Advanced Placement (AP) classes are a cornerstone of high school education in the United States. They offer you the opportunity to challenge yourself academically and earn college credit if you score high enough on the AP exam. Among the most popular AP courses are AP English Literature, also known as AP Eng Lit, and AP English Language, also known as AP Eng Lang. In this blog post, we will explore the similarities and differences between these two courses, their respective exams, and why you should consider taking them.
What are AP English Literature and AP English Language?
AP Eng Lit and AP Eng Lang are advanced-level courses offered by the College Board. They are typically taken during the junior or senior year of high school and are designed to enhance students’ reading, writing, and critical thinking skills.
In the past, some universities required that prospective students take the SAT Subject Test in Literature as part of the application process. However, all SAT subject tests were canceled in 2021. Most colleges accept either AP English Literature or AP English Language instead if they previously required the SAT Literature test.
AP English Literature delves into the study of literature, focusing on analyzing and interpreting various literary works from different time periods and genres. The course aims to develop students’ understanding of major themes, character development, and the literary techniques employed by renowned authors. Throughout the course, you’ll engage with various texts, including novels, plays, poems, and short stories, fostering a deeper appreciation for literature and honing your critical analysis skills.
Throughout the class, you’ll be expected to learn how to explain the importance of the following aspects of a well-written story:
- Structure of the story
- Word choice
Additionally, you’ll learn to generate your own interpretations of various texts and to support your theories based on evidence from the story.
On the other hand, AP English Language emphasizes rhetoric and the art of persuasive communication. Students read non-fiction texts, including essays, speeches, and articles, to develop their analytical and argumentative writing skills. The course covers rhetoric, claims and evidence, reasoning and organization, and style. By studying the use of language in different contexts, you’ll enhance your ability to analyze and construct effective arguments, making you an adept communicator in various fields.
Over the course of the class, you’ll be expected to learn how to do the following:
- Explain how writers’ choices reflect the components of the rhetorical situation
- Make strategic choices when writing to address a rhetorical situation
- Identify and describe the claims and evidence of an argument
- Analyze and select evidence to develop and refine a claim while writing
- Describe the reasoning, organization, and development of an argument
- Use organization and commentary to explain a line of reasoning while writing an analysis of a text
- Explain how writers’ stylistic choices contribute to the purpose of an argument
- Select words and use elements of composition to advance an argument in your writing
If you take this course, you’ll learn to analyze texts for their rhetorical strategies, evaluate arguments, and employ effective writing techniques to articulate your own ideas.
As you can see, the two classes cover different aspects of English in depth. AP English Literature primarily focuses on interpreting fiction and communicating ideas through stories: something that prepares students for writing college essays. As such, consider taking it during junior year. In contrast, AP English Language focuses on non-fiction writing and helps students improve their professional communication, both written and oral.
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If you’re uncertain about what taking one of these classes might look like, the College Board offers sample syllabi for both AP Eng Lit and AP Eng Lang on their website. These syllabi outline the topics, reading materials, and skills the College Board recommends teachers teach toward. If you’re considering taking one or both of these classes, accessing these resources can help you decide if it’s the right choice for you. Alternatively, these syllabi can help you prepare for the classes, as you can read ahead based on the suggested reading lists. Of course, your teacher may or may not use that exact reading list, so be sure to check in with them.
Who Should Take AP English Literature?
Both AP Eng Lit and AP Eng Lang are suitable for students with a genuine interest in the English language. However, if you enjoy reading and analyzing literary works, exploring different writing styles, and unraveling the deeper meanings behind texts, AP Eng Lit might be the perfect fit for you.
There are also various careers related to the skills and knowledge you’ll learn from this class, and taking this course can help you decide if one is right for you. Some potential areas of study and career paths include:
- English and Literature: AP Eng Lit can serve as a strong foundation for pursuing a major in English or literature. It develops critical reading and analytical skills, both of which are essential for understanding and appreciating literary works at an advanced level. Graduates in this field can explore careers in academia, publishing, editing, writing, or literary analysis.
- Creative Writing: For those interested in creative writing, AP Eng Lit can provide insights into different writing styles, literary techniques, and themes. It helps students understand the mechanics and artistry of compelling storytelling. Pursuing a major in creative writing can lead to a career as a novelist, poet, playwright, or freelance writer.
- Humanities and Liberal Arts: AP Eng Lit is valuable for students considering majors in the humanities or liberal arts disciplines. It cultivates critical thinking, cultural awareness, and the ability to analyze complex ideas. Graduates can explore career paths in fields such as history, philosophy, cultural studies, or journalism.
- Education: AP Eng Lit is highly beneficial for aspiring educators who wish to teach high school or college English or literature. It equips students with the knowledge and skills necessary to engage students in literary analysis, foster a love for reading, and develop strong writing abilities.
Who Should Take AP English Language?
