So you want to take… AP Literature?


Wren Bulawin

AP Literature provides a challenging yet enriching experience for students by challenging them to interpret different types of literature in their own unique ways. Students will develop a specific toolkit for analyzing fiction, allowing them to fully immerse themselves in various stories and truly appreciate the magic found within words.

Wren Bulawin, Open Canvas Manager, Assistant Features Editor

It’s quiet in the classroom, and the air is thick with tension as a single page is passed around to each student. It’s a passage they know well—after all, they’ve spent the last few days discussing its prose, picking out symbolic meanings from various angles, and analyzing each piece of figurative language with respect to the narrator’s character. Still, timed-write days are among the most stressful in the class, but armed with a repertoire of analytical skills, the students pick up their pens with confidence.

For a class composed entirely of seniors, one would expect an air of laziness around them. But for students taking AP Literature, the carefully-crafted world of words keeps each student constantly on their toes, prepared to weave a unique interpretation of life with the literary devices presented to them. 

Known colloquially as “AP Lit” or “AP English 12,”  AP English Literature and Composition is an Advanced Placement course equivalent to “an introductory college-level literature course,” where students focus on analyzing the literary elements and character development present in short stories, poems, and classical fiction from various time periods. AP Literature serves as one of the three options students may choose to fulfill their final English credit required for graduation; as such, the course is only available to seniors. Those who choose to take the class and its respective AP exam may be eligible for college credit, which may be useful for those who wish to jumpstart their higher education by skipping general English classes. 

Like all AP classes, incoming seniors planning to take this course should expect a high difficulty curve; after all, the class sits in the top ten most difficult AP exams to pass, with 55.7% of students earning a score of 3 or higher in 2022. Interviewed students and alumni who had taken or are currently taking the course rated it with an average score of six to seven out of ten in difficulty, with most leaning towards a score of seven. One of their main reasons is the major shift in analytical focus compared to junior year’s AP English Language and Composition course; rather than focusing on rhetorical analysis and defending arguments, students must now focus on the narrator’s perspective and the symbolic ways that characters interact with the world around them.

“The hardest thing is at the very beginning of the first semester when you’re freeing your mind from the limitations of AP Lang, because now we have a lot more freedom to write about what we think and how we’re interpreting texts,” said senior and current AP Literature student Ruby Kamal. 

“In AP Lang, we had a structure for the thesis, but in Lit we don’t have that formula to go off of,” added senior and current AP Literature student Maggie Hsieh.

Additionally, as expected of a class full of seniors, most students feel the temptation to slack off and shirk their work—however, the ever-rigorous course load makes that near-impossible. AP Literature requires students to truly commit to the work in order to gather as much evidence as possible and formulate a strong, analytical argument. And unlike junior year, students must constantly be in tune with the ever-changing narrative rather than seeing the story as a one-off event. 

“It’s a lot more rigorous because there’s a lot more assignments,” said current senior and AP Literature student Kayla Bondoc. “For this class, you’re more interactive with the text that you’re writing. And you’re immersing yourself into the text, which is a lot different than AP Lang where you’re taking it at surface level.”

Despite the usual rigor expected of an AP class, however, many students agree that the teachers, Mrs. Laura Grissom and Ms. Wei Yeh, have created a friendly, open-minded environment to foster new ideas and build off of each others’ viewpoints.

“Everybody’s very comfortable with each other and expressing their opinions. [Nobody] feels embarrassed to say their own interpretations on readings,” said Natalie Sumner, senior and current AP Literature student. “You don’t feel like you’re looking for one specific thing. As long as you’re able to defend it, it’s your interpretation [that] works for you.”

Additionally, incoming seniors should not let the word “literature” scare them away from taking AP Literature. While the class covers classical pieces, the readings are not at all limited to Shakespearian plays and Old English. Rather, the course covers a large variety of literary works across all time periods, from Mary Shelly’s classic Frankenstein to Yann Martel’s contemporary Life of Pi. And although the course’s name makes it sound as if students are forced to slog through one piece of literature a day, the workload really is not as bad as it seems.

“We try to cover the breadth of what College Board might ask,” said Ms. Yeh. “The test itself is moving away from longer fiction because it’s skills based. So instead of forcing [students] to read epically long texts, we’re teaching them the same skills with a short story or a poem.”

Ultimately, if there’s one thing that AP Literature students and teachers want their prospective juniors to know, it’s that, like all other AP classes, they must have the motivation and willingness to put in the work—even if senioritis seems tempting. 

“You have to have an academic curiosity,” said Mrs. Grissom. “This is not one of those classes that you can just take because it looks good on a college application, it is a class that you have to have a curiosity about humanity. You have to have a curiosity to be able to engage in meaningful conversations about the literature. As long as you have that, the student’s going to be successful.”

But for incoming seniors willing to take the plunge and put in the work, AP Literature can be a challenging yet rewarding experience, especially for those who truly appreciate the human art of storytelling. 

“We’re looking at stories inspired by real people. We’re looking at differences in culture. We’re trying to make sense of life. And a lot of students enjoy that,” said Ms. Yeh. “AP Literature is like an amoeba, and AP Lit is for the kid who’s ready to embrace that.”