Is AP English Literature easy or hard? We reveal the AP Literature difficulty rating, based on a unique combination of 2021 pass rate data, and 2,627 class reviews from real AP alumnae collected by r/APStudents.

Is AP English Literature Easy Or Hard?

AP English Literature and Composition is considered very hard, with class alumnae rating it 7.4/10 for overall difficulty (the 2nd-most-difficult out of the 28 large AP classes surveyed).

The pass rate is lower than other AP classes, with 44% graduating with a 3 or higher.

AP English Literature is very widely-taken (297,009 entries last year). 76% would recommend the class, which is lower than other AP classes.

Is AP English Literature Easy or Hard – Difficulty Rating

Although AP Lit is rated as one of the hardest courses, alumnae reviewers found the course enjoyable and manageable, especially with regular practice of mock exams and writing.

You can see how AP Lit compares to other classes for difficulty in the below chart:

AP Literature difficulty

We’ve highlighted AP English Literature and related English classes (English Language) only. To see the full version of this chart, check out our article ranking ALL the AP classes from easy to hard.

You can read more about AP English Language here.

How Difficult Is AP Literature – As Rated By Class Alumnae

AP English Literature is considered very hard, with class alumnae rating it 7.4/10 for overall difficulty, making it the 2nd-most-difficult out of the 28 large AP classes surveyed.

AP Lit difficulty

What Is the AP English Literature Pass Rate 2021?

The AP Lit 2021 pass rate was notably lower than the all-AP average, at 44%. The highest percentage of candidates received a 2 (39%), and only 5% of students attained a 5.

AP English Literature pass rate

AP Literature Pass Rate / Score Distribution Over Time: 2021, 2020, 2019…

The AP English Literature score distribution has varied significantly over the past 5 years of exams. 2020 had the best pass rate (60%) and 2021 had the worst pass rate (44%), a drop of 16%.

Is AP English Literature Time Consuming To Study: As Rated By AP Lit Alumnae

AP Literature is rated as quite time-intensive relative to other AP classes.

A survey of AP alumnae asked for a rating out of 10 for time needed to study each class, with 1 = least time needed, 10 = most time. The average rating for AP English Literature was 6.3/10 (vs the average across all AP classes of 5.3/10).

Is AP Literature Easy or Hard To Self-Study

AP English Literature is rated as very hard to self-study relative to other AP classes.

A survey of AP alumnae asked for a rating out of 10 for how easy each class is to self study, with 1 = easiest to self study, 10 = hardest to self study. The average rating for AP Literature was 7/10 (vs the average across all AP classes of 5.7/10).

How Hard Is AP English Literature: 31 Real AP Lit Alumnae Share Their Experiences

If you’re looking forward to taking AP Literature, it’s important to take both the positive and negative feedback in context. There are multiple factors that could contribute to a great or poor experience of the class, such as your teacher and your personal preferences as a learner.

Only 76% of AP English Literature alumnae would recommend the class, one of the lowest scores of the 28 large AP classes surveyed.

The majority of reviews focus on course enjoyment and difficulty, and the importance of writing practice and reading.

1.      Many students found AP Literature enjoyable and worthwhile

“If learning the conventions of writing in AP Lang wasn’t your thing but you still wanted to learn about literature and actual writing, AP Lit will be lightyears more enjoyable.” – AP English Literature Score: 4

“My analytical and oratorical abilities grew in leaps and bounds from this course. Also, my workload was extremely low, but I had a good and economic teacher.” – AP English Literature Score: 5

“My teacher literally didn’t have us follow the curriculum at all, he just made us write a TON of in-class essays, and gave us feedback on them, and then gave us practice tests near test day to iron out the multiple choice. I would say it’s pretty easy to study the vocab. With all of this, I felt pretty well-prepared.” – AP English Literature Score: 5

2.      Although some students found the course to be difficult

“This class is really difficult for those like me who aren’t inherently good writers.” – AP English Literature Score: 2

“Literature is hard.” – AP English Literature Score: 3

3.      And recommendations for self-studying vary

“This is an absolutely amazing course! It’s also easy to self study if you express the desire.” – AP English Literature Score: 5

“I think AP Lit would be hard to self study for because you need to develop the ability to come up with meaningful analysis, fast. I did that through my class.” – AP English Literature Score: 5

What Does It Take To Succeed: How To Study For The AP Literature Exam

What is AP English Literature? Course Outline & Requirements

According to College Board:

“The AP English Literature and Composition course focuses on reading, analyzing, and writing about imaginative literature (fiction, poetry, drama) from various periods.” The course studies short and long fiction, poetry and drama.

