Best AP English Literature and Composition Books- May 2021 Exam

AP English Literature has proven time and again to be one of the most underestimated AP courses by English speaking students. This is made evident by the fact that up to 53% of the total number of examinees who take the exam score less than 3.

A little scary isn't it?

Well, given the broad scope of the course, it goes without saying that, you're in for quite a ride, and the only thing that can strengthen your chances of getting a 5 are the right study materials and review books. 

This roundup focuses on the best books and materials to use to make sure you get the four or five you're lookingfor. 

We are absolutely certain that examinees armed with the right resources will top charts in the forthcoming exam; so, we did most of the legwork to get you started on your way to a perfect score.

The Ultimate AP English Literature Prep List

The AP English Literature and Composition course is designed to cultivate students' understanding of literature derived from various periods and engage them in analytical interpretation and criticism of various literary structures, styles and themes. 

So, while it is easy to get lost in a variety of other features, any textbook or review material that doesn't quite prioritize the learning objectives of the course will fail to adequately prepare students for the impending exam. In this light, a great book for this exam is one that:

  • Explores all nine units that make up the exam framework
  • Engages students in mastering the distinct skills listed in the College Board description
  • Features sections that cultivate students' understanding of concepts such as figurative language, setting, literary analysis, etc.
  • Has an interactive layout.
  • Is written in an easy-to-understand tone.

We used the above criteria + years of experience when selecting the books below:

Any student who loves a good, no-frills review textbook will like this prep book. And what student doesn’t?

We were especially won over by its focused approach to tackling the course overview.

This makes it the best option for last minute reviews or cramming during crunch time. And yet, despite focusing on the key components of a course, it doesn't miss a beat when it comes to covering the curriculum.

It also provides test taking tips and tricks and also features more test questions than you will find in any other book with 6 full length practice exams complete with a scoring chart, answers and answer explanations.

To top things off, it features essay writing strategies that not only improves your understanding of essay questions but provide you with a solid method to land the highest possible score -- what more can you ask for?


  • Concise, focused and contains all relevant key components
  • Includes exam format and scoring charts
  • Contains numerous practice questions


  • Somewhat wordy in a few areas
  • Should be used as an accompanying study tool

Once again Barron's proves themselves to be worthy of all the accolades with this English Lit prep book

This comprehensive prep tool is guaranteed to get you ready to ace your exams with an in depth review of the course topics ranging from poetry to drama, fiction and others. 

It features student-authored essays which serve as a solid base for showing the expectations of the examiner, and it also includes practice questions covering virtually all aspects of the course curriculum.

Even more, it features five full-length mock tests as well as up-to-date scoring guidelines for determining the final score. Plus, students also get online access to two additional full length practice tests with all the answers explained; not to mention, its 175-term detailed glossary comes in particularly handy especially during a quick review. 

Between its 7 full length practice tests and the expertly-critiqued student essays, we have to say that it doesn't get much better than this pick. 


  • Features 7 full length practice tests
  • Includes critiques essays
  • Updated scoring guidelines


  • Not as concise/focused as some students prefer.

Accepted Inc. promotes this book as an extraordinary prep tool designed to ensure that students are not bogged down by unnecessary details but can make the most use of their study time by focusing on key notes. And we are completely sold!

While this book does an excellent job of streamlining required information to the most important facts, we could not help but notice its dedication to exploring all relevant concepts in significant detail. It includes a detailed coverage of all the topics included in the course overview, with discussions centered on drama, poetry and Shakespeare.

It also features four full practice tests as well open ended questions and a generous multiple choice section to offer students first-hand experience in tackling test questions.

You will be most pleased about how easy this publication is to read. At less than 130 pages long it's a perfect book for crunch-time when you need something that excludes all the unnecessary fluff.


  • Not bulky and quite straight-to-the-point
  • Easy to read
  • Covers all curriculum topics


  • Shouldn't be your main study tool

5 steps to a 5 never fails to impress, and their AP Lit book only gives credence to this fact. 

