7. Philip Larkin
  8. Robert Lowell
  9. Marianne Moore
  10. Sylvia Plath*
  11. Anne Sexton*
  12. Wallace Stevens
  13. William Carlos Williams
  14. William Butler Yeats*

 

Late 20th Century-Present

  1. Edward Kamau Brathwaite
  2. Gwendolyn Brooks
  3. Lorna Dee Cervantes
  4. Lucille Clifton
  5. Billy Collins
  6. Rita Dove
  7. Joy Harjo
  8. Seamus Heaney
  9. Garrett Hongo
  10. Adrienne Rich
  11. Leslie Marmon Silko
  12. Cathy Song
  13. Derek Walcott
  14. Richard Wilbur

 

You might rather burn books than read them after the exam, but please refrain.

 

Key Takeaways

Why do you need to read books to prepare for AP Lit? For three reasons:

  1. To become familiar with a variety of literary eras and genres
  2. To work on your close-reading skills
  3. To become closely familiar with four-five works for the purposes of the student choice free-response essay analyzing a theme in a work of your choice.

How many books do you need to read? Well, you definitely need to get very familiar with four-five for essay-writing purposes, and beyond that, the more the better!

Which books should you read? Check out the AP English Literature reading list in this article to see works that have appeared on two or more “suggested works” lists on free-response prompts since 2003.

And don’t forget to read some poetry too! See some College Board recommended poets listed in this article.

 

What's Next?

See my expert guide to the AP Literature test for more exam tips!

Taking other APs? Check out our expert guides to the AP Chemistry exam, AP US History, AP World History, AP Psychology, and AP Biology. 

 

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:

 

If you're planning to take the AP English Literature and Composition exam, you'll need to get familiar with what to expect from the test. Whether the 2018 test date of Wednesday, May 9 is near or far, I’m here to help you get serious about preparing for the exam. In this guide I’ll go over the test's format and question types, how it's graded, best practices for preparation, and test day tips. You’ll be on your way to AP English Lit success in no time!

 

AP English Literature: Exam Format and Question Types

The AP Literature Exam is a three-hour exam that contains two sections. First is an hour-long, 55-question multiple choice section, and then a two hour, three question free-response section. The exam tests your ability to analyze works and excerpts of literature and also cogently communicate that analysis in essay form. Read on for a breakdown of the two different sections and their question types.

 

Multiple Choice Section

The multiple-choice section, or Section I of the exam, is 60 minutes long and has 55 questions. You can expect to see 4-5 excerpts of prose and poetry. You will, in general, not be given an author, date, or title for these works, although occasionally the title of a poem is given. Unusual words are also sometimes defined for you.

The date ranges of works could fall from the 16th to the 21st century. Most works will be originally written in English, although you may occasionally see a passage in translation.

There are, generally speaking, eight kinds of questions you can expect to see on the AP English Literature and Composition test. I’ll break each of them down here and give you tips on how to identify and approach them.

 

"Tiny books carried by ladies" is not one of the question types.

 

The 8 Multiple-Choice Question Types on the AP Literature Exam

Without further ado, here are the eight question types you can expect to see on the AP lit exam. All questions are taken from the sample questions on the “AP Course and Exam Description.”

 

Reading Comprehension

These are questions that test your ability to understand what the passage is saying on a pretty basic level. They don’t require you to do a lot of interpretation—you just need to know what is actually going on. You can identify these from words and phrases like “according to,” “asserting,” “mentioned,” and so on. Basically, words that point to a fairly concrete register of meaning. You can succeed on these questions by careful reading of the text. You may have to go back and re-read parts to make sure you understand what the passage is saying.

Example:

 

Inference

These questions ask you to infer something—a character or narrator’s opinion, an author’s intention, and so forth—based on what is said in the passage. It will be something that isn’t stated directly or concretely, but that you can assume based on what is stated clearly in the passage. You can identify these questions from words like “infer,” and “imply.”  

The key to these questions is to not be tripped up by the fact that you are making an inference—there will be a best answer, and it will be the choice that is best supported by what is actually found in the passage. In many ways, inference questions are like second-level reading comprehension questions—you need to know not just what a passage says, but what it means.

