American Literature

This exam covers American literature from precolonial times to the present.

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The American Literature exam covers material that is usually taught in a survey course at the college level. It deals with the prose and poetry written in the United States from precolonial times to the present. It tests literary works—their content, background, and authors—but also requires an ability to interpret poetry, fiction and nonfiction prose, as well as a familiarity with the terminology used by literary critics and historians. The exam emphasizes fiction and poetry and deals to a lesser degree with the essay, drama, and autobiography.

In both coverage and approach, the exam resembles the chronologically organized survey of American literature offered by many colleges. It assumes that test takers have read widely and developed an appreciation of American literature, know the basic literary periods, and have a sense of the historical development of American literature.

The test contains approximately 100 questions to be answered in 90 minutes. Some of these are pretest questions that will not be scored.

Knowledge and Skills Required

Questions on the American Literature exam require test takers to demonstrate one or more of the following abilities in the approximate proportions indicated:

  • Ability to understand and interpret short poems, excerpts from long poems, and excerpts from prose works (about 35–40% of the exam)
  • Knowledge of literary works, including authors, characters, plots, settings, style, and themes (about 25–30% of the exam)
  • Familiarity with critical terms, verse forms, and literary devices (about 15–20% of the exam)
  • Knowledge of historical and social settings of specific works, relations between literary works, relations of specific works to literary traditions, and influences on authors (about 15–20% of the exam)

The subject matter of the American Literature exam is drawn from the following chronological periods. The percentages indicate the approximate percentage of exam questions from each period.

  • 15% The Precolonial, Colonial and Early National Period (Beginnings–1800)
  • 20% The Romantic Period (1800–1865)
  • 20% The Period of Realism and Naturalism (1865–1910)
  • 20% The Modernist Period (1910–1945)
  • 25% The Contemporary Period (1945–Present)

Score Information

ACE Recommendation for American Literature

Credit-granting Score 50
Semester Hours 3

Note: Each institution reserves the right to set its own credit-granting policy, which may differ from the American Council on Education (ACE). Contact your college to find out the score required for credit and the number of credit hours granted.

Add Study Guides

CLEP American Literature Examination Guide

This guide provides practice questions for the CLEP American Literature Exam only.

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Study Resources: American Literature

A study plan and list of online resources.


ACE Credit Recommendations

Recommendations for credit-granting scores from the American Council on Education.