ap english literature and composition exam

ap english literature and composition exam

Strategies for Success on the AP English Literature and Composition Exam

1. Introduction to the AP English Literature and Composition Exam

AP English Literature and Composition students are expected to master a range of authors and texts in both fiction and nonfiction as well as be able to write in multiple genres. The writing demonstrates stylistic sophistication and control over the elements of effective composition, including organization, development, and the language use and conventions of standard written English. The multiple-choice questions require close reading and further their ability to evaluate, synthesize, and use a wide range of literatures.

Welcome to the Advanced Placement Program! We are pleased to be a part of your educational journey. These CollegeBoard Advanced Placement Courses are your ticket to advanced college placement and require both your ambition and your love of learning. Conquering the AP exam is a great and worthwhile goal. Our mission is to help you accomplish this task by promoting a successful advanced placement experience. You will find that, while the AP exams are challenging and substantial, they underestimate your abilities by design. AP demands more than mere recitation. You will use your problem-solving skills to explore challenging questions of the highest order in order to reveal your knowledge. We will use the problem-solving skills you have learned in your high school AP course to foster an intellectually stimulating AP exam experience.

2. Key Skills and Concepts Tested

The skill tested that students need to master in order to score high enough to earn college credit or placement into an appropriate English or other college course is the skill of writing clear, competent literary analysis essays in a limited period of time. A student who has studied English in depth, has a strong college-bound curriculum, and has read a wide range of both American and other literature should have no difficulty mastering the actual subject matter. However, it is the ability to demonstrate this mastery by writing essays analyzing literary works and discussing literary theory in direct response to specific question prompts that poses perhaps the greatest challenge. Other skills that students may be tested on appear easy to master in advance. However, these skills require constant practice and some specialized methods of lesson and test preparation in order to help students become accustomed to the level and types of thinking required to demonstrate these skills, particularly under pressure and within a limited time frame. Mentors are especially cautioned to keep experimental tasks in context and always tied to a literary work. Four other key skills are listed below, ranging from those most frequently tested to those rarely tested. These represent other valuable abilities that a student must have to succeed on this exam.

Listed below are the major skill areas tested on the AP English Literature and Composition Exam. These are also the key areas that have been addressed by the essays included in this book. Percentage weights are approximate, vary by year, are derived from actual exams, and do not represent a formal breakdown by the AP English Literature and Composition Development Committee.

3. Effective Study and Preparation Techniques

“Real” Reading: In the preparation of dramatics, you may have concocted such a typically student outline as this: “Man versus man—Hamlet versus the King.” This identification of a play with single, unique characters, the inevitable residue of most single-copy texts, could lead to a pretty poor performance on the part of a student who, while being asked for a discussion of Hamlet’s procrastination in speech, has in mind an understanding of him only as a specific character on the stage, a character whom he has accepted wholly uncritically as he has uncritically accepted most of the authority of letters and criticism that have manipulated him. To clarify, your thought is parallel. You do not want a catalog of possibilities of Hamlet’s character but on his essential humanity. And as it seems to me, the fundamental reason for the difficulties which students have with the plays and poems of Shakespeare lies in a persistently unclear formulation about the kind of consciousness which is involved in reading and interpreting imaginative literature.

In order to help you succeed on the AP English Literature and Composition exam, the College Board suggests numerous effective study and preparation techniques. More specific information on course planning and pacing for successful teaching, testing, and study of literature can be found in the AP Vertical Teams Guide—English Literature and Composition. Below are general guidelines for studying and preparing for the AP English Literature and Composition exam.

4. Strategies for Writing Strong Essays

All of the free-response prompts are phrased as tasks. For example, a prompt might ask you to contrast the personality of the speaker in a poem to that of the conventional popular image of someone very much like the speaker, perhaps a hero, a saint, or some other magnetizing or inspiring figure. Stick close to the text as you analyze through writing a careful and comprehensive response to a prompt, but remember that the prompt is asking for a discussion containing a full range of critical comment. If a question asks you to discuss several or a composition, it would probably be a good idea not to dedicate your entire response to only character or plot or theme. You might debate with the prompt, as long as you are keeping your proof grounded in the text and supporting your general inferences with particular examples.

You have only about 40 minutes per essay on this exam, so you need to get into and out of your essays quickly. It may be a good idea to do any two or all three essays, rather than to spend too much time trying to do any one essay perfectly. Keep in mind that readers may have trained their eyes on specific technical matters, like syntax, argumentation, or structure. As you will almost surely be writing in response to a prompt on a work from the English literary canon, do your best to “use the language of literary analysis critically.” You should also consider how some of the terms from poetry or drama (like meter or soliloquy) or how point of view, structure, or other literary concepts can be applied to atypical texts from the other genres.

5. Practice and Mock Exam Tips

Pacing yourself during the AP exam is essential for getting the best possible grade, so practice timing yourself as you answer free-response questions along with an entire practice exam. You can familiarize yourself with the time constraints of the AP English Literature and Composition exam by taking actual practice exam questions and completing the exam in their allotted time periods, just as a study hall or AP English session, or at home. You can even ask your teacher to grade your work and offer valuable advice. You may well view the original “official” exam differently if you follow these very straightforward tips because you have developed a different strategy from reading this guide. Now you won’t fall into the classic trap of writing “Nevermore, Nevermore, Nevermore” instead of this nice summary!

Exams at any level are stressful, and AP English Literature and Composition is no exception to the rule. Study literature from different time periods and genres and familiarize yourself with the typical questions of any AP exam. You will increase your chances of success if you have practice and write numerous mock exams, because in addition to the AP setting, the very fact of answering the questions requires that many of the key concepts be understood.

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