Example:

 

Identifying and Interpreting Figurative Language

These are questions in which you have to either identify what word or phrase is figurative language or provide the meaning of a figurative phrase. You can identify these as they will either explicitly mention figurative language (or a figurative device like simile or metaphor) or will include a figurative language phrase in the question itself. The meaning of figurative language phrases can normally be determined by the phrase’s context in the passage—what is said around it? What is the phrase referring to?

Example 1: Identifying

Example 2: Interpreting

 

Literary Technique

These questions involve identifying why an author does what they do: from using a particular phrase to repeating certain words. Basically, what techniques is the author using to construct the passage/poem and to what effect? You can identify these questions by words like “serves chiefly to,” “effect,” “evoke,” and “in order to.” A good way to approach these questions is to ask yourself, so what? Why did the author use these particular words or this particular structure?

Example:

 

Character Analysis

These questions will ask you to describe something about a character. You can spot them because they will refer directly to characters’ attitudes, opinions, beliefs, or relationships with other characters. This is, in many ways, a special kind of inference question since you are inferring the broader personality of the character based on the evidence in a passage. Also, these crop up much more commonly for prose passages than poetry ones.

Example:

 

 

Overall Passage Questions

Some questions will ask you to identify or describe something about the passage/poem as a whole: its purpose, tone, genre, etc. You can identify these by phrases like “in the passage,” and “as a whole.” To answer these questions, you need to think about the excerpt with a bird’s-eye view. What is the overall picture created by all the tiny details?

Example:

 

Structure

Some questions will ask you about specific structural elements of the passage—a shift in tone, a digression, the specific form of a poem, etc. Often these questions will specify a part of the passage/poem and ask you to identify what that part is accomplishing. Being able to identify and understand the significance of any shifts—structural, tonal, in genre, etc—will be of key importance for these questions.

Example:

 

Grammar/Nuts & Bolts

Very occasionally you will be asked a specific grammar question, such as what word an adjective is modifying. I would also include in this category very specific questions like the meter of a poem (i.e. iambic pentameter). These questions are less about the literary artistry and more about the fairly dry technique involved in having a fluent command of the English language.

Example:

That covers the 8 question types!

 

Keep track of these.

 

The AP Literature Free-Response Section

Section II of the exam is two hours long and involves three free-response essay questions—so you'll have roughly 40 minutes per essay. Note, though, that no one will prompt you to move from essay to essay, so you can theoretically divide up the time how you want (but be sure to leave enough time for each essay). The first two essays are literary analysis essays of specific passages, with one poem and one prose excerpt—and the final is an analysis of a given theme in a work selected by you, the student.

 

Essays One and Two - Literary Passage Analysis

For the first two essays, you’ll be presented with an excerpt and directed to analyze the excerpt for a given theme, device, or development. One of the passages will be poetry, and one will be prose. You will be provided with the author of the work, the approximate date, and some orienting information (i.e. the plot context of an excerpt from a novel).

Sample Questions (from 2011 Free Response Questions)

Poetry:

Prose:



Essay Three - Thematic Analysis

For the third and final essay, you’ll be asked to discuss a particular theme in a work that you select. You will be provided with a list of notable works that address the given theme below the prompt, but you can also choose to discuss any “work of literary merit.”

So you DO have the power to choose which work you wish to write an essay about, but the key word here is “literary merit.” So no genre fiction! Stick to safe bets like authors in the list on pages 10-11 of the Course and Exam Description. (I know, I know—lots of ‘genre’ fiction works DO have literary merit, and Shakespeare actually began as low culture, and so on and so forth. You may well find academic designations of “literary merit” elitist and problematic, but the time to rage against the literary establishment is not your AP lit test.)

Here’s a sample question (from 2011):

 

As you can see, the list of works provided spans many different time periods and countries: there are ancient Greek plays (Antigone), modern literary works (like Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin or Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible), Shakespeare plays (The Merchant of Venice), 19th-century Russian lit (Crime and Punishment), and so on.


You might even see something by this guy.

 

How Is the AP Literature Test Graded?

The multiple-choice section of the exam comprises 45% of your exam score. The three essays comprise the other 55%. Each essay, then, is worth about 18%.

