Sample Questions: English Literature

The following English Literature sample questions aren't used in actual CLEP exams and aren’t presented here as they will be on the test. Use them to get a sense of question format and difficulty level.


Each of the questions or incomplete statements below is followed by five suggested answers or completions. Select the one that is best in each case.


  1. An anonymous narrative poem focusing on the climax of a particularly dramatic event and employing frequent repetition, conventional figures of speech, and sometimes a refrain — altered and transmitted orally in a musical setting — is called a 
    1. popular ballad
    2. pastoral elegy 
    3. courtly lyric 
    4. villanelle 
    5. chivalric romance
  2. Which of the following is the first line of a poem by John Keats? 
    1. “What dire offence from amorous causes springs” 
    2. “They flee from me that sometime did me seek”
    3. “Thou still unravished bride of quietness”
    4. “I weep for Adonais — he is dead!”
    5. “Not, I’ll not, carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee”
  3. Which of the following was written earliest?
    1. The Waste Land
    2. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
    3. Songs of Innocence
    4. The Faerie Queene
    5. The Rape of the Lock
  4. “Lycidas” is a poem that
    1. adapts a heroic legend from classical mythology to the society that the writer knew best.
    2. manages in a short space to record much of English history.
    3. mourns the death of the writer’s friend but also reveals personal concerns of the writer.
    4. uses an important historical event of its day to air the political views of the writer.
    5. captures the magic of the Italian Renaissance and puts it into a realistic London setting.

      Questions 5–6 are based on the following poem.

      My friend, the things that do attain 

      The happy life be these, I find: 

      The riches left, not got with pain; 

      The fruitful ground; the quiet mind;

      (5) The equal friend; no grudge, no strife; 

      No charge of rule, nor governance; 

      Without disease, the healthy life; 

      The household of continuance;

      The mean diet, no dainty fare;

      (10) Wisdom joined with simpleness;

      The night discharged of all care,

      Where wine the wit may not oppress;

      The faithful wife, without debate;

      Such sleeps as may beguile the night;

      (15) Content thyself with thine estate,

      Neither wish death, nor fear his might.

  5. In line 9, the word “mean” signifies
    1. dull
    2. troublesome
    3. cruel
    4. basic
    5. contemptible
  6. Which of the following best summarizes the poem’s theme?
    1. Happiness is best realized through simple living.
    2. Life is short, so savor each experience.
    3. Our passions help keep us young.
    4. Preventive care ensures longevity.
    5. Hard work is its own reward.
  7. Match each of the following authors to the work that he or she wrote.
    1. Aphra Behn
    2. Oliver Goldsmith
    3. Samuel Johnson
    4. Richard Brinsley Sheridan 

      ______________ The Vicar of Wakefield 

      ______________ Oroonoko 

      ______________ The School for Scandal 

      ______________ A Dictionary of the English Language

  8. Identify the writers from the list below who were associated with the Pre-Raphaelite movement.
    1. George Gordon, Lord Byron
    2. William Morris
    3. John Ruskin
    4. Dante Gabriel Rossetti
    5. Samuel Taylor Coleridge





      Question 9 is based on the following passage.

      Yes! Margaret remembered it well. Edith and Mrs. Shaw had gone to dinner. Margaret had joined the party in the evening. The recollection of the plentiful luxury of all the arrangements, the stately handsomeness of the furniture, the size of the house, the peaceful, untroubled ease of the visitors — all came vividly before her, in strange contrast to the present time. The smooth sea of that old life closed up, without a mark left to tell where they had all been. The habitual dinners, the calls, the shopping, the dancing evenings, were all going on, going on for ever, though her Aunt Shaw and Edith were no longer there; and she, of course, was even less missed. She doubted if any one of that old set ever thought of her, except Henry Lennox. He too, she knew, would strive to forget her, because of the pain she had caused him. She had heard him often boast of his power of putting any disagreeable thought far away from him. Then she penetrated farther into what might have been. If she had cared for him as a lover, and had accepted him, and this change in her father’s opinions and consequent station had taken place, she could not doubt but that it would have been impatiently received by Mr. Lennox. It was a bitter mortification to her in one sense; but she could bear it patiently, because she knew her father’s purity of purpose, and that strengthened her to endure his errors, grave and serious though in her estimation they were. But the fact of the world esteeming her father degraded, in its rough wholesale judgment, would have oppressed and irritated Mr. Lennox. As she realized what might have been, she grew to be thankful for what was. They were at the lowest now; they could not be worse.

  9. The sentence “The smooth sea of that old life closed up, without a mark to tell where they had all been” emphasizes which of the following about Margaret?
    1. The sense that she is drowning in her new life
    2. The fact that her memories of the past are fading rapidly
    3. Her strong disapproval of her father’s actions
    4. Her sense of how significantly her life has changed
    5. How much she misses Edith and Aunt Shaw
  10. The inspiration for W. B. Yeats’s “Easter 1916” was
    1. the struggle for Irish independence
    2. life in the trenches during the First World War
    3. the death of Yeats’s young bride
    4. the increase in religious doubt in the twentieth century
    5. dissatisfaction with working conditions for the Irish


1-A; 2-C; 3-D; 4-C; 5-D; 6-A; 7-2, 1, 4, 3; 8-2, 3, 4 (any combination); 9-D; 10-A.