How to Get a 5 on the AP Literature Exam: Tips to Ace the Test

Updated on October 3, 2019

Format of The AP Lit Exam

The first step is to know what you're expecting. The exam is 3 hours long and composed of both multiple choice questions and free response questions. The multiple choice contains 55 questions to be completed in 1 hour, accounting for 45% of your total grade. There are three free response questions to be completed in the remaining 2 hours. How you use your time for each section is up to you. Tackle the questions you know first and remember, points are not deducted for incorrect answers. It's always worth a guess when you're truly stumped.

Multiple Choice

The multiple choice sections follows a similar suit to that of the SAT. A passage is followed by several multiple choice questions testing your understanding of the text. First, you must be able to understand what the question is asking you. This involves an understanding of some key words, such as describe, illustrate, refer, etc. The passage is your best friend. Go through all the choices. If you cannot find evidence to support one of the choices, it is not the correct answer. The exam will never ask you something you cannot deduct from the passage. Another key point is understanding common AP Literature Exam words. You will be asked to choice the best definition of several words from the passage. The context is vital to your understanding of the word.


The FRQ's: 1 and 2

The free response questions are your next obstacle. The first 2 FRQ's also give you a passage and then ask you to write about that topic. One FRQ is a classic work, dating before the 19th century, while the other is more modern. Similar to the multiple choice section, you must understand what they are asking of you. ANSWER THE QUESTION. That is key. While you may know all about poet, Mary Oliver's past setting and upbringing, this will not do much good in a prompt about figurative language and relationships. This brings us to the next point. These prompts follow similar formats, asking similar questions. Some topics include:

  • Investigating Relationships
  • Analyzing Tone
  • Looking at Character Development
  • Setting
  • Figurative Language

Figurative language is key to doing well on this exam. You must be able to understand and identify all forms of figurative language. You may be asked to demonstrate how the figurative language contributed to the tone. Not only will you need to identify the figurative language in the piece, you'll need to understand how it is employed to create a tone, and what that tone is.

The FRQ's need to be well formatted and organized. There should be an introduction and conclusion paragraph, with a well formulated thesis going back to the question. It is also important to make insert your own thoughts. Make an assertion that shows your critical thinking skills. This assertion wraps up your prompt, providing an overall theme.

The Third FRQ: Constructing Your Literary Arsenal

The third FRQ is more open. You are asked a question and told to answer this question with a work of literature that you've read, specifically one in the canon. These questions can pertain to character, coming of age, justice, setting, symbols, knowledge, etc. Provided is a list of acceptable books, yet, you do not have to choose one of these. It is important to review several of these books, or others, that you've read that could fit many topics. Bring with you a list of three works of literature in your mind that you know like the back of your hand. Some of the best ones include:

  • The Sound and the Fury
  • Wuthering Heights
  • Hamlet
  • To Kill a Mockingbird
  • The Scarlet Letter
  • The Crucible
  • The Great Gatsby
  • A Raisin in the Sun
  • As I Lay Dying
  • The Sun Also Rises

Many of these works can be molded to any topic with some creative thought. While quotations are not necessary, paraphrasing is key. Remember to answer the question in detail, not only drawing from the test but providing your own creative thoughts.

AP Literature Released Exams

The key really is to practice. Take advantage of the released multiple choice AP Lit exam questions. These include 1991, 1996, 1999 and the 2004 released exams. Take these in standard exam settings, enforcing the time limit on yourself. This will get you in the habit of performing on a time crunch and the appropriate atmosphere. Go back and review these questions, understand where you went wrong. This is vital to your success on the actual exam. Do not let yourself make the same mistake multiple times.

All the FRQ's and sample responses are available on the College Board website. Browse through these prompts, taking note of the language used and the patterns of questions. These questions usually repeat themselves. Use them to determine your literary arsenal.

Tools and Tips for the AP Lit Exam

  1. Take advantage of the web. Here you can find lengthy or concise study guides, vocabulary, terms to know, etc.
  2. If you cannot access a prep book, don't sweat it. If you have access to old exams and FRQ's, this is not necessary. While it may help for some for extra practice, it's perfectly possible to get a 5 without this manual. If you do want a practice exam book, definitely invest in one with plenty of practice questions. I recommend this one from Barron's.
  3. Ask questions. Your professor is there to help. They've seen the exam and taught the course. Take advantage of this. Review FRQ's with them and ask if you don't understand a multiple choice question.
  4. FRQ tip: Save the introduction for last. After you have formulated your points in a concise (yet detailed) manner, it may be easier to go back to write a well-thought-out introduction that truly captures the essence of your prompt.
  5. Relax. It is only one exam and it's very possible to do very well. Get a good night's rest and come prepared!


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