AP® Spanish Literature Exam Introduction
Preparing for the AP® exams can be a very stressful time. You’re probably gathering your school notes, asking past students for advice, and googling tips. If you’re taking the AP® Spanish Literature and Culture Exam (this is different than the AP® Spanish Language and Culture exam), look no further. We’re going to look at the layout of the exam, as well as go over the information you need to know to score a 5, and further study resources.
If you are taking the AP® Spanish Literature and Culture course, you’ve been preparing for this exam all year long. You may not even realize it, but each vocabulary list, listening exercise, and reading analysis have served a purpose. This exam can seem overwhelming, so we’re going to go over each part of the test and talk about ways you can succeed.
The exam will contain texts you’ve read in class from a specific reading list, as well as works you have never seen. Because works from class will show up on the exam, you should know the basics about each novel, essay, or poem (author, time period, themes). It’s advisable to take notes when you talk about each text in class: the professor will often spell out what you will need to know for the AP® exam.
Work: Don Quijote
Things to keep in mind about the work: by Miguel de Cervantes, takes place in Castilla de la Mancha, the main character is Don Quijote and travels with his friend Sancho Panza, was published in 17th century Spain, themes include constructions of reality, the power of literature, etc.
If you have not taken the course and are still planning on taking the exam, do not assume you can simply take the test without preparation. While you may not be enrolled in the class, the test prep should still be treated as a priority. You will have to put in extra work to obtain all of the texts on the reading list and analyze them using online resources. Here are the entire course and exam descriptions so you can follow along with the general pace of the class.
Before going over the exam, let’s talk about what the CollegeBoard expect from you. It’s important to keep these key concepts in mind. Think of these learning components as a checklist that should be completed by the end of the exam. You want to let the graders know you have grasped the following concepts.
A large part of the AP® Spanish Literature curriculum involves teaching students the 5 “Cs”: Communication, Cultures, Comparisons, Connections, and Communities, as well as Language Use to Support Literary Analysis. We’re going to go over these concepts and talk about how to give the graders exactly what they’re looking for.
Communication: This may be the most important topic in the AP® Spanish Literature study guide (and rightfully so). The creators of the exam say they are looking for three types of communication: interpersonal, interpretive, and presentational. Here’s exactly what they’re looking for:
- Use critical and literary terminology to discuss the texts (be specific)
- Identify stylistic tendencies of the author and analyze why he or she might use them
- Use supporting detail, including citations from text, to defend your thesis or main argument
- Explain the relationship between the text’s time period, genre, theme, character development, historical and cultural background
Cultures, Connections, Comparisons, Communities: All of these key words blend into one category. The idea is that you see the patterns between works and their cultures, works and other works with common themes or time periods, etc. Your understanding of these connections will really shine through during the free response section, but some multiple choice questions may be related to these topics. The AP® graders expect you to:
- Analyze how the author’s background and culture affect the writing process, or the outcome of a work
- Relate themes of the book to current day issues (these books tend to have universal themes)
- Use different lenses to analyze the text (historical, political, sociocultural)
- Use these connections to defend your argument when analyzing the text
Language Use in Support of Literary Analysis: This last part seems almost self-explanatory: they want you to use an appropriate level of language to get your point across. You will need to:
- Use the literary vocabulary that you have acquired in class to correctly analyze a piece of work.
- Show an overall command of Spanish grammar
Breaking Down the Exam
The exam is 3 hours and 10 minutes long. It consists of two sections with a 10-minute break in between. The exam will test your knowledge of the literature on the reading list, your use of literary terminology, and your ability to analyze literary works. You will also need to know how to craft an essay with an argument and be able to defend that thesis using the text sources.
The first section is 1 hour and 20 minutes and consists of two parts. There will be 65 multiple choice questions in total.
Interpretive Listening Questions: For this part of the exam, you will listen to three different audio excerpts: an interview with an author, the reading of a poem (not on the reading list), and a presentation of a literary work. Only the poem will be read twice, and there will be 15 questions in total. This section should take you about 20 minutes.
Tips for the Interpretive Listening Questions:
- Read the questions before you hear the audio: know exactly what you’re looking for. After you’ve read them, underline any important phrases presented in the questions.
