AP Literature & Composition

Course Description:

The goal of this course is two-fold: to prepare students to pass the AP exam and to help students begin to take a scholar’s approach to reading and writing. Though preparing for the AP exam will be our main focus throughout the year, the material we cover will go beyond test readiness. Students will develop critical thinking skills and rhetorical strategies that will familiarize them with college-level discourse.


 About the Exam:

The AP Literature and Composition Exam will be administered in May. The test is comprised of two parts: a multiple-choice section and an essay section.  The multiple choice section accounts for 45 percent of the score, while the essay accounts for 55 percent. The multiple-choice section is one hour long, and is based on five selections of English literature from the 16th century to the present. Passages will focus either on prose or poetry. The essay section is two hours long, and consists of three essay questions. Typically, one essay will analyze a prose passage, one will analyze a poetry passage, and one will be on open-ended question on an appropriate text of the student’s choosing.

Over the course of the year, we will prepare for the exam by taking timed, in-class practice exams. We will discuss test-taking strategies and review the scoring criteria for the essay portion of the exam. The curriculum is designed to give students the necessary skills and tools to earn a passing score.



The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms, edited by Mark Strand and Eavan Boland, published by W. W. Norton & Company

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair

Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton, published by Scribner

A Room with a View by E.M. Forster

Hamlet by William Shakespeare, published by Cambridge University Press

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead by Tom Stoppard, published by Grove Press

The Cherry Orchard  by Anton Chekov, published by Dover Thrift

Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, published by Penguin


 Supplemental Materials:

AP English Literature and Composition, 3rd Edition, CliffsNotes


Course Objectives:


Throughout the year, students will explore various modes of college-level writing, with a focus on close textual analysis. Nightly reading will often be paired with exploratory journal assignments that will serve as a starting point for our in-class dialogue. These assignments may include free writing, annotation, response/reaction paragraphs, and imitative exercises. Formal papers will be divided between expository and persuasive assignments. These will include a poetry explication, compare and contrast essays, character analyses and argumentative essays. Creative writing assignments will be interspersed throughout the year, and will include the composition of a formal poem and a scene. These assignments will deepen students’ understanding of a genre or style, with the goal of exploring the writing process and the decisions inherent in creating a literary work. Students will also practice responding to sample AP free-response essay prompts. These timed essays will be graded on the 0-9 AP scale.

Students should expect to do a lot of writing. Most essays will require out of class time. All major writing assignments will go through multiple stages before they are complete; expect to submit an outline, rough draft and final draft for each. Students will complete peer reviews and participate in writing workshops and teacher-student conferences to aid in the editing process. Written work is expected to demonstrate sophisticated vocabulary, logical organization, appropriate tone, varied sentence structure and competent grammar. College level writing values concision, specificity and depth of thought. We will work on developing those skills over the course of the year.



Students will spend a great deal of time, both in and out of class, on the close reading of texts. The AP exam covers British and American literary works, spanning the 16th to 21st century. Over the year, we will read novels, short stories, plays and poems, with the goal  understanding the works’ complexities. We will build on skills from previous high school literature courses, with an emphasis on close textual analysis.

We will attempt to situate works in their social and cultural context, with attention to literary movement, author biography and genre. However, our primary approach to text will be New Criticism, which seeks to evaluate texts as self-referential and self-contained works. Thus, we will rely on close reading as our main entryway into the analysis of each text.

Students can expect roughly 20-25 pages of  active reading each night. Active reading requires annotation, critical thinking and, oftentimes, re-reading. Because of the difficulty of the selected works, students can expect to encounter unfamiliar words, phrases and allusions in their nightly readings, and are expected to look them up prior to class.



Performance Tasks:

  • AP Practice Tests—timed multiple choice sections and essays excerpted from past AP exams
  • Formal essays of literary analysis (expository and persuasive)
  • Imaginative writing, including an exploration of poetic forms
  • Journal entries, in-class reading responses and graphic organizers
  • Socratic seminars
  • Weekly reading quizzes
  • Midterm and final exams covering literary terminology and long works
  • Vocabulary exercises based on readings

Scope and Sequence:

Each unit will include a longer work (a novel, novella, or play) in addition to shorter selected readings.  The surveys will follow a chronological order, while the longer works will be assigned outside of chronology. Quizzes will cover nightly reading, vocabulary, and literary terminology, while an exam will cover each long work. Students will have a variety of written assignments, ranging from reading responses to formal essays.  In addition to critical writings, students will be assigned a few creative and interpretive assignments to help further their understanding of a particular genre or style.

