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.
Looking for AP English Literature practice?
Kickstart your AP English Literature prep with Albert. Start your AP exam prep today.
The AP English Literature and Composition exam is tough. Do you know how to score a five on the AP exam? Whether you’re self-studying or taking a class, you can succeed with enough preparation and a few solid tips. To do well on the AP English Literature and Composition exam, you’ll need to score high on the essays. For that, you’ll need to write a complete, efficient essay that argues the work or elements under examination in the Free Response Question section.
The AP English Literature and Composition exam consists of two sections, the first being a 55-question multiple choice portion worth 45% of the total test grade. This section tests your ability to read drama, verse, or prose fiction excerpts and answer questions about them. The second section worth 55% of the total score requires essay responses to three questions, demonstrating your ability to analyze literary works: a poem analysis, a prose fiction passage analysis, and a concept, issue, or element analysis of a literary work–in two hours.
Before the exam, you should know how to construct a clear, organized essay that defends a focused claim about the work, question, or element under analysis. You must write a brief introduction that includes the thesis, followed by body paragraphs that further the thesis with detailed, thorough support, and a short concluding paragraph that reiterates and reinforces the thesis without repeating it. Clear organization, specific support, and full explanations or discussions are three critical components of high-scoring essays.
General Tips to Bettering Your Odds at a Nine on the AP English Literature FRQ.
You may know already how to approach the Open FRQ, but don’t forget to keep the following in mind coming into the exam:
- Carefully read, review, and underline key to-do’s in the prompt.
- Briefly outline where you’re going to hit each prompt item–in other words, pencil out a specific order.
- Be sure you have a clear thesis that includes the terms mentioned in the instructions, literary devices, tone, element, and meaning.
- Include the author’s name and title of the prose or poetry selections in your thesis statement. Refer to characters by name.
- Use quotes—lots of them—to exemplify the elements and your argument points throughout the essay.
- Fully explain or discuss how your examples support your thesis. A deeper, fuller, and focused explanation of fewer points is better than a shallow discussion of more points (shotgun approach).
- Avoid vague, general statements or merely summarizing the plot instead of clearly focusing on the character, work, poem, or passage itself.
- Use transitions to connect sentences and paragraphs.
- Write in the present tense with generally good grammar.
- Keep your introduction and conclusion short, and don’t repeat your thesis verbatim in your conclusion.
The newly-released 2016 sample AP English Literature and Composition exam questions, sample responses, and grading rubrics provide a valuable opportunity to analyze how to achieve high scores on each of the three Section II English literature FRQ responses. However, for purposes of this examination, the Open FRQ strategies will be the focus. The open question in last year’s exam required test takers to analyze a character in a novel or play that deceives others. Exam takers had to respond to the following instructions:
- Choose a novel or play with a character who deceives others
- Analyze the deceptive character’s motives
- Discuss how the deception contributes to the meaning of the work as a whole
- Write a well-written essay
- Don’t summarize the plot
For a clear understanding of the components of a model essay, you’ll find it helpful to analyze and compare all three sample answers provided by the CollegeBoard: the high scoring (A) essay, the mid-range scoring (B) essay, and the low scoring (C) essay. All three provide a lesson for you: to achieve a 9 on the prose analysis essay, model the A essay’s strengths and avoid the weaknesses of the other two.
Start with a Succinct Introduction that Includes Your Thesis Statement
The first sample essay (A) begins with a packed first paragraph: the title, author, main character, the plot details revealing deceit, the motives for deception, and the deceit as a representation of capitalism’s detrimental effects. The focus of the analysis is clear from the start: insatiable greed for wealth and power drives the character’s deceit and reflects the endless consumerist insatiability of the Industrialist 1920’s American society.
By packing the introduction with the principal plot details to exemplify the character’s deceptions–lying, cheating, evading responsibility, and committing murder–the student lays the groundwork for proving all of the following:
- that the main character, Clyde, is deceptive
- how he is deceptive
- why he is deceptive
- how his deception affects other characters in the novel
- what the deception means in the larger context of the novel
With only two specific plot references–avoiding responsibility for the hit and run and socializing with the people only to get what he wanted (not for their friendship)–the writer demonstrates the weak and corruptible character, Clyde, susceptible to increasingly worse deceptions. The references are just enough to support the student’s assertions, and there’s no re-telling of the plot.
