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Analyzing and Interpreting Literature

Description of the Examination

The Analyzing and Interpreting Literature examination covers material usually taught in a general two-semester undergraduate course in literature. Although the examination does not require familiarity with specific works, it does assume that candidates have read widely and perceptively in poetry, drama, fiction, and nonfiction. The questions are based on passages supplied in the test. These passages have been selected so that no previous experience with them is required to answer the questions. The passages are taken primarily from American and British literature.

The examination contains approximately 80 multiple-choice questions to be answered in 90 minutes. Some of these are pretest questions that will not be scored. Any time candidates spend taking tutorials and providing personal information is additional to actual testing time.

Because writing about literary texts is central to the study of literature, some colleges may require candidates to take an optional essay section in addition to the multiple-choice section. The essay section is 90 minutes long and is made up of two 45-minute questions. One question asks candidates to analyze a short poem, the other asks them to apply a given generalization about literature (such as the function of a theme or a technique) to a novel, short story, or play that they have read. The essay section is still administered in a paper-and-pencil format; the essay responses are graded by the institution, not by the College Board.

Knowledge and Skills Required

Questions on the Analyzing and Interpreting Literature examination require candidates to demonstrate the following abilities.

  • Ability to read prose, poetry, and drama with understanding
  • Ability to analyze the elements of a literary passage and to respond to nuances of meaning, tone, imagery, and style
  • Ability to interpret metaphors, to recognize rhetorical and stylistic devices, to perceive relationships between parts and wholes, and to grasp a speaker's or author's attitudes
  • Knowledge of the means by which literary effects are achieved
  • Familiarity with the basic terminology used to discuss literary texts

The examination emphasizes comprehension, interpretation, and analysis of literary works. A specific knowledge of historical context (authors and movements) is not required, but a broad knowledge of literature gained through reading widely and a familiarity with basic literary terminology is assumed. The following outline indicates the relative emphasis given to the various types of literature and the periods from which the passages are taken. The approximate percentage of exam questions per classification is noted within each main category.

Genre

35%45% Poetry
35%–45% Prose (fiction and nonfiction)
15%30% Drama

National Tradition

50%65% British Literature
30%45% American Literature
5%–15% Works in translation

Period

3%7% Classical and pre-Renaissance
20%30% Renaissance and 17th Century
35%45% 18th and 19th Centuries
25%–35% 20th and 21st Centuries

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