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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thesis statement for ap literature

How to Encourage Students to Master the AP Lit Thesis

  • December 1, 2021
  • AP Literature , Writing

For years, I have used a Poem of the Week as part of my poetry instruction in AP Literature .  Last year, because the pandemic resulted in hybrid instruction and only 50% (or fewer) of my kids were in class at a time, I wanted to be sure that I put some significant emphasis on AP Lit thesis writing.

As part of our weekly poem study, the Friday prompt became an AP-style poetry essay prompt.  Students only needed to write a thesis.  And early in the year, it became evident that our thesis statements needed work.

The AP Lit Thesis is probably the most important point a student can earn on the AP Literature exam.  Students either get it or they don't.  And that thesis is key to setting students up to earn the other rubric points.  Read on to help your students write a better thesis...

AP Literature Thesis Statements and “The Point”

When the College Board came out with the new rubrics in 2019, they set aside a point that is designated for the thesis.  It’s one point and students either get it or they don’t.  And truthfully, it is not that hard to “get” the point.  Students must simply “provide a defensible interpretation in response to the prompt” which could be supported by the text (for more, see AP Central).  So in other words, students must be able to find *something* in the text that they can write about beyond a summary.

Early on, I observed two things: 1. Not all AP Lit thesis statement are created equal (even if they do earn the point) and 2.  Students needed help moving from making a base claim to making a strong claims that lead to better analysis later in the essay.

AP Lit Thesis Starting Points

At the beginning of the year, my kids were writing things like

  • The author uses metaphors to reveal that life gives you new, and endless opportunities each and every day. 
  • Merriam’s use of her metaphor for a new day in “Metaphor” reveals her positive outlook on life.
  • eve marriam’s use of metaphor shows that she feels that every day is new day to write your own story.
  • Love can cause pain
  • Lowell uses diction and figurative language to show her intimate and spiritual connection to her partner in the poem
  • Through Lowell’s uses of poetic elements and techniques, she’s able to carefully convert the speaker’s complex relationship with whoever they’re addressing. 

While indeed some of these would earn the thesis point, they do no convey the depth that a good, strong AP Lit thesis will.  We want students to address the complexity of the text and these just don’t cut it. 

The Issue of Complexity

So the first step in helping students to develop a strong thesis is to get beyond just repeating the topic with a few elements of author’s craft thrown in.  They have to be sure that they are fully addressing the complexity of the topic highlighted by the task.

The first set of thesis statements above go with Eve Merriam’s poem “Metaphor.”   This is my favorite poem to start the school year with because it reflects where we are.  Each school year is also like a “new sheet of paper.”

We spend the week discussing the poem ( My daily prompts are available here. ) Then on Friday, I present students with the following prompt:

In Eve Merriam’s poem “Metaphor” (1986), the speaker portrays the blankness of a new day.  In a well written essay, analyze how Merriam uses poetic elements and techniques to convey the speaker’s complex attitude toward life.

And while all of the above thesis statements DO say something about her attitude toward life, none of them get to how it is complex.  So the first step is to get students thinking about contrasts within the poem and other elements that help add to the depth of the text.  A good way to do this might be through the Interstate, Microscope and Compass Technique from Gina at Lit and More.

The AP Lit Thesis is probably the most important point a student can earn on the AP Literature exam.  Students either get it or they don't.  And that thesis is key to setting students up to earn the other rubric points.  Read on to help your students write a better thesis...

AP® Lit Literary Argument

Once students see complexity in a text, they can move into developing a more complex AP® literature thesis statement. 

It is also important to remind them that the College Board calls these essays “literary argument.”  And an argument is by definition something that has two sides.  When we teach argument writing to our English 11 students in preparation for the New York State English Regents we encourage them to include the counterargument in their thesis.  And although a literary argument doesn’t necessarily have a counterargument, it should have two sides.  In other words, complexity.

In these early stages, it is sometimes useful to give the students complexity starters that they can use as the basis of their thesis statements.  This is a list that I provide to my students:

  • even though x, y is also true
  • not only j, but also k
  • although d, also e
  • nevertheless
  • notwithstanding
  • in contrast

This list along with other helpful tips on writing AP Literature Thesis Statements is included in my AP Thesis Anchor charts here .

Anchor Charts for AP Literature Writing Tasks help guide students to better essays for the AP exam.

AP® Lit Thesis Examples

As we work through the year, thesis statements that once read “love can cause pain” become 

“Even though Edith Matilda Thomas’s poem entitled “Winter Sleep” appears to be a simplistic take about growing old she also uses poetic elements such as symbolism, diction, and parallel structure to convey a complex attitude towards aging as she looks back on her life.” 

“Although the speaker is reflecting on the spring-like happiness of her youth, she understands that death is coming as she moves into the metaphorical winter of her life due to her old age.”

The AP Lit Thesis is probably the most important point a student can earn on the AP Literature exam.  Students either get it or they don't.  And that thesis is key to setting students up to earn the other rubric points.  Read on to help your students write a better thesis...

