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Advanced Placement (AP)


When you're studying for your AP Literature Exam, you're going to want to use practice tests and questions to hone your skills. But where can you find AP literature practice tests? And are all practice exams equally useful for you?

The real exam has 55 multiple-choice questions and three free-response questions, but there are practice tests with every conceivable number and combination of question types.

In this article, you'll learn where to find every official College Board AP English Literature and Composition practice exam, free unofficial tests, and paid practice test resources. You'll also find out which tests are high-quality and how you can best use different practice exams to fulfill your studying needs.

Official Free AP Literature Practice Tests

The gold standard of AP English Literature practice tests and AP English Literature practice exam questions are College Board released materials . That's because the College Board administers the AP exams, so their practice questions are most like the actual AP questions you'll see on the test.

There are three different kinds of resources offered by the College Board: complete released exams from past years, released free-response questions from past years, and sample questions from the "AP Course And Exam Description."

Official Released College Board Exams

There are three official released College Board Exams. However, only the most recent one (from 2012) is complete. The 1999 and 1987 exams have the standard 55 multiple-choice questions, but both are missing parts of the three question free-response section. You can still use them as complete exams if you supplement them with released free-response questions from past years which we recommend since official multiple-choice problems are hard to come by.

2012 AP English Literature and Composition Exam

This is the best AP Lit practice test available. It's the most recent exam released by the College Board, and it follows the format of the current test with 55 multiple-choice questions and three free-response questions. Definitely make use of this test!

1999 AP English Literature and Composition Exam

This test excludes the poetry and prose analysis questions of the free-response section and only has the student choice question. So, to take it as a complete exam, you'd need to supplement it with questions 1 and 2 from the released free-response questions below . You can actually get question 2 for the 1999 test from the official free-response questions bank, but the excerpt for question 1 can't be reprinted, so you'll need to supplement with another poetry analysis question.

1987 AP English Literature and Composition Exam For reasons that are not totally clear, this exam excludes the third essay question, the poetry analysis. If you want to take this as "complete" exam practice, use a free-response poetry analysis prompt from the bank of free response questions linked below.


Or supplement with this tree-poem.

Official Free-Response Questions

There may not be very many complete released exams, but there are tons of free-response questions available from previous administrations of the test. These are great practice, not just for writing complete essays, but for practicing writing thesis statements, outlines, and so on.

What's also great about these is that most of them come with sample response and scoring guidelines, so you'll be able to see exactly what makes a high-quality AP essay by College Board standards. Be aware, though, that some of the prose and poetry excerpts can't be reprinted due to copyright concerns.

Below is the link to all the free-response questions available. The questions go all the way back to 1999, and since there haven't been many changes to the free-response part of the exam, all of these questions can be useful during your studying.

AP English Lit Free Response Questions 1999-2021

Sample Questions From the Course and Exam Description

The 2019 AP English Literature Course and Exam Description has practice multiple-choice questions and free-response questions.They don't add up to a complete test--there are only 19 multiple-choice questions instead of 55–but there are three free response questions (enough for a full test). Even though there aren’t many multiple-choice questions, they are great for simple practice.

If you're looking for more questions like these, you can revisit the old exam description booklets as well . (Just keep in mind that some of the other information in the booklet may be out of date!)

Your Teacher

Your AP teacher may have access to copies of old AP exams that you can use for practice. They probably can't let you take them out of the classroom, but they may be allowed to loan them to you in a supervised setting. This is because teachers can purchase resources directly from the College Board that students can't. Asking your teacher may not bear fruit, but it's worth a try.


Why are you asking me for AP Lit practice tests? I'm your Econ teacher!

Free Unofficial AP Literature Practice Tests

In addition to the free College Board resources, there are also several places online where you can get free, unofficial practice tests. Be aware that, because these resources aren't College-Board created or approved, they are of variable quality. For each of these resources we'll describe what's offered and how it compares to official College Board tests.

Varsity Tutors AP Literature Practice Tests

This site has multiple-choice practice quizzes divided by concept--things like "interpreting the passage," "claims and argument," and "interpreting excerpts." The questions aren't worded exactly the same way as AP test questions, but they are still okay for testing your passage-interpretation skills. Basically, the questions test for similar skills, but don't necessarily mimic AP test questions in style.

Also, the site provides the date, title, and author of each work, which is not something you'll receive on the AP exam. You can make a free account at the site to track your scores, but it's not necessary to be able to take the tests.


Kittens not included with free practice tests, unfortunately.

Albert AP English Literature Quizzes

Albert offers multiple-choice quizzes divided into prose, poetry, and drama categories. You are given the title, date, and author of the work--which you will not receive on the real AP exam. Like the Varsity Tutors quizzes, Albert offers questions that test similar skills as the AP exam, but the questions are worded differently.

High School Test Prep Tests

This site offers three short multiple-choice practice tests. You're given the title and author of the work. The questions for these tests are fairly surface-level, so I would only use these if you are working on your reading comprehension skills.

CrackAP English Literature Quizzes

CrackAP has over 40 short AP Lit quizzes. Each quiz gives a passage then has 15 multiple-choice questions on it. The questions are somewhat easier than you'll find on the real AP exam, but if you need some quick practice, this can do the trick. This resource also has examples of past free response questions, which can be useful study tools, too!

Practice Quiz AP English Literature

This site offers a 20-question multiple-choice quiz on two passages--one poetry, and one prose. The passages are extremely basic, however, so I would only use this resource if you are working on your reading comprehension skills.

Looking for help studying for your AP exam? Our one-on-one online AP tutoring services can help you prepare for your AP exams. Get matched with a top tutor who got a high score on the exam you're studying for!

The queens of AP Lit practice give you their blessing.

Paid Unofficial Practice Tests

There are also several paid resources that offer unofficial practice questions.

This is a subscription service with questions for tons of different tests—SAT, ACT, and AP exams.They also have videos and other review resources. We can't really speak to the quality of the questions because the entire service is behind a paywall of about $25 a month.

The Princeton Review AP Literature Study Guide 2021

Published study guides are an excellent way to practice for the AP Literature exam. These books are put together by experts who have inside knowledge of the test, and The Princeton Review is one of the best out there.

This study guide has three practice tests, along with other types of sample questions and expert explanations to help you improve your analytical skills.

Barron's AP English Literature and Composition, 7th Edition

Like The Princeton Review study guide, the Barron's AP Literature study guide is another great resource for students looking for extra exam prep. This guide has four practice tests and sample essay questions , along with an expert walk-through of the AP Literature exam itself.

If you're looking for a guide that gives you practice and provides tips for mastering the exam, this would be a good pick!

This subscription service offers access to tons of test prep, including the SAT, ACT and lots of AP courses. Their AP Literature resources include two full-length practice tests, three sets of flashcards to help you study, and several instructional videos.

Prices for subscriptions start at $39 dollars per month, and some plans include live tutoring and writing instruction . If you choose to subscribe, you get access to all of their course and test-prep materials, so if you’re taking several AP classes, this could be a good source.


I definitely advise paying for all of these resources with whatever loose foreign change you have lying around.

How to Use AP Literature Practice Tests

How to use a given practice test depends somewhat on the resource itself. We'll offer some recommendations here on how to best use different resources.

Complete Official Released Tests

The best way to use a complete official practice test is to do a practice-run for the exam . So find a quiet room, bring a timer or watch so you can time sections, and get to work! This will help you get familiar with the exam experience so you'll feel more comfortable on exam day!

Since there are two complete AP Lit practice tests, it makes sense to take one early on in your studying time, and one later. You can get a parent, tutor or teacher to grade the exams. The early test will help you figure out what you need to work on, and the later test will show you how you've improved! Since the AP English Literature test is more skills-heavy than content-heavy, you shouldn't feel totally lost taking a practice test even in the middle of the school year.

Official Released Free-Response and Sample Questions

Official resources that aren't complete tests are best for practicing individual sections of the test. The sample multiple-choice questions in the "Course and Exam Description" make for great AP English Literature multiple-choice practice--they'll help you get familiar with the style of the questions and practice close-reading.

The wealth of released free-response questions are great resources for building your timed essay-writing skills. You can practice complete essays or develop essay outlines.

Unofficial Practice Tests and Resources

Since unofficial practice tests aren't going to be quite as similar to the real AP exam as official College Board materials, they won't be quite as useful for preparing for the format of the exam or its questions. However, they can be very valuable close-reading practice. And since that's a critical skill for the exam, it's still worth it to use unofficial resources.


Be very quiet. She's close-reading.

Key Takeaways

Practice tests and questions are a hugely important resource as you prep for the AP Lit exam. The gold standard of practice resources are those that come from the College Board, but there are many other places where you can get practice questions that will help you hone your close-reading skills for the exam. Most of the resources listed in this article are free, but a few are paid.

Remember: official College Board practice tests are best for simulating the exam experience. Actual College Board questions are good for focused preparation for individual sections of the exam--especially the essays. Unofficial resources are best used for further honing your close-reading skills after you’ve practiced with the official materials.

Now that you know where to find these resources, you're ready to start studying for your AP Literature exam!


What's Next?

Wondering what you should be reading for AP Lit? Check out our list of 127 great books to help you prepare for the AP Literature exam.

Need more study guidance for your APs? See my five-step AP prep plan. Or see our guide on when to start studying for your APs.

If you're looking for practice tests for other AP exams, see our assembled practice tests for AP US History , AP Chemistry , AP Biology , AP World History , and AP Psychology .

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points?   We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download them for free now:

These recommendations are based solely on our knowledge and experience. If you purchase an item through one of our links, PrepScholar may receive a commission.

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Ellen has extensive education mentorship experience and is deeply committed to helping students succeed in all areas of life. She received a BA from Harvard in Folklore and Mythology and is currently pursuing graduate studies at Columbia University.

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AP® English Literature

The best ap® english literature review guide for 2024.

  • The Albert Team
  • Last Updated On: January 29, 2024

The Best AP® English Literature Review Guide

Scoring a 5 on the AP® English Literature and Composition exam is no easy task. In 2019, for example, only 6.2% of students earned a 5 on the test. While this statistic may be discouraging at first glance, it does indicate that a perfect score is possible for those willing to do extra preparation and practice. In 2022, nearly 17% of test-takers earned a 5 – a big improvement!

It may take some hard work, but it’s possible to ace this exam! We’re here to help.

In this comprehensive review, we’ll unpack the exam’s basic format, analyze the common structures and shapes of AP® Literature questions, provide useful tips and strategies for scoring a 5, and offer a variety of helpful additional resources and study tools.

Let’s get to it!

What We Review

How is the AP® English Literature and Composition Exam formatted? 

The AP® English Literature and Composition exam is divided into two sections: multiple-choice and free-response. 

The multiple-choice section is broken into five chunks equipped with 8-13 questions each, totaling 55 questions. You will be asked to analyze excerpts from diverse literary texts, including prose fiction, drama, or poetry. Moreover, there will always be at least 2 prose fiction passages and 2 poems in this section of the exam. The fifth text can be either. 