There are no prerequisites for AP Lit. Students are expected to comprehend college-level texts.

You will develop skills in:

  • Explaining the function of character and setting, plot and structure, narrators and speakers
  • Describing the function of word choice, imagery, symbols and comparison
  • Developing “textually substantiated arguments about interpretations” about a text

The exam consists of one 3-hour exam, with 45% (60 minutes) for five sets of multiple-choice questions (MCQs) and 55% (120 minutes) for three free-response questions.

For more details, see: College Board’s AP English Literature course page.

Examiners’ Reviews: Takeaways From AP Literature Test Assessors

College Board released the following official comments about the 2021 exam results:

Multiple-choice section

  • “Students scored significantly higher on the multiple-choice section than on their essays, which continue to limit the percentage of exams achieving scores of 3 or higher.”
  • Candidates “scored exceptionally well on questions asking them to analyze character or setting (Big Ideas 1 and 2), or to recognize the function of a particular character (Skill category 1). Students’ abilities on such questions are sky high, a real testament to the ways teachers have helped students practice and become proficient at analyzing details about characters in texts.”
  • “Students also scored very well on questions asking them about figurative language (Big Idea 5), or about the function of word choice, imagery, and symbols (Skill Category 5).”
  • “On questions about the function of comparison (Skill Category 6), it’s clear that many students have mastered this skill; a whopping 16% answered all of these questions correctly.”
  • “The one Big Idea and Skill Category that lags significantly behind the others, and that would boost scores quite a bit if students could get this skill to the same level as their others, is the ability to recognize how a narrator’s or speaker’s perspective controls a text’s details and emphases (Big Idea 4); students scored significantly lower on questions about Skill Category 4, the function of the narrator or speaker, than on other skill categories.”
  • “As is usual, students scored lower on multiple-choice questions about poetry than prose.”

Free-response section

  • “This is the first year I’ve ever seen the poetry analysis essay receive the highest scores of any of the 3 essays, outpacing the prose analysis essay and, even more surprisingly, the “reader’s choice” literary argument essay.”
    • “That said, the performance differences are very narrow, indicating that students had developed very similar levels of proficiency this year across these various modes of analysis and explication.”

For best results, you may therefore want to consider investing a little extra study time in Big Idea 4 “Narration”, and Skill 4 “function of the narrator or speaker”, alongside a focus on poetry.

For more details, see: College Board’s AP English Literature 2021 exam results page.

How To (Self) Study AP Lit: Advice From Class Alumnae

Make sure you DO read the literature

Do your goddamn reading — like I get it, the allure of Sparknotes and Shmoop is tempting, but I know plenty of smart kids in my class who bombed it or got a subpar AP score because they didn’t want to put in the effort of taking 45 minutes a night to read.” – AP English Literature Score: 4

“Read the books; don’t just read summaries” – AP English Literature Score: 5

You’ll need to practice writing essays!

“Practice essay-writing a lot by using the rubrics and resources given by CollegeBoard” – AP English Literature Score: 5

“Write as many essays as you can crank out. It’ll help you on the exam” – AP English Literature Score: 5

Mock tests can be really helpful for exam preparation

“Review book MCs are 10000 times harder than the actual exam… it took everyone by surprise. Ask your teacher to administer weekly practice tests (only takes 15-20 minutes at the start of class tbh)” – AP English Literature Score: 4

“Make sure you know three or so novels inside and out for Question three. Practice your essays and MC and you’ll have your five.” – AP English Literature Score: 5

Practice a lot of multiple choice, it’s really difficult and i think it cost me on the exam. also having a good teacher who can give you advice on all three essays and multiple choice is a must!” – AP English Literature Score: 3

Best books and test prep resources for AP English Literature

Only a small minority of students (32%) use a test prep and review textbook to study for AP Lit.

Within that 32%, the most popular textbook for test prep and review for AP English Literature is Barron’s, used by 50% of students who used a book. It has an average rating of 4.6/5.0 from reviewers on Amazon.com.

The other popular AP Lit test prep / review books and resources is: Princeton Review.

Where next?

Find out how AP English Literature compares to other classes. Click here for an overview of all AP Classes ranked by difficulty, from easiest to hardest.

Or check out how other English courses are rated with our analysis of Is AP English Language Hard?

Wishing you every success in the class!


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