Analyzing and Interpreting Literature

What is literature? It is one of the oldest human inventions we still use. When literature rises to the level of art, it endures through time to teach us today. Whether drama, prose or poetry, the reader enters the worlds created by authors to understand the ideals, conflicts and values of their time.

The Analyzing and Interpreting Literature CLEP exam covers material learned in a one semester college course. The exam will test the student’s ability to understand and analyze a broad range of historical writings in poetry, drama, fiction and nonfiction taken from the Classical through modern eras. The exam will provide texts over which the student will answer questions. Earlier experience with the texts is not required. Students will need to have a basic understanding of literary terminology. The texts will be primarily drawn from British and American literature. Deep knowledge of authors and historical literary movements is not required.

The exam contains approximately 80 multiple choice questions to be answered in 90 minutes. Some of these are pretest questions that will not be scored. The College Board provides the parameters for the exam which we have listed below.

* An optional essay section can be taken in addition to the multiple choice section; however, SpeedyPrep cannot at this time prepare the student for the essay, but will prepare the student for the multiple-choice exam section.


  • Ability to read prose, poetry, and drama with understanding
  • Ability to analyze the elements of a literary passage and to respond to nuances of meaning, tone, imagery, and style
  • Ability to interpret metaphors, to recognize rhetorical and stylistic devices, to perceive relationships between parts and wholes, and to grasp a speaker’s or author’s attitudes
  • Knowledge of the means by which literary effects are achieved
  • Familiarity with the basic terminology used to discuss literary texts

The exam’s literary passages draw on British literature (50-65%), American Literature (40-45%) and Works in Translation (5-15%) The genres of the Analyzing and Interpreting Literature exam are outlined below.

POETRY: 35%-45% of the exam

  • A form of literature that uses aesthetic and rhythmic qualities of language.

PROSE: 35%-45% of the exam

  • A form of literature that exhibits a grammatical structure and a natural flow of speech; fiction and nonfiction.

DRAMA: 15%-30% of the exam

  • A mode of fictional composition in verse or prose presenting a story which contains conflict of characters, meant to be performed.

The exam covers literary works from these historical periods.


  • Works of Ancient Greece, the Golden and Silver Ages of Rome (1200 BCE-455CE) and continuing through the Medieval Period (455-1485CE)

RENAISSANCE, REFORMATION & 17th CENTURY: 20%-30% of the exam

  • Works from a period in Europe regarded as the cultural bridge between the Middle Ages and modern history (1485-1660 CE)

18th and 19th CENTURIES: 35%-45% of the exam

  • Writings encompassing what are broadly known as the Age of Enlightenment, the Romantic and Victorian eras (1660-1900 CE).

20th and 21st CENTURIES: 25%-35% of the exam

  • Works included are from Modernism (pre-WWII) Postmodernism (post WWII-present).

Each college sets their own credit-granting policies for the exam, so check with your college admissions office, test center, or academic adviser before taking the test.