- If you are between answers, try to use process of elimination to whittle down the options from 4 to 3 or 2.
Reading Analysis Questions: You will have to answer 50 questions about six different passages. Some of the excerpts will be from the required reading lists, and others will not be. You should try to carve out an hour for this section.
Tips for the Reading Analysis Questions:
- First, start with the passages that you are not familiar with since they will probably take you more time.
- Take note of how the exam introduces the text. Sometimes it will include the time period which can be important.
- Read the questions first, then go back to the text to find keywords.
After the first section, you’ll have a 10-minute break. This might seem kind of ridiculous, but we actually have tips on how to make the most of the 10 minutes.
DO: Get up and walk around. It’s important to increase circulation and shake off some of the tension.
DO NOT: Spend the 10 minutes focusing on the part of the exam you just completed.
DO: Eat a small snack. You’ll want to replenish your energy because the longest section of the exam has yet to come.
DO NOT: Talk with other students about the exam. Not only is this against AP® rules, but it does not give you the opportunity to refresh your mindset for the next portion.
The second section of the exam involves four free response questions and is 1 hour and 40 minutes long. For this section of the exam, you will have to answer questions based on the required reading list, as well as analyze texts that are not on the list. There are two shorter questions and two fuller essays.
Text Explanation (Short Answer): For the first short answer question, the exam will give you an excerpt of a text on your required reading list, and you will have to identify it as well as talk about the presented theme, and how it relates to the overall work. AP® suggests you spend 15 minutes on this section.
Tips for the Text Explanation:
- You should be able to identify the text by looking for character names, a setting, the dialect or use of language, or a recognizable theme.
- You should include the title of the work, its author, and the time period it is from. The more information you can give about the book, the better off you will be.
Text and Art Comparison (Short Answer): As you can probably figure out, this question involves comparing one text from the required reading list with a piece of art. The art could be a painting, sculpture, a photograph, etc. You will need to talk about how the two are similar. They could come from the same time period, represent the same theme, represent a certain genre or movement, etc. The creators of the exam suggest that you take 15 minutes to complete this question.
Tips for the Text and Art Comparison:
- Take a minute to take in the work of art, looking at all of the detail, color, and possible movement it represents. You may not have seen it before, or you may have looked over similar works in class.
- Look at the time period of both pieces. If they are similar, they may have a common theme having to do with the culture or historical events of the time.
Analysis of a Single Text (Essay): For this section of the exam, you will read an excerpt from one work on the required reading list. You will have to argue why this text represents its genre, time period, cultural background, etc. You should allow 35 minutes to complete this section.
Tips for the Single Text Essay:
- Use quotes from the given text to prove your point. Remember to review the punctuation rules with introducing quotes.
- Include as much information as possible about the text. It is important to show the people grading the test that you are knowledgeable about the text.
Text Comparison (Essay): The final question of the exam will ask you to compare two texts, one from the required reading list, and one you have not seen before. They will have similar themes, and you will need to discuss how the authors used literary devices to portray the theme. You should spend about 35 minutes on this question.
Tips for the Text Comparison Essay:
- Make an outline to decide how you’re going to organize the exam.
Things to Remember About the Exam
- You cannot bring a dictionary into the exam. This is probably the biggest difference between your in-class work and the exam.
- The exam is graded by 70% content and 30% language. This means they don’t expect you to have perfect grammar: having legitimate literary commentary is more important than the placement of a direct object.
- While students who receive a 3 or above are considered “passing,” some universities require a 4 or even a 5 to receive credit.
How to Ace the Exam
A night of cramming is not going to successfully prepare you for the exam. In fact, you should be prepared well before the night of the exam. Follow these study tips to stay on track for the 5:
- Keep your notes on the literary works. As we mentioned earlier, you will not know which pieces will show up on the exam, but at least two will. Having background information will help you give a detailed analysis of the work.
- Familiarize yourself with the vocabulary list (below). These are the keywords you’re expected to know how to apply to a literary text.
- Seek out opportunities to use Spanish outside of the classroom. By practicing your language speaking as much as possible, you’re getting better without even realizing it.
