AP English Literature Overview
The College Board AP English Development Committee sets the course framework for AP English courses and exams. Given the scope and importance of the instruction of English as a subject, and the many approaches taken by colleges in designing their introductory english courses, The committee elected to break AP English into 2 seperate programs, AP English Literature and Composition, and AP English Language and Composition. This page focuses on the AP English Literature program, see here for our information on AP English Language Prep Books.
We’ll cover the course, exams, and our picks for the best AP English Literature books, and Review Guides for test year 2021 below, but if you just can’t wait, here’s the short list:
Getting a jump start on college level studies in English Literature can be extremely helpful for students regardless of your field. Most college programs have significant English course requirements, and all disciplines benefit from the ability to express thoughts and communicate clearly. Whatever your motivation for studying AP English Literature, we’re here to help you succeed!
A full Course Description for AP English Literature is available from collegeboard.org.
AP English Literature is meant to be the equivalent of an entry level college English course with an emphasis on literature. It’s goal is to engage students in the reading and analysis of imaginative literature. Students perform detailed readings of selected texts, and study the ways in which the author uses language to provide meaning and enjoyment to the reader.
Broadly, the course includes representative works from different eras and genres of literature. Equally heavy emphasis is placed on the reading and analysis of these works, and the writing of these analyses and the students ability to communicate clearly.
By the time a student completes the AP English Literature course, they will have read a wide variety of books from a number of time periods, authors, and genres. The course places emphasis on deliberate and thorough reading of a work, taking time to understand it’s complexity, and to understand and absorb meanings which may not be immediately apparent. A method for such readings consists of: * The experience (subjective dimensions including emotional responses) * The interpretations (analysis of the works to arrive at an understanding of multiple meanings) * The evaluation (assessment of the quality, artistic achievement, and social and cultural value)
A firm basis in the ability to perform a detailed reading of a literary work is critical to success on the AP English Literature exam.
Writing assignments in AP English Literature focus on the analysis of works formed by critical and deliberate reading as described above. Some creative writing assignments may also be incorporated depending on instructor preference. The goal of all writing assignments is to help students learn to explain their thoughts and understandings in clear and cogent ways. There is emphasis throughout the course on developing stylistic maturity, defined as:
- A wide vocabulary, applied correctly
- A variety of sentence structure
- A logical organization using techniques like repetition, transitions, and emphasis
- A balance of generalization and specific illustrative details
- Effective use of rhetoric
Writing assignments in an AP English Literature help to reinforce the readings, but are also inherently valuable for helping students organize and communicate.
Students taking the AP English Literature Exam are responsible for demonstrating knowledge of the above mentioned skills and abilities. The student’s knowledge is assessed through a 3 hour exam containing questions in both multiple choice or free response format. The exam is broken up into 2 parts, with the multiple choice section accounting for 45% and free response accounting for 55% of a final score between 1 and 5.
Section 1: Multiple Choice
- 60 minutes long
- Accounts for 45% of the final score
Points are awarded for each correct answer, and no points are subtracted for incorrect or unanswered questions.
Section 2: Free Response
- 120 minutes long and contains 2 open ended questions
- Accounts for 55% of the final score.
Students are generally provided with an excerpt of a piece of literature, and asked to form an assessment of the work using core concepts from the course.
For exam dates, refer to The College Board AP Calendar.
Best AP English Literature Books
AP English Literature has several strong contenders for the best textbooks and review guides which we’ve ranked for you above. Continue on for detailed information on each one!
AP English Literature Crash Course
Pros: Laser focus on what you need to do well on the exam itself.
Cons: Not actually a crash course - don't expect to slack off all year and do well with this.
Best For: Understanding how the exam works, and what is needed to be successful.
Our Rating: 5 / 5
AP English Literature Crash Course is our top recommendation for best AP English Literature review book this year. Unlike with other courses, there are no formulas, dates, etc that have to be memorized when it comes to this exam. The detailed strategies and focus on how to be successful on the exam itself is what really sets this book apart from the rest. The full list of features include:
- Focused only on information and concepts tested in the exam.