The multiple-choice section has a time limit of 1 hour, and it counts as 45% of your overall exam score. 

Section 2 of the exam, often informally called the “essay section,” contains 3 free-response prompts which demand literary analysis of a given poem, a passage of prose fiction, or an excerpt from a play. 

The first two prompts will provide a passage or a poem requiring analysis, while the third and final prompt will ask you to engage with a concept, issue, or element in a literary work that you are expected to have encountered during the school year. A list of appropriate works is provided for the third prompt. 

You have 2 hours to complete Section 2, which comprises 55% of your final exam score.

Return to the Table of Contents

How Long is the AP® English Literature and Composition Exam?

The AP® English Literature and Composition exam is 3 hours long. Students will have 1 hour to complete the multiple-choice section (55 questions) and 2 hours to complete the free-response section (3 questions). 

Since you must answer 55 questions in 60 minutes on the multiple-choice portion of the exam, you should pace yourself at about 1 minute per question and about 12 minutes per passage. 

Likewise, since the free response section is timed at 120 minutes, you should aim to complete each essay in 40 minutes or under.

Time yourself when you practice, and don’t get caught up trying to answer a question that you totally do not know the answer to. Don’t rush through the test, but don’t take too much time.

How Many Questions Does the AP® English Literature and Composition Exam Have? 

Section i: multiple-choice.

  • 5 passages, 55 questions total: 8-13 questions per passage
  • Passages include 2 Prose, 2 Poems, and 1 of either

Section II: Free-Response

  • 1 literary analysis of a given poem
  • 1 literary analysis of a given passage of prose fiction
  • 1 literary argument

What Topics are Covered on the AP® English Literature and Composition Exam? 

Perhaps the best way to begin thinking about the topics covered on the exam is through a holistic approach. Overall, the test assesses the six big ideas covered within the AP® English Literature and Composition course itself: 

  • Figurative Language
  • Literary Argumentation

These components comprise the whole exam, and you will be tested specifically on material from these broad concepts. 

Now, let’s return to its formatting. Remember, the exam is divided into multiple choice and free response, each carrying its own set of demands and topics.

Section I: Multiple Choice

Since the AP® English Literature and Composition exam is a skills-based test, there’s no way to know what specific passages or topics might appear on the official exam. Rather, CollegeBoard uses a variety of excerpts from literary texts, including prose, poetry, and drama. 

The passages often range from the 16th to the 21st century, and the authors and literary works change yearly. So it is imperative that you sharpen your critical reading skills and hone your ability to engage with the forms, styles, and content of a diverse range of literature. 

However, we have some good news. We do know how the multiple choice section is organized and weighted. It is divided into three broad units: short fiction, poetry, and longer fiction or drama, with each unit carrying its own weighted percentage. The chart below outlines this weighting:

Moreover, the multiple choice portion of the exam can be further broken down into 7 assessed skills:

Remember, the multiple-choice section will include five sets of 8 to 13 questions per set, so be prepared to encounter many if not all of these skill sets per passage. But it is safe to say that you should review certain skill categories more thoroughly than others on account of how frequently they appear on the exam. 

Below we’ve compiled a descending list of priorities for you to consider. 

  • Skill Category 4 : Explain the function of the narrator or speaker
  • Skill Category 1 : Explain the function of character
  • Skill Category 3 : Explain the function of plot and structure
  • Skill Category 5 : Explain the function of word choice, imagery, and symbols
  • Skill Category 7 : Develop textually substantiated arguments about interpretations of part or all of a text
  • Skill Category 6 : Explain the function of comparison
  • Skill Category 2 . Explain the function of setting

Section 4, “Explain the function of the narrator or speaker,” should be studied the most since it holds a substantial amount of weight in determining your score. Skill category 2, as you see above, accounts for a small percentage of the exam so we recommend you don’t spend hours upon hours brushing up on the function of the setting. Don’t blow it off, though!

Section II: Free Response

Like the multiple choice section, the free response portion is also skills-based. We cannot predict what specific passages or poems will make it onto the test, but we do know the type(s) of essays you will be required to write:

  • 1 Poetry Analysis: After reading a poem of 100 to 300 words, you will respond to a prompt based on the poem with a well-developed essay. Your essay, of course, must offer a defensible interpretation, make adequate use of textual evidence, engage critically with cited evidence, and use appropriate grammar and punctuation when communicating its argument. These requirements are present throughout all three free-response essays. 
  • 1 Prose Fiction Analysis: This part of the free response section will provide a passage of prose fiction (500 to 700 words) and, like the poetry analysis, ask you to respond to a prompt through writing a well-developed essay. Your argument must adhere to the rigor and clarity outlined above in the poetry analysis description.
  • 1 Literary Argument Essay: Here, you will be given an open-ended topic and be asked to write an evidence-based argumentative essay in response to the topic. There will be a quote or small passage to read, a corresponding prompt, and an extensive list of literary works you may use when developing your argument. While you do not have to use a work from this list, you must select a work of literary merit. Avoid choosing fantasy novels or works designed more for pure entertainment. It needs to be a work of “deep” literature.

What Do the AP® English Literature and Composition Exam Questions Look Like?

Multiple choice examples:.

The Course and Exam Description (CED) for AP® Lit provides 10 practice questions that address prose fiction and 9 practice questions that address poetry.

Below, we’ll look at examples of each question type and cover the skills and essential knowledge they address. First, we will examine the multiple-choice questions involving prose fiction:

ap lit exam essay prompts

Skill: 5.B Explain the function of specific words and phrases in a text.

MCQ - Prose - AP® Lit Multiple Choice Examples

Essential Knowledge: FIG-1.M Descriptive words, such as adjectives and adverbs, qualify or modify the things they describe and affect readers’ interaction with the text.

Skill: 4.C Identify and describe details, diction, or syntax in a text that reveal a narrator’s or speaker’s perspective.

Essential Knowledge: NAR-1.R Information included and/or not included in a text conveys the perspective of characters, narrators, and/or speakers.

MCQ - AP® Lit Multiple Choice Examples

Skill: 3.C Explain the function of structure in a text.

Essential Knowledge: STR-1.F A text’s structure affects readers’ reactions and expectations by presenting the relationships among the ideas of the text via their relative positions and their placement within the text as a whole

Now that we’ve taken a look at samples of multiple-choice questions involving prose fiction, let’s turn our attention toward questions that address poetry. 

Poetry - AP® Lit Multiple Choice Examples

Skill 7.B: Develop a thesis statement that conveys a defensible claim about an interpretation of literature and that may establish a line of reasoning. 

Essential Knowledge: LAN-1.D A thesis statement expresses an interpretation of a literary text, and requires a defense, through use of textual evidence and a line of reasoning, both of which are explained in an essay through commentary.

PMCQ - AP® Lit Multiple Choice Examples

Skill 4.C: Identify and describe details, diction, or syntax in a text that reveal a narrator’s or speaker’s perspective.

Essential Knowledge: NAR-1.X Multiple, and even contrasting, perspectives can occur within a single text and contribute to the complexity of the text.

PMCQ - AP® Lit Multiple Choice Examples

Skill: 5.D Identify and explain the function of an image or imagery.

Essential Knowledge: FIG-1.O Descriptive words, such as adjectives and adverbs, contribute to sensory imagery.

As you see, these questions force you to engage with literature more critically and technically. CollegeBoard’s main objective is to shape you into a budding literary critic capable of producing college-level work, so they consistently ask questions that look like those above. 

To develop your skills to a level that would be acceptable by a university, then, the test-makers over at CollegeBoard often craft questions involving analysis of literary devices, character perspective, figurative language, and more. The individual skills assessed by these questions are designed to take your thinking to a much higher level.

Free Response Examples: 

The Course and Exam Description (CED) for AP® Lit also provides samples of free response questions. Let’s begin by taking a look at a sample of a poetry-based free response prompt.

Poetry Analysis

AP® Literature - Poetry Analysis Directions

Skills: 4.C, 7.A, 7.B, 7.C, 7.D, 7.E

Note how the prompt is somewhat vague and open-ended. While it does ask you to hone in on a specific topic within the poem—aging—through discussion of the writer’s use of poetic elements and techniques, it also does not specify which of those elements and techniques should be discussed:

  • Then, in a well-written essay, analyze how Emerson uses poetic elements and techniques to convey the speaker’s complex perspective on aging.

So, it is imperative that you come to this exam with a deep and clear understanding of literary devices and motifs such as parallelism, imagery, irony, etc.

If you struggle with literary and rhetorical terms, check out our guide on essential AP® Literature Rhetorical Terms !

In a bit, we’ll provide some additional resources to help you build your knowledge of these literary tools.

Prose Fiction Analysis

AP® Literature - Prose Fiction Analysis Directions

Skills: 1.A, 7.A, 7.B, 7.C, 7.D, 7.E

The prompt requires you to read the excerpt and construct a well-developed literary analysis in response. Like the poetry prompt, note how this prompt is somewhat vague and open-ended. Again, it points you in a direction but leaves it up to you on how you’re going to get there:

  • Then, in a well-written essay, analyze how Kincaid uses literary elements and techniques  to portray the complexity of the narrator’s new situation.

Therefore, it is imperative that you come to the test prepared with knowledge of literary elements and techniques.

Literary Argument 

AP® Literature - Literary Argument Directions

Skills: 1.E, 2.C, 7.A, 7.B, 7.C, 7.D, 7.E

Unlike the other two essays, this prompt contains neither a prose excerpt nor a poem. Rather, it provides a brief quote and then asks you to expand on its central concept and, in our case, the notion of home. 

It then provides a list of works that would suit your analysis. You are to select one work from the list or choose another work of literary merit and analyze it in the context of the prompt. Again, note how much of the analysis is up to you. The prompt points you in a direction and then leaves you on your own to select how you’re going to get there. 

Therefore, it is imperative that you have not only a solid understanding of literary terms and concepts but also a diverse and deep history of reading. We will direct you toward some additional resources that will strengthen your knowledge below but start by consulting our Ultimate AP® English Literature Reading List to get started!

And if you’re not an avid reader, do not fret! You can guarantee the AP® English Literature and Composition course itself will cover at least one of the books on the list. You will likely be familiar with at least 2-3 of the texts just from taking the course. And if all else fails, you may select your own work of literary merit to discuss!

Free Response Rubric Breakdowns

In previous years, the AP® Lit essays were scored using holistic rubrics on a scale of 0-9. However, after the 2019 exam, the evaluation changed to a new analytic rubric which runs on a scale of 0-6. 

Switching to an analytic rubric from a holistic one can be difficult, especially if you’ve already taken another AP® English class or prepared using the holistic version. But, unlike the holistic rubric, the analytic model tells you exactly what to include in your essay to earn maximum points. 

Consider the new analytic rubric a How-To Guide, designed to earn you a 6 on each essay. And, unlike the AP® Lang exam, all three AP® Lit essays are graded essentially through the same rubric.

