What You Should Know About the AP English Literature Exam (page 3)
“AP” does not stand for “Always Puzzling.” The following should help lift the veil of mystery associated with the AP exam.
What is the Advanced Placement Program?
The Advanced Placement program was begun by the College Board in 1955 to construct standard achievement exams that would allow highly motivated high school students the opportunity to be awarded advanced placement as freshmen in colleges and universities in the United States. Today, there are 35 courses and exams with more than a million students from every state in the nation, and from foreign countries, taking the annual exams in May.
As is obvious, the AP programs are designed for high school students who wish to take college-level courses. The AP Literature course and exam are designed to involve high school students in college-level English studies in both literature and composition.
Who writes the AP Literature exam?
According to the folks at the College Board, the AP Literature exam is created by college and high school English instructors called the AP Development Committee. The committee’s job is to ensure that the annual AP Literature exam reflects what is being taught and studied in college-level English classes in high schools.
This committee writes a large number of multiple-choice questions that are pretested and evaluated for clarity, appropriateness, and range of possible answers. The committee also generates a pool of essay questions, pretests them, and chooses those questions that best represent the full range of the scoring scale which will allow the AP readers to evaluate the essays fairly.
It is important to remember that the AP Literature exam is thoroughly evaluated after it is administered each year. This way, the College Board can use the results to make course suggestions and to plan future tests.
What are the Advanced Placement grades, and who receives them?
Once you have taken the exam and it has been scored, your test will be assigned one of five numbers by the College Board:
• 5 indicates you are extremely well-qualifi ed.
• 4 indicates you are well-qualifi ed.
• 3 indicates you are qualifi ed.
• 2 indicates you are possibly qualifi ed.
• 1 indicates you are not qualifi ed to receive college credit.
A grade of 5, 4, 3, 2, or 1 will be reported to your college or university fi rst, to your high school second, and to you third. All this reporting is usually completed by the middle to end of July.
Reasons for Taking the Advanced Placement Exam
At some point during the year every AP student asks the ultimate question: Why am I taking this exam?
Good question. Why put yourself through a year of intensive study, pressure, stress, and preparation? To be honest, only you can answer that question. Over the years, our students have indicated to us that there are several prime reasons why they were willing to take the risk and to put in the effort:
• For personal satisfaction
• To compare themselves with other students across the nation
• Because colleges look favorably on the applications of students who elect to enroll in AP courses
• To receive college credit or advanced standing at their colleges or universities
• Because they love the subject
• So that their families will really be proud of them
There are plenty of other reasons, but no matter what the other reasons might be, the top reason for your enrolling in the AP Lit course and taking the exam in May should be to feel good about yourself and the challenges you have met.
What You Need to Know About the AP Lit Exam
Let’s answer a few of the nitty-gritty questions about the exam and its scoring.
If I don’t take an AP Lit Course, can I still take the AP Lit exam?
Yes. Even though the AP Lit exam is designed for the student who has had a year’s course in AP Literature, there are high schools that do not offer this type of course, yet there are students in these high schools who have also done well on the exam. However, if your high school does offer an AP Lit course, by all means take advantage of it and the structured background it will provide you.
How is the Advanced Placement Literature exam organized?
The exam has two parts and is scheduled to last 3 hours. The first section is a set of multiple-choice questions based on a series of prose passages and poems. You will have 1 hour to complete this part of the test. The second section of the exam is a 2-hour essay writing segment consisting of three different essays: one on prose, one on poetry, and one free-response.
After you complete the multiple-choice section and hand in your test booklet and scan sheet, you will be given a brief break. Note that you will not be able to return to the multiple-choice questions when you return to the examination room.
Must I check the box at the end of the essay booklet that allows the AP people to use my essays as samples for research?
No. This is simply a way for the College Board to make certain that it has your permission if it decides to use one or more of your essays as a model. The readers of your essays pay no attention to whether or not that box is checked. Checking the box will not affect your grade.
How is my AP Lit exam scored?
