AP® English Literature Study Guide
The Key To Scoring A 5

The AP® English Literature and Composition exam is one of the most popular AP assessments. It tests your ability to read and analyze poetry and prose, as well as your ability to write college-level essays about fictional literature. The AP Lit exam can be challenging, but the best way to improve your score is to create a dedicated study plan, learn about the skills tested on the exam, and practice reading and answering questions that are similar to the ones on the test. If you want to learn how to make your own AP Lit study plan and get the best help for your review, this guide has your back! We’ll help you maximize your study approach for the AP Literature exam so you can achieve your dream score.

How to Prepare for the AP English Literature and Composition Exam

From the moment you sign up for the AP Lit course to exam day, you can take the following steps to prepare, improving your chances of a dream score:

  1. Step 1: Know What's Included In the Course
  2. Step 2: Create a Study Plan That Meets Your Study Habits
  3. Step 3: Prepare for AP Lit Class and Target Challenging Areas
  4. Step 4: Pick a Target Score and Work Toward It
  5. Step 5: Review With Quality Study Materials
  6. Step 6: Take the Exam Confident and Stress-Free!
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Step 1: Know What’s Included In the Course

Step 2: Create a Study Plan That Meets Your Study Habits

Depending on your target score and prep time, you can create a dedicated study plan to learn, review, and practice concepts, preparing yourself for D-day!

So, how much time do you need to dedicate to studying for the AP English Literature exam to score a 3,4, or 5?

It is hard to say how much time you may need to devote to getting ready for the AP Lit exam. Much depends on how well–and how fast–you read and write. Feel free to adapt this information to your own personal abilities. You must be sure to split your time between the following categories of practice:

  1. Reading both poetry and prose
  2. Answering MCQs and writing FRQ responses
  3. Untimed practice and timed practice

If you do these things, you will have a better chance at getting the score you want on the exam.

Make your AP Lit study plan

Last-minute studying for the AP English Lit exam is difficult because it tests a specific skill that you must develop over the course of your educational career: reading. Trying to cram last-minute for it is like trying to train for a marathon by starting to jog a month before the race. Instead, you can improve your chances of success by taking some simple steps just one to two months before the exam. The first step, of course, is to create an effective study schedule.

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Step 3: Prepare for the AP English Lit Class and Target Challenging Areas

Most students decide to take AP Lit during their senior year of high school. You can start preparing over the summer to get ready for the class and increase your chances of earning a good score on the exam. Here are some suggestions you can follow to get a head start in class.

  • Many schools have required summer reading for AP English students to help them practice their reading skills. Be sure to find out if your school has such a requirement and start the assigned reading a month before school starts. If your school does not have a summer reading requirement, select a classic piece of literature to read on your own during the summer. By doing this, you will have an additional option for the FRQ on the literary argument on the exam.
  • Review common literary terms like simile, metaphor, personification, allusion, symbol, first-person point of view, third-person point of view, tone, stanza, sonnet, setting, juxtaposition, paradox, antithesis, syntax, hyperbole, and understatement.
  • Read some contemporary poetry and some older poems from the 1800s (or earlier) to reinforce what you’ve learned in previous English classes. Using your own words, express what the poets are trying to say. Identify the message that each poem communicates. This will help you effectively and efficiently analyze poetry on the exam.

How to review for the AP English Literature exam

Take a look at some FRQ prompts, sample essays, and scoring commentaries from previous exams that can help you review for the AP English Lit test. You can find Past Exam Free Response Questions here on the College Board® website. UWorld’s sample questions on the how to approach the AP English Literature MCQs page is also a good place to begin your preparation.

How to self-study for the AP English Literature exam

Self-studying for AP English Lit is very common. However, self-studying presents two major challenges: you do not have an AP teacher to guide you through difficult concepts, and you do not have access to AP Classroom practice questions. However, you can still prepare yourself to do well on the exam. Here are some resources that can make it easier:

  1. UWorld question bank

    The questions available on the UWorld AP English Literature Qbank are designed to provide you with the kind of questions you will see on the exam. In addition, each question has a full explanation of why the right answer is correct and the wrong answer is incorrect. This can help you identify inaccurate patterns of thought and correct them before the exam.

  2. College Board AP Daily videos

    While you cannot access the practice materials on the College Board’s AP Classroom, you can watch their Daily Videos for AP English Lit that are available on YouTube. These videos walk you through MCQ and FRQ strategies to show you how to succeed on each section of the exam.

  3. The Garden of English

    The Garden of English website is hosted by a successful AP English teacher who posts videos and print resources that explain key concepts for success on the AP English Lit exam. The videos are free to view, and many of the print resources are available for purchase.

  4. Printed exam study guides

    There are many printed resources that can be found by looking on Amazon or even at used bookstores. However, try to buy the most recently published versions available. Test questions change in subtle ways on a frequent basis. Printed materials become outdated quickly, whereas online resources often include the most current reflection of the actual test.

Most students learn best by combining teacher-led instruction with MCQs and essay practice. We suggest that you do both.

  • Start by watching videos designed to help with MCQ strategies, because most students find this section to be the hardest part of the test.
  • Practice with some MCQs from an online question bank or printed exam study guide. First, go at your own speed. As you gain confidence, time yourself so that you can read a passage and answer the questions at a pace of about one minute each. For example, if there are 10 questions about a poem, you should try to read the poem and then answer all the questions in 10 minutes.
  • Once you have spent some time working on the MCQ section, watch some videos on one type of FRQ.
  • Write a practice essay to simulate what you will have to do on the exam. Once again, write it in as much time as you need (at first). Later, practice writing your essays in just 40 minutes, because that is what you will need to do on the actual exam.
  • Continue this process until you have learned about all three types of FRQs and can write one in 40 minutes.

