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Ap English Lit And Comp.Sample Essays

When you’re studying for your AP Literature Exam, you’re going to want to use practice tests and questions to hone your skills. But where can you find AP literature practice tests? And are all practice exams equally useful for you? 

The real exam has 55 multiple-choice questions and three free-response questions, but there are practice tests with every conceivable number and combination of question types. 

In this article, you’ll learn where to find every official College Board AP English Literature and Composition practice exam, free unofficial tests, and paid practice test resources. You’ll also find out which tests are high-quality and how you can best use different practice exams to fulfill your studying needs.

 

Official Free AP Literature Practice Tests

The gold standard of AP English Literature practice tests and AP English Literature practice exam questions are College Board released materials. That’s because the College Board administers the AP exams, so their practice questions are most like the actual AP questions you’ll see on the test. There are three different kinds of resources offered by the College Board: complete released exams from past years, released free-response questions from past years, and sample questions from the “AP Course And Exam Description.”

 

Official Released College Board Exams

There are two official released College Board Exams. However, neither is quite complete--while they each have the standard 55 multiple-choice questions, both are missing parts of the 3-question free-response section. You can still use these as complete exams if you supplement with released free-response questions from past years.

 

1987 AP English Literature and Composition Exam

For reasons that are not totally clear, this exam excludes the third essay question, the poetry analysis. If you want to take this as “complete” exam practice, use a free-response poetry analysis prompt from the bank of free response questions linked to below. 

 

1999 AP English Literature and Composition Exam

This test excludes the poetry and prose analysis questions of the free-response section and only has the student choice question. So, to take it as a complete exam, you’d need to supplement it with questions 1 and 2 from the released free-response questions below. You can actually get question 2 for the 1999 test from the official free-response questions bank, but the excerpt for question 1 can’t be reprinted, so you’ll need to supplement with another poetry analysis question.

 

Or supplement with this tree-poem.

 

Official Free-Response Questions

There may not be very many complete released exams, but there are tons of available free-response questions from previous administrations of the test. These are great practice, not just for practicing complete essays, but for practicing writing thesis statements, outlines, and so on. What’s also great about these is that most of them come with sample response and scoring guidelines, so you’ll be able to see exactly what makes a high-quality AP essay by College Board standards. Be aware, though, that some of the prose and poetry excerpts can’t be reprinted due to copyright concerns.

Below is one link for more up-to-date free response questions and another for older versions. However, there doesn’t appear to be a significant substantive difference between the old and new prompts.

AP English Lit Free Response Questions 2003-2017

AP English Lit Free Response 1999-2003

 

Sample Questions From the Course and Exam Description

The AP English Literature Course and Exam Description has practice multiple-choice questions and practice free-response questions. They don’t add up to a complete test--there are only 46 multiple-choice questions and a whopping six free response (enough for two tests!)--but they are great for simple practice.

 

Your Teacher

Your AP teacher may have access to copies of old AP exams that you can use for practice. She probably can’t let you take them out of the classroom, but she may be allowed to loan them to you in a supervised setting. This is because teachers can purchase resources directly from the College Board that students can’t. Asking your teacher may not bear fruit, but it’s worth a try.

 

Why are you asking me for AP lit practice tests? I'm your econ teacher!

 

Free Unofficial AP Literature Practice Tests

In addition to the free College Board resources, there are also several places online where you can get free, unofficial practice tests. Be aware that, because these resources aren’t College-Board created or approved, they are of variable quality.  For each of these resources I’ll describe what’s offered and how it compares to official College Board tests.

 

Barron’s Books Free Practice Test

Barron’s, those distinguished makers of review books, also offer a complete free practice test with multiple choice and free response. They provide the author and name of the work, but not the date. All of these free resources probably credit the authors for copyright reasons, but you won’t have this information on the actual exam.

You can take the test timed or in “practice” mode. While answers are provided for the multiple-choice questions, no scoring guidelines are provided for the free-response prompts.

This isn’t an official resource, but the questions are of a high quality and are a good option when you’ve run out of official material. If you combined the multiple-choice questions with some official released free-response questions (with scoring guidelines and sample essays) you could get a pretty good approximation of a complete practice test.

 

McGraw-Hill AP Diagnostic Quiz

McGraw-Hill, textbook and review book publisher, offers a 25-question multiple-choice diagnostic quiz for the AP English Literature exam. You may actually be able to get more than 25 questions out of this, because each time you open a new test window, you get 25 randomly ordered and selected questions from a question pool.

The passages open in another window, which is a little annoying. However, the questions are fairly difficult and pretty well-written AP imitations, so the annoyance is worth it. You’ll get the author and title of the works excerpted.

 

Varsity Tutors AP Literature Practice Tests

This site has practice multiple-choice quizzes divided by concept--things like “interpreting the passage,” “claims and argument,” and “interpreting excerpts.” The questions aren’t worded exactly the same way as AP test questions, but they are still okay for testing your passage-interpretation skills. Basically, the questions test for similar skills, but don’t necessarily mimic AP test questions in style.

Also, the site provides the date, title, and author of each work, which is not something you’ll receive on the AP exam.You can make a free account at the site to track your scores, but it’s not necessary to be able to take the tests.

 

Kittens not included with free practice tests, unfortunately.

