AP® English Literature and Composition
Exam Format

The AP® English Literature and Composition exam evaluates your critical thinking, comprehension, and analytical skills. If you intend to take the AP English Literature exam, it is important to understand how it is structured. This article breaks down the AP Lit exam format to help you understand the question types you will encounter and the amount of time allotted to each section. Knowing the exam format will help you create an effective study plan and take you closer to your goal.

What Is the Format of the AP English Literature and Composition Exam?

The AP Literature and Composition exam lasts three hours and includes two main sections. Section I includes multiple-choice questions (MCQ), and Section II includes free-response questions (FRQ). The following table shows how each section appears in the AP English Lit exam booklet:

Section I: Multiple-Choice Questions (MCQs) Section II: Free-Response Questions (FRQs)
  • 1 hr
  • 55 Questions
  • Five answer choices to select from
  • One point for each question
  • Points will not get deducted for incorrect answers
  • Includes five sets of questions with 8-13 questions per set
  • 45% of the total score
  • 2 hrs
  • Three questions with prompts
  • Points are awarded for meeting specific scoring criteria
  • 55% of the total score

Section I of the exam accounts for 45% of your overall score. It consists of MCQs with a time limit of one hour. It is divided into five sets, each with 8-13 questions, amounting to 55 questions. You are required to review and analyze passages from various literary works, such as prose fiction, drama, and poetry. This section also includes at least two prose fiction excerpts and two poems. Present either text d for the fifth set.

It is important to plan ahead of time. Keep a wristwatch at all times to keep track of the time.

Section II of the exam accounts for 55% of your total exam score. It involves three free-response questions with a time limit of two hours that require literary interpretation of a prose fiction passage, a play excerpt, or a poem.

The first two questions will give you a passage or poem to analyze, while the third question will ask you to discuss an idea, theme, or aspect of a literary work that you should have encountered over the school year. For the third prompt, reference a list of provided works.

Create a Thesis: All effective essays begin with a well-written thesis. To respond to the question, create your own unique topic sentence. Make your statement precise and to the point. Use the rest of the essay to expand on your thesis; this will be your body.”

Let's look at each section and what you'll be assessed on.

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Definition of antithesis.

Types of Questions on the AP English Literature and Composition Exam

As mentioned above, the AP English Literature and Composition exam includes multiple-choice and free-response questions. These questions assess your ability to analyze works of literature and articulate your interpretation clearly in an essay format. Read on to find out what questions are on the AP English Lit exam.

Section I: Multiple-Choice Questions (MCQ)

As you may already know, this section requires you to read passages from a wide range of literature and answer questions about them. You will have one hour to complete 55 multiple-choice questions; each MCQ will have five answer choices. The passages may be presented in the form of a few paragraphs from a novel, a play, or even an entire poem. The associated questions will ask you to make inferences from selected lines, recognize the impact of literary techniques such as satire or repetition, and evaluate the author's use of imagery.

In this section, each question you answer correctly earns you one point. There is no penalty for a wrong answer, so answer all the questions, even if you have to guess at a few of them.

There are nine units in the AP English Literature curriculum. Since the MCQs are based on these nine units, knowing their weight in this section is helpful.The following table presents these units and their respective weights on the MCQ section of the exam:

Units Exam Weight
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%

When preparing your study schedule, keep this distribution in mind. It will help you distribute your prep time among the units accordingly.

The AP English Literature framework, included in the course and exam description, emphasizes specific skills that students should practice throughout the year to assess texts properly.

These are the seven big ideas or skills you'll acquire during the course. Let's look at how much each skill is worth in the MCQ section.

Skills Weight
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%

To ace the MCQ section, read our article on how to approach AP English Literature multiple-choice questions. The page also includes step-by-step instructions for answering each question.