While AP English Literature is generally considered to be the more fun of the two classes, if you have a passion for debate and intellectual arguments, AP Eng Lang might be a better choice for you. It focuses on rhetoric, persuasive communication, and critical analysis of non-fiction texts. The skills developed in this course apply to various majors and careers, including:
- Communications and Media: AP Eng Lang provides a solid foundation for students interested in pursuing careers in communications, journalism, or media. The course hones effective writing, critical thinking, and persuasive communication skills. If you love the class and go on to major in a related field in college, you can work as a journalist, copywriter, editor, media analyst, or public relations specialist.
- Political Science and Law: The study of rhetoric, argumentation, and persuasive techniques in AP Eng Lang is highly relevant for students considering majors in political science or pre-law. The course cultivates skills essential for analyzing political speeches, legal arguments, and public policy debates. As such, it can be a great class if you’re interested in a career in law, public service, advocacy, or political consulting.
- Business and Marketing: AP Eng Lang can be advantageous for students interested in careers in business, marketing, or advertising. The course develops strong written and oral communication skills, the ability to analyze persuasive strategies, and critical thinking. Besides being generally useful in a professional environment, these skills are particularly useful if you’re interested in brand management, market research, or fundraising.
- Social Sciences: AP Eng Lang also provides skills transferable to social science disciplines such as sociology, psychology, or anthropology. The ability to critically analyze and evaluate arguments is crucial in these fields and scientific research in general. If you want to become a research scientist or political analyst, you might also benefit from taking this class.
How Hard is the Test?
The difficulty of the AP exams varies from student to student, but both exams are known to be challenging. Examining the score distribution for AP exams can provide insight into test-takers’ performance. The College Board publishes score distributions for each exam, indicating the percentage of students receiving each score. Let’s dive into the numbers for both courses.
AP English Literature is generally considered to be the easier of the two exams. In 2022, 16.9 percent of students who took the exam received a five, while 77.9 percent of students received a passing score of three or higher. In contrast, only 10.4 percent of students who took AP English Language received a score of five, and only 55.7 percent received a passing score. Here is the full breakdown for both exams:
|AP Eng Lit||16.9%||27.3%||33.7%||14.1%||7.9%|
|AP Eng Lang||10.4%||21.1%||24.2%||29.8%||14.5%|
As such, if you’re looking to receive college credit for an AP English course, you’re more likely to get the score you need if you take AP English Literature. However, if you’re confident in your skills, taking AP English Language and scoring a five is a much bigger achievement.
Scoring a five is undoubtedly challenging but not impossible on either exam. You can increase your chances of earning a top score with thorough preparation, diligent study habits, and practice with sample exams. A high score can potentially earn college credit and demonstrate subject mastery. If you don’t succeed in getting a five, a lower score can still be beneficial, as it showcases your willingness to take on rigorous coursework.
How to Study for an AP English Exam
To excel in either AP Eng Lit or AP Eng Lang, it is essential to establish a structured study plan. Here are some recommendations for effective test preparation:
- Start by Looking Up Test Dates: Familiarize yourself with the test dates, which are usually scheduled in early May. This will allow you to plan your study schedule accordingly, including allocating time for revision.
- Examine Exam Content: The College Board releases a course description outlining the covered topics and skills, as covered at the beginning of this blog. Reviewing these guidelines will help you identify areas of focus and ensure you are well-prepared for the test.
- Develop a Study Schedule: To ace your test, you’ll want excellent time management. For most students, this includes developing a study schedule that allows you to start on the material over the summer before the school year starts and then stay ahead throughout the year.
- Pick Good Study Materials: Utilize review books specifically designed for AP English Lit and AP Eng Lang. These are meant to be used in conjunction with the recommended reading for the class; they aren’t designed to replace it. Crash Course has an excellent AP English Lit book* if you need help with exam strategies, while 5 Steps to a 5* has great AP English Lit and AP English Lang* practice questions. Another lesser-known but student-friendly book is AP Lang Writing*, and it’s particularly handy for students struggling with essay writing. Of course, there are also free resources, like AmericanRhetoric and Common Lit.
- Find Study Partners: It’s easier to keep your studying on track by forming study groups with classmates. If you get stuck, you can always seek guidance from your AP English teacher. By engaging in discussions and sharing perspectives with your peers, you can solidify the material that you’re studying, thus enhancing your understanding of the course material.
- Take Practice Exams: At least a month before test day, you’ll want to take a practice test so you can analyze your performance, identify areas where improvement is needed, and focus your study efforts accordingly. By simulating the test-taking experience, you can also figure out where you need to speed up and slow down, crafting a strategy for test day.
AP Eng Lit and AP Eng Lang allow students to engage with literature and non-fiction writing, respectively. Both courses enhance their critical thinking and communication skills, though AP English Literature focuses more on creativity and fiction. Some students take both, while others take neither. However, if you’re interested in literature, language, or any of the related fields or careers mentioned earlier in the blog, you can explore them by taking these classes.
While the exams may be challenging, you can succeed with adequate preparation and a focused study plan. So, consider enrolling in these AP classes to harness the power of your language and literary analysis skills.
For more information on other AP classes, feel free to explore our blog. We recently published one comparing AP World History and AP European History!
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