As we approach AP exam time, you’ll want to explore how to best prepare yourself for the AP English Literature free-response section of the exam. Free-response makes up 55% of your test score. In this section, you will write three essays regarding prompts from poetry, a selected passage, and a work of literary fiction you select.
Only 7.6% of AP English Literature students scored a 5, in 2016. Follow this AP English Literature study plan to improve your chances of a possible 5 on this year’s test. Included herein are best practices for studying, practice exams, and tips on writing extraordinary essays.
What is the format of AP English Literature?
The goal of the AP English Literature course is to familiarize students with complex literary works of fiction. Through analytical reading and a careful attention to detail, students learn critical analysis of creative writing. Writing is an integral part of the course and exam. Essay assignments focus on the critical analysis of provided literary works and can be expository, analytical or argumentative.
The exam takes 3 hours. It is comprised of three free-response essays and 55 multiple-choice questions. The free-response section accounts to 55% of your score.
You will be given two hours to complete three free-response essays. The first will be corresponding to a given poem. The second will be regarding an excerpt from prose fiction or drama. The third is centered around a literary work chosen by you, from a specified category.
Why is the AP English Literature Free-Response Important?
Scoring guidelines for the AP English Literature Exam show that essays are assigned grades from 1-9. A 9 is the best score possible. Each of your scores is then multiplied by 3.0556. This weighted score is added to your multiple-choice totals, and the sum is your score. Overall scores ranging 114-150 are required for a 5 on the AP English Literature Exam.
If you score a perfect 68 on the multiple-choice portion, you would need three solid 5’s on your essays to earn a 5, on your overall exam. Since, it’s unlikely for anyone to achieve a perfect multiple-choice score, you should aim higher on the free-response questions.
A reasonable goal to strive for, would be earning 7’s on your essays. This would allow you to earn a 5 for your overall score by answering 40 MCQs correctly.
What Content is Covered in the Free-Response Section of AP English Literature?
For the AP English Literature Free-response section you are required to write three essays. They may be argumentative, analytical or expository depending on instructions. This section tests your ability to read and interpret various literary works, as well as your ability to communicate your ideas in a stylized, coherent response.
The test questions and subject matter change yearly, however, the structure remains the same. There will be one poem, one passage from prose fiction (or drama), and one work that you choose from a given category. Each fictional work will be accompanied by a question that you must answer in your essay. These range from specific interpretation of a given line or literary device used, to overall understanding of a writer’s purpose, theme or style.
Literature represented may span the 18th to 20th centuries. Poets such as John Keats, Walt Whitman, and Gwendolyn Brooks are possible examples. In drama, you may see the likes of Samuel Beckett, Sophocles, or Tennessee Williams. And, in expository prose, you’ll find authors such as Gloria Anzaldua, George Orwell, or Edward Said.
How to Prepare for AP English Literature Free-Response
Managing your time, as the AP exams grow closer, is imperative if you want a perfect score. There are many resources available online to help get the most from your AP English Literature study plan, both on Albert.io and CollegeBoard. Whether you’re natural at writing and comprehending literature, or not, you’ll want to prepare for the coming exam. Here are some quick tips to help you get the most out of study sessions.
Practice Makes Perfect
You can find released exams and sample essays from previous years, on CollegeBoard. On Albert.io there are a multitude of helpful study resources including 15 Must Know Rhetorical Terms For AP English Literature, AP English Literature; 5 Essential Reads, and practice free-response essays for various works. If you’d like to follow a specific route the One Month AP English Literature Study Guide is helpful and comprehensive.
Focus on Critical Reading
Critical reading is essential for any AP English Literature review. It’s important to never skim through passages while studying. You will miss underlying themes and subtext which are important for answering the AP English Literature practice questions.
Always read at a normal pace in practice and during your exam. Repeat or elaborate passages to ensure you’ve understood them. Consider the following question as you read, “What is the meaning of this sentence, paragraph, stanza, or chapter?”
Utilize Your Syllabus
At the beginning of the year, collect as many of the books, poems and other works assigned for your AP English Literature course as you can. This will allow you to read at your own pace and save valuable time looking for assigned texts as they come up.
Take Notes as You Read
When reviewing any book, poem, essay or other literary work take careful notes which, can be used later. Include the exact title, author’s name and a paraphrasing of the preface or introduction. Also note important themes, styles, and content. When recording specific ideas related to a particular part include page, paragraph, and line number for easy re-examination at a later date.
Carefully Consider Principal Ideas
Take into account the key concepts in any reading assignment. What evidence or support does the author show? In the writings of journalists, identifying these ideas and reinforcing materials is easy. However, accomplishing the same task for a more subtle work, such as that of Sylvia Plath or F. Scott Fitzgerald, may prove challenging.