Below, we’ll spend some time breaking down the elements of the new rubric. First, let’s take a look at the Thesis row.

Row A: Thesis (0-1 Points)

Rubric - Thesis AP® Lit

A well-developed thesis statement is crucial to making your overall argument effective and convincing. Unsurprisingly, the Thesis row on the rubric is essentially all or nothing; you either earn the point or you don’t.

Let’s break down the wording on the rubric to further understand the significance of the thesis point.

It’s important to note what the rubric warns against: 

  • No thesis at all
  • The thesis only restates the prompt
  • The thesis merely summarizes 
  • The thesis does not respond to the prompt 

Doing any of these will miss the mark, and a weak thesis often leads to a weak essay. Rather, the rubric emphasizes that you: 

  • Respond to the prompt with a thesis that presents a defensible interpretation of the poem, prose passage, or selected work.

Easier said than done, we know. But notice the key phrase, “defensible interpretation.” The basis of your argument, the rubric insists, is entirely up to you as long as you adequately defend and your point. This means you must be ready to dig into the text, cite textual evidence, and analyze your findings sophisticatedly and persuasively. Your thesis, then, must contain a claim. 

If thesis statements are particularly troubling to you, we recommend tuning into CollegeBoard’s official online workshop . It’s helpful, really. 

Below are two examples of thesis statements from the 2019 exam:

  • This thesis statement thoroughly considers both the positive and negative consequences of idealism and explains how this portrayal illuminates the meaning of the work as a whole.
  • This thesis statement fails to identify a character and confusingly identifies the government’s repressive efforts as presenting a “fabricated view of an Ideal world.” It ultimately makes no claim and overly generalizes.

Row B: Evidence and Commentary (0-4 Points)

Rubric - Evidence and Commentary - AP® Lit

Think of evidence and commentary as the meat of your essay. This is where you will really dig into your argument, cite the text, and make specific claims and arguments.

As mentioned, this portion of the rubric works on a scale of 0-4:

As you see, earning all four points requires direct and specific textual citation and thorough, deep analysis throughout your entire essay. Cite evidence that fits your main argument, do not simply cite for the sake of citation. Always avoid paraphrasing (except on the third free-response question where paraphrasing is acceptable). Do not simply cite text and then give a basic summary. Dig deep and analyze. 

If you struggle with analyzing evidence and developing commentary, check out one of our many practice models ! 

Row C Sophistication (0-1 Points)

Rubric - Sophistication - AP® Lit

Similar to the Thesis row, the Sophistication evaluation is also all or nothing — you either earn the point or you don’t. 

However, earning the sophistication point is not as cut and dry as earning the thesis point. You can’t really pinpoint or locate sophistication in the way you can a thesis statement. If it’s there, it’s everywhere; if not, it’s nowhere. 

So to unpack this complex idea, let’s return to the rubric. 

The rubric states that essays that earn the point “demonstrate sophistication of thought and/or develop a complex literary argument.” 

To be more precise, this means that your essay does these four things: 

  • Identifies and explores complexities or tensions within the poem, prose passage, or selected work. 
  • Situates your overall interpretation within a broader, more universal context. 
  • Accounts for alternative interpretations of the poem, prose passage, or selected work. 
  • Employs a style that is consistently vivid and persuasive.

Conversely, then, you will not earn the point if your essay:

  • Contains sweeping generalizations
  • Only hints at other positions or interpretations
  • Uses overly complex sentences or language that doesn’t add anything to the argument

Above all, sophistication cannot be reduced to a checkbox. You can’t really add it here or there. It must pervade the entire essay for you to earn the point. It’s a difficult task, but it can be done with a little practice and perseverance. 

For additional tips on writing well-developed analyses, check out our guide on how to tackle prose passages !

What Can You Bring to the AP® English Literature and Composition Exam?

If you’re taking the  digital  exam, you must use a laptop computer (Mac, Windows, or school-managed Chromebook). Because the full-length digital AP® Exams require typewritten free responses, the exams can’t be taken on smartphones. For more details,  here is the full digital AP® exam specifications  from College Board.

If you’re traveling to a testing location to take an in-person exam, make sure to arrive early. If you’re testing digitally from home, be sure all of your digital login details are confirmed beforehand.

Given the sheer importance and seriousness surrounding AP® exams, the College Board has imposed very strict rules and regulations regarding what you can and cannot bring into your testing room (if you’re testing in-person at a school). Not adhering to these rules can lead to score invalidation and even room-wide exam cancellation, so it’s important to know what you can and cannot bring with you on testing day!

What You Should Bring to Your AP® English Literature Exam

If you’re taking the paper AP® English Literature exam in-person at school, you should bring:

  • At least 2 sharpened No. 2 pencils for completing the multiple choice section
  • At least 2 pens with black or blue ink only. These are used to complete certain areas of your exam booklet covers and to write your free-response questions. CollegeBoard is very clear that pens should be black or blue ink only, so do not show up with your favorite neon gel pen!
  • You are allowed to wear a watch as long as it does not have internet access, does not beep or make any other noise, and does not have an alarm. It should be a standard analog or digital watch, nothing fancy!
  • If you do not attend the school where you are taking an exam, you must bring a government issued or school issued photo ID.
  • If you receive any testing accommodations , be sure that you bring your College Board SSD Accommodations Letter.

What You Should NOT Bring to Your AP® English Literature Exam

If you’re taking the paper AP® English Literature exam in-person at school, you should NOT bring:

  • Electronic devices. Phones, smartwatches, tablets, and/or any other electronic devices are expressly prohibited both in the exam room and break areas. Seriously, do not bring these into the testing room. You could invalidate the entire room’s scores.
  • Books, dictionaries, highlighters, or notes 
  • Mechanical pencils, colored pencils, or pens that do not have black/blue ink. Sometimes the lead used in mechanical pencils cannot be read when run through the scantron reader, so it is best to just avoid them altogether. 
  • Your own scratch paper
  • Reference guides
  • Watches that beep or have alarms
  • Food or drink

This list is not exhaustive. Be sure to double-check with your teacher or testing site to make sure that you are not bringing any additional prohibited items.

How to Study for AP® English Literature and Composition: 7 Steps

Start with a diagnostic test to see where you stand. Ask your teacher if they can assign you one of our full-length practice tests as a starting point. Your multiple choice will be graded for you, and you can self-score your free response essays using the College Board’s scoring guidelines. If you would prefer to take a pencil and paper test, Princeton Review or Barron’s are two reputable places to start. Be sure to record your score.

Once you’ve completed and scored your diagnostic test, it’s time to analyze the results and create a study plan. 

  • If you used Albert, you’ll notice that each question is labeled with the skill that it assesses. If any skills stand out as something you’re consistently getting wrong, those concepts should be a big part of your study plan. 
  • If you used Princeton Review, Barron’s, or another paper test, do your best to sort your incorrect answers into the skill buckets from Albert’s AP® English Literature and Composition Standards Practice .

The tables below sort each set of skills into groups based on their Enduring Understandings and Big Ideas.

Big Idea: Character 

ENDURING UNDERSTANDING: Characters in literature allow readers to study and explore a range of values, beliefs, assumptions, biases, and cultural norms represented by those characters.

Big Idea: Setting

ENDURING UNDERSTANDING: Setting and the details associated with it not only depict a time and place, but also convey values associated with that setting.

Big Idea: Structure

ENDURING UNDERSTANDING: The arrangement of the parts and sections of a text, the relationship of the parts to each other, and the sequence in which the text reveals information are all structural choices made by a writer that contribute to the reader’s interpretation of a text.

Big Idea: Narration

ENDURING UNDERSTANDING: A narrator’s or speaker’s perspective controls the details and emphases that affect how readers experience and interpret a text.

Big Idea: Figurative Language

ENDURING UNDERSTANDING: Comparisons, representations, and associations shift meaning from the literal to the figurative and invite readers to interpret a text.

Big Idea: Literary Argumentation 

ENDURING UNDERSTANDING: Readers establish and communicate their interpretations of literature through arguments supported by textual evidence.

Once your list of practice questions is complete, check out our Ultimate List AP® English Literature Tips for some pointers.

Now that you’ve developed a study plan for the multiple choice section, it’s time to tackle the FRQs. You should have self-scored your essays using CollegeBoard’s scoring guidelines . If you notice that there is one particular prompt you struggled with, use Albert’s AP® Lit FRQ Approach Guide to help hone your skills!

Check out Albert’s AP® Lit FRQ prompts for more practice!

If you didn’t struggle with a particular prompt as much as you did a particular part of the rubric, try to figure out what went wrong. Does your thesis restate the prompt instead of proposing your own position? Did you generalize too much? Did you remember to provide evidence but forget to augment it with commentary and analysis? Maybe your word choice wasn’t varied enough to earn the sophistication point.

Whatever element you struggled with, have a look at our comprehensive page dedicated to AP® Lit for some expert advice!

Once you’ve developed an effective study plan using the links and practice above, and you’ve identified the skills which need more practice, it’s time to set your plan in motion. Check and mark your calendar. How many days, weeks, or months do you have until your exam? Pace your studying according to this time-frame. Pro-tip: If you only have a few weeks or days to go, prioritize the skills that you scored the lowest on. 

About halfway through your study schedule, plan to take a second practice test to check your progress. You can either have your teacher assign another full-length Albert practice test or use one of the additional practice tests included in whatever AP® English Literature and Composition review book you purchased. Use these results to inform the rest of your study schedule. Are there skills that you improved on or scored lower on this time? Adjust accordingly, and use our tips in the next section to guide you.

AP® English Literature and Composition Review: 15 Must Know Study Tips

5 AP® English Literature and Composition Study Tips for Home

1.  read as much as possible..

And read widely. Read everything from epic poetry and Victorian novels to New Yorker articles and album reviews to Buzzfeed-style listicles. Read a combination of high and lowbrow texts to make your knowledge more worldly and syncretic.

Make a schedule for personal reading time and stick to it. Reading widely, of course, has incalculable benefits that will not only help you score a 5 on the test but also strengthen your academic performance across the board. 

Reading will help you develop a more impressive vocabulary and a better understanding of varied sentence structure and syntax. The more you read, the better equipped you will be to score a 5 on this exam.

2. Become familiar with the Western Canon.

The Western canon, often referred to simply as “The Canon,” is the body of high-culture literature, music, philosophy, and works of art that is highly valued in the West, i.e., the poems, prose passages, and drama selections that you will mostly see on the AP® Lit exam. 

The canon contains the “classics,” so to speak, and it includes everything from Homer to Junot Diaz. Cultivating a basic understanding of these texts and their authors will not only familiarize you with the history and development of the English tradition but also strengthen your understanding of the so-called “conversation of literature,” the innumerable and complex ways that authors and their works speak to each other and interact. We recommend reading at least the first chapter of Harold Bloom’s book on the subject to get a basic understanding. 