Unit I: The American Dream

  • Novel: Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle

v  Paired readings: “Chicago,” Carl Sandburg (poem)

“Find Work,” Rhina P. Espaillat (poem)

“The Cry of the Children,” Elizabeth Barrett Browning (poem)

“Mammon and the Archer” by O. Henry (short story)

  • Major Writing Assignment: Using The Jungle as a basis, respond to this open-ended prompt from the 2012 AP Literature Exam:

“And, after all, our surroundings influence our lives and characters as much as fate, destiny or any supernatural agency.”

Pauline Hopkins, Contending Forces
Choose a novel or play in which cultural, physical, or geographical surroundings shape psychological or moral traits in a character. Then write a well-organized essay in which you analyze how surroundings affect this character and illuminate the meaning of the work as a whole.  Do not merely summarize the plot.

  • Play: Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman

v  Paired readings:

“The Egg,” by Sherwood Anderson (short story)

“Winter Dreams” by F. Scott Fitzgerald (short story)

“America and I” by Anzia Yezierska (short story)

  • Major Writing Assignment: Write an analytical essay comparing and contrasting the vision of the American Dream in Sinclair’s The Jungle  and Miller’s Death of a Salesman.  Students will explore the difference in style and tone, focusing on the authors’ differing uses of similar literary devices to explore their visions of American labor and society.


Unit II: Conflict and Culture

  • Novel: Alan Paton’s Cry the Beloved Country
    • Major Writing Assignment: Write an analytical essay discussing Paton’s exploration of man versus society, and the effect of this conflict on the novel’s protagonist. Do not merely summarize—use textual support to reinforce your analysis


Unit III: Poetic Forms

  • Text: The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms
  • Scope: Students will study modern examples of various poetic forms, including villanelles, sonnets, sestinas, heroic couplets, odes, ballads and elegies
    • Major Writing Assignment: Choose an undiscussed poem from the anthology and write an explication. The explication should consider diction, sound, form and imagery, while providing a line-by-line analysis of the text.
    • Creative Writing Assignment: Choose one of the metered forms discussed and write an original poem.




Unit IV: The Tragic Hero

  • Play: William Shakespeare’s Hamlet

v  Paired Reading: “Tragedy and the Common Man,” by Arthur Miller (essay)

Aristotle’s Definition of Tragedy (handout)

  • Major Writing Assignment: Write a persuasive essay arguing Hamlet’s role as a tragic hero. Provide working definitions of tragic hero and hamartia. Support your stance with evidence from the text.
  • Play: Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead
    • Major Writing Assignment: Discuss the play’s relationship to Shakespeare’s Hamlet. How does Stoppard reconstruct the basic plot of Hamlet from an entirely new perspective? Which elements of Hamlet does Stoppard alter or recreate? Which elements does he leave intact? Why do you think he made these particular choices? Include, in your discussion of Stoppard’s work, a discussion of tragicomedy and the theater of the absurd.


Unit V (part one): Class and Society

  • Novel: E.M. Forster’s A Room with a View
    • Major Writing Assignment: Using A Room with a View as a basis, respond to this open-ended prompt from the 2013 AP Literature Exam: .

A bildungsroman, or coming-of-age novel, recounts the psychological or moral development of its protagonist from youth to maturity, when this character recognizes his or her place in the world. Select a single pivotal moment in the psychological or moral development of the protagonist of a bildungsroman. Then write a well-organized essay that analyzes how that single moment shapes the meaning of the work as a whole.

  • In-Depth Focus: AP Exam Preparation


Unit V (part two): Class and Society

  • Play: Anton Chekov’s The Cherry Orchard
    • Major Writing Assignment:  Write an additional scene from The Cherry Orchard in the style and format of Chekov. The new scene can be from any point in the narrative—before, during or after. The scene should show an understanding of Chekov’s use of irony, satire, realism, subtext and indirect action. A page-long explanation of the writing process should be included.