About the AP® English Literature Exam

The AP® English Literature and Composition exam focuses on reading, assessing, and writing about imaginative literature like fiction, poetry, and drama. You’ll learn to analyze how writers use language to convey both meaning and pleasure. The AP English Lit exam assesses your mastery of the topics, concepts, and skills learned during the course. It also comes with a host of benefits. A good score on the AP Lit exam can get you college credit and advanced course placement, which means you can graduate faster than your peers!

If you’re interested in learning more about this course, this article is a great place to start. It may help you decide whether AP Lit is the right course for you, and by the end of this guide, you should have all the information you need to get started on the path toward the AP English Literature and Composition course and exam.

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What Is AP English Literature and Composition Equivalent to and Who Can Take It?

AP English Literature and Composition is a year-long course and does not require any prerequisite classes. By the end of AP Lit, students should be able to understand and interpret college-level literature and produce grammatically accurate written responses. Before we get into the nitty-gritty of the AP Lit exam, let’s address a few quick questions below:

What grade should you take AP English Literature?

High school students often take AP Literature during their senior year, although this may vary from school to school.

What college course is equivalent to AP English Literature?

The AP English Literature and Composition course is equivalent to an introductory college-level literature and writing course, usually taken during their junior or sophomore year of college.

Can I take AP Lit without taking AP Lang?

Yes, you can. However, AP Lit is normally taken after AP Lang because it is believed to have a more rigorous curriculum. In some schools, you may only be allowed to take one of these courses during your senior year. In this case, you will have to choose between the two.

Is AP Lit a one-semester course or a dual-credit course in high school?

As mentioned earlier, AP Lit is a year-long course. If you enroll in AP Lit, you may opt to take the course as a dual credit opportunity (high school credit and college credit at the same time). However, this option varies from school to school, and you may want to speak with your high school coordinator about whether AP Lit can serve as a dual credit course for you.

The AP English Lit course consists of evaluating various texts, emphasizing reading over writing. If you have a knack for studying literary works and period pieces, AP English Literature might be a great option.

Although it is widely assumed that AP Lit students must have an interest in literature to do well in class, some students may succeed without it. The AP Lit workload is certainly “doable,” but that doesn't mean you won't have to put in some effort. If you have several difficult AP classes on your schedule and are looking for a relatively easy class, AP Lit might not be for you. Alternative language arts classes, such as college English at the 12th grade level, might be a better fit.

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What Is on the AP English Literature Exam?

The AP English Literature exam evaluates the course’s topics, concepts, and skills as defined by the College Board®. Topics covered in the course include works of fiction, poetry, and drama from different time periods and civilizations. You'll read literary works and write essays to understand how literature reflects a variety of experiences, institutions, and social structures.

The key concepts you will learn in this course are:

  • How to thoroughly read a text so as to form inferences and draw conclusions from it
  • Analyze an author's writing approach and decipher how their word choices affect the overall text
  • Interpret the overall meaning of a text
  • Present your interpretation of a text and make a case for it in a written response

The course’s content is divided into a sequence of logically-ordered units. The College Board created this sequence using instructor feedback, high school and college courses, and literary texts. Three genre-based recurrent modules group the course’s units to best develop student skills and knowledge. AP Lit’s course framework outlines what students must know and be able to do to excel at the course and exam.

There are a total of nine units in the AP English Literature and Composition curriculum. Each unit carries a specific weight on 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%

To discover more detailed information regarding these units, topics, and key concepts, check out our AP English Literature Course Description page. Here is a list of the 6 areas covered in your AP English Literature and Composition course:

  1. Character
  2. Setting
  3. Structure
  4. Narration
  5. Figurative language
  6. Literary argumentation

How Much Work Is AP English Literature?

This question varies from student to student based on personal experience. While preparing for the exam, most students report reading at least five complete works of fiction during the semester, including novels and plays; however, there is no specifically required number of books.