As on other AP exams, your raw score will be converted to a score from 1-5. You don’t have to get every point possible to get a 5 by any means—but the AP English Literature test does have one of the lowest 5 rates of all APs, with only 7.4% of students receiving 5s in 2016.

But how do you get raw scores at all?

 

Multiple-Choice Scoring

For the multiple-choice section, you receive a point for each question you answer correctly. There is no guessing penalty, so you should answer every question—but guess only after eliminating any answer that you know is wrong to up your chances of choosing the correct one.

 


Free-Response Scoring

Scoring for multiple choice is pretty straightforward. However, essay scoring is a little more complicated. Each of your essays will receive a score from 0-9 based on the College Board rubric. You can actually find question-specific rubrics for all of the released free-response questions for AP English lit (see “scoring guidelines”).

While all of the rubrics are broadly similar, there are some minor differences between each of them. I’ll go over the rubrics now—both what they say and what they mean for you.

 

Poetry Passage Analysis Rubric

Score

What the College Board Says

What it Means

9-8

These essays persuasively address the assigned task. These essays offer a range of interpretations; they provide a convincing reading and analysis of the poem. They demonstrate consistent and effective control over the elements of composition appropriate to the analysis of poetry. Their textual references are apt and specific. Though they may not be error-free, these essays are perceptive in their analysis and demonstrate writing that is clear and sophisticated, and in the case of a 9 essay, especially persuasive.

Your argument is convincing and it addresses all elements of the prompt. You interpret the language of the poem in a variety of ways (i.e. your analysis of the poem is thorough). Your essay is particularly well-written and well-organized. You appropriately reference specific moments in the poem to support your argument. A 9 essay is particularly persuasive.  

7-6

These essays reasonably address the assigned task. They are less thorough or less precise in the way they address the task, and their analysis is less convincing. These essays demonstrate an ability to express ideas clearly, making references to the text, although they do not exhibit the same level of effective writing as the 9-8 papers. Essays scored a 7 present better-developed analysis and more consistent command of the elements of effective composition than do essays scored a 6.

You address all elements of the prompt, but your analysis is not as complete or convincing as a 9-8 essay. You do make specific references to the poem and your writing is clear and effective, but not necessarily masterful.

5

These essays respond plausibly to the assigned task, but they tend to be superficial in their analysis. They often rely on paraphrase, which may contain some analysis, implicit or explicit. Their analysis may be vague, formulaic, or minimally supported by references to the text. There may be minor misinterpretations of the poem. These essays demonstrate some control of language, but they may be marred by surface errors. These essays are not as well conceived, organized, or developed as 7-6 essays.

You answer the prompt in a way that is not implausible or unreasonable, but your analysis of the poem is surface-level. You may paraphrase the poem instead of making specific references to its language. You may not adequately support your analysis of the poem, or you may misinterpret it slightly. Your essay is not a total mess, but not necessarily particularly well-organized or argued.

4-3

These lower-half essays fail to offer an adequate analysis of the poem. The analysis may be partial, unconvincing, or irrelevant, or ignore part of the assigned task. Evidence from the poem may be slight or misconstrued, or the essays may rely on paraphrase only. The essays often demonstrate a lack of control over the conventions of composition: inadequate development of ideas, accumulation of errors, or a focus that is unclear, inconsistent, or repetitive. Essays scored a 3 may contain significant misreading, demonstrate inept writing, or do both.

You do not adequately address the prompt. Your analysis of the poem is incomplete or incorrect, or you do not reference any specific language of the poem. Your essay is undeveloped, unclear, or poorly organized. A 3 essay either significantly misinterprets the poem or is particularly poorly written.

2-1

These essays compound the weaknesses of the papers in the 4–3 range. Although some attempt has been made to respond to the prompt, the student’s assertions are presented with little clarity, organization, or support from the poem. These essays may contain serious errors in grammar and mechanics. They may offer a complete misreading or be unacceptably brief. Essays scored a 1 contain little coherent discussion of the poem.

Only minimal attempt is made to respond to the prompt. Essay is disorganized or not supported by evidence from the poem. May contain numerous grammar and mechanics errors. May completely misinterpret the poem or be too short. A 1 essay barely mentions the poem.

0

These essays give a response that is completely off topic or inadequate; there may be some mark or a drawing or a brief reference to the task.