 

Learnerator AP English Literature Quizzes

Learnerator offers multiple-choice quizzes divided into prose, poetry, and drama categories. You are given the title, date, and author of the work--which you will not receive on the real AP exam. Like the Varsity Tutors quizzes, Learnerator offers questions that test similar skills as the AP exam, but the questions are worded differently.

 

High School Test Prep Tests

This site offers three short multiple-choice practice tests. You’re given the title and author of the work. The questions for these tests are fairly surface-level, so I would only use these if you are working on your reading comprehension skills.

 

Practice Quiz AP English Literature

This site offers a 20-question multiple-choice quiz on two passages--one poetry, and one prose. The passages are extremely basic, however, so again, I would only use this resource if you are working on your reading comprehension skills.

 

4Tests AP English Lit Test

This site offers 35 multiple-choice questions. However, there are lots of ads, the questions are poorly written and vague, the interface is clunky, and the passages are very long. Overall, I do not recommend this site.

 

College Board SAT Literature Materials

While they aren’t identical by any means, you can definitely use SAT Literature Subject Test practice questions to hone your skill in answering multiple-choice questions about passages. The SAT Subject Test in Literature focuses a little more on the meaning of words and phrases in context and less on making inferences and describing the author’s purpose, but they can still be a useful resource simply for reading and answering high-level, in-depth questions on prose and poetry.

You can get sample SAT Literature questions online here or in the “Getting Reading for The SAT Subject Tests” booklet released by the College Board.

 

The queens of AP Lit practice give you their blessing.

 

 

Paid Unofficial Practice Tests

There are also several paid resources that offer unofficial practice questions. 

 

Shmoop - Paid Subscription

This is a subscription service with questions for tons of different tests--SAT, ACT, AP exams.They also have videos and other review resources. I can’t really speak to the quality of the questions because the entire service is behind a paywall of a dollar a day.

 

Peterson’s AP Practice Tests

You can pay twenty dollars to get two English Lit practice tests from this site. However, I wasn’t able to find much information on these tests or reviews from students who had taken them.

 

Review Books

Most, if not all, review books contain practice tests and questions. These will vary in quality depending on the quality of the review book, so be sure to look for reviews online of any book before you buy it. In general, Barron’s and the Princeton Review are fairly reliable review book sources.

 

I definitely advise paying for all of these resources with whatever loose foreign change you have lying around. 

 

How to Use AP Literature Practice Tests

How to use a given practice test depends somewhat on the resource itself. I’ll offer some recommendations here on how to best use different resources.

 

Complete Official Released Tests

The best way to use a complete official practice test is to do a practice-run for the exam. So find a quiet room, bring a timer or watch so you can time sections, and get to work! This will help you get familiar with the exam experience so you’ll feel more comfortable on exam day!

Since there are two complete AP Lit practice tests, it makes sense to take one early on in your studying time, and one later. You can get a parent, tutor or teacher to grade the exams. The early test will help you figure out what you need to work on, and the later test will show you how you’ve improved! Since the AP English Literature test is more skills-heavy than content-heavy, you shouldn’t feel totally lost taking a practice test even in the middle of the school year.

 

Official Released Free-Response and Sample Questions

Official resources that aren’t complete tests are best for practicing individual sections of the test. The sample multiple-choice questions in the “Course and Exam Description” make for great AP English Literature multiple-choice practice--they’ll help you get familiar with the style of the questions and practice close-reading.

The wealth of released free-response questions are great resources for building your timed essay-writing skills. You can practice complete essays or develop essay outlines.

 

Unofficial Practice Tests and Resources

Since unofficial practice tests aren’t going to be quite as similar to the real AP exam as official College Board materials, they won’t be quite as useful for preparing for the format of the exam or its questions. However, they can be very valuable close-reading practice. And since that’s a critical skill for the exam, it’s still worth it to use unofficial resources.

 

Be very quiet. She's close-reading.

 

Key Takeaways

Practice tests and questions are a hugely important resource as you prep for the AP Lit exam. The gold standard of practice resources are those that come from the College Board, but there are many other places where you can get practice questions that will help you hone your close-reading skills for the exam. Most of the resources listed in this article are free, but a few are paid.

When you’ve assembled a stable of practice resources, you might not be quite sure how to use them. Official College Board practice tests are best for simulating the exam experience.  College Board questions are good for focused preparation for individual sections of the exam--especially the essays. Unofficial resources are best for further honing your close-reading skills.

Now that you know where to find these resources, you’ll have even more time to prep for the AP Literature exam by completing practice questions!

 

What's Next?

Need more study guidance for your APs? See my five-step AP prep plan. Or see our guide on when to start studying for your APs. 

If you're looking for practice tests for other AP exams, see our assembled practice tests for AP US History, AP Chemistry, AP Biology, AP World History, and AP Psychology. 

 

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:

 

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:

  1. Carefully read, review, and underline key to-do’s in the prompt.
  2. Briefly outline where you’re going to hit each prompt item–in other words, pencil out a specific order.
  3. Be sure you have a clear thesis that includes the terms mentioned in the instructions, literary devices, tone, element, and meaning.
  4. Include the author’s name and title of the prose or poetry selections in your thesis statement. Refer to characters by name.
  5. Use quotes—lots of them—to exemplify the elements and your argument points throughout the essay.
  6. 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).
  7. Avoid vague, general statements or merely summarizing the plot instead of clearly focusing on the character, work, poem, or passage itself.
  8. Use transitions to connect sentences and paragraphs.
  9. Write in the present tense with generally good grammar.
  10. 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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