The mid-range B essay introduction also mentions the title, author, deceitful character (Mr. Rochester), who the deceiver deceived, and why (true love). However, the introduction lacks the larger import of the deception in the novel. The reader finds an analysis of the deceiver Rochester’s motivations and lessons learned about taking the easy way out, patience, and God’s will by the end of the essay. However, the connection between the deception and the meaning of the novel remains a mystery.
The third sample names the title, author, and characters of the novel–Miss. Havisham who deceives Pip and Estella. However, the nature of the deception and its meaning is missing. In fact, the wrong word choice confuses the reader (self-satisfying motives?). Moreover, the writer wastes time with an opening generalization about lies and deception that lends little to the task ahead and lacks good grammar and logic.
In sum, make introductions brief and compact yet completely covering all of the components of the prompt. Use specific details from the work that support a logical thesis statement or focus that clearly directs the argument and addresses the instructions’ requirements. Succinct writing helps. Pack your introduction with specific plot details, and don’t waste time on sentences that don’t do the work ahead for you. Be sure the thesis statement covers all of the relevant facts and overarching themes of the novel for a cohesive argument.
Use Clear Examples to Support Your Argument Points
The A answer begins the first supporting body paragraph with a reiteration of the focus on greed and a promise to exemplify that greed by Clyde’s behavior with women. Then, the A responder details the four trophy women, Clyde’s lies, and the damage of his lies (about his finances) and callused behavior (spending money) on others, like his pregnant sister, and on himself (lust for wealth and power). The examples support the claim that greed fuels Clyde’s lying, cheating, and immorality.
The second body paragraph likewise uses relevant examples. The second paragraph focuses not on Clyde’s greed but his second trait–one of the tools of his deceit–dishonesty. This time the writer explicitly ties in the novel’s larger contextual meaning critiquing capitalism with the example of the lover’s murder.
Again, with just enough details to inform the reader but not repeat the plot, the A essay exemplifies the effects of the deception and the larger capitalistic drives and influences on the main character’s morality–how it slipped from self-aggrandizing, exploitation, greed, and dishonesty, to murder of a pregnant woman. In doing so, the writer covers the second major component of the prompt: the deception’s role in producing meaning, the first being the motives for the character’s deceit.
The mid-range sample spends one and a half of two body paragraphs relating the plot details of Rochester’s marriage, his meeting Jane Eyre, and finally, Jane Eyre’s discovery of Rochester’s deceit: pursuing Jane Eyre’s love while hiding his marital status and thereby deceiving his wife too. The reader gets the character’s background, motivations, and intentions, but the writer doesn’t weave those details into an argument addressing the deception, its effects, and its meaning. It’s simple plot summary.
Unlike the A sample, the B sample includes too much of the general plot description and not enough specific plot details to exemplify the character’s deceitful acts and their meaning. For example, the writer concludes that the effect of the deceit is Jane Eyre’s loss of her “true self with God”. It’s unclear what this fact exemplifies in the paragraph since the responder merely deems it vaguely as a “negative effect”. It’s not an apt detail to show Rochester’s motive either.
Like the B essay, sample C also spends too much time plot summarizing. Paragraph 2 recaps how Miss Havisham lures in Pip into her undisclosed scheme. By paragraph 3, the reader understands that Pip was deceived by the Estella somehow through Miss Havisham’s doings. Since the details are few, and the writing is difficult to comprehend, the writer shows neither Miss Havisham’s motive nor the meaning of deception in the novel.
Discussion is Crucial to Connect Your Details and Examples to Your Argument Points
Rather than merely summarizing plot, as the B and C samples do, the A response spends time thoroughly discussing the meaning of the details used to exemplify his or her assertions. For example, the third paragraph begins with the point that Clyde’s dishonesty plays a crucial role in the novel’s critique of capitalism. The writer explains that the murder of his lover shows Clyde’s downward moral spiral from the beginning until the end of the novel. The moral decay, the student goes on to explain, results from wealth and a “greed-driven” capitalist society. The presentation of the assertion (moral decline), the example (the murder), and the meaning (capitalist greed rots the man’s morals) tightly connects by the explanation of how one thing ties to the other.