No real attempt is made to respond to the prompt.

-

These essays are entirely blank

You didn’t write anything!




Prose Passage Analysis Rubric

Score

What the College Board Says

What it Means

9-8

These essays persuasively address the assigned task. These essays make a strong case for the student’s interpretation. They may consider a variety of literary devices, and they engage the text through apt and specific references. Although these essays may not be error-free, their perceptive analysis is apparent in writing that is clear and effectively organized. Essays scored a 9 reveal more sophisticated analysis and more effective control of language than do essays scored an 8.

Your argument is convincing and addresses all parts of the prompt. You discuss a number of literary devices in your analysis and use specific and appropriate excerpts from the text as evidence in your argument. Your writing is clear, focused, and well-organized. A 9 essay has a particularly well-developed interpretation of the text and is better-written than an 8.

7-6

These essays reasonably address the task at hand. The writers provide a sustained, competent reading of the passage, with attention to a variety of literary devices. Although these essays may not be error-free and are less perceptive or less convincing than 9–8 essays, they present ideas with clarity and control and refer to the text for support. Essays scored a 7 present better developed analysis and more consistent command of the elements of effective composition than do essays scored a 6.  

You address all elements of the prompt. Your interpretation is coherent and you reference multiple literary devices in your analysis. You do reference specific moments in the text for support. Your essay is adequately organized and focused. However, your argument may be less convincing or insightful (i.e. more obvious) than a 9-8 essay.

5

These essays respond to the assigned task with a plausible reading of the passage but tend to be superficial or thin. While containing some analysis of the passage, implicit or explicit, the way the assigned task is addressed may be slight, and support from the passage may tend toward summary or paraphrase. While these essays demonstrate adequate control of language, they may be marred by surface errors. These essays are not as well conceived, organized, or developed as 7–6 essays.

You address the prompt, but your argument may be surface-level. You rely too much on summary or paraphrase of the text in your argument instead of using specific moments in the text. Your essay does have some elements of organization and focus but has some distracting errors.

4-3

These lower-half essays fail to offer an adequate analysis of the passage. The analysis may be partial, unconvincing, or irrelevant; the writers may ignore part of the assigned task. These essays may be characterized by an unfocused or repetitive presentation of ideas, an absence of textual support, or an accumulation of errors. Essays scored a 3 may contain significant misreading, demonstrate inept writing, or do both.

You do not adequately address the prompt, whether because your argument is partly unrelated to the task at hand or simply ignores elements of the prompt. Your essay is poorly focused and/or repetitive and has little textual support. A 3 essay significantly misinterprets the passage and/or is very poorly written.

2-1

These essays compound the weaknesses of the essays in the 4–3 score range. They may feature persistent misreading of the passage or be unacceptably brief. They may contain pervasive errors that interfere with understanding. Although some attempt has been made to respond to the prompt, the student’s ideas are presented with little clarity, organization, or support from the passage. Essays scored a 1 contain little coherent discussion of the passage.

Essay does not adequately address the assigned task. It may be very short or repeatedly misinterpret the passage. May be poorly written enough that it is hard to understand. These essays may be unfocused, unclear, or disorganized.

0

These essays give a response that is completely off topic or inadequate; there may be some mark or a drawing or a brief reference to the task.

No real attempt is made to respond to the prompt.

-

These essays are entirely blank

You didn’t write anything!

 


Student Choice Rubric

Score

What the College Board Says

What it Means

9-8

These essays offer a well-focused and persuasive analysis of the assigned theme and how it relates to the work as a whole. Using apt and specific textual support, these essays address all parts of the prompt. Although these essays may not be error-free, they make a strong case for their interpretation and discuss the literary work with significant insight and understanding. Essays scored a 9 reveal more sophisticated analysis and more effective control of language than do essays scored 8.

Your essay convincingly addresses the task in a way that is clear and focused. You reference many specific moments in the text in support of your argument. You build a strong case—with lots of evidence—in support of your interpretation of the text. Your argument shows a deep understanding of the text. A 9 essay has more complex analysis and is better-written than an 8.