- Look over the grammar rules you know you’re “iffy” on. You might be great at subjunctive, but forget some of the conjugations of irregular verbs. By brushing up on those skills, you’ll be presenting a well-rounded exam.
- Get a good night’s sleep the night before the exam.
Content to Know
We’ve already talked about being familiar with the required readings, but there are a few more things you’ll need to know.
1 . Basic Grammar. Here are a few things you should review.
a. Verb conjugation for past, present, future tenses, as well as perfect aspect
b. When to use subjunctive vs. indicative
c. When to use imperfect (hablaba) vs. preterite (habló)
d. Direct and indirect pronouns, and their placements
e. Punctuation, especially since you will have to use quotations to cite examples from texts. Here’s a quick overview of the basics.
2. Elevated Vocabulary. The people who grade the exam are expecting you to use a sophisticated literary vocabulary when giving an analysis.
a.Here is a list of terms they suggest using, and give you contexts in which to use each word or phrase. Do not feel obligated to use all of them, just know the key ones. These are the ones we definitely suggest knowing: género, personajes, narrativa, novela, autor, tema
3. Essay Writing. The entire second section of the exam is based on your ability to write coherent essays in Spanish.
a. Just like in any other essay, it’s important to have a good layout, with an introductory and concluding paragraph. Make sure the thesis is clearly stated in the introduction.
b. Smooth transitions are key. Here’s a list of transition phrases and in which context they should be used. Remember, some of them require the subjunctive.
Luckily, the creators of the AP® class and exam have underlined the course themes. If you’ve been paying attention in class, you’ve definitely heard these before. For the essay section of the exam, it will be your job to prove how excerpts of a text represent the theme, or how the author crafts said theme.
The first theme is “Sociedades en contacto” and consists of concepts such as: la asimilación y la marginación, la diversidad, las divisiones socioeconómicos, el imperialismo, and el nacionalismo y el regionalismo.
You will need to discuss how culture affects the telling of a historical event, how minority cultures deal with a majority (how do they protect their cultures and how have they assimilated), and how literary works illustrate the combination (and occasional clashing) of different sociocultural groups.
- El imperialismo= Imperialism
- La Minoría/mayoría= Minority/majority
- La Asimilación= Assimilation
- Conservar la cultura= To protect the culture
Readings that represent the theme:
- Lazarillo de Tormes by Anonymous
- El hombre que se convirtió en perro by Dragún
- “Segunda carta de relación” by Cortés
- Visión de los vencidos by León-Portilla
- “Nuestra América” by Martí
- “A Roosevelt” by Darío
The second theme is “La construcción del género” and has to do with: el machismo, las relaciones sociales, el sistema patriarcal, la sexualidad, la tradición y la ruptura.
You will need to understand the different ways the literature portrays and discusses masculinity and femininity, how sociocultural factors affect the changes or lack of changes in gender representation, and how the feminine perspective has changed throughout literature. Sexism tends to be very prevalent in the Spanish-speaking culture and is a common theme of literature. Be aware of how traditional gender roles are portrayed (or rebelled against) in the writings.
- El machismo= Sexism
- El feminismo= Feminism
- El género= Gender
Readings that represent the theme:
- “Las medias rojas” by Bazán
- “A Julia de Burgos” by Burgos
- “Mujer negra” by Morejón
- “Dos palabras” by Allende
- “Hombres necios que acusáis” by Juana
- “Peso ancestral” by Storni
The third theme is “El tiempo y el espacio” and deals with concepts such as: El carpe diem y el momento mori, el individuo en su entorno, la naturaleza y el ambiente, la relación entre el tiempo y el espacio, el tiempo lineal y el tiempo circular, la trayectoria y la transformación.
You will need to understand how the different cultures represented in the works understand time and space, how the authors use time and space to create different emotions, how time and space is construed in literature.
