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English Literature

Description of the Examination

The English Literature examination covers material usually taught in a two-semester course (or the equivalent) at the college level. The test is primarily concerned with major authors and literary works, but it also includes questions on some minor writers. Candidates are expected to be acquainted with common literary terms, such as metaphor and personification, and basic literary forms, such as the sonnet and the ballad.

In both coverage and approach, the examination resembles the historically organized survey of English literature offered by many colleges. It assumes that candidates have read widely and developed an appreciation of English literature, know the basic literary periods, and have a sense of the historical development of English literature.

The examination contains approximately 95 questions to be answered in 90 minutes. Any time candidates spend on tutorials and providing personal information is in addition to the actual testing time.

The CLEP English Literature exam also includes an optional essay section. Some schools require candidates to complete this section. Candidates should check with the school(s) of their choice to confirm whether the essay is required. This optional section requires candidates to demonstrate their ability to write clearly and effectively. Candidates respond to two of three essay topics. An essay on the first topic, a persuasive analysis of a poem, is required, and candidates are advised to spend 35 to 40 minutes on it. For the second essay, candidates choose one of two topics that presents a specific observation, position, or theme. Depending on the topic chosen, candidates choose any work by a particular author to appropriately support the claim or select works from a designated list provided. Candidates should plan to spend 50 to 55 minutes on the essay. All essays are scored by faculty at the school(s) where candidates send their reports.

Knowledge and Skills Required

The English Literature examination measures both knowledge and ability. The percentages below show the relative emphasis given to each; however, most questions draw on both.

35%-40%
Knowledge of:

  • Literary background
  • Identification of authors
  • Metrical patterns
  • Literary references
  • Literary terms

60%-65%
Ability to:

  • Analyze the elements of form in a literary passage
  • Perceive meanings
  • Identify tone and mood
  • Follow patterns of imagery
  • Identify characteristics of style
  • Comprehend the reasoning in an excerpt of literary criticism

The examination deals with literature from Beowulf to the present. Familiarity with and understanding of major writers is expected, as is knowledge of literary periods and common literary terms, themes, and forms. Some of the questions on the examination ask candidates to identify the author of a representative quotation or to recognize the period in which an excerpt was written.

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