7-6

These essays offer a reasonable analysis of the work of the assigned theme and how it relates to the work as a whole. These essays address all parts of the prompt. While these essays show insight and understanding, their analysis is less thorough, less perceptive, and/or less specific in supporting detail than that of the 9–8 essays. Essays scored a 7 present better developed analysis and more consistent command of the elements of effective composition than do essays scored a 6.

Your essay addresses the task adequately. Your interpretation of the text is apt and shows that you generally understood it, although your analysis may be more conventional or include less specific textual evidence than a 9-8 essay.

5

These essays respond to the assigned task with a plausible reading, but they tend to be superficial or thinly developed in analysis. They often rely upon plot summary that contains some analysis, implicit or explicit. Although these essays display an attempt to address the prompt, they may demonstrate a rather simplistic understanding and support from the text may be too general. While these essays demonstrate adequate control of language, they may be marred by surface errors. These essays are not as well conceived, organized, or developed as 7–6 essays.

Your essay addresses the prompt, but your argument may be very basic and/or rely too much on plot summary instead of true analysis of the text. Your essay may reveal that you do not thoroughly understand the text. Your essay may have some grammar/linguistic errors. Your essay is not especially well-organized or focused.

4-3

These lower-half essays fail to adequately address the assigned task. The analysis may be partial, unsupported, or irrelevant, and the essays may reflect an incomplete or oversimplified understanding of how a given theme functions in the text, or they may rely on plot summary alone. These essays may be characterized by an unfocused or repetitive presentation of ideas, an absence of textual support, or an accumulation of errors; they may lack control over the elements of college-level composition. Essays scored a 3 may contain significant misreading and/or demonstrate inept writing.

Your essay does not address the prompt. Your analysis shows that you either do not understand how to address the prompt, cannot build support for your interpretation, or do not understand the text. Your essay may be poorly organized, poorly written and/or repetitive.  A 3 essay significantly misinterprets the chosen work and/or is very poorly written.

2-1

Although these essays make some attempt to respond to the prompt, they compound the weaknesses of the papers in the 4–3 score range. Often, they are unacceptably brief or incoherent in presenting their ideas. They may be poorly written on several counts and contain distracting errors in grammar and mechanics. Remarks may be presented with little clarity, organization, or supporting evidence. Essays scored a 1 contain little coherent discussion of the text.

Your essay does not address the prompt. It may be too short or make little sense. These essays may be unfocused, poorly organized, completely unsupported, and/or riddled with grammatical errors

0

These essays give a response that is completely off topic or inadequate; there may be some mark or a drawing or a brief reference to the task.

No real attempt is made to respond to the prompt.

-

These essays are entirely blank

You didn’t write anything!

 

As you can see, the rubric for the poetry essay is focused more on poetic devices, and the rubric for the prose essay is focused more on literary devices and techniques. Both of those essays are very specifically focused on the analysis of the poem/prose excerpt. By contrast, the student choice essay is focused on how your analysis fits into the work as a whole.

To get a high-scoring essay in the 9-8 range, you need to not only come up with an original and intriguing argument that you thoroughly support with textual evidence, your essay needs to be focused, organized, clear, and well-written. And all in 40 minutes per essay! If getting a high score sounds like a tall order, that’s because it is. The mean scores on each of the essays last year was around a 4 out of 9. That means, most essays were scored lower than a 5. So even getting a 7 on these essays is an accomplishment.

 

If you write it down, it must be true!

 

Skill-Building for Success on the AP Literature Exam

There are several things you can do to hone your skills and best prepare for the AP Lit exam.

 

Read Some Books, Maybe More Than Once

One of the most important things you can do to prepare yourself for the AP Literature and Composition exam is to read a lot, and read well. You’ll be reading a wide variety of notable literary works in your AP English Literature course, but additional reading will help you further develop your analytical reading skills. You might check out the College Board’s list of “notable authors” on pages 10-11 of the “Course and Exam Description.”

In addition to reading broadly, you’ll want to become especially familiar with the details of 4-5 books with different themes so that you’ll be sure to be prepared to write a strong student choice essay. You should know the plot, themes, characters, and structural details of these 4-5 books inside and out. See my AP English Literature Reading List for more guidance.