The very nature of the course lends itself to many assignments that require extensive reading and writing. Reading literature with a diverse range of origins, authors, and time periods is crucial, despite how difficult it may initially appear. You’ll also need to read many poems, which are a significant portion of the exam. Out of the five excerpts of prose and poetry on the exam, at least two of them are always poetry passages.

AP English Literature Exam Format in 2024

The AP English Literature and Composition exam evaluates a student's grasp of the course curriculum’s skills and knowledge. The exam lasts three hours and consists of 55 multiple-choice (MCQ) and three free-response questions (FRQ). Here's a quick summary of how the exam format works. For more information, including the exam weight and timing, check out our AP English Literature exam format.

Section Question Type No. of Questions Exam Weight Timing
I MCQ 55 45% 1 hr
II FRQ 3 55% 2 hrs

Why Should You Take AP English Literature?

AP English Literature and Composition is an excellent course to develop your writing and analytical abilities while also earning college credit before you ever get into college.

Throughout AP Lit, you’ll study full plays, works of fiction, and several sets of poems. You will study all the compositions in–or translated into–English, exposing you to a broader range of literary works, authors, and styles worldwide.

Taking the AP Lit course can be challenging, but it could greatly benefit your college prospects if you score well on the AP exam. We have listed some of the benefits of taking AP English Literature, which may help you decide if it’s worth taking.

  • College Credits and a Strong Foundation:

    Colleges and universities all across the world recognize students who excel on AP exams. Most four-year colleges and institutions in the United States offer credit and/or advanced placement to students who pass the AP exam. However, passing an AP exam signifies more than just passing a course; it is also a stepping stone to college readiness. Students who score a 3 or better on an AP exam have a higher rate of academic achievement in college and higher overall graduation rates than their non-AP classmates.

  • Critical Thinking, Reading, and Analytical Skills:

    AP Lit requires you to read critically, think clearly, and write succinctly on a daily basis. By the end of the course, you will develop a deep grasp of literary works and acquire a set of analytical abilities that you’ll use throughout your entire academic career.

  • Social and Historical Values:

    In addition to developing your literary talent, you will also learn to evaluate the social and historical ideals that a work represents and communicates. Thorough attention to both textual detail and historical context is the foundation for interpreting literary texts. Making and explaining artistic judgments, as well as interpreting and arguing about a work's underlying social and cultural values, are all part of evaluating a literary text.

What score do I need for college credit?

Students who score well on AP exams can earn college credit. Each college has its own set of criteria for deciding if specific AP exam scores demonstrate acceptable college readiness. While many colleges award course credit for a 3, which is considered a passing score, certain colleges may require students to earn a 4 or 5 in order to gain college credit. Remember to check with your prospective colleges about their respective AP credit policies before you apply.

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Should I Take AP English Literature?

Knowing your school's success rates for AP English Lit can give you an idea of whether your school has the academic resources to help students excel in it. Speaking with your high school’s seniors and AP teachers is a great way to better understand what to expect from the class. That being said, the most important factor to consider is whether your learning aptitude, study habits, and future career goals align with the rigorous expectations of the AP Lit course and exam.

This course may be especially difficult for students who have a tough time understanding poetry, drama, and/or fiction. Students who struggle with producing interpretations of literary works and composing written replies in a short period of time may also find AP Lit too difficult. Having said that, consider a couple of pointers to decide whether this course would be a right fit for you:

  • What are your future college major and career goals?
  • Which other AP courses are you considering? AP Lit is a demanding course. Consider this as you plan your AP schedule, so as not to burn yourself out.

Is AP English Literature Hard?

It can be challenging to decide whether or not to enroll in AP English Literature and Composition. Because terms like "hard" and "difficult" are subjective, it is not possible to give a universal response. However, some people may find this exam more challenging than others because of the course’s skill sets. Let's look at some facts to better understand how difficult AP English Literature is.

Here are the AP Lit score distributions for the last 5 years:

AP Score 2019 2020 2021 2022 2023
5 6% 9% 5% 16.9% 15%
4 16% 17% 12% 27.3% 28%
3 28% 34% 27% 33.7% 34%
2 34% 28% 39% 14.1% 14%
1 16% 12% 17% 7.9% 9%

The majority of students fell within the 2-3 range over the past two years. These distributions resemble a true bell curve more than they have in prior years, with fewer students receiving top 4 and 5 marks. In terms of statistics, getting a 4+ on AP Lit is more difficult than getting a 4+ on AP Language.

