8 Best AP English Literature Prep Books (2020)

Best AP English Literature Study Books

There are many options when it comes to the best AP English Literature prep book, and both practice tests and thorough explanations improve test scores.

Students benefit significantly from a well-organized prep book that fits their learning style, but these texts are also useful reference guides for educators and tutors.

Our Top Recommended AP English Literature Prep Books

The best AP English Lit prep book should be well organized and engaging with high-quality content. Our list of recommended options includes different structures to accommodate various learning styles and studying preferences.

1. Barron’s AP English Literature and Composition: With 7 Practice Tests

Barron’s AP English Literature and Composition prep book features a generous number of practice tests and focuses on the terms you need to know.

Publisher: Barrons Educational Series; Eighth edition

Year: 2020

Number of pages: 336

Our Final Grade:A+

The Barron’s AP English Literature and Composition prep book focuses primarily on terms that you need to know and then builds on that by providing a series of practice tests and thorough explanations to help prepare for the test. The practice tests provide insights into how the test gets graded and how to formulate your essays based on the prompts assigned.

This prep book prepares test takers for both the 2020 and the 2021 AP English Literature and Composition exam. You’ll find four different sections contained in this text that offer up strategies for answering multiple-choice questions, increasing your comprehension, and other tactics that improve your score.

You’ll also find some sample questions for fiction, poetry, and prose along with exam questions from previous years to give you a better idea of what to expect. There are also detailed guidelines for writing effective essays and scoring your essays to track progress.

Pros

  • Seven complete practice tests (Three online and four within the book)
  • Provides detailed information about the test
  • Features a diagnostic test with answers and explanations

Cons

  • Not the best resource for learning to write essays for the test

2. Test Prep Books AP Literature and Composition 2020 & 2021

The Test Prep Books AP Literature and Composition book comes with a free DVD offer and helpful test-taking strategies.

Publisher: Test Prep Books

Year: 2019

Number of pages: 98

Our Final Grade: A+

The Test Prep Books AP Literature and Composition textbook covers all of the material for the 2020 and 2021 AP exams. This textbook is ideal for test-takers but is a useful reference for tutors and educators who are teaching with the content.

You’ll find this book divides the test material into two parts: composition and literature, with each section containing practice segments and answer explanations. There is also additional information on different test-taking strategies to employ, and conventions in standard English.

This book doesn’t touch on changes to the test from year to year, but it does provide practice questions and essay prompts in addition to reviewing a bit of essential material. Another benefit of this book is that it’s rather compact but doesn’t skimp on explanations or content. Many educators find that this textbook serves them well as an outline for their teaching plan each year, and students will appreciate the well-organized information.

Pros

  • Well organized and concise
  • Covers essay writing, multiple-choice questions, and analysis strategies
  • Features comprehensive answer explanations in each section

Cons

  • No discussion about exam changes from year to year

3. 5 Steps to a 5: AP English Literature 2020

The 5 Steps to a 5 prep book for AP English Literature provides a complete step by step program that includes a diagnostic exam tool to assess your current knowledge.

Publisher: McGraw-Hill Education; 1 edition

Year: 2020

Number of pages: 256

Our Final Grade: A+

The 5 Steps to a 5: AP English Literature prep book for 2020 lays out a comprehensive plan for students that provides structure and ample information. This book starts by discussing study programs and what you need to know about the exam before moving on to time management concepts. The second step of the program consists of a diagnostic test that establishes how ready someone is to take the AP exam.

There is also an extensive discussion dedicated to strategy in this book, which gets appropriately divided into categories for multiple-choice questions and essays. This section also discusses the best way to formulate your essays, and other practical tips like keeping time. You’ll also find student sample essays and more information on how the test gets scored.

Pros

  • Neatly divided sections packed with information
  • Includes a section on improving test-taking confidence
  • Appendixes at the end include a reading guide

Cons

  • Does not discuss changes to the exam for 2020

4. Crash Course AP English Literature & Composition

The Crash Course AP English Literature & Composition prep book is ideal for a student short on time, or anyone studying at the last minute for the AP exam.

Publisher: Research & Education Association; Second Edition, Revised edition

Year: 2019

Number of pages: 288

Our Final Grade: A

The Crash Course AP English Literature & Composition prep book is up to date for the 2020 exam and features a format that only teaches you what you need to know. This structure helps save time while also providing ample material for practicing and discovering where you need improvement.

The introductory chapter of this book discusses the elements you’ll need to be successful on the exam before moving on to the next section. In part two, there are several chapters that carefully cover style elements, rhetoric, grammar, vocabulary, and writing genres, such as poetry, fiction, and drama. There is also a bit of coaching related to reading comprehension, dealing with multiple-choice questions, and essay strategies.

Pros

  • Excellent organization and concise explanations
  • Easy to use as a reference for when you need a refresher
  • Includes sample questions and essay prompts

Cons

  • The book only contains a mini-test, the full test is online

5. CliffsNotes AP English Literature and Composition

The CliffsNotes AP English Literature and Composition prep book include six full practice exams and comprehensive reviews of each topic on the test.

Publisher: Cliffs Notes; 3rd Edition edition

Year: 2010

Number of pages: 312

Our Final Grade: A

The CliffsNotes AP English Literature and Composition book offers a full analysis of all of the exam topics in addition to a well-organized introduction that talks about preparing for the exam, and how the test gets graded. You’ll also find answers to frequently asked questions about the test-taking experience, and the contents of the exam itself.