It may be helpful to also consult with a friend who has previously taken the AP Lit exam, as they may have some helpful advice. There are several online AP communities, such as the AP Lit Students Reddit group, where you can get suggestions about how to successfully self-study for the AP Lit test.

Which units are the most difficult to master?

Units 2, 5, and 8 are typically the most difficult for students to master because they focus on reading poetry. Most students find poetry to be the hardest form of literature to understand because poems are short, use unusual sentence structure, and require “reading between the lines” to draw inferences about the stated ideas.

Although modern prose fiction is usually easier to read than its older counterpart, the same cannot be said of poetry. Often, contemporary poetry is just as hard–if not harder–to understand as poems written in previous centuries. Reading poetry on your own is the best way to improve at analyzing it. Additionally, it can be helpful to take the UWorld poetry MCQ practice and assess your poetry comprehension skills. Each answer has an explanation detailing what makes it correct or incorrect, which is especially helpful when working on poetry comprehension skills.

Step 4: Pick a Target Score and Work Toward It

Depending on your career plan and academic priorities, you might have a target score in mind. Here’s what you need to know if you’re gunning for a 3, 4, or a 5 on your AP Lit exam:

  1. How to pass the AP English Literature exam

    AP Lit exam scores are determined by the number of multiple-choice questions you answer correctly, as well as the scores you receive on the free-response questions. Scores are determined on a sliding scale, meaning the more MCQs you answer correctly, the better your chances are at earning a passing score on the exam, regardless of your FRQ essay responses. If your FRQ score is high enough, you will be fine even if you struggle with the MCQ section. This is why guidelines for scoring well can vary from student to student.

    In general, to get a minimum score of 3 on the AP Lit exam, you will need to answer at least 55% of the MCQs correctly, score at least a 4 on one of the FRQs, and earn a 3 on the other two FRQs.

  2. How to do well on the AP English Literature exam

    To get a 4 on the AP Lit exam, students typically need to answer about 35 of the 55 MCQs correctly and receive a score of 4 on all three FRQs.

  3. How can one improve score from 3 to 4 in AP English Literature exam

    The easiest way to take your AP Lit exam score from a 3 to a 4 is to improve your essay scores on the prose fiction analysis and literary argument FRQs. Here are some AP English Lit Exam tips to help you:

    Prose Analysis FRQ

    • Many students run out of time while writing an essay because they spend too much time on the introduction. Two to four sentences are plenty.
    • You do not have to list two or three literary devices or techniques in your thesis to receive a point for it. You simply need a defensible interpretation.
    • Noting every literary device used in the passage won’t impress an AP Lit exam reader. Instead, focus on writing about two or three. Also, don't worry if you can't remember the name of a particular literary device you want to discuss.
    • Organize your essay according to the structure of the passage or poem. Jumping around can make your writing seem disorganized.
    • Essays that follow the organization of the passage often score higher than those that devote each paragraph to one literary device.
    • Embed shorter quotes into your sentence structure when citing evidence and blend the evidence with your commentary. This is more sophisticated and ensures that you aren't just writing long quotes with no commentary.

    Literary Argument FRQ:

    • To prepare for the exam, make sure you are thoroughly familiar with at least three to five novels or dramas. It might be helpful to read summaries online to refresh your memory of the characters, key events, conflicts, settings, etc.
    • Always assume the reader has read the novel/drama you have chosen. You do not need to summarize large quantities of details.
    • Summarize only the important details needed to support your claim. This will keep you from wasting precious time on details that aren't necessary.

    If you want to learn more tips on FRQs, check out our guide on How to Approach Free-response questions for your AP English Literature exam.

  4. How to score a perfect 5 on the AP English Literature exam

    To get a 5 on the AP Lit exam, you will need to answer about 40 of the 55 MCQs correctly and receive a 5 on all three FRQs.

Step 5: Review With Quality Study Materials

Here's a list of all the study resources mentioned in this AP Lit study guide. Make use of as many of them as you can!

  • UWorld AP English Lit question bank: AP-level MCQs with in-depth explanations that help you learn from your mistakes.
  • AP Classroom: Direct from the College Board and includes actual past AP test questions, but you must be enrolled in an AP class to access it.
  • AP Course Description Guide: Explains how the test is set up, what skills are covered, and offers some practice questions.
  • Past AP Questions: Lists prompts, sample essays and commentaries to show you what to do and not do in your essay responses.
  • AP Daily Videos: Available to anyone on YouTube, contains valuable instruction from successful AP teachers.
  • The Garden of English: A website run by a well-respected AP English teacher with bite-sized videos and tips.
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  1. (2023). AP English Literature and Composition Writing Study Skills. College Board.
  2. (2023). AP English Literature and Composition. College Board.
  3. (2020, Fall). AP English Literature and Composition Course and Exam Description. College Board.

Read More About AP English Literature

Answering FRQs can be tough at times! See our how-to guide to approaching AP English Literature FRQs—including sample questions and strategies to master your exam.
Answering MCQs appears simple, but the correct answer can differ by a small margin. Here, we’ll show you how to approach the right answer in AP English Literature MCQs.
Be test-ready with UWorld! Try our mock test with hundreds of exam-like practice questions created by former AP teachers and subject experts, all with clear explanations.
Want to get the ins and outs of the AP English Literature Exam in a single document? Here’s the complete exam guide where you learn what’s on the exam, prerequisites, etc.
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