We also insist that you familiarize yourself with the various problems that the perseverance of such a canon produces. During the 80s and 90s, a canon war of sorts took place among English departments, with progressives aiming to dismantle the canon on the grounds that it neglects many African-American, female, queer, and impoverished writers in favor of spotlighting “dead white males.” 

This friction between advocates and opponents of the canon is extremely important to the history and status quo of literary criticism, and understanding this battle will deeply enrich your understanding of literature and increase your chances of scoring a 5 on the exam.

3. Read Thomas Foster’s How To Read Literature Like a Professor .

This book is a lively and entertaining introduction to the tools frequently used in literary criticism, including symbolism, theme, context, irony, and more. It is an excellent way to begin thinking deeply about literature, and it offers clear examples of close-reading.

It also discusses a wide variety of works that will help familiarize you with the canon. It’s very accessible too. Buy it, read it, mark it up, and keep it by your side throughout class. It’s a great tool. 

4. Make flashcards.

You will need to have a strong understanding of different literary devices, authors, works, and rhetorical techniques, and you don’t want to waste time scrambling for definitions on the day of the exam. 

Make yourself some flashcards with the most common literary devices, authors, works, and rhetorical techniques, and carve out at least 30 minutes per day to review. If you’d prefer to use an online resource, make some flashcards over at Quizlet ! 

5. Form study groups!

The beauty of reading literature is that it often produces different and conflicting responses in people, so discussing literature with your friends is a good way to explore new and diverse perspectives. 

What you bring to a text, for instance, may be completely different from what your friend or peer brings. Discussion is a great way to comprehend and investigate difficult works. And it’s also pretty fun!

5 AP® English Literature and Composition Multiple Choice Study Tips

1. practice, practice..

Practice answering multiple choice questions as often as you can. AP® English Literature and Composition multiple choice questions will address either fiction, poetry, or drama, and they will ask you to identify and analyze various literary devices, techniques, and motifs. So study these very devices. If you find yourself totally stuck, consult our guide on how to tackle the multiple choice section . 

2. Sharpen your close-reading skills.

The true key to acing the multiple choice section of this exam is staying engaged with the passages provided to you and actively reading. That means staying alert through the passages, marking them up, and engaging with them directly, not passively skimming them.

Find a method of active reading that works best for you. Some like to mark up the passage extensively, while others prefer to just read the passage twice and take notes here and there. Select which method works for you and go with it. However, do not just choose the easy or lazy way out. You’ll regret it later when you receive your scores. 

3. Look over the questions before reading the passage.

This is often a semi-controversial piece of advice because it doesn’t work for all readers. But it can be helpful if you’re someone who gets easily distracted when reading old prose passages or difficult poetry! 

If you find your mind wandering when reading AP® Lit passages, glancing at the questions beforehand can give your brain a purpose to focus on and a point of entry into the passage. It’s always easiest to begin searching when you know what you’re looking for.

4. Use process of elimination.

Often, an AP® Lit multiple choice question will have one or two answer choices that can be crossed off pretty quickly. So try and narrow your choices down to two possible answers, and then choose the best one. 

If this strategy isn’t working on a particularly difficult question or it seems to hold you up longer than you’d like, it’s perfectly okay to circle it, skip it, and come back to it at the end. Do not get hung up on eliminating choices. Rather, use this strategy to make your reading more efficient and quicker. 

5. It doesn’t hurt to guess.

Obviously, while guessing on every single question isn’t a good strategy and will lead to a 1 on the exam, an educated guess on particularly difficult questions that you truly don’t know how to answer can help. You are scored only on the number of correct answers you give, not the number of questions you answer, so it makes sense to guess on questions that you seriously have no idea how to answer.  

5 AP® English Literature and Composition FRQ Study Tips

1. practice your writing skills by answering questions from collegeboard’s archive of past exam questions or explore our free response practice modules ..

Typically, the same skills are assessed from year to year, so practicing with released exams is a great way to brush up on your analysis skills, and our review practice allows you to pinpoint skills you may need help with.

2. Explore and use the rubric!

The best part about the updated AP® English Literature and Composition revised rubrics and scoring guidelines is that it’s very clear to discern which elements are needed to earn full credit for your essay. Granted, it can be tough to include each element—especially that tricky sophistication section—but the rubric’s outline offers a clear and concise portrait of the perfect essay .

Be sure to construct your thesis statement into a clear and definable interpretation. Provide specific evidence and compelling commentary that supports your thesis. If you check these boxes, then you will have a much greater chance of developing a clear and defensible interpretation. 

3. Pay attention to the task verbs employed in your free response prompts .

Task verbs are verbs that essentially indicate what it is you should do in your free response. The three common task verbs include: 

  • Analyze: Examine methodically and in detail the structure of the topic of the question for purposes of interpretation and explanation.
  • Choose: Select a literary work from among provided choices.
  • Read: Look at or view printed directions and provided passages.

4. Have a solid understanding of literary devices.

Most of the FRQ’s require you to not only specifically identify a passage’s array of literary and rhetorical devices but also analyze and unpack how those devices construct mood, meaning, tone, and more. Study up, read the aforementioned Foster book , and take a look at our list of 15 Essential Rhetorical Terms to Know For AP® English Literature . 

5. Fine-tune your thesis statement.

Your thesis statement is arguably the most important sentence in your essay. It informs the reader of your central argument and summarizes your interpretation, and it sets the tone for the rest of your essay. It is imperative that you master the tricky art of the thesis statement before taking your exam. 

Many university writing centers offer online education on thesis statements that can prove extremely beneficial. Consult UNC Chapel Hill’s thesis statement handout for extra help!

The AP® English Literature and Composition Exam: 5 Test Day Tips to Remember

Be sure you put at least something in your stomach before taking the exam, even if it might be in knots from nerves. You don’t need to eat a deluxe breakfast of pancakes, eggs, bacon, biscuits, etc. (unless that’s your routine), but you do need to eat at least something . Your brain and your body need the energy. If you’re hungry during the exam, it might be harder for you to focus, leading to a lower score or an incomplete exam.

2. Make sure you know the location of your testing site before taking the test.

You do not want to be scrambling and running around the school trying to find your testing room on the day of the exam. Know your room number and know how to get there. There’s truly nothing worse than running around your school trying to find a room when a hugely-important test is underway. 

If you’re getting a ride from a parent or friend, be sure they know the address beforehand. If you’re taking public transit, check the schedule. If you are taking your exam at your own school, don’t get too comfortable. Be sure you know the room number! This is something small but impactful that you can do to reduce your stress the morning of your exam.

3. Prepare everything you need the night before.

Waking up and scrambling to choose an outfit, find pencils, or make breakfast will just stress you out and put you in a negative headspace. Plan your outfit the night before to reduce stress and have an easy breakfast ready to go.

Being prepared saves time and cuts back unnecessary stress. 

And wear something comfortable. You don’t want to be adjusting your outfit throughout the test. It’ll just be distracting. 

4. Bring mints or gum with you.

The rules say that you can’t have food or drink in the testing room, but mints and/or gum are usually allowed unless it’s against your testing site’s own rules. If you find yourself getting distracted, pop a mint or a stick of gum in your mouth! This can help to keep you more awake and focused.

5. Remember to breathe and just relax.

Seriously, just breathe. If you’ve followed the rest of the tips in this post, listened to your teacher, read up on your literary devices, and done your homework, then you’re well-prepared for this exam. Trust yourself. Know that you have done all you can do to prepare and don’t cram the morning of the exam. Last-minute studying helps no one, and it often just leads to stress!

AP® English Literature and Composition Review Notes and Practice Test Resources

Ap® collegeboard’s official youtube channel.

This YouTube channel provides tons of tips, advice, and strategies for tackling the AP® English Literature and Composition exam. It offers online seminars and classes on a diverse range of Lit-related topics such as plot structure, unpacking symbolism, and crafting strong commentary. The best thing about it is that real-life teachers lead the classes, so they feel very personalized.

If you’re a more visual learner who thrives on video content, then this channel is perfect for you!

How-to Guide for Literary Analysis Essays

SPARKNOTES GUIDE - AP® Lit Review Notes and Practice Test Resources

While we 100% do not condone using Sparknotes textual summaries to get your way through AP® English Literature, we do recommend taking a look at some of their guides and workshops and using them as supplementary resources. This how-to guide offers a 7-step method of approaching literary analysis that might help you get the ball rolling if you’re totally stuck.

This guide is perfect for anyone needing to brush up on their writing skills or anyone needing to find a solid step-by-step approach to writing the free response questions.

AP® English Literature Jeopardy Game

AP® LIT JEOPARDY - AP® Lit Review Notes and Practice Test Resources

This online Jeopardy game is not only tons of fun but also super helpful in developing your memory and strengthening your understanding of basic literary elements and devices. It contains categories involving poetry terms, general Lit, syntax, style, and figurative language. It’s a great way to review basic terms for the exam, and you can play with up to ten people through its make-your-team feature.  

This is a perfect review for anyone looking to quickly review literary terms in a fun way.

Ms. Effie’s Lifesavers

Effie - AP® Lit Review Notes and Practice Test Resources

If you’re a seasoned AP® English teacher, Ms. Effie (Sandra Effinger) probably needs no introduction! Ms. Effie’s Lifesavers website has helped many AP® Lang and AP® Lit teachers plan effective and thoroughly aligned lessons and assignments. Sandra was an AP® Reader for many years, so she knows her stuff. She has tons of free content on her page, as well as a Dropbox full of AP® English goodies for anyone who makes a donation via her PayPal. You’ll find resources for both AP® Language and AP® Literature here. 

Ms. Effie’s webpage is perfect for all students. Really, it has material that would benefit those looking for quick reviews, deeper analysis of free response questions, or help with multiple choice questions.

Summary: The Best AP® English Literature and Composition Review Guide

Remember, the structure of the AP® Lang exam is as follows:

Because AP® English Literature and Composition is a skills-based course, there’s no way to know what specific passages, poems, authors, or concepts might make it onto the official exam. But, we do know exactly which skills will be assessed with which passages, so it’s best to center your studying around brushing up on those skills!

Use the provided charts to help you understand which skills you should focus on, and use Albert’s AP® English Literature and Composition Course Guide to brush up on your understanding of each skill and its corresponding essential knowledge.

Start with a diagnostic test, either on Albert or with a pencil and paper test via Princeton Review or Barron’s . Once you’ve completed and scored your diagnostic, follow our 7 steps on how to create an AP® English Literature and Composition study plan. 

And remember: start reading now! The more you read, the more equipped you will be to ace this exam. Review the Western Canon, study your literary terms, and begin critically engaging with writers!

Practice answering multiple choice questions on Albert and free-response questions from The College Board’s archive of past exam questions. 

If you’ve followed the rest of the tips in this post, listened to your teacher, and done your homework, you’re well-prepared for this exam. Trust that you have done all you can do to prepare and don’t cram the morning of. Last-minute studying helps no one!

