AP® English Literature Scoring Guide

If you decide to take AP® English Literature and Composition, it is important to understand how the exam is scored. The AP English Literature and Composition exam assesses students' critical reading abilities as well as their understanding of a wide range of literary works across genres and periods.

The test is graded on a scale of 1 to 5, with 3 considered the passing score by most colleges. Students who score a 3 or higher on the exam may be eligible for college credit and/or placement, depending on the regulations of the institution or university where they want to enroll. If you are taking the AP Lit exam and would like to know how it’s scored, then you’re on the right page! This article is your guide to the AP English Literature and Composition scoring structure and guidelines.

How Is the AP English Literature Exam Scored?

There are two types of questions on the AP English Literature and Composition exam: multiple-choice (MCQ) and free-response (FRQ). Students have three hours to complete the entire exam. The multiple-choice component accounts for 45 percent of the exam's total score, whereas the free-response section accounts for 55 percent. The scores for the MCQ and FRQ sections are combined to get the final composite score.

It’s helpful to note that anything less than a 3 may not be considered by any college admissions for college credit or placement. Now let's look at each section and understand the scoring pattern:

Section I: MCQ

There are 55 multiple-choice questions to answer, and students have one hour to do so. Each MCQ has five answer-choices. There are no penalties for incorrect responses or the questions you leave blank. Therefore, if you are unsure about an answer, it’s best to make a guess! Each correct answer is worth about 1 point and the final score for this section is calculated by adding up all the points earned for those answers.

Section II: FRQ

Students have two hours to answer three free-response questions for that section of the exam. Each essay is assigned a point value ranging from 0 to 6 and is is graded by two individual AP readers. If they both reach the same point value while grading, the score provided is final. If they do not agree, a third reader makes the final decision.

According to the College Board®, each essay is graded as a whole, based on substance, style, and mechanics. Each essay's scores are multiplied by 3.055, then combined together to produce a raw score.

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AP English Literature and Composition Scoring Guidelines & Rubrics

The AP Lit FRQs are graded according to an analytical rubric instead of a holistic one. Below is a tabular format of the scoring guideline and rubric, as published by the College Board:

Reporting Category Points Scoring Criteria

Row A: Thesis
0-1 pts.
  • 0 points: If the theses are inadequate: simply the prompt is reiterated, summaries are without coherent claims, or the prompt is not answered.
  • 1 point: Your answer offers a reasonable interpretation of the passage.
Row B: Evidence and Commentary 0-4 pts.
  • 0 points: Simply the prompt is 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.
  • The criteria for scoring a point is not met.
  • Answer presents a complex literary argument and/or sophisticated thought.
FRQ Question1 FRQ Question2 FRQ Question3 Points
Row A Respond to the prompt with a thesis that presents a defensible interpretation of the poem. Respond to the prompt with a thesis that presents a defensible interpretation of the passage. Respond to the prompt with a thesis that presents a defensible interpretation of the selected work. 1
Row B Provide evidence and commentary Provide evidence and commentary Provide evidence and commentary 1 to 4
Demonstrate sophistication of thought and/or develop a complex literary argument. Demonstrate sophistication of thought and/or develop a complex literary argument. Demonstrate sophistication of thought and/or develop a complex literary argument. 1

AP English Literature Scoring Table

The final results will not include your composite score or even the individual score for each section of the exam. You will only see your AP scaled score ranging from 1 to 5. Each score represents a certain degree of performance. Colleges use these results to determine who is eligible for college credit and placement. The table below shows the prospective college grade equivalent for AP scores:

AP Exam Score College Grade Equivalent Qualification
5 A+ or A Extremely well qualified
4 A-, B+, or B Very well qualified
3 B-, C+, or C Qualified
2 Possibly Qualified
1 No recommendation

As you may have already realized, most institutions do not consider scores below 3 when making admissions decisions. If a student wants to get college credit and/or advanced placement based on their AP English Literature exam score, they typically must earn a score of 3 or higher. Always double-check the minimum requirements of the colleges you want to apply to, since some schools require a higher score for college credit.

AP English Literature Score Distribution

Thousands of students from all around the world take the AP English Literature exam each year. In May 2023, 356,043 students took the exam, with over 274,836 having received a score of 3 or higher. That's about 77.2% of those who took the exam. Let's take a peek at the AP English Literature score distributions for the last four years, from 2019 to 2023, to gauge its success rates in the past. This may help you decide whether or not to take AP Literature.

