Homeschoolers with strong skills in the area of English may wish to consider documenting their learning through taking an Advanced Placement (AP exam). The College Board offers two AP English exam options: AP English Language and Composition and AP English Literature and Composition. The exams are more commonly known as “AP Lang” and “AP Lit”.
The AP English Language and Composition Exam
The AP Language exam is intended to function as an introductory college composition course. As this tends to be a diverse and varied course it can be taught in many different ways. The course aims to help students learn to read a wide variety of different styles of nonfiction from a variety of time periods. Students learn “close reading” of a variety of prose styles and learn to consider the author’s time period and influences. There is an emphasis on learning rhetorical strategies, such as critical reasoning and identifying different styles of argument. Students are also taught to use these styles to improve the quality of their own personal writing. Emphasis is placed on techniques such as understanding the audience and the importance of revision.
What to Expect on the AP Lang Exam
The AP language exam is three and a half hours long. 45% of the exam score comes from a one hour long multiple choice section with approximately 55 questions. The remainder of the exam two and a half hours long and is made of three free response questions. On the multiple choice portion of the exam students are given passages and asked questions about rhetorical devices, structures, purpose, and citations. The free response section includes prompts on synthesis, passage analysis, and argument. Each essay is given a score between 1-9.
AP Language and Composition Scoring
The score distribution in 2013 was as follows (approximate percentages):
In other words, in 2013 just more than a quarter of test takers got what would be considered an A (5) or a B (4) on the exam. Most highly selective colleges look for a score of 4 or 5 on AP exams. At more mid range schools a score of 3 is often also considered a passing mark. A bit less than half of the student taking the AP Lang exam in 2013 received a 1 or 2 and did not pass the exam. This information can be somewhat helpful in understanding that not all testers will do well on the exam. It points to the need for AP students to have a well developed course of study, something that students may not have at all schools.
AP English Literature and Composition Exam
AP English literature course is intended to encourage students to study classic and contemporary literature. Students learn to analyze literature of different genres and time periods. As would be expected in a good high school literature course, students should be learning about tone, style, theme, figurative language and symbolism. The course should also encourage students to develop their thinking and composition skills through writing about literature.
The AP Lit exam is three hours and fifteen minutes long. The multiple choice section is about an hour long and covers fifty five questions and tests the student’s ability to read and answer questions about a prose section. This multiple choice section makes up 45% of a student’s grade. The remainder of the exam is made up of three free response essays. On these essays students are expected to read carefully and construct written arguments rooted in an understanding of material they are presented.
AP Lit Scoring
The AP Lit score distribution in 2013 was as follows (approximate percentages):
This score distribution suggests that it is tough to learn a 5 on the AP lit exam. Students should expect to put a significant amount of time into preparing for this exam.
Will My Student Earn College Credit?
There were about 400,000 test takers of each the AP Lit and AP Lang exams last year and the majority will not earn college credit for their efforts. College policies vary widely on awarding AP credit or using AP scores for placement. The most common situation is for colleges to award credit for scores of four or five. Some less selective colleges will award credit for a score of three and a few of the most selective colleges will only provide credit for scores of five. On the AP language exam 31% of test takers last year received a four or a five on the exam. On the AP literature exam just 26% of test takers received a four or five. Both AP Lit and AP Lang are considered among the harder AP exams.
Students should also be aware some colleges and universities will award “general credits” but will not waive the requirements of first year English. Many colleges see an importance in all first year students taking the same introductory composition courses because writing is such a fundamental skill to college success. As an illustration of the widely varying polices here are some examples of how a sample of colleges award credit for AP English exam scores.
Georgia Tech: Scores of 4 or 5 on either exam earns three hours of a credit and counts for an introductory English course.
University of Nebraska-Lincoln: Scores of 4 or 5 on either exam earns three hours of a credit and counts for an introductory English course. Students are also allowed to enroll in honors level English courses.
University of Oregon: AP Lit: scores of 3 and above will be awarded credit for a four hour English course. AP Lang: scores of 3 and above will be awarded credit for a four hour composition course.
Marquette University: AP Lit: scores of 4 will receive credit for a three hour English course, scores of 5 will receive credit a total of six hours of credit for two different English courses. AP Lang: scores of 4 will receive credit for a three hour English course, scores of 5 will receive credit a total of six hours of credit for two different English courses.
Rice University: Scores of 4 or 5 on either exam earns tine course credit.
Yale University: Scores of 5 can earn two semesters of “Acceleration Credit.”
University of California: Scores of 3 and up earn an 8 unit maximum per test.
College policies on AP credits often change from year to year so students are advised to look at every college individually knowing there are no guarantees they will receive credits for particular scores. Whether students earn college credit or not, strong AP scores can be a helpful way for to provide support and validation for the homeschool transcript.