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How to Write the AP Lit Prose Essay with Examples

March 30, 2024

ap lit prose essay examples

AP Lit Prose Essay Examples – The College Board’s Advanced Placement Literature and Composition Course is one of the most enriching experiences that high school students can have. It exposes you to literature that most people don’t encounter until college , and it helps you develop analytical and critical thinking skills that will enhance the quality of your life, both inside and outside of school. The AP Lit Exam reflects the rigor of the course. The exam uses consistent question types, weighting, and scoring parameters each year . This means that, as you prepare for the exam, you can look at previous questions, responses, score criteria, and scorer commentary to help you practice until your essays are perfect.

What is the AP Lit Free Response testing? 

In AP Literature, you read books, short stories, and poetry, and you learn how to commit the complex act of literary analysis . But what does that mean? Well, “to analyze” literally means breaking a larger idea into smaller and smaller pieces until the pieces are small enough that they can help us to understand the larger idea. When we’re performing literary analysis, we’re breaking down a piece of literature into smaller and smaller pieces until we can use those pieces to better understand the piece of literature itself.

So, for example, let’s say you’re presented with a passage from a short story to analyze. The AP Lit Exam will ask you to write an essay with an essay with a clear, defensible thesis statement that makes an argument about the story, based on some literary elements in the short story. After reading the passage, you might talk about how foreshadowing, allusion, and dialogue work together to demonstrate something essential in the text. Then, you’ll use examples of each of those three literary elements (that you pull directly from the passage) to build your argument. You’ll finish the essay with a conclusion that uses clear reasoning to tell your reader why your argument makes sense.

AP Lit Prose Essay Examples (Continued)

But what’s the point of all of this? Why do they ask you to write these essays?

Well, the essay is, once again, testing your ability to conduct literary analysis. However, the thing that you’re also doing behind that literary analysis is a complex process of both inductive and deductive reasoning. Inductive reasoning takes a series of points of evidence and draws a larger conclusion. Deductive reasoning departs from the point of a broader premise and draws a singular conclusion. In an analytical essay like this one, you’re using small pieces of evidence to draw a larger conclusion (your thesis statement) and then you’re taking your thesis statement as a larger premise from which you derive your ultimate conclusion.

So, the exam scorers are looking at your ability to craft a strong thesis statement (a singular sentence that makes an argument), use evidence and reasoning to support that argument, and then to write the essay well. This is something they call “sophistication,” but they’re looking for well-organized thoughts carried through clear, complete sentences.

This entire process is something you can and will use throughout your life. Law, engineering, medicine—whatever pursuit, you name it—utilizes these forms of reasoning to run experiments, build cases, and persuade audiences. The process of this kind of clear, analytical thinking can be honed, developed, and made easier through repetition.

Practice Makes Perfect

Because the AP Literature Exam maintains continuity across the years, you can pull old exam copies, read the passages, and write responses. A good AP Lit teacher is going to have you do this time and time again in class until you have the formula down. But, it’s also something you can do on your own, if you’re interested in further developing your skills.

AP Lit Prose Essay Examples 

Let’s take a look at some examples of questions, answers and scorer responses that will help you to get a better idea of how to craft your own AP Literature exam essays.

In the exam in 2023, students were asked to read a poem by Alice Cary titled “Autumn,” which was published in 1874. In it, the speaker contemplates the start of autumn. Then, students are asked to craft a well-written essay which uses literary techniques to convey the speaker’s complex response to the changing seasons.

The following is an essay that received a perfect 6 on the exam. There are grammar and usage errors throughout the essay, which is important to note: even though the writer makes some mistakes, the structure and form of their argument was strong enough to merit a 6. This is what your scorers will be looking for when they read your essay.

Example Essay 

Romantic and hyperbolic imagery is used to illustrate the speaker’s unenthusiastic opinion of the coming of autumn, which conveys Cary’s idea that change is difficult to accept but necessary for growth.

Romantic imagery is utilized to demonstrate the speaker’s warm regard for the season of summer and emphasize her regretfulness for autumn’s coming, conveying the uncomfortable change away from idyllic familiarity. Summer, is portrayed in the image of a woman who “from her golden collar slips/and strays through stubble fields/and moans aloud.” Associated with sensuality and wealth, the speaker implies the interconnection between a season and bounty, comfort, and pleasure. Yet, this romantic view is dismantled by autumn, causing Summer to “slip” and “stray through stubble fields.” Thus, the coming of real change dethrones a constructed, romantic personification of summer,  conveying the speaker’s reluctance for her ideal season to be dethroned by something much less decorated and adored.

Summer, “she lies on pillows of the yellow leaves,/ And tries the old tunes for over an hour”, is contrasted with bright imagery of fallen leaves/ The juxtaposition between Summer’s character and the setting provides insight into the positivity of change—the yellow leaves—by its contrast with the failures of attempting to sustain old habits or practices, “old tunes”. “She lies on pillows” creates a sympathetic, passive image of summer in reaction to the coming of Autumn, contrasting her failures to sustain “old tunes.” According to this, it is understood that the speaker recognizes the foolishness of attempting to prevent what is to come, but her wishfulness to counter the natural progression of time.

Hyperbolic imagery displays the discrepancies between unrealistic, exaggerated perceptions of change and the reality of progress, continuing the perpetuation of Cary’s idea that change must be embraced rather than rejected. “Shorter and shorter now the twilight clips/The days, as though the sunset gates they crowd”, syntax and diction are used to literally separate different aspects of the progression of time. In an ironic parallel to the literal language, the action of twilight’s “clip” and the subject, “the days,” are cut off from each other into two different lines, emphasizing a sense of jarring and discomfort. Sunset, and Twilight are named, made into distinct entities from the day, dramatizing the shortening of night-time into fall. The dramatic, sudden implications for the change bring to mind the switch between summer and winter, rather than a transitional season like fall—emphasizing the Speaker’s perspective rather than a factual narration of the experience.

She says “the proud meadow-pink hangs down her head/Against the earth’s chilly bosom, witched with frost”. Implying pride and defeat, and the word “witched,” the speaker brings a sense of conflict, morality, and even good versus evil into the transition between seasons. Rather than a smooth, welcome change, the speaker is practically against the coming of fall. The hyperbole present in the poem serves to illustrate the Speaker’s perspective and ideas on the coming of fall, which are characterized by reluctance and hostility to change from comfort.

The topic of this poem, Fall–a season characterized by change and the deconstruction of the spring and summer landscape—is juxtaposed with the final line which evokes the season of Spring. From this, it is clear that the speaker appreciates beautiful and blossoming change. However, they resent that which destroys familiar paradigms and norms. Fall, seen as the death of summer, is characterized as a regression, though the turning of seasons is a product of the literal passage of time. Utilizing romantic imagery and hyperbole to shape the Speaker’s perspective, Cary emphasizes the need to embrace change though it is difficult, because growth is not possible without hardship or discomfort.

Scoring Criteria: Why did this essay do so well? 

When it comes to scoring well, there are some rather formulaic things that the judges are searching for. You might think that it’s important to “stand out” or “be creative” in your writing. However, aside from concerns about “sophistication,” which essentially means you know how to organize thoughts into sentences and you can use language that isn’t entirely elementary, you should really focus on sticking to a form. This will show the scorers that you know how to follow that inductive/deductive reasoning process that we mentioned earlier, and it will help to present your ideas in the most clear, coherent way possible to someone who is reading and scoring hundreds of essays.

So, how did this essay succeed? And how can you do the same thing?

First: The Thesis 

On the exam, you can either get one point or zero points for your thesis statement. The scorers said, “The essay responds to the prompt with a defensible thesis located in the introductory paragraph,” which you can read as the first sentence in the essay. This is important to note: you don’t need a flowery hook to seduce your reader; you can just start this brief essay with some strong, simple, declarative sentences—or go right into your thesis.

What makes a good thesis? A good thesis statement does the following things:

  • Makes a claim that will be supported by evidence
  • Is specific and precise in its use of language
  • Argues for an original thought that goes beyond a simple restating of the facts

If you’re sitting here scratching your head wondering how you come up with a thesis statement off the top of your head, let me give you one piece of advice: don’t.

The AP Lit scoring criteria gives you only one point for the thesis for a reason: they’re just looking for the presence of a defensible claim that can be proven by evidence in the rest of the essay.

Second: Write your essay from the inside out 

While the thesis is given one point, the form and content of the essay can receive anywhere from zero to four points. This is where you should place the bulk of your focus.

My best advice goes like this:

  • Choose your evidence first
  • Develop your commentary about the evidence
  • Then draft your thesis statement based on the evidence that you find and the commentary you can create.

It will seem a little counterintuitive: like you’re writing your essay from the inside out. But this is a fundamental skill that will help you in college and beyond. Don’t come up with an argument out of thin air and then try to find evidence to support your claim. Look for the evidence that exists and then ask yourself what it all means. This will also keep you from feeling stuck or blocked at the beginning of the essay. If you prepare for the exam by reviewing the literary devices that you learned in the course and practice locating them in a text, you can quickly and efficiently read a literary passage and choose two or three literary devices that you can analyze.

Third: Use scratch paper to quickly outline your evidence and commentary 

Once you’ve located two or three literary devices at work in the given passage, use scratch paper to draw up a quick outline. Give each literary device a major bullet point. Then, briefly point to the quotes/evidence you’ll use in the essay. Finally, start to think about what the literary device and evidence are doing together. Try to answer the question: what meaning does this bring to the passage?

A sample outline for one paragraph of the above essay might look like this:

Romantic imagery

Portrayal of summer

  • Woman who “from her golden collar… moans aloud”
  • Summer as bounty

Contrast with Autumn

  • Autumn dismantles Summer
  • “Stray through stubble fields”
  • Autumn is change; it has the power to dethrone the romance of Summer/make summer a bit meaningless

Recognition of change in a positive light

  • Summer “lies on pillows / yellow leaves / tries old tunes”
  • Bright imagery/fallen leaves
  • Attempt to maintain old practices fails: “old tunes”
  • But! There is sympathy: “lies on pillows”

Speaker recognizes: she can’t prevent what is to come; wishes to embrace natural passage of time

By the time the writer gets to the end of the outline for their paragraph, they can easily start to draw conclusions about the paragraph based on the evidence they have pulled out. You can see how that thinking might develop over the course of the outline.

Then, the speaker would take the conclusions they’ve drawn and write a “mini claim” that will start each paragraph. The final bullet point of this outline isn’t the same as the mini claim that comes at the top of the second paragraph of the essay, however, it is the conclusion of the paragraph. You would do well to use the concluding thoughts from your outline as the mini claim to start your body paragraph. This will make your paragraphs clear, concise, and help you to construct a coherent argument.

Repeat this process for the other one or two literary devices that you’ve chosen to analyze, and then: take a step back.

Fourth: Draft your thesis 

Once you quickly sketch out your outline, take a moment to “stand back” and see what you’ve drafted. You’ll be able to see that, among your two or three literary devices, you can draw some commonality. You might be able to say, as the writer did here, that romantic and hyperbolic imagery “illustrate the speaker’s unenthusiastic opinion of the coming of autumn,” ultimately illuminating the poet’s idea “that change is difficult to accept but necessary for growth.”

