Format of the New Exam

This year, the AP English Literature exam will look different than you were expecting. As we’re all on quarantine 😷 due to COVID-19, the College Board has decided to update the format and content of the test to fit an online testing format.

You’ll have 45-minutes to take the exam online and it will only cover units 1-7. However, the standards covered in units 8 and 9 are also covered in 1-7, so don’t stress! You are already prepared for the exam! You can never have too much practice analyzing literature and creating arguments, so that’s where your study focus will stay in this plan. 

These units are on the literature exam. Click the unit to see the study guide! (new unit guides coming soon!)

1 - 🥞 Short Fiction I

2 - 🎸 Poetry I

3 - 🦄 Longer Fiction or Drama

4 - 🥞 Short Fiction II

5 - 🎸 Poetry II

6 - 🦄 Longer Fiction or Drama II

7 - 🥞 Short Fiction III

Not on the exam:

8 - 🎸Poetry III

9 - 🦄 Longer Fiction or Drama III

what will be on the test?

  • 1 essay = FRQ 2 - Prose Fiction Analysis
    • 100% of your score, 45 minutes

when is the exam and how do I take it?

May 13 @ 2p Eastern! Wherever you are in the world, this is the time you’ll take the test. Unless you have been approved for the make-up date in June, but only your school can request that. You’ll take the test online. There will be a practice simulation posted by College Board within the next few weeks.

Find the 2020 exam schedule, learn tips & tricks, and get your frequently asked questions answered on Fiveable's Guide to the 2020 AP Exam Updates.

how do I prepare for the exam?

With so many school closures and the stress of a global pandemic, this review season will be different than usual. If this is your first AP exam, welcome! Don’t worry, it’s not usually this chaotic. 

We’ve put together this plan for you to follow between now and May. This will cover all of the units and leave you time to practice questions before test day. Some classes may have done units out of chronological order throughout the year, which is ok. The units don’t have to be taught in order. If you are learning new material on your own and need some help, use the chat bubble on We’ll answer any questions you may have. 

what resources does this study plan use?

All of the required resources are free. You’ll need to create a free Fiveable account to jump in.  We’ve also linked a few other websites, articles, and YouTube videos that you can access for free. Some of the suggested resources include paid products. There are some documentaries that you can find on streaming sites with a paid membership and we’ll also list streams and practice questions that require a paid cram pass on Fiveable.

pre-work: set-up your study environment

Before we begin, take some time to get organized. Remote learning can be great, but it also means you’ll need to hold yourself accountable more than usual. 

🖥 Create a study space. Make sure you have a designated place at home to study. Somewhere you can keep all of your materials, where you can focus on learning, and where you are comfortable. Spend some time prepping the space with everything you need and you can even let others in the family know that this is your study space. 

📚 Organize your study materials. Get your notebook, textbook, prep books, or whatever other physical materials you have. Also create a space for you to keep track of review. Start a new section in your notebook to take notes or start a Google Doc to keep track of your notes. Get your self set up!

📅 Plan designated times for studying. The hardest part about studying from home is sticking to a routine. Decide on one hour every day that you can dedicate to studying. This can be any time of the day, whatever works best for you. Set a timer on your phone for that time and really try to stick to it. The routine will help you stay on track.

🏆 Decide on an accountability plan. How will you hold yourself accountable to this study plan? You may or may not have a teacher or rules set up to help you stay on track, so you need to set some for yourself. First set your goal. This could be studying for x number of hours or getting through a unit. Then, create a reward for yourself. If you reach your goal, then x. This will help stay focused!

🥞 unit 1: short fiction I

🌶️Join the live cram stream: Review live with Candace Moore. 🎥 Sign up here!

big takeaways:

Unit 1 is the first prose analysis unit, focusing on short fiction.  It helps to establish your prose analysis vocabulary, focusing on identifying and describing basic literary elements such as plot, narrator and setting.

This unit also gives the foundations for writing analyses of text, beginning with paragraph structuring and claim defense.

definitely do this:

  • 🎥 Watch these videos:

  • 📰 Check out these articles:

    • 12 Classic Short Stories: Short stories of literary merit to stretch your analysis muscles
    • Short Fiction Unit Guide by Laura Walton

🎸 unit 2: poetry I

🌶️Join the live cram stream: Review live with Candace Moore. 🎥 Sign up here!

big takeaways:

Unit 2 is the first poetry analysis unit, focusing on everyone's favorite figurative language devices -- metaphor and simile.  Because poems often have a specific form, this unit also begins analysis of form/structure, and also looks at contrasts in a text (which create the complexity that the exam expects you to analyze).  All of these poetic elements, though, are being analyzed for their function in the poem -- this unit helps you practice looking for why authors make the choices that they do.  

This unit continues the work of Unit 1 in developing paragraphs that establish a claim and provide evidence to support that claim.  It’s more important that you can write a stable, defensible, claim-based paragraph at this point than it is that you can write an entire essay (that might not be as strong).

definitely do this:

  • 🎥 Watch these videos:

    • Literary Device Review: An overview of some literary devices that you may have forgotten, or an introduction to some new ones that you want in your analysis vocabulary.
    • Defending a Claim: Before practicing your paragraphs, watch this stream for guidance in building a claim from the passage in response to a prompt.
    • How to Read a Poem: A stream dedicated to developing poetry reading skills, including a useful acronym (SIFT) for prioritizing important elements of a poem.
    • Annotating for Understanding: This stream guides you through the annotation process, making sure that you are annotating purposefully, and developing your own library of symbols.
  • 📰 Check out these articles:

    • Poetry Overview: Our Fiveable guide to the poetry analysis question -- what to expect and what you need to do to respond effectively.

if you have more time or want to dig deeper:

🦄 unit 3: longer fiction or drama I

🌶️Join the live cram stream: Review live with Candace Moore. 🎥 Sign up here!

big takeaways:

Here we go with the novels!  Because the exam’s literary argument essay (also affectionately known as Q3 in the Lit circles) asks students to analyze a novel-length text, it’s important to get practice on analyzing novels or plays (did someone say Shakespeare?).  

