AP® English Language vs. AP® English Literature
What Should You Choose?

If you plan to enroll in AP® English classes, you may be confused when choosing between AP English Literature and AP English Language. While these two courses sound similar to each other, they are, in fact, vastly different in their content and end-of-course assessment.

Most students usually take either AP Language in 11th grade or AP Literature in 12th grade, but you can also take both. It's crucial to understand their differences and how they'll help you decide between the courses or whether they complement each other in college. Let's help you pick the right one by understanding how the exams are structured, what you'll learn, and how you'll be assessed.

AP English Language vs. AP English Literature

Selecting one AP English course over the other hinges on various factors, including course content, acquired skills, and, most importantly, your study habits and academic aptitude. To aid you in making an informed choice, let's examine the difference between AP English Language and AP Literature in terms of their content, assessment methods, format, and scoring criteria.

AP English Language vs AP English Literature
AP English Language vs AP English Literature
  1. Course Content and Objectives

    In the AP English Literature course, you will delve into the world of fiction, including novels, short stories, poetry, and plays. Your exploration will involve in-depth study and analysis of elements such as plot, characterization, theme, and how the narrator or author constructs mise-en-scene. In addition, you’ll learn about literary devices like allegories, analogies, and metaphors to understand how they are used to convey deeper meaning in the text.

    AP English Language, however, is a whole different story. This course aims to teach you the usage of grammar and rhetoric in standard written and oral English. You’ll study non-fictional texts like historical documents, biographies, memoirs, research articles, and speeches to analyze how language is used to argue or convey a point of view by the author. As you journey through the course, you’ll also learn about the author's strategies to persuade and inform their audience.

  2. Skills Tested

    The AP English Lit exam will test your analytical skills and critical interpretation of fictional literature. You'll be asked to demonstrate your understanding of how the author uses literary devices, characters, setting, plot, and narrative structure to establish a specific point of view and give the text a deeper meaning. Our page on the AP English Literature and Composition course is here to help you learn about the course topics and skills.

    The AP English Lang exam is similar to the AP Lit exam, but the former focuses on different things. The AP English Language and Composition exam assesses how well you can analyze and understand the techniques used in nonfiction writing. You'll need to use evidence and research to evaluate and explain your ideas and/or substantiate the claims made by the author. Learn more about the AP Lang course skills and topics on our AP Language and Composition Course page.

  3. Exam Structure and Evaluation

    The AP Language exam is slightly longer than the AP Literature exam. The AP Lang exam lasts 3 hours and 15 minutes, while the AP Lit exam lasts 3 hours. You will have one hour to finish the MCQ section of both exams. However, the difference comes in Section II, where you will get an extra 15 minutes to complete the FRQs on the AP Language exam as compared to the AP Lit exam.

    The AP Lit exam also gives you less time per question in the MCQ section than the AP Lang exam. That's because the AP Lit exam requires you to answer 55 MCQs in 1 hour, compared to the 45 MCQs on the AP Lang exam.

    The scoring structure for both exams is similar, with more weight given to the MCQ section of the AP Lang and AP Lit exams. Looking at the actual prompts from both exams can also help you understand how they differ. Check out AP English Lit's past FRQs and compare them with recent AP English Lang's FRQs to gauge their exam format.

Did you know?
Unlike the AP Lit exam, the AP Language exam offers a 15-minute reading period before diving into your essays. This gives you ample time to gather your thoughts and formulate your argument for the synthesis question in Section II.

  1. Difficulty Levels

    You may wonder which of the two AP English courses is more difficult. While the answer to this question depends on a number of factors, you should be aware that any AP course is challenging because it is equivalent to college-level courses.

    While you can consider the overall likelihood of scoring a 3 or higher on these two exams to understand their difficulty, these success rates are not the ultimate marker of an exam's difficulty. Whether you’ll do better in AP Lit or AP Lang depends on various factors. You should consider your career goals, study habits, and academic strengths and weaknesses before opting for either.

    During the years 2022 and 2023, AP Lit's success rate averaged 77%. AP Lit is considered ideal for the senior year of high school. With fewer students taking it than AP Lang, this may indicate that students spend more time prepping for it and have a higher success rate than in AP Lang. On the other hand, AP Lang has an average success rate of 56% on the 2022 and 2023 AP exams. AP Lang has consistently been among the most popular AP exams, with about 520,700 students taking it in 2022. With popular exams, the success rates may be lower due to the larger quantity of students taking them.

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What's Common for AP Language and AP Literature?

While these differences can help you pick one course over the other, you should also know what the two AP English courses have in common before deciding. Let's start with the exam format first and then move on to the AP class structure for each course:

  • The Exam

    Both the AP English Language and AP English Literature exams share a similar format. The MCQ section of each exam carries 45% of the total exam score, and the FRQ section carries the rest of 55 %. Section II (FRQ) of both exams consists of three questions, so you must budget your time, read, think, and write with solid arguments, irrespective of which course you choose.

  • The Class

    Both AP Lit and AP Lang are offered as year-long classes in high school, and each course usually takes around 30 weeks to complete. Each course also consists of 9 units covered across 135 to 139 class periods.

What Should You Choose? Deciding Which AP English Class to Take

While learning the differences between AP English Language and AP Literature can help you choose between the two, you should also consider whether your career goals align with the course content and objectives. That will help you understand how each course can help you with your college degree. If you're planning a major in literature, reading, writing, or the humanities in general, taking the AP Lit course and exam will benefit you.

However, if you want to be flexible about your college major, you can opt for AP English Lang, as it will boost your proficiency in analyzing and interpreting documents, consolidating information, and drafting evidence-based arguments. These skills will help you succeed in almost any field, whether that’s the humanities, law, finance, or sciences.

While it's possible to choose between AP Lit and AP Lang, many students decide to take both courses. Generally, students take the AP Language course during their junior year and follow it up with the AP English Literature course in their senior year. For those intending to pursue English, literature, or humanities majors, opting for both AP Lit and Lang proves advantageous, as the skills acquired in AP English Language are highly applicable when tackling AP English Literature. Nevertheless, it's essential to remember that when enrolling in any rigorous AP course, it's wise to challenge yourself, but not to the point of overwhelming exhaustion.

Can't make up your mind on which course to choose? It’s time to put your English skills to the test! Try out our premium AP English Literature question bank and AP English Language practice tests. Best part? We've got your back with a 7-day trial, absolutely on the house!

Key Takeaways

AP English Language and AP English Literature are courses that can be taken separately but complement each other if taken together, and choosing one course over another can be difficult. Therefore, we've bulleted the most important takeaways you should consider when deciding whether to take one or both:

  1. Do the courses match your existing skillset and learning aptitude?
  2. Will they supplement and support your prospective college major?
  3. Do you already have an AP schedule in place? If so, will you have enough time to study for AP Lit, AP Lang, or both?
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

No, you are only permitted to take one AP English course per year of high school.

It depends on what your career goals are. If you plan a career in literature, the humanities, or English, you can take AP Lit and AP Lang. However, if you want to keep yourself flexible about your major or plan to go for a career unrelated to literature, taking AP Lang can suffice for your introductory English course in college.

This depends on the subject you wish to pursue in college and the college’s AP credit policies. Check with prospective colleges and AP coordinators to learn whether both AP English courses are given the same weight or if one is preferred over the other.

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