Building on Complexity

The key to helping students earn the thesis point on the AP Literature Rubric is to help them understand that they are writing a literary argument and that an argument by its very nature has two sides or two part.  Then include both of those sides in your thesis.

For more help in AP Lit Writing, be sure to check out these other AP Lit Essay Writing Anchor Charts.  

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Is there a way to get working links. Both the link to the poem and the link to the daily prompts are both broken and give an error message when clicked.

Thank you for bringing that to my attention. These links are fixed now.

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Your chance of acceptance, your chancing factors, extracurriculars, creating a thesis for ap lit.

This year, I'm taking AP Lit and I'm struggling with writing thesis statements for my essays. Does anyone have any tips or insight on how to write a solid thesis statement for AP Lit essays?

I can definitely give you some advice on how to create a solid thesis statement for your AP Lit essays. In AP Lit, your thesis statement should provide a clear, original, and specific claim about your chosen literary work, which your essay will then analyze and support with textual evidence.

Here are a few steps you can follow to create a strong thesis statement:

1. Read the prompt carefully: Make sure you understand what the prompt is asking you to do, whether it's analyzing a specific aspect of the text, exploring a theme, or discussing a particular character.

2. Choose a clear and specific focus: Decide what aspect of the work you want to explore, such as characterization, theme, symbolism, or structure. Your thesis statement should be specific enough that your analysis doesn't become too broad or unfocused.

3. Make an original claim: Your thesis statement should present an original argument or interpretation, rather than merely stating an obvious fact or restating the prompt. Make sure your claim is one that can be both supported by evidence from the text and challenged by other interpretations.

4. Include some direction for your essay: A strong thesis statement not only makes a claim but also gives some indication of how your essay will support that claim. This helps guide your reader and sets up the organization of your essay.

For example: In The Great Gatsby , F. Scott Fitzgerald uses the contrasting settings of East Egg, West Egg, and the Valley of Ashes to illustrate the corrupting influence of wealth and social class on the characters and their ultimate disillusionment with the American Dream.

In this thesis statement, the focus is on the contrasting settings and their impact on the characters, making a specific claim about the author's intent. It provides direction for the essay, indicating that the writer will explore how Fitzgerald uses these settings to convey his message.

Remember, writing a strong thesis statement takes practice, so keep working at it and tweaking it until you feel confident in your ability to craft a well-argued and coherent claim about the text. Good luck in your AP Lit class!

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2.3 Developing thesis statements

2 min read • january 26, 2023

Sahithi Morla

Sahithi Morla

In Topic 2.3, we will cover how to write thesis statements. ✍️

What is a Thesis Statement?

A thesis statement is the main argument or point that a student makes in an essay. It serves as a roadmap for the essay and guides the reader through the main points and evidence used to support the argument. A thesis statement should be clear and specific, and it should be included in the introduction of the essay. In AP English Language and Composition, students are often required to analyze texts and make arguments about them, so the thesis statement is crucial in demonstrating their understanding of the text and their ability to analyze it.

How to Develop a Thesis Statement

To develop a thesis statement , follow these steps:

Read and analyze the text : Before you can develop a thesis statement , you need to have a thorough understanding of the text you are analyzing. Read the text carefully and take notes on key ideas and themes.

Identify the main idea : Look for the main idea or message that the author is trying to convey. Consider the purpose of the text and the intended audience.

Brainstorm possible thesis statements : Based on your understanding of the text, come up with a few possible thesis statements that express your main idea.

Refine your thesis statement : Choose the thesis statement that is the most clear, specific, and arguable. Make sure that it is a statement and not a question or a fact.

Test your thesis statement : Ask yourself if your thesis statement can be supported by evidence from the text and if it is clear and specific enough.

Revise if necessary : If your thesis statement is not clear or specific enough, or if it is not supported by the text, revise it until it meets these criteria.

Your thesis statement should be the foundation of your essay, so it is important to develop it carefully and thoughtfully. Remember that a thesis statement is not a summary of the text, but an argument that you make about the text, and it should be specific, complex, and nuanced.

Key Terms to Review ( 1 )

Thesis Statement


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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:

thesis statement for ap literature

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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Lit & More

Lit & More

October 4, 2020 ·

Discussing Complexity in AP Lit

Prose Analysis Lessons & Resources

thesis statement for ap literature

One of the most common words in AP* Lit essay prompts is “complex,” usually paired with the word “relationship.” When we prepare for writing our first FRQs, I tell my students that the word “complex” is the most important word in the prompt. But when asked what complexity means, my students are often confused. Some interpret complex writing to simply be advanced or “fancy-sounding.” Others think it has to do with the inclusion of literary elements. However, there’s one simple way to help your students understand complexity and score high on an essay.

Complexity simply means pairing two things in your analysis.

* AP® is a trademark registered by the College Board, which is not affiliated with, and does not endorse, this website .

How it Looks in Writing

For example, take a look at the first paragraph from this released essay from the 2020 exam, which scored a 1-4-1 (a perfect score).

thesis statement for ap literature

In this paragraph, we see the student’s claim. He or she says that the narrator, Philip Hutton, is experiencing anger and resentment as well as peace and reconciliation. This is a complex argument! This blending of different emotions makes it unique and complicated, thus the complex attitude that College Board is looking for.