- Detailed test taking strategies for both multiple choice and free response sections.
- Free online practice exam.
It’s really hard to be successful in an English Literature course through last minute cramming, so we strongly recommend you start early and work hard all year. Assuming you’ve done that, understanding the nuances and specific strategies needed to be successful on the exam itself is where this book really shines.
CliffsNotes AP English Literature and Composition
Pros: Numerous full length practice tests.
Cons: Can be somewhat wordy in places.
Best For: Last minute review leading up to the exam.
Our Rating: 4.5 / 5
CliffsNotes AP English Literature and Composition is our second ranked choice for best AP English Literature review book this year. Like our top pick, it’s primarily a review of the key components of the test, and how to answer the questions effectively. The full list of features for this book include:
- 6 full length practice exams with answers and explanations
- Overview of the exam format and scoring
- Definitions of key terms
- Useful tips for tackling the essay section
CliffsNotes is a well known name in english course guides, and they do a good job here as well. Again, most of the focus is on the exam itself, what to expect, and how to succeed - as opposed to an overview of course materials or specific literary works.
Barron’s AP English Literature and Composition
Pros: Numerous practice tests.
Cons: Less focused than some books on this list.
Best For: Review and practice leading up to the exam.
Our Rating: 4.0 / 5
Barron’s AP English Literature and Composition is a solid entry for best AP English Literature review guide. It comes with a bunch of full length practice tests, and does a good job explaining the exam layout and strategies. Features include:
- 5 Full length practice tests with answers and explanations
- Detailed glossary with 175 terms
- Sample essay from students with critiques of strengths and weaknesses
- Sample questions covering poetry and fiction
Barron’s AP English Literature and Composition is a useful resource for students preparing for the exam. If you find taking practice tests useful, this book has some of the most relevant of any on this list. All in all, Barron’s AP English Literature and Composition is a good buy.
Cracking the AP English Literature & Composition Exam
Pros: Narrow focus is easy to get through in a hurry.
Cons: Limited practice test resources, somewhat out of date.
Best For: Last minute review and cramming leading up to the exam..
Our Rating: 3.5 / 5
Cracking the AP English Literature & Composition Exam from Princeton Review is another solid book for preparing to take the AP English Literature exam. It’s not our top recommendation, but if you’ve used and enjoyed any of the other Princeton Review series of books, this one won’t disappoint. Features include:
- 2 Full length practice exams with detailed answer keys and explanations
- Practice drills for poetry and prose
- Tips to help you organize and plan your writing
- Access to online plans to help you focus your study time
The online resources that come with this book are very useful for anyone preparing for the exam. Test tips and strategies for all the major course topics are well thought out, and useful.
Getting a jump start on college level english requirements can save you a huge amount of time and money in your first years of Higher Ed. AP English Literature is a great choice for any student looking to go this route, with its focus on many of the greatest works of literature from history.
We’ve presented our list of top choices for AP English Literature and Composition books, and hope you find them useful. Ultimately, which one is best suited for you is a matter of circumstance. To recap our recommendations:
|Top Overall Recommendation||AP English Literature Crash Course|
|Top Pick For Course Supplement||AP English Literature Crash Course|
|Top Pick For Last Minute Prep||Barron’s AP English Literature and Composition|
Our top overall pick and recommendation for supplementing your other course info for year long study is AP English Literature Crash Course. It’s got tons of handy tips and tricks for tackling the exam, and having it early in the course will help you absorb information you’ll need.
If you’re shorter on time before the exam, Barron’s AP English Literature and Composition is a great resource, primarily because of it’s huge number of practice tests.
Whatever your circumstance, supplemental study and review materials are a key part of ensuring success on the exam. We’ve listed some of the best AP English Literature resources available. Good luck, and study hard!