AP Lit v. AP Lang: What is the difference?

AP English Language & Composition (AP Lang) and AP English Literature & Composition (AP Lit) are often seen as very similar classes due to the similarities of their name. While both AP Humanities courses strive to develop students’ writing and critical thinking skills, these two English courses are, in fact, very different.

Let’s take a closer look at these two courses.

The Basics

AP Lang is a course focused on developing students' ability to analyze a variety of texts, synthesize information from multiple sources, and construct well-reasoned arguments. Rhetorical Analysis (analyzing how we use strategies and language to achieve a specific purpose) is a central concept. 

AP Lit is a course focused on developing students’ ability to critically read and analyze literary texts (poetry, prose, and drama). Analysis is similarly an essential component of this course, with the added difficulty of delving into more complex texts.

AP Exams

The Exams for AP Lit & AP Lang are formatted in the same way: 

  • Multiple Choice section in which you answer groups of questions based off of short passages. 

  • Three Free Response Essays

    • AP Lang--Synthesis Essay, Rhetorical Analysis Essay, Open-Ended Argument Essay

    • AP Lit--Poetry Analysis Essay, Prose Analysis Essay, Thematic Analysis Essay

The Statistics

AP Lang

  • 573,171 students took this test (2019).*

  • 54.3% of students received a passing score (3 or higher) on the AP exam (2019).

  • 9.9% of students received a 5 on the AP exam (2019).

AP Lit

  • 380,136 students took this test (2019).

  • 49.7% of students received a passing score (3 or higher) on AP Exam (2019).

  • 6.2% of students received a 5 on the AP exam (2019).

*Statistics are based off of 2019 due to 2020’s unprecedented online AP testing of a single FRQ question.

The following may depend upon your school and instructor but generally are true:

  • AP Lang is typically taken Junior year of high school

  • AP Lit is typically taken Senior year of high school.

  • In AP Lit, you are expected to read more. You read more novels and plays. Additionally, you have to read, understand, and analyze poetry. The complexity level of what you are reading is also usually higher in AP Lit than AP Lang, and you are asked to go more in-depth in terms of analysis.

  • In AP Lang, many course syllabi include reading a novel or two, but the majority of reading is nonfiction texts, such as historical documents, speeches, articles, and editorials. An emphasis is placed upon analyzing “how” a writer is communicating a specific message and “why” they chose these specific strategies for their intended audience and given context.

  • Taking AP Lang and passing the AP exam (depending on the college/university’s policies) often allows you to skip over the English 101 or a general education English requirement in college.

Personally, I’m a fan of both courses—they train students to look beneath the surface of a text, thinking critically about how we use language to shape the world we live in.

In general, I’d recommend AP Lang for students interested in basically any career path and AP Lit for students interested in reading, writing, and humanities. With either class, students will have to put in time and effort (and a good deal of reading and writing) to succeed.

If you have additional questions concerning AP Lang or AP Lit or would like academic support or exam prep in either course, contact Pivot Tutors. 

Interested in other AP Humanities courses? Check out this previous AP Humanities blog post.

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