Among the most popular AP courses, AP English Literature challenges students to read and interpret a wide range of imaginative works. The AP and Pre-AP courses invite students to explore a variety of genres and literary periods and to write clearly about the literature they encounter. On a daily basis, it asks them to read critically, think clearly, and write concisely. By the end of the course, students have cultivated a rich understanding of literary works and acquired a set of analytical skills they will use throughout their lives.
A Focus on Rhetoric
What makes Pre-AP English different from other high school English courses is its additional focus on rhetoric. In promoting writing in many contexts for a variety of purposes, the Pre-AP English course is the place where nonfiction texts and contexts take on an increased roll in the curriculum. Here students think deeply about language as a persuasive tool and about the dynamic relationship of writer, context, audience, and argument.
Reading and Writing from a Different Perspective
Pre-AP students need to adjust their perspective and build on their Critical Thinking skills/techniques when they take on the course. When we talk about familiar techniques of diction, syntax, imagery, and tone, we need to help students see how persuasive writers marshal these devises to the service of argument. When we talk about audience, we need to get students thinking about particular audiences and specific contexts for writing, rather than presuming a general audience as we usually do for literature.
This “finding of the argument” and “making of their own arguments” is often new for students, so the Pre-AP English course is designed to allow them time for reading, thinking, and writing. Reading time allows them to begin to recognize the various shapes and parts of an argument. Thinking time helps them explore issues, think about logical reasoning, and begin to understand appeals and rhetorical modes. Writing time provides them with the opportunity to work through the process of creating an argument.
There is neither a required reading list nor a required textbook for AP/Pre-AP English. Teachers are encouraged to select works of literary merit culled from a variety of genres and periods from the 16th century to the present. While students should have exposure to a variety of works, it is also important to make sure they get to know several works of literary merit in depth; this usually begins with roughly 5 pieces in Grade 9 and expanding to 7 for the Grade 12 AP course (includes summer reading list expectations).
Students will also devote a substantial portion of the class to poetry; not only can it be wonderfully rewarding to both teacher and students, but it can also be very useful test preparation: nearly half of the AP Exam includes questions about verse.
Who Should Take AP Literature, and Why?
It is important to recognize the power of an AP English class to challenge a wide range of students; however, the most important skill set necessary for Pre-AP English success is a strong motivation and the desire to work hard, as once a skill has been taught the students are expected to implement it independently. In addition, with an augmented reading list Pre-AP English students must be individually motivated to read and must not require coaxing from the teacher or parents to do so. Any apprehension by the students to complete the required readings on the structured timelines will result in them quickly being left behind.
All students who want to strengthen their analytical thinking, reading, and writing skills belong in Pre-AP English.