Kate Sundquist 9 min read AP Guides, Standardized Tests

Ultimate Guide to the AP Spanish Literature and Culture Exam

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As you probably already know by this point in your high school career, Advanced Placement (AP) courses and exams are administered each year under the oversight of the College Board. The AP World Languages and Cultures program consists of eight different language and culture offerings, reflecting the College Board’s belief that in today’s global community, competence in more than one language is an essential part of communication and cultural understanding. The study of a foreign language, though primarily focused on communication within three modes (interpersonal, interpretive, and presentational) also incorporates access to cultural perspectives and knowledge accessible only through comprehension of the language itself.

Of the eight languages offered through the AP World Languages and Cultures program, Spanish is the most popular choice among students. It is so popular, in fact, that there are two different Spanish language offerings. AP Spanish Language and Culture is generally the most common choice, but AP Spanish Literature and Culture is another popular option, sometimes taken after AP Spanish Language and Culture, and other times taken independently of it. In 2016, over 175,000 AP Spanish exams were taken. AP Spanish Literature and Culture exams accounted for about 25,000 of these. If you’re interested in learning more about the AP Spanish Literature and Culture course and exam, read on. 

About the Exam

The AP Spanish Literature and Culture course takes a thematic approach to the introduction of representative texts (short stories, novels, poetry, and essays) from Peninsular Spanish, Latin American, and United States Hispanic literature. In this course, you will consider and critique a set of required readings in the context of their time and place, reflecting on the many voices and cultures presented.

While you can expect to develop proficiencies across the full range of the same modes of communication as the other AP language courses (interpersonal, presentational, and interpretive), you will also hone your critical reading and analytical writing skills. You will focus on cultural connections and comparisons, including exploration of various media (e.g., art, film, articles, and literary criticism). The College Board provides this and other foreign language offerings in support of its belief that the study of foreign languages and literature “provides students with access to cultural perspectives and knowledge, encourages them to make connections and comparisons between cultures and literary works, and helps them develop the ability to think critically.”

There are no formal prerequisites for the AP Spanish Literature and Culture course, but make no mistake — this is not an introductory course offering. You will need to have taken the equivalent of three years of high school level Spanish, or have significant exposure and experience with the language outside the classroom. You also might choose to take AP Spanish Language and Culture before the AP Spanish Literature and Culture course, as all texts are presented in Spanish.

The entire AP Spanish Literature and Culture exam is presented in Spanish, including all directions, prompts, questions, and texts. The exam lasts for three hours and contains two main sections. The first section is the multiple-choice section. This part of the exam consists of 65 questions, lasts for 80 minutes, and accounts for 50% of your score. The second part of the exam is the free-response section. This section contains four tasks, lasts for 100 minutes, and accounts for the remaining 50% of your exam.   

In 2016, the score split for the AP Spanish Literature and Culture exam formed a fairly even bell curve. 70% of students who took the exam received a score of three or higher, thereby technically passing the exam. While over 34% of test-takers achieved a score of three, only 8.8% achieved the top score of five. Similarly, only 7.6% of students who took the test received the lowest score of one. For more information about AP scores, head over to the CollegeVine’s post AP Exam Scores: All Your Questions Answered.

For a complete description of the course and exam, read the College Board’s official course description.

Step 1: Assess Your Knowledge

Before you can make a solid study plan, you’ll need to get a good idea of your starting point. To learn more about the importance of formative assessments and how you can use one to get your studying off on the right foot, check out the CollegeVine article What Is a Formative Assessment and Why Should I Use One to Study?

A full practice exam along with study materials can be found here. You can find additional practice questions in the course description, and more free-response questions can be found on AP Central.

Step 2: Study the Material    

The AP Spanish Literature and Culture exam is organized thematically around six primary themes. These are:    

  • Las sociedades en contacto (Societies in Contact)
  • La constucción del género (The Construction of Gender)
  • El tiempo y el espacio (Time and Space)
  • La creación literaria (Literary Creation)
  • Las relaciones interpersonales (Interpersonal Relationships)
  • La dualidad del ser (The Dual Nature of Being)

The themes are designed to promote the exploration of Spanish literature in a variety of contexts and to develop your ability to make cross-cultural and cross-textual connections. They are presented in the course alongside well-defined learning objectives. These learning objectives fall under two categories of specific goals: Communication, and Cultures, Connections, Comparisons, and Communities. 

The goals for Communication in this course specify that, like in all other AP World Language and Culture courses, you continue to develop your interpersonal, interpretive, and presentational communication skills. Specifically, interpersonal communication will build active negotiation of meaning among individuals, interpretive communication will emphasize the appropriate cultural interpretation of meanings that occur in written or spoken form, and presentational communication will include the creation of written or spoken messages in a manner that facilitates interpretation by an audience.

The goals for Cultures, Connections, Comparisons, and Communities include the acquisition of knowledge and understanding of the relationships between products, practices, and perspectives of the cultures studied in literary texts and through other media. In addition, you can expect to continue to develop language proficiency across a full range of language skills, with special attention paid to the specific language used in critical reading and analytical writing. AP Central provides a glossary of specific literary terms expected for proficiency on the exam.

While preparing for the exam, remember that you will be expected to have read and studied the required reading list. Keep in mind that the course requirements specify that only unabridged, full text, Spanish language versions of the required readings be used. You can use a sample syllabus and pacing guide to help guide your studying of the texts. 