This is an original argument built on the evidence accumulated by the student. It directly answers the prompt by discussing literary techniques that “convey the speaker’s complex response to the changing seasons.” Remember to go back to the prompt and see what direction they want you to head with your thesis, and craft an argument that directly speaks to that prompt.

Then, move ahead to finish your body paragraphs and conclusion.

Fifth: Give each literary device its own body paragraph 

In this essay, the writer examines the use of two literary devices that are supported by multiple pieces of evidence. The first is “romantic imagery” and the second is “hyperbolic imagery.” The writer dedicates one paragraph to each idea. You should do this, too.

This is why it’s important to choose just two or three literary devices. You really don’t have time to dig into more. Plus, more ideas will simply cloud the essay and confuse your reader.

Using your outline, start each body paragraph with a “mini claim” that makes an argument about what it is you’ll be saying in your paragraph. Lay out your pieces of evidence, then provide commentary for why your evidence proves your point about that literary device.

Move onto the next literary device, rinse, and repeat.

Sixth: Commentary and Conclusion 

Finally, you’ll want to end this brief essay with a concluding paragraph that restates your thesis, briefly touches on your most important points from each body paragraph, and includes a development of the argument that you laid out in the essay.

In this particular example essay, the writer concludes by saying, “Utilizing romantic imagery and hyperbole to shape the Speaker’s perspective, Cary emphasizes the need to embrace change though it is difficult, because growth is not possible without hardship or discomfort.” This is a direct restatement of the thesis. At this point, you’ll have reached the end of your essay. Great work!

Seventh: Sophistication 

A final note on scoring criteria: there is one point awarded to what the scoring criteria calls “sophistication.” This is evidenced by the sophistication of thought and providing a nuanced literary analysis, which we’ve already covered in the steps above.

There are some things to avoid, however:

  • Sweeping generalizations, such as, “From the beginning of human history, people have always searched for love,” or “Everyone goes through periods of darkness in their lives, much like the writer of this poem.”
  • Only hinting at possible interpretations instead of developing your argument
  • Oversimplifying your interpretation
  • Or, by contrast, using overly flowery or complex language that does not meet your level of preparation or the context of the essay.

Remember to develop your argument with nuance and complexity and to write in a style that is academic but appropriate for the task at hand.

If you want more practice or to check out other exams from the past, go to the College Board’s website .

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Brittany Borghi

After earning a BA in Journalism and an MFA in Nonfiction Writing from the University of Iowa, Brittany spent five years as a full-time lecturer in the Rhetoric Department at the University of Iowa. Additionally, she’s held previous roles as a researcher, full-time daily journalist, and book editor. Brittany’s work has been featured in The Iowa Review, The Hopkins Review, and the Pittsburgh City Paper, among others, and she was also a 2021 Pushcart Prize nominee.

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By submitting my email address. i certify that i am 13 years of age or older, agree to recieve marketing email messages from the princeton review, and agree to terms of use., guide to the ap english literature and composition exam.

AP English Literature Exam

Do you know how to conduct a close reading of prose and poetry? Can you write effectively under time constraints? The AP ® English Literature and Composition exam tests topics and skills discussed in your AP English Literature course. If you score high enough, your AP English score could earn you college credit!

Check out our AP English Literature Guide for what you need to know about the exam:

  • Exam Overview
  • Structure & Question Types
  • How to Prepare

What’s on the AP English Literature & Composition Exam?

The College Board lists 6 Skill Categories that should be covered in your AP English Literature and Composition course, or as you prepare for the test:

  •  Character—Characters in literature show a wide range of values, beliefs, assumptions, biases, and cultural norms, and provide an opportunity to study and explore what the characters represent.
  • Setting—A setting and the details associated with it represent a time and place, but also convey values associated with the setting.
  • Structure—Structure refers to the arrangements of sections and parts of a text, the relationship of the parts to each other, and the sequence in which the text reveals information. These are all choices made by a writer that allow you to interpret a text.
  • Narration—Any narrator’s or speaker’s perspective controls the details and emphases that readers encounter; therefore, narration affects how readers experience and interpret a text.
  • Figurative language—Comparisons, representations, and associations shift meaning from the literal to the figurative. Figurative language can include word choice, imagery, and symbols. Simile, metaphor, personification, and allusions are all examples of figurative language.
  • Literary argumentation—How do you write about literature yourself? You develop your interpretation (using the first five of the Big Six!) and then communicate it. You need to develop a thesis—a defensible claim—and support it with textual evidence. 

The multiple-choice section of the AP English Literature and Composition exam will be testing your knowledge of the Big Six. Each one is weighted a certain amount in the multiple-choice questions.

AP English Literature & Composition Book List

There is no required reading or book list for the AP English Literature exam, but the College Board provides a list of authors and poets with whom you should be familiar and whose work is of the caliber and density that you are expected to understand. These lists include:

  • Poetry: W.H. Auden, Elizabeth Bishop, William Blake, Anne Bradstreet, Edward Kamau Brathwaite, Gwendolyn Brooks, Robert Browning, George Gordon/Lord Byron, Lorna Dee Cervantes, Geoffrey Chaucer, Lucille Clifton, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Billy Collins, H.D. (Hilda Doolittle), Emily Dickinson, John Donne, Rita Dove, Paul Laurence Dunbar, T.S. Eliot, Robert Frost, Joy Harjo, Seamus Heaney, George Herbert, Garrett Hongo, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Langston Hughes, Ben Jonson, John Keats, Philip Larkin, Robert Lowell, Andrew Marvell, John Milton, Marianne Moore, Sylvia Plath, Edgar Allan Poe, Alexander Pope, Adrienne Rich, Anne Sexton, William Shakespeare, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Leslie Marmon Silko, Cathy Song, Wallace Stevens, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Derek Walcott, Walt Whitman, Richard Wilbur, William Carlos Williams, William Wordsworth, William Butler Yeats
  • Drama: Aeschylus, Edward Albee, Amiri Baraka, Samuel Beckett, Anton Chekhov, Caryl Churchill, William Congreve, Athol Fugard, Lorraine Hansberry, Lillian Hellman, David Henry Hwang, Henrik Ibsen, Ben Jonson, David Mamet, Arthur Miller, Molière, Marsha Norman, Sean O’Casey, Eugene O’Neill, Suzan-Lori Parks, Harold Pinter, Luigi Pirandello, William Shakespeare, George Bernard Shaw, Sam Shepard, Sophocles, Tom Stoppard, Luis Valdez, Oscar Wilde, Tennessee Williams, August Wilson
  • Fiction (Novel and Short Story): Chinua Achebe, Sherman Alexie, Isabel Allende, Rudolfo Anaya, Margaret Atwood, Jane Austen, James Baldwin, Saul Bellow, Charlotte Bronte, Emily Bronte, Raymond Carver, Willa Cather, John Cheever, Kate Chopin, Sandra Cisneros, Joseph Conrad, Edwidge Danticat, Daniel Defoe, Anita Desai, Charles Dickens, Fyodor Dostoevsky, George Eliot, Ralph Ellison, Louise Erdrich, William Faulkner, Henry Fielding, F. Scott Fitzgerald, E.M. Forster, Thomas Hardy, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ernest Hemingway, Zora Neale Hurston, Kazuo Ishiguro, Henry James, Ha Jin, Edward P. Jones, James Joyce, Maxine Hong Kingston, Joy Kogawa, Jhumpa Lahiri, Margaret Laurence, D.H. Lawrence, Chang-rae Lee, Bernard Malamud, Gabriel García Márquez, Cormac McCarthy, Ian McEwan, Herman Melville, Toni Morrison, Bharati Mukherjee, Vladimir Nabokov, Flannery O’Connor, Orhan Pamuk, Katherine Anne Porter, Marilynne Robinson, Jonathan Swift, Mark Twain, John Updike, Alice Walker, Evelyn Waugh, Eudora Welty, Edith Wharton, John Edgar Wideman, Virginia Woolf, Richard Wright
  • Expository Prose: Joseph Addison, Gloria Anzaldua, Matthew Arnold, James Baldwin, James Boswell, Joan Didion, Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Du Bois, Ralph Waldo Emerson, William Hazlitt, bell hooks, Samuel Johnson, Charles Lamb, Thomas Macaulay, Mary McCarthy, John Stuart Mill, George Orwell, Michael Pollan, Richard Rodriguez, Edward Said, Lewis Thomas, Henry David Thoreau, E.B. White, Virginia Woolf

Read More: Review for the exam with our AP English Literature Cram Courses

AP English Literature Structure & Question Types

The AP English Literature & Composition exam takes 3 hours to complete and consists of two sections: a multiple-choice section and a free response section.


AP English Literature multiple-choice questions are grouped in sets.  You will be given 5 passages or poems to read, with 8-13 multiple-choice questions to assess your reading comprehension. Each multiple-choice question has 5 answer choices (A through E). That’s a lot of reading then recalling, understanding, and interpreting. Use your time effectively and wisely! 

Free Response

  • Respond to the prompt with a thesis that presents an interpretation and may establish a line of reasoning.
  • Select and use evidence to develop and support your line of reasoning.
  • Explain the relationship between the evidence and your thesis.
  • Use appropriate grammar and punctuation in communicating your argument.

How to Interpret AP English Literature Scores

AP scores are reported from 1 to 5. Colleges are generally looking for a 4 or 5 on the AP English Literature exam, but some may grant credit for a 3. (Here's a quick overview of AP credit policy .) Each test is curved so scores vary from year to year. Here’s how AP English Lit students scored on the May 2022 test:

Source: College Board

How can I prepare?

AP classes are great, but for many students they’re not enough! For a thorough review of AP English Literature content and strategy, pick the AP prep option that works best for your goals and learning style.

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ap lit exam essay prompts

How to Write the AP Lit Prose Essay + Example

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What is the ap lit prose essay, how will ap scores affect my college chances.

AP Literature and Composition (AP Lit), not to be confused with AP English Language and Composition (AP Lang), teaches students how to develop the ability to critically read and analyze literary texts. These texts include poetry, prose, and drama. Analysis is an essential component of this course and critical for the educational development of all students when it comes to college preparation. In this course, you can expect to see an added difficulty of texts and concepts, similar to the material one would see in a college literature course.

While not as popular as AP Lang, over 380,136 students took the class in 2019. However, the course is significantly more challenging, with only 49.7% of students receiving a score of three or higher on the exam. A staggeringly low 6.2% of students received a five on the exam. 

The AP Lit exam is similar to the AP Lang exam in format, but covers different subject areas. The first section is multiple-choice questions based on five short passages. There are 55 questions to be answered in 1 hour. The passages will include at least two prose fiction passages and two poetry passages and will account for 45% of your total score. All possible answer choices can be found within the text, so you don’t need to come into the exam with prior knowledge of the passages to understand the work. 

