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Considering an AP English Literature and Composition Class

Whether or not to enroll in that AP English Literature and Composition class can be a difficult decision. An AP English class can be a lot of work, but it can yield great rewards. Here is some information to help you make that choice.

What to expect in an AP English class

Each AP English teacher has a degree of freedom in designing the course. (Getting English teachers to agree on something is a little harder than herding cats, so this is probably a good idea.) Though the classes vary, some things remain the same:

  • An AP English Literature course must, according to College Board rules, throw college-level work at you. In other words, the course material must be difficult.
  • The College Board doesn't mandate a particular reading list, but it does ask that students read a wide variety of literature in the AP class. By the time you finish your course, the College Board wants you to have read something from every genre and every time period from the 16th century through the present day. Both British and American writers must be on the reading list, as well as some translated works. (You don't have to read everything in your AP year; you just have to read it sometime.)
  • All the material is supposed to be of good literary quality, which means writing that rewards close reading. If you "get" a book in one reading, it isn't AP material.
  • Expect the amount of reading to equal or surpass the amount you read in an honors English class: 10 or 12 full-length works and a good fistful of poetry.
  • Some AP English teachers start you off with homework for the summer. You may have to read a couple books or write something to hand in on the first day of school.
  • Expect to write a lot — everything from informal journal entries to polished essays.
  • The grading may be tougher in an AP class than in a regular English section because teachers apply college-level standards to your work in an AP class.

Facing the AP English exam

The purpose of the AP class is, of course, to prepare you for the AP exam. When you walk into the test room in May, what kind of questions will you face? The College Board hits you with two sections:

  • Multiple-choice section: Each question has five potential answers; you interpret five or six pieces of literature that are printed on the exam. Selections include poems, maybe a dramatic scene or a slice of memoir, and one or two novel excerpts.
  • Essay section: Two essay questions are based on a piece of literature that's provided on the exam; the third is an open-ended essay based on a work of literary quality that you choose.

Literary selections on the exam may include anything from Tudor times (16th century) onward. The selections will most likely be American or British, though works from other English-speaking countries may pop up, as well. Literature translated into English from another language is also fair game. Usually, one-third to slightly less than half of the literature is poetry.

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