Commercial study guides are a good choice for preparing for any standardized test, and the AP Spanish Literature and Culture exam is no different. Be certain, however, that whatever study guide you purchase is made for the AP Spanish Literature exam rather than the more common AP Spanish Language exam. A solid option is the Azulejo Anthology & Guide to the AP Spanish Literature Course, 2nd Edition, which contains materials for each of the required readings along with historical and cultural context insights.   

There are also many AP Spanish Literature and Culture study materials available online. Most have been developed by AP teachers or former AP students themselves. Check Quizlet to find numerous sets of ready-made vocabulary flashcards. You can also find study materials on a class website here and a blog with study materials here.

Step 3: Practice Multiple Choice Questions

The multiple-choice section of the AP Spanish Literature and Culture exam is similar to those of the other AP World Language and Culture exams in that it contains both a reading portion and an audio portion. The first part of the multiple-choice section is the listening portion. In this part of the exam, you will be asked to demonstrate your interpretive listening skills by responding to 15 questions that are grouped into three sets. Each set of questions refers to an authentic audio text related to course content. The audio texts include an interview with an author, a recited poem that is not from the required reading list, and a presentation on a literary topic. The interview and presentation are played once, and the poem is played twice, so be sure to listen carefully while they’re available.

In the next part of the multiple-choice section, you will display your ability to analyze text. This section contains 50 questions, grouped into six sets. You will be expected to respond to questions based on literary readings representing a variety of genres, periods, and places in the Spanish-speaking world. These literary readings include, but are not limited to, works from the required reading list.

To prepare for the multiple-choice section, your best bet is to practice actual multiple-choice questions. These can be found in a commercial study guide, the course description, or on a website with AP Spanish literature study resources

As you’re practicing, keep a running list of any vocabulary or concepts that are still difficult for you. This list will be important for your final review.

Step 4: Practice Free-Response Tasks

The free-response portion of your exam consists of four tasks, two of which are short answer and two of which essay questions. You may complete these tasks in any order. Because you are less likely to be rushed or tired at the beginning of this section, we here at CollegeVine recommend that you complete your essay questions first, as they are more heavily weighted in scoring. The essay questions appear at the end of the free-response section, but you can feel free to skip ahead to them.

One essay question will ask you to offer an analysis of a single text. You will be asked to read an excerpt from a text on the required reading list (or the whole work in the case of a short poem) and then analyze how the text represents the characteristics of a particular genre.  You’ll also need to give insights about the particular historical, cultural, or social context. Be sure to discuss relevant literary devices in the text and cite examples in support of your analysis.

The other essay question will ask you to compare two texts. You will read two excerpts related by theme, with one coming from the required reading list and the other from a text not on the list. Again, in the case of a short poem, the entire text will be included. In your essay, you should analyze the effectiveness of specific literary devices in developing the particular theme as indicated by the prompt. You will compare the theme’s presentation in each of the two works and cite examples from both texts to support your analysis.

It is recommended that you spend about 35 minutes on each of the essay questions. Keep in mind while writing that this section of the exam is your best opportunity to show off your knowledge of vocabulary specific to literary analysis. Review the Glossary of Literary Terms thoroughly to ensure success. Be sure to include specific quotes and cite line numbers in your responses.   

The short answer portion of your free-response section will include one text explanation and one text and art comparison. For the text explanation, you’ll read an excerpt from a text on the required reading list and be asked to identify the author and period of the text. You’ll also need to explain the development of a particular theme found in the excerpt, relating it to the whole work from which the excerpt is taken. Basically, this question is designed to test your knowledge of the required reading list, so make sure that you can identify each of the works on it, and provide some basic details about each one, including thematic information.

The text and art comparison also tests your knowledge of the required reading list, but more so relates directly to thematic knowledge. This question will present an excerpt or poem from the required reading list alongside an image of a piece of art. You will then compare how a particular theme is represented in both the text and the image, and connect the theme to the genre, period or movement of the text.

On the entire free-response section, keep in mind that the content of your response is valued above the language of your response. While specific vocabulary to describe literary devices and support literary analysis is definitely imperative on this section, don’t stress too much about exact grammar or specific vocabulary outside of the core glossary. Your score will be weighted 70% for content and 30% for language. 

As on the multiple-choice section, your best bet to prepare for the free-response section is to practice free-response prompts as much as possible. Luckily, there are many available. You can find every free-response question dating back to the 2012 exam available on AP Central. Be sure to review not only the free-response questions themselves, but also the scoring explanations, examples of authentic student responses, and detailed scoring criteria for each question.      

Step 5: Take Another Practice Test

It’s important to support your studying with consistent assessment. By assessing your knowledge throughout the studying process, you’ll be able to better focus your efforts. Take another practice test to identify areas that still need reinforcement.

Step 6: Exam Day Specifics

In 2017, the AP Spanish Literature and Culture Exam will take place on Tuesday, May 9 at 12 PM. A complete calendar of important AP dates is available here.

For complete registration instructions, check out CollegeVine’s How to Register for AP Exams (Even If You Didn’t Take the Class).

For information about what to bring to the exam, see CollegeVine’s What Should I Bring to My AP Exam (And What Should I Definitely Leave at Home)?

If you feel like you still need more help or you are not sure that you can do it on your own, look no further. For personalized AP tutoring, check out the CollegeVine Academic Tutoring Program, where students who are intimately familiar with the exam can help you ace it too, just like they did.     

For more about APs, check out these CollegeVine posts

Kate Sundquist
Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.