The second section contains three free-response essays to be finished in under two hours. This section accounts for 55% of the final score and includes three essay questions: the poetry analysis essay, the prose analysis essay, and the thematic analysis essay. Typically, a five-paragraph format will suffice for this type of writing. These essays are scored holistically from one to six points.

Today we will take a look at the AP Lit prose essay and discuss tips and tricks to master this section of the exam. We will also provide an example of a well-written essay for review.  

The AP Lit prose essay is the second of the three essays included in the free-response section of the AP Lit exam, lasting around 40 minutes in total. A prose passage of approximately 500 to 700 words and a prompt will be given to guide your analytical essay. Worth about 18% of your total grade, the essay will be graded out of six points depending on the quality of your thesis (0-1 points), evidence and commentary (0-4 points), and sophistication (0-1 points). 

While this exam seems extremely overwhelming, considering there are a total of three free-response essays to complete, with proper time management and practiced skills, this essay is manageable and straightforward. In order to enhance the time management aspect of the test to the best of your ability, it is essential to understand the following six key concepts.

1. Have a Clear Understanding of the Prompt and the Passage

Since the prose essay is testing your ability to analyze literature and construct an evidence-based argument, the most important thing you can do is make sure you understand the passage. That being said, you only have about 40 minutes for the whole essay so you can’t spend too much time reading the passage. Allot yourself 5-7 minutes to read the prompt and the passage and then another 3-5 minutes to plan your response.

As you read through the prompt and text, highlight, circle, and markup anything that stands out to you. Specifically, try to find lines in the passage that could bolster your argument since you will need to include in-text citations from the passage in your essay. Even if you don’t know exactly what your argument might be, it’s still helpful to have a variety of quotes to use depending on what direction you take your essay, so take note of whatever strikes you as important. Taking the time to annotate as you read will save you a lot of time later on because you won’t need to reread the passage to find examples when you are in the middle of writing. 

Once you have a good grasp on the passage and a solid array of quotes to choose from, you should develop a rough outline of your essay. The prompt will provide 4-5 bullets that remind you of what to include in your essay, so you can use these to structure your outline. Start with a thesis, come up with 2-3 concrete claims to support your thesis, back up each claim with 1-2 pieces of evidence from the text, and write a brief explanation of how the evidence supports the claim.

2. Start with a Brief Introduction that Includes a Clear Thesis Statement

Having a strong thesis can help you stay focused and avoid tangents while writing. By deciding the relevant information you want to hit upon in your essay up front, you can prevent wasting precious time later on. Clear theses are also important for the reader because they direct their focus to your essential arguments. 

In other words, it’s important to make the introduction brief and compact so your thesis statement shines through. The introduction should include details from the passage, like the author and title, but don’t waste too much time with extraneous details. Get to the heart of your essay as quick as possible. 

3. Use Clear Examples to Support Your Argument 

One of the requirements AP Lit readers are looking for is your use of evidence. In order to satisfy this aspect of the rubric, you should make sure each body paragraph has at least 1-2 pieces of evidence, directly from the text, that relate to the claim that paragraph is making. Since the prose essay tests your ability to recognize and analyze literary elements and techniques, it’s often better to include smaller quotes. For example, when writing about the author’s use of imagery or diction you might pick out specific words and quote each word separately rather than quoting a large block of text. Smaller quotes clarify exactly what stood out to you so your reader can better understand what are you saying.

Including smaller quotes also allows you to include more evidence in your essay. Be careful though—having more quotes is not necessarily better! You will showcase your strength as a writer not by the number of quotes you manage to jam into a paragraph, but by the relevance of the quotes to your argument and explanation you provide.  If the details don’t connect, they are merely just strings of details.

4. Discussion is Crucial to Connect Your Evidence to Your Argument 

As the previous tip explained, citing phrases and words from the passage won’t get you anywhere if you don’t provide an explanation as to how your examples support the claim you are making. After each new piece of evidence is introduced, you should have a sentence or two that explains the significance of this quote to the piece as a whole.

This part of the paragraph is the “So what?” You’ve already stated the point you are trying to get across in the topic sentence and shared the examples from the text, so now show the reader why or how this quote demonstrates an effective use of a literary technique by the author. Sometimes students can get bogged down by the discussion and lose sight of the point they are trying to make. If this happens to you while writing, take a step back and ask yourself “Why did I include this quote? What does it contribute to the piece as a whole?” Write down your answer and you will be good to go. 

5. Write a Brief Conclusion

While the critical part of the essay is to provide a substantive, organized, and clear argument throughout the body paragraphs, a conclusion provides a satisfying ending to the essay and the last opportunity to drive home your argument. If you run out of time for a conclusion because of extra time spent in the preceding paragraphs, do not worry, as that is not fatal to your score. 

Without repeating your thesis statement word for word, find a way to return to the thesis statement by summing up your main points. This recap reinforces the arguments stated in the previous paragraphs, while all of the preceding paragraphs successfully proved the thesis statement.

6. Don’t Forget About Your Grammar

Though you will undoubtedly be pressed for time, it’s still important your essay is well-written with correct punctuating and spelling. Many students are able to write a strong thesis and include good evidence and commentary, but the final point on the rubric is for sophistication. This criteria is more holistic than the former ones which means you should have elevated thoughts and writing—no grammatical errors. While a lack of grammatical mistakes alone won’t earn you the sophistication point, it will leave the reader with a more favorable impression of you. 

ap lit exam essay prompts

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Here are Nine Must-have Tips and Tricks to Get a Good Score on the Prose Essay:

  • Carefully read, review, and underline key instruction s in the prompt.
  • Briefly outlin e what you want to cover in your essay.
  • Be sure to have a clear thesis that includes the terms mentioned in the instructions, literary devices, tone, and meaning.
  • Include the author’s name and title  in your introduction. Refer to characters by name.
  • Quality over quantity when it comes to picking quotes! Better to have a smaller number of more detailed quotes than a large amount of vague ones.
  • Fully explain how each piece of evidence supports your thesis .  
  • Focus on the literary techniques in the passage and avoid summarizing the plot. 
  • Use transitions to connect sentences and paragraphs.
  • Keep your introduction and conclusion short, and don’t repeat your thesis verbatim in your conclusion.

Here is an example essay from 2020 that received a perfect 6:

[1] In this passage from a 1912 novel, the narrator wistfully details his childhood crush on a girl violinist. Through a motif of the allure of musical instruments, and abundant sensory details that summon a vivid image of the event of their meeting, the reader can infer that the narrator was utterly enraptured by his obsession in the moment, and upon later reflection cannot help but feel a combination of amusement and a resummoning of the moment’s passion. 

[2] The overwhelming abundance of hyper-specific sensory details reveals to the reader that meeting his crush must have been an intensely powerful experience to create such a vivid memory. The narrator can picture the “half-dim church”, can hear the “clear wail” of the girl’s violin, can see “her eyes almost closing”, can smell a “faint but distinct fragrance.” Clearly, this moment of discovery was very impactful on the boy, because even later he can remember the experience in minute detail. However, these details may also not be entirely faithful to the original experience; they all possess a somewhat mysterious quality that shows how the narrator may be employing hyperbole to accentuate the girl’s allure. The church is “half-dim”, the eyes “almost closing” – all the details are held within an ethereal state of halfway, which also serves to emphasize that this is all told through memory. The first paragraph also introduces the central conciet of music. The narrator was drawn to the “tones she called forth” from her violin and wanted desperately to play her “accompaniment.” This serves the double role of sensory imagery (with the added effect of music being a powerful aural image) and metaphor, as the accompaniment stands in for the narrator’s true desire to be coupled with his newfound crush. The musical juxtaposition between the “heaving tremor of the organ” and the “clear wail” of her violin serves to further accentuate how the narrator percieved the girl as above all other things, as high as an angel. Clearly, the memory of his meeting his crush is a powerful one that left an indelible impact on the narrator. 

[3] Upon reflecting on this memory and the period of obsession that followed, the narrator cannot help but feel amused at the lengths to which his younger self would go; this is communicated to the reader with some playful irony and bemused yet earnest tone. The narrator claims to have made his “first and last attempts at poetry” in devotion to his crush, and jokes that he did not know to be “ashamed” at the quality of his poetry. This playful tone pokes fun at his childhood self for being an inexperienced poet, yet also acknowledges the very real passion that the poetry stemmed from. The narrator goes on to mention his “successful” endeavor to conceal his crush from his friends and the girl; this holds an ironic tone because the narrator immediately admits that his attempts to hide it were ill-fated and all parties were very aware of his feelings. The narrator also recalls his younger self jumping to hyperbolic extremes when imagining what he would do if betrayed by his love, calling her a “heartless jade” to ironically play along with the memory. Despite all this irony, the narrator does also truly comprehend the depths of his past self’s infatuation and finds it moving. The narrator begins the second paragraph with a sentence that moves urgently, emphasizing the myriad ways the boy was obsessed. He also remarks, somewhat wistfully, that the experience of having this crush “moved [him] to a degree which now [he] can hardly think of as possible.” Clearly, upon reflection the narrator feels a combination of amusement at the silliness of his former self and wistful respect for the emotion that the crush stirred within him. 

[4] In this passage, the narrator has a multifaceted emotional response while remembering an experience that was very impactful on him. The meaning of the work is that when we look back on our memories (especially those of intense passion), added perspective can modify or augment how those experiences make us feel

More essay examples, score sheets, and commentaries can be found at College Board .

While AP Scores help to boost your weighted GPA, or give you the option to get college credit, AP Scores don’t have a strong effect on your admissions chances . However, colleges can still see your self-reported scores, so you might not want to automatically send scores to colleges if they are lower than a 3. That being said, admissions officers care far more about your grade in an AP class than your score on the exam.

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AP Lit Prose Analysis: Practice Prompt Samples & Feedback

9 min read • january 2, 2021

Candace Moore

Candace Moore

Practicing Prose Analysis is a great way to prep for the AP exam! Review practice writing samples and corresponding feedback from Fiveable teacher Candace Moore.

The Practice Prompt

Notes from the teacher.

While reading, consider the following questions:

  • What is the author’s language  doing ?
  • What  choices  has the author made in her language?
  • What is the  meaning/impact  of those choices?

As if you were writing a whole essay,  write a thesis  that establishes

1) the relationship Petry establishes between Lutie Johnson and the setting,

2) which figurative language devices Petry employed to establish the relationship, and

3) any complexity you identified in that relationship. Start a new paragraph  that analyzes  one pattern  of figurative language and its role in the relationship. You should have  at least two pieces of evidence  and  at least three sentences of commentary  making the connection between the language and the claim from your thesis.

Replay: Prose Analysis Thesis and Introduction

Read the selection carefully and then write an essay analyzing how Petry establishes Lutie Johnson’s relationship to the urban setting through the use of literary devices.

Passage and Prompt

Writing Samples and Feedback

Student sample 1.