This book is ideal for those that like highly organized approaches to learning, as each section covers a different part of the exam thoroughly. Another helpful section of this book is the chapter that addresses terms used in the exam, including grammatical and metrical terms. This book also discusses previously used test questions and recommends authors that might be of interest.

Pros

  • Highly detailed but well-organized contents
  • Ample practice tests, questions, and essays
  • The structure is time efficient and useful as a reference

Cons

  • The practice tests tend to be harder than the actual test

6. 5 Steps to a 5: 500 AP English Literature Questions to Know by Test Day

The 5 Steps to a 5 prep book offers 500 AP-style questions with answer explanations to supplement your test preparation.

Publisher: McGraw-Hill Education; 2 Edition

Year: 2018

Number of pages: 256

Our Final Grade: A-

The 5 Steps to a 5 prep book is a unique textbook that focuses on providing 500 AP test questions to help prepare you for the exam. This book is useful on its own or as a supplement to your current study program and prep book. The questions presented are explicitly selected for their value in preparing you for the test, and each chapter focuses on a different topic.

Some of the topics you can expect include British poetry, American poetry, world poetry, British and American fiction, and drama. You’ll also find a chapter on expository prose and suggestions for studying with this material. The table of contents also lists numerous literary works that are the basis of many test questions. These literary works are relatively standard in the curriculum for many educators.

Pros

  • 500 AP-style test questions with well-explained answers
  • Lots of content arranged in a way that isn’t overwhelming
  • Easy to use and provides plenty of high-quality practice

Cons

  • Best when used as a supplement to another prep book

7. 5 Steps to a 5: AP English Literature 2020 Elite Student Edition

The 5 Steps to a 5 Elite Student Edition prep book is a cross-platform course that goes beyond the book so you can use it online and on your mobile device.

Publisher: McGraw-Hill Education; 1 Edition

Year: 2020

Number of pages: 576

Our Final Grade: A-

The 5 Steps to a 5 Elite Student Edition prep book provides a structured process to walk a student through studying for the AP exam using a five-part method that covers all the information needed. This book starts by introducing the program, exam, and three different approaches that can prove useful for the test.

The contents of this book feature very well organized sections and extensive information on multiple-choice questions, how to approach a multiple-choice exam, and how this section gets scored. There is also lots of information about the essay portion of the exam, including how it gets scored, types of essay questions the student is likely to see, and some student sample essays.

One unique feature this book offers is the diagnostic test that determines how ready the student is to take the AP test. There are also separate sections for each type of essay on the test, and helpful information on how to build your test-taking confidence.

Pros

  • Study using the book, go online or use your mobile device
  • Features a 5 step structured plan that helps students stay organized
  • Includes 180 activities as part of the “Five Minutes a Day” exercise

Cons

  • Quite a bit longer than most test prep books

8. Barron’s AP English Literature and Composition with CD-ROM

Barron’s AP English Literature and Composition prep book with CD-ROM includes practice exams, sample essays, and sample questions to prepare a student for the exam thoroughly.

Publisher: Barron’s Educational Series; 6 Edition

Year: 2016

Number of pages: 336

Our Final Grade: A-

Barron’s AP English Literature and Composition prep book offer eight full practice tests with another two included on the CD that comes with this book. In addition to the practice tests, you’ll also find sample student essays with detailed critiques so that students can see each example’s strengths and weaknesses.

This book also has scoring rubrics to help students gain an understanding of the requirements and make adjustments to their essays for a higher overall score. There are also detailed explanations for the multiple-choice parts of the test with answers thoroughly explained. Another unique feature is the chapter dedicated to understanding poetry and the terms a student might encounter.

This prep book also coaches students on analyzing literary novels for the exam and writing responses to questions about selected plays. The glossary of this book is also a helpful reference for literary and rhetorical terms.

Pros

  • Eight full practice tests and two diagnostic tests on the CD
  • Provides scoring rubrics for each of the practice tests
  • Sample essays by students come with critiques

Cons

  • Some sections are less engaging and personable

FAQ

There are a number of excellent AP English Literature prep books available, and our list of frequently asked questions can help you zero in on the one that will suit you best.

Should I select a book with more practice tests?

Many students find practice tests helpful for gaining experience with AP test-taking. It’s best to do practice tests under timed conditions as you will during the real exam, and these tests come with answer keys that provide explanations many students find enlightening.

In particular, the essay portion is a segment that many students struggle with, and the essay prompts provided in the prep books come with grading rubrics. These rubrics explain how an essay is scored and allows a student to grade their own essay to assess their skills.

What kind of book is best for a student that is short on time or dislikes studying?

Some prep books are structured differently than others, but if your student is short on time or isn’t a fan of studying for the AP exam, it’s best to choose a more concise course, like the Crash Course brand that addresses time management and delivers information more concisely.

Is an older version of an AP prep book still useful for studying?

An older version of a prep book will still prove useful for studying, particularly if it is only a year old. If you intend to use one of these books, it’s worth taking the time to review any changes to the exam since the book came out and alter your study program accordingly.


Conclusion

The best AP English Literature prep book can vary based on the needs of the student or educator, but most of them contain plenty of practice material and explanations that help increase test scores. These textbooks are often organized based on the sections of the exam, but some are organized differently and are more suitable for students who dislike studying or are short on time.

Before purchasing a book, it’s worth checking out the previews of the content available online to make sure you like how the material is structured. Some students will find specific prep books work better for them than others, and educators will find some books more useful as a reference guide.

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Brett Gordon
 

Founder of ExamCave.com