Explore the Context
Spending a short amount of time researching the context surrounding an author or their work can expand your understanding of issues they tried to address and how well they succeeded. For example, researching Berlin in 1935 will give you insight to better understand the motivations of Vladimir Nabokov, when he wrote The Gift.
Read out Loud
When reading complex passages or poetry it is helpful to read aloud. Often, this approach slows your reading and aids in your comprehension of underlying tones and themes.
Reread when Necessary
It is regularly advised to read a literary work more than once to fully understand complex issues and sophisticated expressions.
Consult Your Dictionary, Thesaurus or Encyclopedia
Take advantage of these invaluable resources at your local library or online to expand your knowledge of words and content that you are reading. Remember that many English and American texts require familiarity with the major themes of Judaic and Christian religious traditions and with Greek and Roman mythology.
Write, Review, and Rewrite Regularly
Writing quality essays takes practice. It’s not an innate ability we are born with. Proper use of vocabulary, grammar, and syntax are just as important as understanding the literature you’re analyzing. Refer to How To Score Your Own AP English Literature Practice Essay to review and improve your writing. For an in depth review of free-response strategies turn to 3 Ways to Tackle AP English Literature Prompts. Use of the Albert.io AP English Literature free-response practice questions will be invaluable to your study plan.
How to Answer AP English Literature Free-Response Questions?
Here are some basic guidelines for writing a cohesive free-response essay. For more specific details on writing an exemplary response, check out How to Score Your Own AP English Language Practice Essay. Also, head over to 11 AP English Literature Test Taking Strategies for exam insight.
Understand the Subject Matter
Before you begin formulating your answer, read the prompt and any corresponding passage thoroughly. Ensure you fully comprehend what is being asked of you.
Outline Your Essay
Begin answering any free-response question with a quick outline of your planned essay. An effective introduction will include a thesis statement. Your thesis statement and supporting ideas should be clear and well thought out. Remember to structure your points and end with a conclusion which summarizes your answer.
Write Clearly and Eloquently
As you craft your response pay special attention to structure, vocabulary, and grammar. A well written essay is essential. Be certain to answer the presented question fully with supporting evidence from the passage provided. Ensure that your tenses are in line, pronoun use is not messy, and read your essay for fluidity as you go. Conclude by restating your thesis and summarizing your argument.
What are AP English Literature Free-Response Questions Like?
The following are actual free-response questions from AP English Literature Exams of the past years. You can find many more released questions and responses on CollegeBoard, for reference.
Example One is from the 2016 exam.
“In this excerpt from Thomas Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), Michael Henchard and his daughter Elizabeth-Jane are reunited after years of estrangement. During this separation, Henchard has risen from poor seasonal farm worker to wealthy mayor of a small country town, while Elizabeth has supported herself by waiting tables at a tavern.
Read the passage carefully. Paying particular attention to tone, word choice, and selection of detail, compose a well-written essay in which you analyze Hardy’s portrayal of the complex relationship between the two characters.”
When reading the passage, pay special attention to the relationship between the two characters. Note specific lines which give particular insight. Formulate your opinion and structure your essay to support it. A well-written response for this prompt would understand the many nuisances seen in this excerpt. Notable points to mention in an effective essay include the underlying hypocrisy of Henchard, the unhealthy relationship between the characters and the paradox wherein Elizabeth-Jane tries in vain to relate to her father, causing her own pain.
Take a look at some past responses for this prompt and the scores on CollegeBoard’s 2016 Scoring Guidelines.
Example two is from the 2015 exam.
“In literary works, cruelty often functions as a crucial motivation or a major social or political factor. Select a novel, play, or epic poem in which acts of cruelty are important to the theme. Then write a well-developed essay analyzing how cruelty functions in the work as a whole and what the cruelty reveals about the perpetrator and/or victim.
You may select a work from the list below or another work of equal literary merit. Do not merely summarize the plot.”
Some of the choices given included Beloved, Oliver Twist, The Scarlet Letter, and The Crucible.
Select one of the given options or your own, based on your confidence that you remember and understand the plot, characters and details well enough to write a convincing and sophisticated essay. Examine how cruelty plays a role in the story, what that means for the victim and/or perpetrator, and any underlying themes which relate to cruelty. Use specific examples from the piece and support your argument clearly.
Take a look at a few past responses from this prompt and the scores on CollegeBoard’s 2015 Scoring Guidelines.
How can I practice AP English Literature Free-Response?
