AP English Classes: How to Choose

·4 min read

At first glance, AP English Language and Composition and AP English Literature and Composition seem closely related. After all, both are designed to mirror college-level English courses and contain the common word "composition."

However, for high school students who have a passion for English, it is critical to choose between these two Advanced Placement course options with care.

AP English Language and English Literature Similarities

Both classes presume native or near-native proficiency with the English language. In both AP English Language and AP English Literature, you will be asked to read a variety of sophisticated texts and to compose articulate analytical essays about them. The importance of finely honed reading and writing skills for either course cannot be overemphasized.

Additionally, the format of the two end-of-year AP exams is strikingly similar, with the first section consisting of passage-based multiple-choice questions that are worth 45% of the total score. On both exams, the second section consists of three free-response prompts that comprise the remaining 55% of the total score.

[READ: 3 Effective Time Management Strategies for the AP Free Response Section.]

It is worth noting that although the AP English courses are quite popular, they have relatively low pass rates compared to most other AP exams -- pass meaning a score of 3 or better, below which colleges usually do not award credit. In 2020, the score rate of 3 or higher was 62.1% for AP English Language and 60.1% for AP English Literature. Just 12.6% and 9.3% of test-takers, respectively, earned a 5, the highest possible score.

With these statistics in mind, students in either course should plan to devote plenty of time to studying.

AP English Language and English Literature Differences

Arguably the biggest difference between the two AP English courses is the nature of the reading material. English Literature students cover multiple canonical literary works each year, including "The Odyssey," "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "The Great Gatsby."

English Language students, on the other hand, spend their time reading nonfiction pieces like memoirs, persuasive essays and other text types.

[Read: How to Select the Right AP Classes for You.]

Due to the different genres favored by each course, the writing assignments also differ. English Literature prompts ask about the literary devices used in works -- such as symbolism and tone -- whereas English Language prompts instruct students to explore rhetorical devices that help the author or student form his or her argument.

Student Profiles That Align With AP English Literature

Avid readers. Although both AP English courses impose a heavy reading load on students, English Literature may exceed English Language in this respect. Therefore, students with an intense love of reading should consider taking AP English Literature, as it may require them to devour roughly 100 pages per week.

Prospective humanities majors. Students who plan to pursue a major in a humanities-based field like philosophy, history or literature would especially benefit from AP English Literature. This course can give such students a sense of familiarity with several readings they are bound to encounter again in their degree program, such as the plays of William Shakespeare.

Student Profiles That Align With AP English Language

Future orators. Because the English Language curriculum focuses on rhetoric, students in this course can start building a repertoire of effective speaking and writing techniques that will serve them well in their future career fields. Students who aspire to work in law or politics, for example, can prepare for their college studies through the rigorous rhetorical exercises offered by AP English Language.

[Read: What to Weigh Before Dropping an AP Class]

Indecisive students. AP English Language is more universal in that its curriculum is applicable to more fields. For instance, you can transfer the skills you acquire from analyzing persuasive essays in this course to any essays you read in college and beyond, whether they are about science or another subject. As such, it may be better to select the more general option of AP English Language if you are unsure of your future path.

Both AP English courses are highly regarded and will make you a more skillful reader and writer. In the end, deciding between them comes down to your personal interests and plans.

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