- La construcción de tiempo/espacio= Construction of time/space
- Cronológico= Chronological
- La época= Age or time period
The readings that represent this theme are:
- “Miré los muros de patria mía” by Quevedo
- “He andado muchos caminos” by Machado
- “Walking around” by Neruda
- Soneto XXIII “En tanto que de rosa y azucena” by Garcilaso
- Soneto CLXVI “Mientras por competir con tu cabello” by Góngora
- Rima LIII “Volverán las oscuras golondrinas” by Bécquer
The fourth theme is “Las relaciones personales” and revolves around ideas such as: la amistad y la hostilidad, el amor y el desprecio, la comunicación o la falta de comunicación, el individuo y la comunidad, las relaciones de poder, las relaciones familiares.
You will need to analyze how the protagonist changes throughout the book concerning his or her relationships, how characters improve or worsen the welfare of the family or community, and how the sociocultural context affects the overall development of relationships.
- Desarrollar= To develop
- El bienestar= Welfare
- Confiar= To trust
The readings that best represent this theme are:
- “El hijo” by Quiroga
- “No oyes ladrar los perros” by Rulfo
- La casa de Bernarda Alba by García Lorca
- …y no se lo tragó la tierra by Rivera
The fifth theme is “La dualidad del ser” and involves subjects such as: la construcción de la realidad, la espiritualidad y la religión, la imagen pública y la imagen privada, la introspección, el ser y la creación literaria.
You will need to be versed on how literature presents reality and fantasy, how social, cultural, or historical contexts affect the expression of the individual, and how the author and characters view life as a result of their personal beliefs.
- La identidad= Identity
- El ser= Self
- El alma= Soul
- La perspectiva= Perspective
The readings that best represent this theme are:
- “Borges y yo” by Borges
- San Manuel Bueno, mártir by Unamuno
- Don Quijote by de Cervantes
- “La noche boca arriba” by Cortázar
- “El ahogado más hermoso del mundo” by García Márquez
The sixth and final theme is “La creación literaria” and includes ideas such as: la intertextualidad, la literatura autoconsciente, el proceso creativo, el texto y sus contextos.
You will need to be prepared to know what motivates authors to write their works, how intertextuality contributes to the meaning of a work, and how the reader’s experience becomes a part of the work.
- La creatividad= Creativity
- Una alusión= An allusion
Texts that can be applied to this theme:
- Conde Lucanor by Manuel
- Lazarillo de Tormes by Anonymous
- “Borges y yo” by Borges
- Don Quijote by Cervantes
Now that we’ve gone through the exam, talked about what you need to know, and how you can prove your knowledge, it’s important to start studying. We cannot stress this enough: don’t leave it until last minute.
CollegeBoard Study Materials
These are the free response questions from the past exams. While they are unlikely to use the same question, you can get an idea about the types of questions they will ask, and how they will incorporate the texts into the questions.
Here you can see how past students answered the free response questions. You will get to see how each response was graded, and why they received each grade. Take a look at the answers that received the highest scores and see what you can learn from each one.
These are tips directly from the CollegeBoard.
This page gives you practice exams, from essay questions to listening activities. By practicing the listening section, you will become accustomed to the format of the questions.
Albert.io Study Materials
Here is a guide from our website that breaks down the required reading list by themes. There are questions on each text to refresh your memory about the basic concepts.
Here you can answer questions about each text. The texts are broken down by each theme (as you saw above) and include helpful information about the author’s intent, tone, and other literary devices.
This page quizzes you on the terminology used throughout and the course. This format allows you to use flashcards or spell out the terms.
Setting Good Study Habits
Because these tests can save you both time and money, we see studying and preparing for them as an investment. By devoting time to studying for the exam (at least a few months in advance) you will be doing yourself a favor.
We suggest taking time at the end of each week to review what you went over in class. If you have a digital copy, print out whatever reading you studied and underline any important quotes that pertain to the theme, tone, time period, or cultural components. Start to make flashcards of any of the new words you learned, whether they are from the literary terminology list, or vocabulary from the reading.
After completing a writing assignment, review the teacher’s comments about what you did well and what you struggled with. This doesn’t have to be a two-hour process, just make mental notes about what you need to improve next time you write.
A few months before the exam, start going over the study materials to gauge your overall knowledge of the texts and terminology. By keeping track of what you excel in, and what you struggle in, you will know what you need to spend more time studying.
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