As you continue to prepare yourself for the AP English Literature free-response portion of the exam, take advantage of the many resources cited herein. Also, look on Albert.io for helpful AP English Literature practice questions, study tips and essay guides.
Don’t forget to check the quality of your writing as you practice by self-scoring your practice responses. Check out How to Score Your Own AP English Literature Essay for help.
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Kickstart your AP English Literature prep with Albert. Start your AP exam prep today.
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 two official released College Board Exams. However, neither is quite complete--while they each have the standard 55 multiple-choice questions, both are missing parts of the 3-question free-response section. You can still use these as complete exams if you supplement with released free-response questions from past years.
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 to below.
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.
Or supplement with this tree-poem.
Official Free-Response Questions
There may not be very many complete released exams, but there are tons of available free-response questions from previous administrations of the test. These are great practice, not just for practicing 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 one link for more up-to-date free response questions and another for older versions. However, there doesn’t appear to be a significant substantive difference between the old and new prompts.
AP English Lit Free Response Questions 2003-2017
AP English Lit Free Response 1999-2003
Sample Questions From the Course and Exam Description
The AP English Literature Course and Exam Description has practice multiple-choice questions and practice free-response questions. They don’t add up to a complete test--there are only 46 multiple-choice questions and a whopping six free response (enough for two tests!)--but they are great for simple practice.
Your AP teacher may have access to copies of old AP exams that you can use for practice. She probably can’t let you take them out of the classroom, but she 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 I’ll describe what’s offered and how it compares to official College Board tests.
Barron’s Books Free Practice Test
Barron’s, those distinguished makers of review books, also offer a complete free practice test with multiple choice and free response. They provide the author and name of the work, but not the date. All of these free resources probably credit the authors for copyright reasons, but you won’t have this information on the actual exam.
You can take the test timed or in “practice” mode. While answers are provided for the multiple-choice questions, no scoring guidelines are provided for the free-response prompts.
This isn’t an official resource, but the questions are of a high quality and are a good option when you’ve run out of official material. If you combined the multiple-choice questions with some official released free-response questions (with scoring guidelines and sample essays) you could get a pretty good approximation of a complete practice test.
McGraw-Hill AP Diagnostic Quiz
McGraw-Hill, textbook and review book publisher, offers a 25-question multiple-choice diagnostic quiz for the AP English Literature exam. You may actually be able to get more than 25 questions out of this, because each time you open a new test window, you get 25 randomly ordered and selected questions from a question pool.
The passages open in another window, which is a little annoying. However, the questions are fairly difficult and pretty well-written AP imitations, so the annoyance is worth it. You’ll get the author and title of the works excerpted.
Varsity Tutors AP Literature Practice Tests
This site has practice multiple-choice 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.
Learnerator AP English Literature Quizzes
Learnerator 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, Learnerator 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.
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 again, I would only use this resource if you are working on your reading comprehension skills.
4Tests AP English Lit Test
This site offers 35 multiple-choice questions. However, there are lots of ads, the questions are poorly written and vague, the interface is clunky, and the passages are very long. Overall, I do not recommend this site.
College Board SAT Literature Materials
While they aren’t identical by any means, you can definitely use SAT Literature Subject Test practice questions to hone your skill in answering multiple-choice questions about passages. The SAT Subject Test in Literature focuses a little more on the meaning of words and phrases in context and less on making inferences and describing the author’s purpose, but they can still be a useful resource simply for reading and answering high-level, in-depth questions on prose and poetry.
You can get sample SAT Literature questions online here or in the “Getting Reading for The SAT Subject Tests” booklet released by the College Board.
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.
Shmoop - Paid Subscription
This is a subscription service with questions for tons of different tests--SAT, ACT, AP exams.They also have videos and other review resources. I can’t really speak to the quality of the questions because the entire service is behind a paywall of a dollar a day.
Peterson’s AP Practice Tests
You can pay twenty dollars to get two English Lit practice tests from this site. However, I wasn’t able to find much information on these tests or reviews from students who had taken them.
Most, if not all, review books contain practice tests and questions. These will vary in quality depending on the quality of the review book, so be sure to look for reviews online of any book before you buy it. In general, Barron’s and the Princeton Review are fairly reliable review book sources.
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. I’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.
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.
When you’ve assembled a stable of practice resources, you might not be quite sure how to use them. Official College Board practice tests are best for simulating the exam experience. College Board questions are good for focused preparation for individual sections of the exam--especially the essays. Unofficial resources are best for further honing your close-reading skills.
Now that you know where to find these resources, you’ll have even more time to prep for the AP Literature exam by completing practice questions!
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.
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