Let’s look at the basics first. The multiple-choice section counts for 45 percent of your total score, and the essay section counts for 55 percent. Next comes a four-part calculation: the raw scoring of the multiple-choice section, the raw scoring of the essay section, the calculation of the composite score, and the conversion of the composite score into the AP grade of 5, 4, 3, 2, or 1.
How is the multiple-choice section scored?
The scan sheet with your answers is run through a computer that counts the numbers of correct answers. Questions left blank and questions answered incorrectly are treated the same and get no points. There is no longer a “guessing penalty,” which until the 2011 AP test, involved the deduction of a fraction of a point for answering a question but getting it wrong.
How is my essay section scored?
Each of your essays is read by a different, trained AP reader called a faculty consultant. The AP/College Board people have developed a highly successful training program for its readers. This factor, together with many opportunities for checks and double checks of essays, ensures a fair and equitable reading of each essay.
The scoring guides are carefully developed by a chief faculty consultant, a question leader, table leaders, and content experts. All faculty consultants are then trained to read and score just one essay question on the exam. They actually become experts in that one essay question. No one knows the identity of any writer. The identifi cation numbers and names are covered, and the exam booklets are randomly distributed to the readers in packets of 25 randomly chosen essays. Table leaders and the question leader review samples of each reader’s scores to ensure that quality standards are consistent.
Each essay is scored as 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, or 1, plus 0, with 9 the highest possible score. Once your essay is given a number from 9 to 1, the next set of calculations is completed. Here, if there are 27 possible points divided into 55 percent of the total possible score, each point awarded is given a value of 3.055. The formula looks something like this:
(pts. × 3.055) + (pts. × 3.055) + (pts. × 3.055) = essay raw score
Essay 1 Essay 2 Essay 3
How is my composite score calculated?
The total composite score for the AP Lit test is 150. Of this score, 55 percent is the essay section; that equals 82.5 points. The multiple-choice section is 45 percent of the composite score, which equals 67.5 points. Each of your three essays is graded on a 9-point scale; therefore, each point is worth 3.055. Divide the number of multiple-choice questions by 67.5. For instance, if there were 55 questions, each point of the raw score would be multiplied by 1.227.
If you add together the raw scores of each of the two sections, you will have a composite score. We provide practice with this process in the two practice exams in this book.
How is my composite score turned into the grade that is reported to my college?
Keep in mind that the total composite scores needed to earn a 5, 4, 3, 2, or 1 are different each year. This is determined by a committee of AP/College Board/Educational Testing Service directors, experts, and statisticians. The grading is based on items such as:
• AP distribution over the past three years
• Comparability studies
• Observations of the chief faculty consultant
• Frequency distributions of scores on each section and the essays
• Average scores on each exam section and essays
However, over the years a trend is apparent which indicates the number of points required to achieve a specifi c grade:
• 150–100 points = 5
• 99–86 = 4
• 85–67 = 3
Grades 2 and 1 fall below this range. You do not want to go there.
What should I bring to the exam?
You should bring:
• Several pencils with erasers
• Several black pens (black ink is easier to read than other colors)
• A watch • Something to drink—water is best
• A quiet snack, like Lifesavers
Is there anything else I should be aware of?
You should be aware of the following:
• Allow plenty of time to get to the test site.
• Wear comfortable clothing.
• Eat a light breakfast or lunch.
• Remind yourself that you are well prepared and that the test is an enjoyable challenge and a chance to share your knowledge. Be proud of yourself! You worked hard all year. Now is your time to shine.
Is there anything special I should do the night before the exam?
We certainly don’t advocate last minute cramming. If you’ve been following the guidelines, you won’t have to cram. But there may be a slight value to some last minute review. Spend the night before the exam relaxing with family or friends. Watch a movie; play a game; gab on the phone, blog, or Twitter. Then find a quiet spot. While you’re unwinding, flip through your own notebook and review sheets. Recall some details from the full-length works you’ve prepared and think of your favorite scenes. By now, you’re bound to be ready to drift off. Pleasant dreams.
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