The A sample writer follows the same pattern throughout the essay: assertion, example, explanation of how the example and assertion cohere, tying both into the thesis about capitalist greed and moral decline. Weaving the well-chosen details into the discussion to make reasonable conclusions about what they prove is the formula for an orderly, coherent argument. The writer starts each paragraph with a topic sentence that supports the thesis set out in the introduction, followed by a sentence that explains and supports the topic sentence in furtherance of the argument.
On the other hand, the B response begins the final paragraph with a statement about Rochester’s selfishness without furthering that idea. The next sentence asserts that Rochester had no right to be disloyal to his wife, despite her lunacy, and the following sentences list other deceitful acts Rochester shouldn’t have committed. However, the reader gets no explanation of how these deceptions exemplify Rochester’s selfishness. One can assume, but the connections are not explicit. Likewise, the C sample provides no link between the fraud, which is unclear itself, and the plot details the test taker relates.
Write a Brief Conclusion
While it’s more important to provide a substantive, organized, and clear argument throughout the body paragraphs than it is to conclude, a conclusion provides a satisfying rounding out of the essay and last opportunity to hammer home the content of the preceding paragraphs. If you run out of time for a conclusion because of the thorough preceding paragraphs, that is not as fatal to your score as not concluding or not concluding as robustly as the A essay sample.
The A response not only reiterates the point about capitalism’s damaging effects but places it in a new light by aligning it with Clyde’s fateful decline in the novel. The writer summarizes the deeds, attitudes, and motivation of the main character to repeat the thesis from the introduction with more elaboration: Dreiser’s novel (incorrectly spelled An American Tradgedy) warns readers about the spiritual decline of a culture that promotes the insatiable desire to have it all.
The B response attempts to tie up the motives and effects of the deceit in a shotgun of fact spraying without actually concluding. In fact, most of the substantive argument is in the last paragraph about Rochester’s reason for his deceit (his wife’s insanity) and what he learned (patience and God’s wishes). However, since the essay lacked focus throughout, the ending observations don’t round out the essay by a return to the beginning. It merely summarizes the character’s changes.
Write in Complete Sentences With Proper Punctuation and Compositional Skills
Though pressed for time, it’s important to write an essay with crisp, correctly punctuated sentences and properly spelled words. Strong compositional skills create a favorable impression to the reader, like using appropriate transitions or signals (however, therefore) to tie sentences and paragraphs together, making the relationships between sentences clear (“also”–adding information, “however”–contrasting an idea in the preceding sentence).
Starting each paragraph with a clear, focused topic sentence that previews the main idea or focus of the paragraph helps you the writer and the reader keep track of each part of your argument. Each section furthers your points on the way to convincing your reader of your argument. If one point is unclear, unfocused, or grammatically unintelligible, like a house of cards, the entire argument crumbles. Excellent compositional skills help you lay it all out orderly, clearly, and fully.
For example, the A response begins the two body paragraphs with “one example” and “another example” to clarify to the reader not only the subject of each paragraph but their purpose–to exemplify a point. Those transitional expressions link the paragraphs to the preceding paragraph by referencing Clyde’s behavior in the third paragraph, which the writer previously discussed in the second paragraph. The third paragraph leaves off with Clyde’s unfaithful behavior with women, so the next paragraph connects with reference to another example of Clyde’s dishonesty. Transitions make the essay one seamless whole argument.
So by the time the conclusion takes the reader home, the high-scoring writer has done all of the following:
- followed the prompt
- followed the propounded thesis and returned to it in the end
- provided a full discussion with examples
- included details proving each assertion
- used clear, grammatically correct sentences
- wrote paragraphs ordered by the introductory presentation of the thesis
- created topic sentences for each paragraph
- ensured each topic sentence furthered the ideas presented in the thesis
Have a Plan and Follow it
To get a 9 on the prose analysis FRQ essay in the AP Literature and Composition exam, you should practice timed essays. Write as many practice essays as you can. Follow the same procedure each time. After reading the prompt, map out your thesis statement, paragraph topic sentences, and supporting details and quotes in the order of their presentation. Then follow your plan faithfully.
Be sure to leave time for a brief review to catch mechanical errors, missing words, or clarifications of any unclear thoughts. With time, an organized approach, and plenty of practice, earning a 9 on the open question is manageable. Be sure to ask your teacher or consult other resources, like albert.io’s Open question practice essays, for questions and more practice opportunities.
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Kickstart your AP English Literature prep with Albert. Start your AP exam prep today.