So How Do I Teach Complexity To My Students?

Once you’ve grasped the concept of complexity, your students will probably still need practice in making complex claims. I recently attempted this with my AP ® class in our discussion of Tillie Olsen’s “I Stand Here Ironing.”

First, I asked students to analyze the narrator’s attitude towards motherhood. After a lengthy discussion, I asked them to shout out any word they could use to describe or associate with the mother from “I Stand Here Ironing.” Then, we talked about how a complex argument would say the mother felt a sense of both guilt and pride. Or we could talk about how she shows feelings of inadequacy but also a lack of regret for her daughter’s trauma. Another wanted to talk about she seems helpless and defensive at times, but proud and assertive at others. What complex arguments!

Other Ideas for Complexity

If you’re looking for more ways to discuss complexity with your students, consider analyzing non-literary texts, such as music, movies, or art. Here are some ideas I came up with, but I’m sure there are plenty of other and better options out there too!

One of my favorite songs of the moment is “If the World Was Ending” by JP Saxe and Julia Michaels. As a mother of three kids, I don’t get to drive alone very often. However, when I do, this is one I love to jam out to.

thesis statement for ap literature

The lyrics of this song are very relatable and easy for teenagers to understand. Essentially, both singers in the song express understanding that the other isn’t a good fit for a relationship. However, a physical desire remains. The chorus of the song is, “If the world was ending you’d come over, right?” The singers end almost every question like this with the word, “right,” showing their hesitancy and fear of looking vulnerable. I love the complexity in these lyrics. They capture the mixed emotions of desire and fear of looking vulnerable, which is one of the most relatable complex feelings.

thesis statement for ap literature

Another example of complexity, and possibly interpretation, comes from both an art piece and a movie. One of my favorite movies is Ferris Bueller’s Day Off . In one scene from that movie, Cameron looks into this famous painting while Ferris and his girlfriend make out. The message is clearly on introspection and peace, until the camera begins a gradual zoom-in on Cameron and a figure in the painting.

thesis statement for ap literature

As the camera zooms closer into Cameron, it also zooms closer into the child in the center of the painting. If you get extremely close, it looks as though the child is screaming, presenting a new perspective to the painting. Is it simply a trick of the pointillism used in the art? Or is it a complex perspective behind the painting, that a peaceful afternoon in the park cannot be interrupted by the distraction of your screaming child? Cameron’s backstory in the movie adds to this complexity, as Cameron, too, is silently screaming throughout his whole existence.

I had a hard time picking a clip to show complexity from movies. In the end, I like this one from Jordan Peele’s Get Out , a brilliant thriller. In this scene, Chris has traveled to his girlfriend’s parents’ house for the first time. Upon meeting his girlfriends’s parents and their friends, race becomes an uncomfortable barrier between Chris and almost every other character. Things move from awkward to spooky when the few other African American characters behave strangely towards Chris, almost as if they’re struggling to say something they cannot.

thesis statement for ap literature

In this clip, Chris depicts his complex feelings of both fear and intrigue when he talks to the housekeeper. For context, the housekeeper is inhabited by another person’s brain, which has taken over her entire personality. She gravitates towards Chris because her original body, or host, is trying to find a way to warn him that his girlfriend’s family wants to lobotomize him and do the same thing to him. Chris is completely creeped out by this woman’s strange behavior, but her eerie desperation seeps out through her fake smile. Her depiction is complex, as is Chris’ curiosity and revulsion.

More on Teaching Complexity in AP Lit

Looking for more lesson plans and strategies for teaching complexity? Check out these other web pages for more information! You can also learn more about complexity, making claims, and the elusive sophistication point in my AP ® Lit Test Prep materials , available for purchase from Teachers Pay Teachers.

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    • The thesis may be more than one sentence, provided the sentences are in close proximity. • The thesis may be anywhere within the response. • For a thesis to be defensible, the poem must include at least minimal evidence that . could. be used to support that thesis; however, the student need not cite that evidence to earn the thesis point.

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    AP® English Literature and Composition 2022 Scoring Guidelines. Reporting Category Scoring Criteria . Row A Thesis (0-1 points) 0 points . For any of the following: • selected workThere is no defensible thesis. • The intended thesis only restates the prompt. • The intended thesis provides a summary of the issue with no apparent or

  22. Discussing Complexity in AP Lit

    Prose Analysis Lessons & Resources. One of the most common words in AP* Lit essay prompts is "complex," usually paired with the word "relationship.". When we prepare for writing our first FRQs, I tell my students that the word "complex" is the most important word in the prompt. But when asked what complexity means, my students are ...

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    Thesis (0-1 points) 7.B 0 points For any of the following: • There is no defensible thesis. • The intended thesis only restates the prompt. • The intended thesis provides a summary of the issue with no apparent or coherent claim. • There is a thesis, but it does not respond to the prompt. 1 point