2023 2022 2021 2020 2019
No. of Students % of Students No. of Students % of Students No. of Students % of Students No. of Students % of Students No. of Students % of Students
5 53,092 14.9% 57,436 16.9% 15,846 4.9% 31,030 9.3% 23,508 6.2%
4 98,970 27.8% 92,549 27.3% 38,505 12.0% 57,642 17.3% 59,648 15.7%
3 122,774 34.5% 114,510 33.7% 86,502 26.9% 111,903 33.5% 105,635 27.8%
2 51,129 14.4% 47,956 14.1% 119,771 37.3% 92,700 27.8% 130,358 34.3%
1 30,078 8.4% 26,950 7.9% 60,405 18.8% 40,705 12.2% 60,987 16.0%
Success Rate 77.2% 77.9% 43.8% 60.1% 49.7%

Based on data from the last five AP exams, AP English Literature and Composition’s passing rate has hovered around 62%, with a dip in scores in 2019 through 2021. Those particular years' lower success rates were likely the result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which greatly impacted education systems around the world. However, the passing rates did bounce back in 2022, when students performed with an impressive success rate of nearly 78%.

The average passing rates for AP Lit indicate two things: First, performing well in this course and exam requires grit, dedication, and disciplined study habits. Second, if you practice hard with the right study tools, you, too, can earn a score of 3 or above. This is where UWorld’s practice tests and study tools can help. UWorld's online AP English Literature and Composition practice exam reinforces the concepts that are bound to appear on the exam. Online study tools can also track your progress and build the confidence you need on test day, ensuring nothing catches you by surprise.

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AP English Literature Minimum Score Requirements for College Credits

As you may already know, most institutions require a minimum score of 3 to qualify for college credit and placement. Completing the course but skipping the exam can still result in a transcript that looks appealing to college admissions committees.

Here is a list of some universities and their minimum AP English Literature criteria for course credits.

Institution AP Score AP Recognition Equivalent Course Credits
Harvard University 5 Credit - 8 credits
University of California,
Berkeley (UCB)
4/5 Credit English 1A 4 semester units
5 English 1A - 1B 5.3 semester units
Yale University 5 Credit ENGL 114, ENGL 115 1 credit
Princeton University 5 Credit
- 1 credit
Columbia University 5 Credit
- 3 credits
University of California,
Los Angeles
4/5 Credit
ENGCOMP 3 8 credits
3 - 8 credits
University of Chicago 5 Credit
- 100 units general
elective credit
University of Michigan--Ann
4/5 Credit
- 3 credits

Frequently Asked Questions

The College Board considers a score of 3 or higher on an AP exam as qualified. However, they regard scores of 4 or 5 as truly impressive AP scores.

The average AP English Literature score for 2023 was 3.26 . Based on historical data (2019-2022), the AP English Lit scores have averaged between 2.62 to 3.31.

Although the College Board does not specify the score percentage that guarantees a 5 on the AP exam, earning a minimum composite score of 100 out of 120 could get you a 5. Based on historical data and scoring patterns as published by the College Board, we can assume that earning about a 67% on the AP Lit exam equals an approximate 5 on the AP scale.

Every year, the College Board curves its exams (including AP English Literature) for consistency. As a result, they also adjust their scoring rules to reflect the intensity of college-level courses.

AP English Literature scores are curved for grading uniformity across both paper-based and digital exams. This all but guarantees that AP exam scores remain comparable college-level grades.

There is no secret to getting a 5 in AP English Literature. Applied learning, solid study habits, and purposeful practice are the only time-tested ways of getting a 5 on your exam. Strong critical reading, literary analysis, and essay writing abilities are the core skills you need to master for this exam.

The 2023 exam results were released in July 2023. Your College Board account allows you to check your results online.

Students earn a perfect score when they correctly answer all of the questions on both portions of the exam. Only three test-takers scored a perfect 5 on the 2021 exam by earning all 120 points possible across all essays and questions.

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  1. (2023, October). 2023 AP Score Distributions. College Board.
  2. (2023, October). STUDENT SCORE DISTRIBUTIONS* AP Exams - May 2023. College Board.
  3. (2022, October). STUDENT SCORE DISTRIBUTIONS* AP Exams - May 2022. College Board.
  4. (2021, October). STUDENT SCORE DISTRIBUTIONS* AP Exams - May 2021. College Board.
  5. (2020, October). STUDENT SCORE DISTRIBUTIONS* AP Exams - May 2020. College Board.
  6. (2019, October). STUDENT SCORE DISTRIBUTIONS* AP Exams - May 2019. College Board.
  7. Packer, T. (2021, July 13). AP English Literature and Composition: 2021 Results. College Board All Access.

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