Section II: Free-Response Questions (FRQs)

Questions that need paragraph-form answers are known as free-response questions. The FRQ section is scored manually by AP instructors and college professors, as opposed to the multiple-choice section, which is computer-graded. The AP Readers review each free-response answer and score it separately based on the scoring criteria set for each question. Each essay is graded on a scale of 0 to 6 using the College Board® scoring rubric.

Each FRQ tests your ability to do the following:

  • Answer the prompt with a clear thesis statement and offer a supportable interpretation.
  • Choose and incorporate evidence to back your claim.
  • Elaborate on how the evidence reinforces your claim.
  • Apply correct grammar and punctuation to convey your argument effectively.

Since there is no one correct answer in the FRQ section, the below rubric is used to maintain consistency in the scoring structure.

Reporting Category Points Scoring Criteria

Row A: Thesis
0-1 pts.
  • 0 points: If your thesis is insufficient, it means either the prompt is merely restated, summaries lack coherent claims, or the prompt remains unanswered.
  • 1 point: Your answer offers a reasonable interpretation of the passage.
Row B: Evidence and Commentary 0-4 pts.
  • 0 points: The prompt is simply reiterated.
  • 1 point: General evidence is provided, but it does not support the claim.
  • 2 points: Specific and relevant evidence is provided, but it does not support the claim.
  • 3 points: Specific evidence that supports the claim is provided. At Least one of the literary elements or techniques is explained.
  • 4 points: Specific evidence that supports the claim is provided. Multiple literary elements or techniques are explained.
Row C: Sophistication 0-1 pts.
  • 0 points: The criteria for scoring a point are not met.
  • 1 point: The answer presents complex literary arguments and/or sophistication of thought.

Here is what the FRQ questions look like:

  1. Free-response question 1: Poetry Analysis

    This question type requires you to read a 100-300 word poem excerpt. You will be asked to establish a relationship or connection between two things, analyze the poetic techniques and elements, and provide evidence to support a claim.

  2. Free-response question 2: Prose Fiction Analysis

    This question type requires you to read a 500-700 word long prose fiction passage. You will be asked to reflect on what the author wants to convey, analyze literary devices to establish the author’s claim, and provide reasons to support your arguments.

  3. Free-response question 3: Literary Argument

    This question type gives you a literary concept or idea and a list of about 40 literary works to choose from. You must choose a work of prose fiction from their reading or a list provided by the instructor and examine how the literary principle or idea indicated in the question adds to an overall understanding of the work.

Our article on how to approach AP English Literature and composition free-response questions will help you prepare for the FRQ section. The page also contains step-by-step instructions on how to answer each question.

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AP English Literature and Composition Exam - Paper or Digital Mode

The 2023 AP Lit exam is offered in both the paper and digital mode. However, the digital exam requires a separate registration process and is administered only by a limited number of schools. Check with your school or AP coordinator to see if you can take the AP Lit exam digitally.

It’s essential to know and understand the AP English Literature exam format clearly to do well on the exam. Now that you understand the AP English Literature and Composition exam structure and what to expect from each section, you can devise a study strategy that is both efficient and successful. Make sure to practice the MCQs and FRQs till you master the concepts. Our timed practice tests for AP Lit are here to help you get your target score on your AP English Lit exam. Keep in mind the number of questions in each segment, and the time you'll have to complete each section and don't forget to review your answers. Good luck!


  1. (2023). AP English Literature and Composition. College Board.
  2. (2020, Fall). AP English Literature and Composition Course and Exam Description. College Board.

Read More About AP English Literature and Composition Exam

Are you looking for a simple AP English Literature course description? Go through this page to get more detailed information about the course units, topics, key concepts, and more.
Curious about how the AP English Literature exam is scored? You will find the relevant information on the scoring system: criteria for free credits and how to use a score calculator.
Looking for the ideal study guide with tips and techniques for AP English Literature? In this article, you will find all the necessary information to ace the AP English Literature exam.
Are you planning to opt for AP English Literature? On this page, you’ll learn all about the AP Lit exam, including why to take the course, exam prerequisites, and what’s on the exam.
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