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How to Survive & Thrive in AP English Literature & Composition
Monday, November 9, 2015

AP English Literature and Composition is high-level reading and writing course that challenges students’ ability to comprehend and compose analyses of rich and complex literature written in or translated to English.

We consulted with teachers, tutors, and recent AP English Lit & Comp students to come up with six very useful tips--three “how to survive” tips to help you achieve a score of 3 on the AP exam, and three “how to thrive” tips to help you earn a 4 or even a 5.  Here they are:

How to Survive:

Have a working knowledge of literary devices, poetic devices, grammar, and SAT vocabulary. This includes being able to identify, understand, and write complex passages. During the poetry section of your AP English class (or, if there is not, find poems from your review book or online) and test yourself. Do you know what’s going on in the poem? Do you know what poetic devices are being used? Can you identify the meter and tone of the poem?

Do your reading. Do your reading. If you are preparing to take this AP exam, chances are that you are in an upper level class, which means that the time for Sparknotes and online book summaries are far behind you. The author’s tone, writing style, and nuances are completely lost when taking shortcuts in doing your reading. The skills learned by reading many different authors is the ability to understand and analyze any piece of writing you may come across, whether on the exam, in college, or further in your life. Who knows—the stories and books you’re reading might even be on the exam!

Have a mastery of one or two books. This includes knowing the themes, characters, plot, and knowing how to utilize these factors to be able to apply the book(s) to a wide variety of essay questions. Additionally, take practice essays. The College Board has unique ways of scoring essays, so practice writing a few (and try to use your book(s) in your essay!) and then ask a friend or family member to grade your practice essays using College Board standards.

How to Thrive:

Have a mastery of literary and poetic devices, grammar, and complex vocabulary. The same way a Spanish exam might give you an unknown passage for translation, the AP exam will give you an unknown passage for analysis. Ideally, you should be able when given an unknown passage or poem to identify the speaker, the main ideas and themes, and the devices used in the passage/poem.

Read, and read voraciously.  Read fiction, read poetry, read short stories. Read books outside of your syllabus. In my AP English class, our second semester was an independent study structured around an English elective we were required to take. I took a class on dystopias; and while my peers in the elective were reading 1984, I was reading Brave New World and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, among other dystopian novels. This helped to solidify my understanding of the genre of dystopia, as well as acquaint me with a smorgasbord of themes and ideas that I still use in college.

Before taking the AP exam, make flashcards for three or four books with varying themes and ideas to use on the free-response essay. You will find ways to use at least one of these books on any practice essay topic. Practice essays are unbelievably important—go through old AP English Literature exams, time yourself, and take the essays. Stick to the time allotted. Giving yourself five extra minutes to finish while practicing will hurt you in the long run; the proctors of your exam aren’t going to be that flexible.

Good luck!