The English Literature exam is primarily concerned with major British authors and literary works.
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2021 CLEP Official Study Guide
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CLEP® English Literature Examination Guide
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This guide provides practice questions for the CLEP® English Literature Exam only.
The English Literature exam covers material usually taught in a course at the college level. The test is primarily concerned with major authors and literary works, but it also includes questions on some minor writers. Test takers 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 exam resembles the historically organized surveys of British, Commonwealth, and postcolonial literature offered by many colleges. It assumes that test takers 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 exam contains approximately 95 questions to be answered in 90 minutes. Any time test takers spend on tutorials and providing personal information is in addition to the actual testing time.
Some schools require test takers to complete an optional essay section in addition to the multiple-choice test. Test takers should check with the school(s) of their choice to confirm whether the essay is required. Test takers 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, test takers are asked to choose one of two topics that present a specific observation, position, or theme. Depending on the topic chosen, test takers choose any work by a particular author to appropriately support the claim or select works from a designated list provided. Test takers should plan to spend 50 to 55 minutes on the essay.
Test takers are expected to write well-organized essays in clear and precise prose. The essay section is scored by faculty at the institution that requests it and is still administered in paper-and-pencil format. There is an additional fee for taking this section, payable to the institution that administers the exam.
Knowledge and Skills Required
The English Literature exam 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 exam deals with literature from the Anglo-Saxon period 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 exam ask test takers to identify the author of a representative quotation or to recognize the period in which an excerpt was written.
The subject matter of the English Literature examination is drawn from the following periods. The percentages indicate the approximate percentage of exam questions from each period.
10% Middle Ages
15% 16th and early 17th Century
10% Restoration and 18th Century
25% 20th Century to the present
The following percentages indicate the relative emphasis given to different literary genres on the examination. The approximate percentage of exam questions per type of literature is noted.
10% Short stories
10% Nonfiction: literary criticism, essays, memoir, etc.
Most textbooks used in college-level English Literature courses cover the topics relevant to the exam, but the approaches to certain topics and the emphasis given to them may differ.
You should also read critically the contents of at least one literary anthology, many of which are used as textbooks in English literature courses at the college level. Most textbook anthologies contain a representative sample of readings, as well as discussions of historical background, literary styles, and devices characteristic of various authors and periods, and other material relevant to the test. The anthologies do vary somewhat in content, approach, and emphasis; you are therefore advised to consult more than one anthology, as well as some specialized books on major authors, periods, and literary forms and terminology. You should also read some of the major novels that are mentioned or excerpted in the anthologies.
A survey conducted by CLEP found that the following textbooks are among those used by college faculty who teach the equivalent course. You might purchase one or more of these online or at your local college bookstore.
- Black, Broadview Anthology of British Literature (Broadview)
- Damrosch et al., Longman Anthology of British Literature (Longman)
- Greenblatt, Norton Anthology of English Literature (W.W. Norton)
- Various eds., Oxford Anthology of English Literature (Oxford University Press)
These resources, compiled by the CLEP test development committee and staff members, may help you study for your exam. However, none of these sources are designed specifically to provide preparation for a CLEP exam. The College Board has no control over their content and cannot vouch for accuracy.
- Luminarium: Anthology of English Literature
- University of California, Berkeley: Webcast Lectures
- Free online CLEP course by Modern States Education Alliance
Credit-Granting Score for English Literature
ACE Recommended Score*: 50
Semester Hours: 3
Each institution reserves the right to set its own credit-granting policy, which may differ from that of ACE. Contact your college as soon as possible to find out the score it requires to grant credit, the number of credit hours granted and the course(s) that can be bypassed with a satisfactory score.
*The American Council on Education’s College Credit Recommendation Service (ACE CREDIT) has evaluated CLEP processes and procedures for developing, administering, and scoring the exams. The score listed above is equivalent to a grade of C in the corresponding course. The American Council on Education, the major coordinating body for all the nation’s higher education institutions, seeks to provide leadership and a unifying voice on key higher education issues and to influence public policy through advocacy, research, and program initiatives. Visit the ACE CREDIT website for more information.