AP® English Literature Course And Exam Description
The AP® English Literature and Composition course is a year-long college-level class. It prepares students for introductory college-level literature and writing courses. Each student needs to know what to expect from the course to get a good grade on the AP Lit exam.
In the AP Lit course, you will read and analyze imaginative literature from various periods to understand how writers use language to convey meaning and pleasure. As you read, you will learn to evaluate the structure, style, and topics of a work, as well as the figurative language, imagery, and symbolism used in it.
AP English Literature Units, Topics, and Key Concepts
The AP English Literature course comprises two primary components as prescribed by the College Board®.
- Big Ideas and Enduring Understandings
- Course Skills
These components help students gain the skills and knowledge essential to succeed in the course and the exam. Let’s understand each component one by one. The big ideas are themes that weave across the course module to create conceptual knowledge, and the long-term takeaways you get from these big ideas are called enduring understandings. Course skills are the things you learn to do as you progress through the course. These skills include understanding, analyzing, interpreting texts, and explaining your claim in the argumentative essay. Together, these components form the foundational elements of the course, and we recommend that you review and apply these elements in a variety of contexts throughout your test prep. Doing so will help you master the course and ace the AP Lit exam.
Now, let's learn more about these components, starting with the big ideas and enduring understandings first.
AP English Literature’s Six Big Ideas and Enduring Understandings
The big ideas form the backbone of the AP English Lit course, allowing students to make meaningful connections between AP Lit course units. While the first five big ideas are elements of literature, the 6th one is the method by which you use the first five big ideas and use them to make and defend a claim or thesis. The following are AP English Lit’s six big ideas, along with the enduring understanding connected to each of them:
Big Idea 1: CHARACTER (CHR)
Enduring Understanding CHR-1
In narrative literature and poetry, characters reflect a wide range of traits, motives, actions, dialogues, values, and cultural conventions. These elements provide an opportunity to examine and understand the role of the characters in the narrative and what they represent.
Big Idea 2: SETTING (SET)
Enduring Understanding SET-1
A setting and its associated features define not only the time and place of the narrative but also play a role in plot development and help define the meaning and values associated with it.
Big Idea 3: STRUCTURE (STR)
Enduring Understanding STR-1
The narrative structure describes the manner in which the author has pieced the literary work together. This work can be prose or a poem. The arrangement of sections and parts of the text, their relationship to one another, and the order in which the text discloses information are all choices that impact the reader’s understanding of the text.
Big Idea 4: NARRATION (NAR)
Enduring Understanding NAR-1
The fourth big idea helps you understand and analyze the position of the narrator and how he narrates the story. In short, the element of narration influences how readers experience and interpret a text. To interpret the narrative, you need to understand the author/narrator’s points of view, values and biases.
Big Idea 5: FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE (FIG)
Enduring Understanding FIG-1
The fifth big idea will help you learn about rhetorical devices and word choices and how their usage affects the text. Literary devices like comparisons, representations, and analogies transform the meaning of a text from literal to metaphorical. As a student of the AP Eng Lit course, your task would be to detect the usage of figurative language in a text, interpret its meaning, and analyze its importance in the narrative.
Big Idea 6: LITERARY ARGUMENTATION (LAN)
Enduring Understanding LAN-1
The sixth big idea will teach you how to combine the first five big ideas and use them to analyze a piece of literature. It will also develop your ability to make and defend a claim in response to the given prompt.
Keep in mind that the AP English Lit free-response questions (FRQ) will focus on your ability to understand these big ideas and how you apply them while responding to a prompt.
What Are the AP English Literature Course Skills?
In addition to the big ideas and enduring understandings, the AP English Literature and Composition course helps you develop specific skills and abilities. These abilities, called "course skills,” are the basis of the tasks on the AP English Literature exam.
Every prompt on the exam will require you to use one or more of these course skills to answer them successfully. The College Board has listed seven course skills for the AP Lit exam. These are:
The Nine Units of AP English Literature and Their Topics
The AP English Lit course content consists of nine units that will help you build skills and knowledge through three genre-based, recurring units, namely, Short Fiction, Poetry, and Longer Fiction or Drama. Let's look at the list of AP Lit units, their approximate weights on the exam, and the number of class periods required for each unit below.
|Unit 1: Short Fiction I
|Unit 4: Short Fiction II
|Unit 7: Short Fiction III
|Unit 2: Poetry I
|Unit 5: Poetry II
|Unit 8: Poetry III
|Unit 3: Longer Fiction or Drama I
|Unit 6: Longer Fiction or Drama II
|Unit 9: Longer Fiction or Drama III
Each unit comes with specific big ideas and skills you’ll learn during your course. It is also important to understand how these topics are categorized so that you can focus on individual concepts and skills in detail. If you’re curious to learn about any particular AP English Literature and Composition unit, click on the unit tabs below to take you there!
Unit 1: Short Fiction I
To analyze fiction, you must first understand these big ideas: character, setting, story, and narrator. Unit 1 expands on students’ past understandings of these basics while laying the groundwork for the skills and information required for this course. Students start to look at how these basic parts work in a text.
Topics Explored in Unit 1:
Frequently Asked Questions
The pass percentage for the AP English Literature and Composition Exam in 2023 was 77.2%, with a mean score of 3.26. These figures indicate that most students who grasp the reading, critical thinking, and writing skills covered in the course are likely to score a 3 or higher on the AP English Literature exam.
Here are the most important AP English Lit topics, which cover around 60% of all the concepts covered in the course:
Yes, you can take AP English Literature without having taken regular English Literature in high school.