Much like the 2019 publication, the 2020 edition of this book is slated to provide a comprehensive review of all outlined course topics ranging from critical, analytical and argumentative thinking, reading and writing to understanding essay writing and prompts. 

Unlike other entries, 5 steps to a 5 is highly detailed making it a bad choice for crunch time, but great for in depth study. 

Also featured are 6 full length practice exams, 3 of which are on the paperback book while the other 3 are available online along with bonus features such as customizable study plans, flashcards, progress charts and a variety of other tools that help to ease assimilation and retention.

Considering its many features and the price tag on it, it's a steal.


  • Detailed, thoroughly comprehensive content
  • Pocket friendly price
  • Includes online access to a variety of study tools.


  • Few practice tests on the paper-back copy.

AP Lit Books To Avoid

The Princeton Review

While the Princeton Review is hardly abysmal, we cannot say we are impressed by the answer explanations offered in this book.

Students have decried it as substituting substance for fluff by choosing not to go into detail in order to remain somewhat entertaining. There are also no student sample essays or expert critiques to accompany, and some examinees noted quite a few technical and typographical errors that will likely have disastrous consequences for persons with limited knowledge.

On the upside, the test-taking strategies included in this book seem to be worthwhile -- however, its downsides are definitely deal breakers. 

Test Structure

The exam accesses students knowledge and skills outlined in the course framework. The 2020 exam will be designed to have similar question types, scoring patterns and range of difficulty has the previous years.

The exam is 3 hours long and has 2 sections.

Section 1 will have a time limit of 1 hour, and will feature 55 multiple choice questions which will account for 45% of the total exam score.

The section includes 5 sets of questions with 8-13 questions per set. Each set will be designed to have a passage of poetry, fiction or drama each. 

On the other hand, section 2 will feature 3 free response questions and will require students to write essays as well as varying literary analysis. This section accounts for 55% of the exam score and will last 2 hours long. 

Last Time The AP Lit Exam Was Changed

While there haven't been significant changes to the exam, the course structure has been modified in order to properly clarify the course focus, beginning in the 2019-2020 school year. The College Board also re-scheduled the exam registration to the fall in autumn.

Additional Tips & Resources For Studying

Know The Learning Objectives

This is the foundation to effective preparation for any exam. Armed with the course overview prepared by the college board, each study session can be specifically directed rather than random. The result will be an examinee that is especially skilled to tackle every possible question drawn from the curriculum. 

Read the Prescribed Literature

There are a few cited literary works which are likely to be the basis of some featured questions. The most popular of them includes Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, Charles Dickens Great Expectations and Shakespeare's Hamlet and King Lear.  Take note that prescribed literature may vary from year to year and are not limited to the above mentioned books. So, it is important to become fluent with the curriculum. 

Annotate Passages

As indicated in the course overview, students will likely be expected to analyze a few passages from selected literary works. To better review these passages, it is a great idea to annotate these passages and mark up specific terms and notes that may be of importance. These can come in handy when taking one last run-down of your study materials when it is crunch time.

Practice Essay Writing

It is best not to leave this until exam day. Practicing essay and literary analysis writing is especially essential for evaluating your writing abilities especially in a time-restricted environment. Remember that the free response accounts for more than half of the overall score. The first step to doing this, however, would be to find practice questions which are accompanied by detailed answers and a scoring tool with which to evaluate your performance. 

Its Okay to Guess

On the day of the exam, especially when dealing with multiple choice questions, don't be afraid to find the answer that seems the most accurate and choose it, even if you aren't entirely sure if it exactly right. Nobody gets penalised for wrong answers and this is a great way to bolster your scores. 


AP English literature is certainly not an exam for the lax student -- while it is true that English is the first language of most people, English literature poses quite the interesting challenge. That said, the only person quite capable of determining what study method or material works best for you, is you. With everyone having such unique needs, studying is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor. However, armed with this list of trust-worthy review books, and first-hand knowledge of yourself, this exam will likely be a walkover.

Good luck!