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Top 3 Tips for Preparing for AP English Literature & Composition

Dr. Lindy Ledohowski, Co-Founder & CEO

Dr. Lindy Ledohowski, Co-Founder & CEO

Are you writing the College Board's Advanced Placement English Literature & Composition exam this spring?

 

The AP English Literature and Composition exam is notoriously hard to prepare for, because often we are dependent on the quality of our teachers and the literature that they expose you to.

 

I would know. Back in the day, I got a 5 when I took the AP English Literature & Composition exam, and then I was an AP English teacher and exam invigilator. 

 

And now I've created an online course to supplement what happens in your own AP English Literature & Composition classes, and here I've distilled the top three tips for you as you prepare for this exam this coming May.

 

The top 3 tips that will serve you well as you prepare for the AP English Literature & Composition exam this year are:

 

1. Memorize Quotations that You Can Use

2. Have a List of Common Literary Themes and Texts You can Write About

3. Practice, Practice, Practice

 

In a bit more detail, here's some hard won advice for you:

 

1. Memorize Quotations that You Can Use

One of the more difficult aspects of the marking scheme for the AP English Literature & Composition exam for students to understand is that you want to present yourself confidently as someone who is well read and familiar with major literary trends and texts. Do a quick google search for famous literary quotations for some key themes such as "nature," "youth," "loss of innocence," or "art." Memorize a handful of those quotations, so that in your essay section of the exam, you can always reference other poems or works of literature to demonstrate how well-read you are.

 

2. Have a List of Common Literary Themes and Texts You Can Write About

While there is no one canonical list of literature that the exam can examine, there are some standard texts that you will want to be familiar with. It's always good to make sure that you have at least one Shakespearean play that you can reference and quote from if need be. Typically use one of the well known tragedies or comedies, and make sure you are very familiar with some of the thematics at play, such as hamartia or tragic flaws of the main characters. How do their flaws bring about the tragedy of the play, for instance, is a question you will want to be comfortable writing about. As well, make a list of common literary themes that you are comfortable writing about. If you need a starting point, Northrop Frye's archetypal criticism breaks all literature down into archetypes. The archetypes are: (1) the dawn phase of life--stories in this mode are often about triumphing over evil; (2) the summer phase--stories in this mode are often romantic and idyllic; (3) the sunset phase--stories in this mode are often about violent deaths or the loss of innocence; and (4) the darkness phase--stories in this mode are often about darkness triumphing and the defeat of good. So try to make sure that you can write about those big ideas with confidence.

 

3. Practice, Practice, Practice

The hardest part about the AP English Literature & Composition exam might be the time limits. You have to essentially write 500 word essays in around 40 minutes. You have to be able to think, outline, plot, and write something convincing in a short period of time. The only way to get better and better at this difficult aspect of the exam is to practice. Set yourself 40 minutes and go through practice questions and see how far you get. Once you've written a few practice essay questions not only will you get better at gauging the timing and have a sense for how to write within the time limit, but you'll build up your confidence within the timed setting, and confidence is a great predictor of writing success.

 

Two measurements of time White sand falling inside hourglass, with round analog clock in  background (focus on neck of hourglass), shallow depth of field

 

For more help with AP Exams, you can read these 5 Reasons for Taking an AP Course and Exam or this blog post about how to write 500 words in 40 minutes.

 

 

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