In  The Street , by Ann Petry, the author establishes a victim and attacker relationship between Johnson and the urban setting. She uses personification, metaphor, and imagery of the wind to convey their relationship. Although the setting is portrayed as very violent, Petry also showcases its annoying characteristics to further add to their relationship.

The passage starts off with introducing the wind as it " rattled the tops of garbage cans  and “ sucked window shades out ”. Immediately, it’s described as a violent figure that gives off an aggressive and depressing atmosphere. It purposely bothers people, going as far as driving them out the streets. It meticulously bothers Lutie Johnson as she shivers when “ the cold fingers of the wind touched the back of her neck, and explored the sides of her head. ”: making her feel uncomfortable and powerless.

Teacher feedback:

You have a thesis that establishes a line of reasoning, and names the relationship between Lutie and the setting, which is great! So that earns the point. My push for you would be to get all of that into one sentence, because that would cut down on the repetition, and strengthen your writing style. 1/1: Thesis
Your paragraph uses well-selected evidence, but as a reader, I’m not convinced that you know what part of your argument you’re proving in this paragraph, or how your line of reasoning is supported. The first three sentences are connected by the violence/aggression, but then you shift to a different aspect of the relationship in the second half without a clear link between. Ev&Comm: 2/4

Student Sample 2

In  The   Street,  by Ann Petry, she establishes a negative relationship between Lutie Johnson and the urban setting. She uses the literary devices, personification and metaphor to show how the wind is impacting the people in the city. Petry also displays how the people in the urban area felt with the wind to express the negative relationship they have with the wind.

The way that the wind is expressed in the passage is as it were a human and has human features. An example of the wind having a human feature would be when the wind “did everything it could to discourage the people walking along the street.” One can notice that the wind ruined a person’s spirit while they are strolling through the streets. "And then the wind grabbed their hats, pried their scarves from around their necks, stuck its fingers inside their coat collars, blew their coats away from their bodies. " Petry used personification in that sentence to make it seem as though the wind has hands by saying that it grabbed hats and stuck its fingers in their coat collars to portray that the wind felt very eerie.

Your thesis establishes a relationship (negative), and names the devices that you will use in your analysis. However, your thesis does not establish a strong line of reasoning because you don’t make a whole argument when you say “how the people … felt” and “how the wind is impacting” instead of giving your interpretation (e.g. the people felt like victims, or the wind assaults them). 1/1
Your paragraph does clearly interpret the personification in the passage, and uses evidence that shows how Petry gives human qualities to the wind. However, you did not go the next step to analyze the relationship through the personification thoroughly. Try to spend more of your paragraph connecting the device to your argument, as well as clarifying the connection between the evidence points in your paragraph. 2/4

Student Sample 3

In  The Street  by Ann Petry, a negative relationship was established between the character Lutie Johnson and the urban setting in the story. The author uses diction, personification, and imagery to portray how the wind and Lutie have a negative relationship.

The word choice of Petry clearly establishes a negative relationship between Lutie and the wind by using words like “discourage,” “entangling,” “cold,” and “shivered.” All of these words hold negative connotation and create a feeling of invasiveness and being attacked. When the wind lifted Lutie’s hair and she “shivered as the cold fingers of the wind touched the back of her neck,” the audience can clearly see that the wind is not creating a pleasant sensation for Lutie. If the author were to use plain diction like “Lutie felt cold when the wind toughed her neck,” there would be no emotion and nor establishment of a strong relationship. The audience would have just known that the wind was cold.

Your thesis establishes your argument about a negative relationship and names the devices you will use. 1/1
The first two sentences of your paragraph are very strong – you have a device supported by the evidence, and your commentary connects to the argument. However, the rest of the paragraph does not analyze the relationship; it only interprets the diction. If you explained the connotation of that line as clearly, you would have a strong commentary. 2/4

Student Sample 4

In  The Street , Ann Petry portrays the abusive relationship between Johnson and the urban setting, through the usage of diction, personification, and imagery. The main culprit of this abuse is the natural wind, how it is violent and stops at nothing to bother the characters.

The passage begins with introducing the wind as it “rattled the tops of garbage cans” and “sucked window shades out”. Right off the bat, the characteristics of the wind is violent, a force that cannot be stopped. The wind is aggressive, purposely bothering the people, completely emptying the streets. The wind then begins abuses Johnson, making her shiver with “[its] cold fingers touch[ing] the back of her neck, and explor[ing] the sides of her head.” This removes any power that Johnson could of had, ending with the wind dominating over her.

You have a strong thesis in regards to its argument establishment – you have clearly interpreted the relationship. 1/1
Your evidence is well-selected, and your commentary tightly connected to the line of reasoning you established in your thesis. The last sentence is very strong. Organizationally, I would move the second sentence to the beginning of the paragraph as your assertion, creating a thread for the paragraph from the start that you can follow through the rest of the sentences. This makes your line of reasoning clearer and stronger, and more “sophisticated”. 3/4

Student Sample 5

In  The Street , by Ann Petry, a tug of war dynamic relationship is established between Lutie Johnson and the urban setting and portrayed in a negative light. Through the use of personification, imagery, and diction the fight Johnson faces against the brutal wind is shown.

Petry uses personification throughout the passage to describe the wind as if it is a person. Things such as, “Each time she thought she had the sign in focus, the wind pushed it away from her” By doing this the audience sees the wind directly affecting Johnson and creating a fighting relationship between the two of them. As Johnson tries to read a sign the wind pushes it away as if it doesn’t want her to go. By making it seem like the wind is trying to directly fight Johnson it makes the fight more personal The wind even chills Johnson by touching the back of her neck with its “cold fingers”. The wind now seems even more human like, as if the wind is grabbing Johnson in an aggressive manner. The act of the wind touching her neck is meant to scare Johnson and hold her back even more for where she needs to go. Each time Johnson tugs away from the wind, the wind pulls even more to fight Johnson.

Your thesis is strong, and establishes the relationship as one with a “tug of war dynamic”. 1/1
Your first sentence of your body paragraph establishes personification as the device, but only defines personification instead of beginning your interpretation that will lead to analysis (e.g. … personification to show the wind as creating barriers for Lutie). Your analysis is clear and effective, however, in showing the relationship and how the personification creates it. 3/4

Student Sample 6

In  The Street , by Ann Petry, the author establishes an obstructive relationship between Luti Johnson and the urban setting, particularly the wind. Petry employs the use of personification, imagery, and metaphor to express how Luti struggles against the wind.

The author used personification to describe the wind throughout this passage. This makes the effects of the wind seem deliberate and personal. When Luti is first introduces in the passage, the wind “lifted” her hair, exposing her neck. This action caused Luti to feel vulnerable and cold. Then, “the cold fingers of the wind touched the back of her neck, explored the sides of her head.” This statement makes it seem as if the wind is purposely violating Luti’s privacy and exposing her to the cold. By using personification to describe the wind, the author takes a natural element and turns it into a cruel, aggressive character. By giving the wind this “personality,” Petry is able to convey how destructive its actions are towards Luti.

Good thesis! You’ve given a very specific name to the relationship that establishes a line of reasoning. Having two sentences to establish these parts isn’t necessary, though. 1/1
I appreciate that you have an assertion that shows where the sentence is going. Again those first two sentences could be one: Throughout the passage, the author personifies the wind’s actions as deliberate and personal. The rest of the paragraph is strong, however, and connects clearly and effectively to your argument. Make sure that it connects clearly to the thesis, as well.

Student Sample 7

In  The Street , by Ann Petry, the author uses personification in order to show the wind as a powerful figure. Through these literary devices, the audience can see the influence of the winds on the people of the town, creating the wind to seem like a relentless bully.

At the beginning of the story, the personification of the wind is established. The wind comes off as aggressive and ruthless by driving people into their homes. The wind’s motive is then revealed, creating a sense of motivation that drives the wind  “It did everything it could to discourage the people walking along the street”  By blinding people with dust and wrapping the newspaper around their feet, the wind is portraying doing what a human would do when they are being malicious and ruthless. When Lutie Johnson is introduced, the audience gains a sense of innocence in her character. So, when the wind  “… blew her eyelashes away from her eyes so that her eyeballs were bathed in a rush of coldness…” , the wind is conceived as a bully. The audience can help to feel bad for what she has to endure. The wind continues to have this bully mentality when she tries to read the sign. However, the wind eventually lets her read the sign, allowing her to see it for an instant.

Strong thesis! “Relentless bully” shows you are clear on the relationship, as well as how you plan to analyze it through the personification. 1/1
You have very effective word choice in your analysis, which makes your writing and analysis fluid. The line of reasoning from your thesis is supported by your interpretation of the wind as malicious, ruthless, etc. However, your introduction of Lutie as a character with innocence is not as clearly connected or supported, and your last sentence seems to contradict the rest of the paragraph. 3/4


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Hi there! I'm struggling with the essay portion of the AP Literature exam and would like some advice on how to better prepare. Do you guys have any tips or resources for improving my essay-writing skills for the exam? Thanks in advance!

Hey there! Improving your essay-writing skills for the AP Literature exam is definitely a smart move, and I'm here to help. Here are a few tips and strategies to focus on when preparing for the essay portion:

1. Familiarize yourself with the essay types: The AP Lit exam has three essay prompts — a prose analysis, a poetry analysis, and an open-ended question (which usually requires analyzing a novel or play of your choice). Make sure you understand the structure and content expectations for each type of essay.

2. Practice close reading: AP Lit essays involve analyzing and interpreting literary works. Practice close reading by analyzing poetry and prose on a deep level, paying attention to the author's use of figurative language, symbols, themes, and narrative techniques. Take note of anything that strikes you as important or worth discussing.

3. Develop a thesis statement: Your essay should have a clear, concise thesis statement that makes a claim or argument about the text. The thesis should be specific and directly answer the prompt. Remember, a strong thesis is vital for a well-organized essay.

4. Outline before you write: Before jumping into your essay, create a brief outline to organize your thoughts and ensure you're adequately addressing the prompt. This will help you plan your essay's structure and make sure you've included all necessary supporting evidence.

5. Use evidence from the text: Be sure to support your thesis with relevant quotes and specific examples from the text. Analyze the quotes and explain how they connect to your overall argument.

6. Address the prompt thoroughly: Each essay prompt will have specific requirements, so make sure you address each component of the prompt in your essay. Be mindful of any literary devices or themes the question asks you to discuss.

7. Practice, practice, practice: One of the best ways to improve your essay-writing skills is by practicing. Find past AP Lit exam questions and practice writing essays under timed conditions. This will help you become more comfortable with the test format and build your confidence.

8. Review feedback: After writing practice essays, ask a teacher or knowledgeable friend to read and provide feedback. Use this feedback to identify areas for improvement, and focus on these areas as you continue practicing.

Finally, check out CollegeBoard's AP Literature resources, as well as reputable test prep websites such as CollegeVine or Khan Academy, to find practice questions, guided lessons, and additional strategies tailored to the AP Lit exam. Good luck, and happy studying!

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