This unit boils down to paying closer attention to character and plot, with a sprinkling of setting analysis.  Because novels are longer than short stories, not only can authors spread out the creation of literary elements and go deeper, but you can see more about how it’s done.  

In terms of composition, this unit starts discussing the development of a thesis statement!  So now we can establish a thesis, and then support it with a paragraph (or two).  This means we’re also starting to create a line of reasoning that is introduced in the thesis statement, and supported in the body of your essay.

definitely do this:

  • 📰 Check out these articles:

    • Fiveable study guide to the Literary Argument prompt
  • ✍️ Practice:

    • Outsider Q3 Practice: A Fiveable original prompt for practicing claim-making and claim defense.  It’s only one paragraph, too!

if you have more time or want to dig deeper:

  • 💎 Check out John Green’s YouTube channel Crash Course for help analyzing some English teacher novel favorites.  These don’t substitute for reading, but they help when you’re done.

  • 📖 Read this Ultimate AP Literature Reading List from to see what you’ve read, or what you might want to read. You might even find them free online, or you can support your local library.

🥞 unit 4: short fiction II

🌶️Join the live cram stream: Review live with Candace Moore. 🎥 Sign up here!

big takeaways:

Because of the way that the AP Lit units are structured, we spiral skills and text types, so this is phase 2 of short fiction analysis.  While the first short fiction unit was focused on identifying and describing elements, now you’re being asked to explain the function (that why again) and describe relationships.  

This unit also asks you to start analyzing how those relationships and elements are created by authors.  That means you are reading more closely for diction and syntax, and paying more attention to how a speaker/narrator’s perspective is shown to you.

We’re still working on defensible thesis statements and building commentary to make clear connections between our claim and the evidence.  This is what builds the line of reasoning and earns a 4 in evidence and commentary on the Lit


definitely do this:

  • 🎥 Watch these videos:

    • Prose Analysis Prompt Deconstruction and Strategies: Before you read the text, before you begin to write, make sure that you know the task before you, and you’re ready to read with that in mind.
    • Q2 Thesis and Introduction:  There are some exam-taking tips in here, from a college freshman who conquered the exam.  She also discusses forming a thesis and an introduction that works. Quickly.
    • Q2 Evidence and Commentary: Practicing creating commentary to respond to the prompt efficiently.  This stream uses practice prompts to show the process of reading a text with the prompt in mind to select evidence while reading.
  • 📰 Check out these articles:

    • Short Fiction Overview: Revisit this guide!  Read the section on “How to Read a Short Story.  Like, Really Read It.”

if you have more time or want to dig deeper:

  • 💎 Check out this stream on creating a "boot camp" that was originally meant for teachers, but gives guidelines and suggestions on how to dive into short fiction.

🎸 unit 5: poetry II

🌶️Join the live cram stream: Review live with Candace Moore. 🎥 Sign up here!

big takeaways:

We’re going back to poems! This unit asks you to “identify and explain the function” of various poetic elements and devices.  All at the same time. Those literary devices you learned in Poetry I might come in handy here, but the analysis is more about why the author made those choices about repetition, reference, comparison, etc.

In order to select the most significant, “relevant and sufficient” evidence to support your line of reasoning from your thesis, you have to know the function of the personification or metaphor or imagery.  Ask yourself, “Why would the author write _________________ instead of ______________?” This helps you analyze the connotations of the choice, and therefore the function in the text.

By now, we’re writing a thesis plus paragraphs.  This is also an opportunity to work on the organization of your essays (hint: organizing by device is neither efficient nor sophisticated; try to find a shift or two in the poem, and use them to develop your paragraph chunks.

definitely do this:

  • 🎥 Watch these videos:

    • How Form Creates Meaning: Learn about poetry-specific choices authors make, and what elements of form look like in practice.  Also explore a couple of common forms and why they might be used.
    • Open Poetry Study:  An opportunity to practice some of the skills from “How to Read a Poem”. 
    • Q1 Evidence and Commentary: Follow the process of reading a poem and selecting evidence in real-time.  You can have an essay before it’s through!
    • Form and Function, Part 2: A deeper dive into how the structure of a poem impacts its meaning.  
    • Complexity of Poetry: This is an opportunity to look specifically at how poets create tensions and complexity in their work.  Since this complexity is always a point of analysis on the exam, you can study how it works, and how to write about it

if you have more time or want to dig deeper:

  • 💎 Browse through the Poetry Foundations resources for students, including annotations, poem guides, podcasts, and poet studies.

🦄 unit 6: longer fiction or drama II

🌶️Join the live cram stream: Review live with Candace Moore. 🎥 Sign up here!

big takeaways:

Because novels are longer stories, we can look at more elements at a time.  That’s what this unit wants from you -- examining speaker perspective and reliability, the formation and function of literary or contextual symbolism, characterization, character relationships and contrasts, function of plot events, etc.  All at the same time. 

What you need to know: The bottom line of reading for Q3 is the meaning of the work as a whole, or theme.  And you might not fully understand what that is until the novel or play is finished, but you can start to build ideas around what BIG IDEA the author is addressing.  Your job is to keep track of how characters, plot and setting contribute to the discussion of this big idea (like greed or isolation or jealousy or love or anger or insanity).

definitely do this:


More updates coming soon! Check back next week...

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