AP English Literature and Composition: 2021 Results
The following data reflect the 297,009 students worldwide who took either the paper or the digital AP English Literature Exam in May. Data from students who tested in June are not yet available.
AP English Literature score distributions, 2021 vs. 2019
The following table enables comparisons of student performance in 2021 to student performance on the comparable full-length exam prior to the covid-19 pandemic:
Of these 297,009 students, 3 achieved a perfect score from all professors/readers on all essays and correctly answered every multiple-choice question, resulting in the rare and impressive feat of earning all 120 of 120 points possible on an AP English Literature Exam.
Identities of the 2021 AP English Literature Exams’ Cited Authors
Across the exam versions administered in 2021, 45% of the cited texts’ authors identified as non-white, 54% of the authors identified as female:
|US Census Category||Authors within the 2021 Exams|
|Asian (5.9%)||26 (7.7%)|
|Black (13.4%)||85 (25.2%)|
|Latinx (18.5%)||30 (8.9%)|
|Indigenous (1.5%)||12 (3.6%)|
|White (60.1%)||184 (54.6%)|
|Female (50.8%)||182 (54%)|
|Male (49.2%)||155 (46%)|
The May 5 In-School Paper Exam
The largest exam date for AP English Literature was May 5, so the following information is specific to the exam version administered on that date.
Students scored significantly higher on the multiple-choice section than on their essays, which continue to limit the percentage of exams achieving scores of 3 or higher.
Big Ideas and Skills:
- Students scored exceptionally well on questions asking them to analyze character or setting (Big Ideas 1 and 2), or to recognize the function of a particular character (Skill category 1). Students’ abilities on such questions are sky high, a real testament to the ways teachers have helped students practice and become proficient at analyzing details about characters in texts
- Students also scored very well on questions asking them about figurative language (Big Idea 5), or about the function of word choice, imagery, and symbols (Skill Category 5).
- On questions about the function of comparison (Skill Category 6), it’s clear that many students have mastered this skill; a whopping 16% answered all of these questions correctly.
- The one Big Idea and Skill Category that lags significantly behind the others, and that would boost scores quite a bit if students could get this skill to the same level as their others, is the ability to recognize how a narrator’s or speaker’s perspective controls a text’s details and emphases (Big Idea 4); students scored significantly lower on questions about Skill Category 4, the function of the narrator or speaker, than on other skill categories.
- As is usual, students scored lower on multiple-choice questions about poetry than prose.
This is the first year I’ve ever seen the poetry analysis essay receive the highest scores of any of the 3 essays, outpacing the prose analysis essay and, even more surprisingly, the “reader’s choice” literary argument essay. That said, the performance differences are very narrow, indicating that students had developed very similar levels of proficiency this year across these various modes of analysis and explication. So despite all the other challenges of 2020-21, poetry did not take its usual backseat to prose in student essay performance this year. Nice work.
- 85% of students earned the thesis point
- 98% of students earned one or more of the evidence/commentary points
- 7% of students earned the sophistication point
- 90% of students earned the thesis point
- 93% of students earned one or more of the evidence/commentary points
- 6% of students earned the sophistication point
- 79% of students earned the thesis point
- 95% of students were able to earn one or more of the evidence/commentary points
- 5% of students earned the sophistication point
The May 18 Digital Exams
To support student access, different testing modes—paper and digital—were essential. To protect exam security, many different exam versions were necessary. Accordingly, to provide students with similar opportunities for success regardless of which version they took, each version of the exam had to be analyzed separately by psychometricians to identify its unique difficulty level so that standards for scores of 3, 4, and 5 could then be separately identified for each exam version. Analyses focused on:
- Differences in the testing mode (paper or digital). For sections of the exam that proved easier to take digitally, the digital versions require more points for each AP score. For sections of the exam that proved easier to take on paper, the paper exam requires more points for each AP score.
- Differences in the difficulty of specific questions. When exam questions prove easier, more points are required for each AP score, and when exam questions prove more difficult, fewer points are required on one version than another.
- The net result for this year’s AP English Literature Exams is that out of 120 points possible, the digital exams proved slightly easier than the paper, so to adjust for that variation in difficulty:
- To receive a 5 on the digital versions, students needed to earn 1–5 more points (depending on the difficulty of the version) than students who took the paper exam.
- To receive a 4 on the digital versions, students needed to earn 2–6 more points (depending on the difficulty of the version) than students who took the paper exam.
- To receive a 3 on the digital versions, students needed to earn 0–6 more points (depending on the difficulty of the version) than students who took the paper exam.