How Do I Self-Study AP English Literature?

5 min readoctober 18, 2021

Samantha Himegarner

Samantha Himegarner

AP English Literature 📚

145 resources
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Oh, hey, I didn't see you there....what's poppin'?? My name is Samantha and I, along with the rest of the team here at Fiveable, want to make sure you feel prepared to ace all of your AP classes and exams. AP Literature is a super fun (and rewarding) class, and I will be here along to way to make sure you actually do your readings, write your essays, and grow in your literary analysis skills!

Can I Self-study?

Yes! Here's the breakdown ✨:


  • AP Lit is not a content-heavy course but focuses instead on skills
  • The exam tests students’ proficiencies by design
  • The rubrics and general guidelines (CED) beautifully explains how to tackle this course


  • There is little guidance in feeling prepared for the exam 🧭

Hold up. What is a CED? 📝

CED stands for Course and Exam Description. The College Board creates them for every AP course offered. The CED helps students and teachers prepare for the exam and can answer questions about big ideas within the course. Make sure to pay attention to how the big ideas connect within each unit and to other works of literature.
You must read a variety of works for this exam as well. For potential novels and plays to read and study, consult this list.
Poetry is a part of this course and exam as well, and there are recommendations and examples listed throughout the CED. Be familiar with a myriad of eras, styles, and types of poems as well!

How Often Should I Study for AP Lit? 🤔

Each person sets goals differently, so there are a few different ways to think about a study schedule.
⏰ To allocate time daily, try to set aside 30 min - 1 hour each day to anything related to AP Lit, including reading and annotating a novel, play, or poem, writing and editing practice essays, taking practice AP exams, or having a discussion about a book.
In terms of monthly goals, read a novel, a play, or a handful of poems. It is not a bad idea to write essays about these readings as it will help to get into the headspace of literary analysis. Ask a friend to look over these practice essays to provide some feedback.

This is what you might look like if you try to survive Lit alone. Image courtesy of Corporate Finance Institute

What Resources Can I Use for AP Lit? 🗄

The library! Reading is the best thing to prepare for this exam. Also, don’t feel pressured to buy all of the books when the library can provide almost anything needed for free!
To aid in learning about how literary devices function within AP Lit, utilize videos and study guides from Fiveable, Sparknotes, Course Hero, and Crash Course!
In terms of text resources, there are several helpful resources out there. For a more comprehensive list, check out this study guide.

How Can I Learn and Prepare for the Exam? ✏️

One of the best things about AP Lit as a course is class discussions regarding assigned readings. Of course, without a class, it can be hard to have an interactive discussion. Good news! Fiveable has its very own podcast with dedicated “book club” episodes in which the hosts discuss popular classics likely read during high school. Listening to some of these episodes may provide new insight into a particular reading and spark new thoughts and questions as well!
It might also be fun to watch movie adaptations of books studied for the exam to compare themes and symbols used in the different mediums. This could be another way to spark new perspectives and insights on a particular story, as well as a more enjoyable way to learn!
Note: it is not recommended that students watch the movie in place of reading the book😊

Are Taking Practice Tests a Waste of Time? 🚮

No! Practice tests are super advantageous to assess strengths and weaknesses!
The AP Lit test has two parts:
The essay section has three essays:
Each of these sections requires vastly different skills to be successful. By taking a practice test, the score will reflect what tends to be easier and more difficult and can help focus on where to improve to feel prepared for the real thing.

Here's what you'll be doing quite a bit in this course. Image courtesy of

Where and When Can I Take the AP Exam? 🗓

If a student is hoping to take an AP Exam in any subject, they must be sure to register for said exam. If a student is enrolled in the course officially, many times exam registration is automatic.
If not, students should reach out to the AP coordinator at their school to speak about registering for the exam. If homeschooled, students should reach out to the AP coordinator at the nearest high school.
Most high schools host AP testing during the usual two weeks of exams, but each high school goes through this process differently. Once a student has been registered for the exam, they will receive information about how, when, and where they will take it.

How Do I Find the Motivation to Self-study? 🎇

Ah, the timeless question of finding motivation. The answer is self-discipline. Create a study schedule that allows a block of time each day to dedicate to preparing for the exam in any means necessary. After a while, it will feel more like a routine than a chore and should become easier to do.
Another way to continue feeling motivated is to remember the initial motivation for studying the course/taking the exam? Students that are self-studying exams to raise the number of APs taken may feel a bit burnt out and struggle to continue.
However, students that self-study content because it is enjoyable and potentially applicable to plans will struggle a lot less with wanting to sit down and dedicating time to the course material.

The Big Takeaway 👇

It may seem obvious, but the best thing to prepare for this exam is to read and write a variety of works and study them in a variety of ways so that there are no surprises when the exam comes. Don't be afraid to listen to other interpretations of literature and use practice tests for self-assessment.

A book and pencil are two important tools for Lit! Image courtesy of Pixnio.

It may seem overwhelming at first, but using the tips above will tremendously make this journey easier.
Self-studying for an AP exam takes a lot of willpower but is entirely doable with the right mindset. The end goal is to learn a lot and feel confident and prepared for the exam, and, luckily, there are plenty of resources to help students achieve this goal and get that 5️⃣!
Browse Study Guides By Unit
🧐Exam Review – Multiple Choice Questions (MCQ)
📝Exam Review - Poetry Analysis Essay
📕Exam Review – Short Fiction FRQ
🎭Unit 3 – Intro to Longer Fiction & Drama
⚔️Unit 4 – Character, Conflict, & Storytelling in Short Fiction
🛠️Unit 6 – Literary Techniques in Longer Works
🏛️Unit 7 – Societal & Historical Context in Short Fiction

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