AP English Language vs. AP Literature: which one is harder?

The primary difference between AP Literature and AP Language is the greater concentration on literature and poetry in AP Literature. AP Language, on the other hand, has a far larger scope and emphasis. Furthermore, in AP English Language and Composition, you’ll spend more time studying how to examine arguments and rhetorical approaches in nonfiction works of art.

Is a college English Literature course harder than AP English Literature and Composition?

Students who have completed AP English Language and Composition often find it difficult to choose between AP English Literature and College Preparatory English Literature for their senior year because of the rigorous differences.

AP Lit is usually taken after AP Lang and is renowned for having a more difficult curriculum. The course consists of evaluating various texts and emphasizes reading rather than writing. AP Literature is one of the most difficult AP courses. Many students who ordinarily receive an A in a college English Literature course receive a B in AP English Literature and composition.

AP English Literature Review Tips

It really isn't easy to get a 3 or above on the AP English Literature and Composition exam. For example, only 44% of students received a score of 3 or above on the 2021 AP English Lit exam. But don't be startled by the numbers! While such a number may leave you conflicted about whether or not to take the exam, you may pass it by working hard, practicing, and persisting.

Practice is the greatest approach to earning a 5 on the AP English Literature exam. At UWorld, we have put together a set of AP English Literature practice exams, AP Literature prose essay samples, test-taking techniques, and customized flashcards that will help you revise and practice the subject better. To learn more about AP English Literature, you can go through our AP English Literature Study Guide.

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Frequently Answered Questions (FAQs)

On the exam day, you may bring the following list of items:

  • Two No. 2 pencils with erasers
  • Two black or dark blue ink pens
  • The AP Student Pack
  • Government or school-issued ID

For a complete list of what to and bring (and what to leave home) on exam day, please refer to the College Board’s AP Exam Policies and Accommodations.

You can find past AP English Literature and Composition essay questions on the College Board website. Multiple-choice practice questions are harder to find and are not posted by the College Board on their website.

The AP English Literature and Composition exam is scheduled for May 8, 2024, at 8 a.m. local time.

Failing the AP English Literature exam will not affect your high school grade point average (GPA). Your academic year’s curriculum will determine your GPA. The score you receive on your AP exam is not factored into your total course grade.

AP English Literature is normally taken during your high school junior or senior year. The course has no prerequisites, so you can actually take it whenever you like. However, students usually wait until they have developed strong time management and study skills before taking this course, especially since it is one of the most time-consuming AP courses.

AP exam fees are $97 per exam if taken in the U.S., Canada and U.S. territories. The cost is $127 per exam, however, if taken outside these areas.

Yes. Some individuals prefer to self-study since the AP English Lit exam is not a content-heavy course but focuses on skills; however, the lack of guidance may affect your preparation.


  1. (2022, May). AP® English Literature and Composition Student Score Distributions – Global AP Exams. College Board.
  2. Packer, T. (2023, June 20). 2023 AP English Literature & Composition scores. X (Formerly Twitter).
  3. (2023). AP English Literature and Composition. College Board.
  4. (2020, Fall). AP English Literature and Composition Course and Exam Description. College Board.

Read More About the AP English Literature Exam

If you are familiar with the exam layout, you will have an edge over the competition. We’ve put together a guide that explains the AP English Literature exam format, question types, and more.
Need a quick summary of all the units, topics, and key concepts in AP English Literature? This simple ‘course and exam description’ guide is for you—including course skills and key information.
Want to know how AP English Literature scores are graded? Learn everything about AP English Literature scoring in this article, which even includes a score calculator to help you project your score.
Want to know the techniques behind scoring a 5 on your AP Lit exam? UWorld’s expert study guide with essential materials and a study plan is here for you to ace the AP English Literature exam.
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