AP English Literature and Composition Course and Exam Information

Learn What Score You'll Need and What Course Credit You'll Receive

Library. Cordey / Flickr

AP English Literature and Composition is one of the more popular Advanced Placement subjects. Nevertheless, roughly 175,000 more students took the AP English Language course and exam in 2017. The literature course is primarily focused on college-level literary analysis, and students who do well on the AP English Literature exam will often earn college credit for composition or literature.

About the AP English Literature Course and Exam

The AP English Literature course covers important literary works from a range of genres, periods and cultures.

Students learn close-reading and analytical skills, and they learn to identify a literary work's structure, style, tone, and use of literary conventions such as imagery and figurative language. 

Students in AP Literature work at becoming active readers; in other words, they learn to become thoughtful and critical readers who can analyze and appreciate the various writing strategies employed by a wide range of authors. 

The course has no required reading list, and individual AP instructors are free to choose any literary works that invite a rewarding reading experience. Genres will include poetry, drama, fiction, and expository prose. Most texts will have been originally written in English and may have originated in the United States, Canada, England, Africa, India, and elsewhere. A few works—such as a Russian classic or Greek tragedy—might be read in translation. The focus of the course, however, is much more on reading and writing skills, not specific authors.

On the writing front, students learn to write effective analytical essays that employ a wide-ranging and appropriate vocabulary, effective and varied sentence structures, logical organization, strategic use of both generalization and specific detail, and careful attention to rhetorical forms, voice, and tone.

AP English Literature Score Information

Many colleges and universities have a composition and/or literature requirement, so a high score on the AP English Literature exam will often fulfill one of these requirements.

The AP English Literature and Composition test has a one-hour multiple-choice section and a two-hour free-response writing section. The score on the is based on a combination of the multiple choice section (45 percent of score) and the free-response essay section (55 percent of score). 

In 2017, 404,137 students took the exam and earned a mean score of 2.69. Over half of those students (52.6 percent) received a score of 3 or higher indicating that they have enough mastery of the subject matter to potentially earn college credit or course placement.

The distribution of scores for the AP English Literature exam is as follows (2017 test administration):

  • 5 - 6.8%
  • 4 - 16.1%
  • 3 - 29.7%
  • 2 - 33.9%
  • 1 - 13.5%

College Credit and Course Placement for AP English Literature

The table below provides some representative data from a variety of colleges and universities. This information is meant to provide a general overview of the scoring and placement information related to the AP English Literature exam.

For schools not listed below, you'll need to look on the college's website or contact the appropriate Registrar's office to get AP placement information.

AP English Literature Scores and Placement
CollegeScore NeededPlacement Credit
Hamilton College4 or 5Placement into some 200-level courses; 2 credits for score of 5 and B- or higher in a 200-level course
Grinnell College5ENG 120
LSU3, 4 or 5ENGL 1001 (3 credits) for a 3; ENGL 1001 and 2025 or 2027 or 2029 or 2123 (6 credits) for a 4; ENGL 1001, 2025 or 2027 or 2029 or 2123, and 2000 (9 credits) for a 5
Mississippi State University3, 4 or 5EN 1103 (3 credits) for a 3; EN 1103 and 1113 (6 credits) for a 4 or 5
Notre Dame4 or 5First Year Composition 13100 (3 credits)
Reed College4 or 51 credit; no placement
Stanford University-No credit for AP English Literature
Truman State University3, 4 or 5ENG 111 Introduction to the Short Story (3 credits)
UCLA (School of Letters and Science)3, 4 or 58 credits and entry writing requirement for a 3; 8 credits, entry writing requirement and English Comp Writing I requirement for a 4 or 5
Yale University52 credits; ENGL 114a or b, 115a or b, 116b, 117b

A Final Word on AP English Literature

Keep in mind that another benefit to the successful completion of an AP Literature course is that it helps demonstrate your college readiness in a core subject area. Most of the country's highly selective colleges and universities have holistic admissions, and the admissions officers look not just at your GPA, but how challenging your course work is. Colleges would much rather see you successfully complete a challenging college preparatory class in English than an easy English elective. AP Literature shows that you are taking the most advanced course possible in literature. So even at a school like Stanford that does not award any credit or placement for AP English Literature, your decision to take the class still strengthens your application.

To learn more specific information about the AP English Literature exam, be sure to visit the official College Board website.