 

Read (and Interpret) Poetry

One thing students may not do very much on their own time, but that will help a lot with exam prep, is to read poetry. Try to read poems from a lot of eras and authors to get familiar with the language. When you think you have a grip on basic comprehension, move on to close-reading (see below).

 

Hone Your Close Reading and Analysis Skills

Your AP class will likely focus heavily on close reading and analysis of prose and poetry, but extra practice won’t hurt you. Close-reading is the ability to identify which techniques the author is using and why they are using them. You’ll need to be able to do this both to gather evidence for original arguments on the free-response questions and to answer analytical multiple-choice questions.

Here are some helpful close-reading resources for prose:

And here are some for poetry:

 

Learn Literary and Poetic Devices

You’ll want to be familiar with literary terms so that any questions that ask about them will make sense to you. Again, you’ll probably learn most of these in class, but it doesn’t hurt to brush up on them.

Here are some comprehensive lists of literary terms with definitions:

 

Practice Writing Essays

The majority of your grade on the AP English Lit exam comes from essays, so it’s critical that you practice your timed essay-writing skills. You of course should use the College Board’s released free-response questions to practice writing complete timed essays of each type, but you can also practice quickly outlining thorough essays that are well-supported with textual evidence.

 

Take Practice Tests

Taking practice tests is a great way to prepare for the exam. It will help you get familiar with the exam format and experience. You can get sample questions from the Course and Exam Description, there are released College Board exams here, and we have a complete article on AP English Lit practice test resources.

Be aware that the released exams don’t have complete slates of free-response questions, so you may need to supplement with released free-response questions (see link in above section). Since there are two complete released exams, you can take one towards the beginning of your prep time to get familiar with the exam and set a benchmark, and one towards the end to make sure the experience is fresh in your mind and to check your progress.

 

Don't wander like a lonely cloud through your AP lit prep.

 

AP Literature Test Day Tips

Here are my top 6 tips for taking the exam:

  1. On the multiple-choice section, it’s to your advantage to answer every question. If you eliminate all of the answers you know are wrong before guessing, you’ll up your chances of guessing the correct one.

  2. Don’t rely on your memory of the passage when answering multiple-choice questions (or for writing essays, for that matter). Look back at the passage!

  3. Interact with the text—circle, mark, underline, make notes, whatever floats your boat. This will help you retain information and actively engage with the passage.

  4. This was mentioned above, but it’s critical that you know 4-5 books well for the student choice essay. You’ll want to know all the characters, the plot, the themes, and any major devices or motifs the author uses throughout.

  5. Be sure to plan out your essays! Organization and focus are critical for high-scoring AP Literature essays.

  6. Manage your time on essays closely. One strategy is to start with the essay you think will be the easiest to answer. This way you’ll be able to get through it while thinking about the other essays.

 

And don't forget to eat breakfast! Apron optional. 

 

Key Takeaways

The AP Literature exam is a three-hour exam: It includes one 55-question, hour-long multiple-choice section based on four-five prose and poetry passages, and a two hour free-response section with three essays—one analyzing a poetry passage, one analyzing a prose passage, and one analyzing a work chosen by the student.

The multiple-choice section is worth 45% of your total score and the free-response section is worth 55%. Essays are scored on a rubric from 0-9. Raw scores are converted to a score from 1-5.

Here are some things you can do to prepare for the exam:

  1. Read books, and be particularly familiar with 4-5 works for the student choice essays
  2. Read poetry
  3. Work on your close-reading and analysis skills
  4. Learn literary devices
  5. Practice writing essays
  6. Take practice tests!

On test day, be sure to really look closely at all of the passages and closely interact with them by marking the text in a way that makes sense to you. This will help on multiple-choice questions and the free-response essays. Be sure also to outline your essays before you write them!

With all this mind, you’re well on your way to AP Lit success!

 

What's Next?

If you're taking other AP exams this year, you may be interested in our other AP resources: from the Ultimate Guide to the US History Exam, to the Best 2016 Review Guide for AP Chemistry, to the Best AP Psychology Study Guide, we have articles on tons of AP courses and exams.

Looking for practice exams? Here are some tips on how to find the best AP practice tests.

We also have comprehensive lists of practice tests for AP Psychology, AP Biology, AP Chemistry, and AP US History.

 

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:

 

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