English Literature

Beginning with the Anglo Saxon epic poem Beowulf, English literature is one of the most prolific, varied and extensive literatures of the world. Western thought has been both shaped and defined by the prolific output from authors of the British Isles for 10 centuries.

And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.

    – William Shakespeare (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)

The English Literature CLEP exam covers the origins and development of British poetry, prose, and drama that is usually taught in a one semester college course. Primarily covering major authors and literary works, the CLEP exam also includes questions on some minor writers. Students will need knowledge of common literary terms and be able to identify basic literary forms.

The English Literature CLEP exam is organized historically, as a college course would be. Students should have read widely and be familiar England’s literary periods and have knowledge of the historical development of English Literature.

The exam contains approximately 95 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 may be taken in addition to the multiple-choice exam. Some schools may require the essay in order to accept the exam results. Please check with your school to know its essay requirement policy. SpeedyPrep prepares the student for the multiple-choice exam section. SpeedyPrep subscribers will need to use other sources to prepare for the essay.


The exam will require the student to read short passages of a work and then correctly identify its author and title. Questions regarding the types of literary devices an author used along with identifying their mood or intent are also a part of the exam.

KNOWLEDGE OF: 35%-40% of the exam

  • Literary background
  • Identification of authors (examples may include Shakespeare, Dickens, Chaucer, Austen, Blake and Milton)
  • Metrical patterns (refer to the way a poet creates rhythm; iambic, anapestic, trochaic, spondaic, and dactylic patterns)
  • Literary references (an author takes an idea, phrase, passage, character or other aspect of another author’s work and inserts it into his own; this reference is recognized as an influence, device or homage)
  • Literary terms/devices (allusion, diction, epigraph, euphemism, foreshadowing, imagery, metaphor, personification)

ABILITY TO: 60%-65% of the exam

  • Analyze the elements of form in a literary passage (first impressions, vocabulary and diction, discerning patterns, point of view and characterization, symbolism)
  • Perceive meanings (by examining the perception of the work one can establish a central pattern or design that orders the narrative and organization of any work)
  • Identify tone and mood (expressions of irony, sentiment, humor)
  • Follow patterns of imagery (draws on the five senses: taste, touch, sight, smell and sound; descriptive language that functions as a way for the reader to better imagine the world of the piece of literature)
  • Identify characteristics of style (examples are parallel constructions, antithesis, polarities, alliteration, internal rhymes)
  • Comprehend the reasoning in an excerpt of literary criticism (the art of judging and commenting on the qualities and character of literary works)

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.