Posted in CLEP

The Easiest CLEP?

If you haven’t heard it yet, there is a pervasive myth that Analyzing and Interpreting Literature is “the easiest CLEP” and “passable with no study.” In this post, I’d like to explore what makes this CLEP “the easiest” for many students, and an unexpected “nightmare” for others.

Official Analyzing and Interpreting Literature CLEP Page

Unlike many other CLEP exams, this exam doesn’t have to follow a semester or year-long course.  Instead, this exam is a literature comprehension exam and must be attempted only by those with strong reading ability and endurance.  If you choose to offer a literature course for your teen (American Literature and English Literature both also offer CLEP exams) this exam fits in well.  Unlike the American or English Literature CLEPs, this exam requires no recall of specific works or authors – just reading.  This exam is worth 3 college credits.

NOTE:  This exam used to be worth 6 credits.  If you took this exam prior to Feb 28, 2015, your college may honor the old assessment and award 6 credits.  Exams taken from March 1, 2015-current are valued at only 3 credits. 

Already confused? watch my “What is CLEP?” video

What is analyzing and interpreting literature?  It is the academic process of breaking down a piece of poetry or prose into components and using critical thinking to understand their meaning. 

cautionThis CLEP at home -vs- COLLEGE ENROLLMENT

A basic undergraduate literature course will usually expose the student to both classic and contemporary literature.  The scope will include poetry, drama, fiction, and nonfiction.  In college courses like this, professors often require an “Anthology” book instead of a textbook or whole pieces of literature.  Passages about slavery, politics, romance, and history are likely to be included in most literary anthologies.  Courses in literature will almost always involve extensive discussion and often some type of controversy.  Additionally, a college literature course generally requires a lot of writing. College courses are based on the premise that the attendees are adults, so no consideration is given to your teen’s age.    Choosing a “more conservative” or “more liberal” college doesn’t assure that the teacher’s opinions will match yours.   All things being equal, I like this subject as a CLEP exam instead of a college / dual enrollment course for teens that have read extensively.  

If you want simple:  use this exam after or alongside a regular high school literature curriculum (or following several years of reading widely).  Test prep for this exam can be done in a couple days because the bulk of the content is simply reading comprehension.  There are a few literary terms your teen should become familiar with.  More on that later.   In our home, I consistently use a layering technique to teach my children subjects that will also be part of a CLEP exam.  This exam, however, is a little different.  The best approach here is just to wait. Wait until they read well.  I put a video on youtube explaining how to layer resources.

For the curious, my husband and I took this exam in March 2007.  My score was 59, his was 50.  I liked this exam, but he hated it!  -Jennifer Cook DeRosa

The Easiest CLEP

When I started preparing for this exam in 2007, I read time and again that I didn’t need to study- it was by far the “easiest CLEP” ever, and that “everyone” passes.  I spent a little bit of time googling literary terms (they’ll be included at the bottom for your reference) and I grabbed my husband to join me.  (Afterall, everyone passes!)  The multiple choice exam asks 80 questions in 90 minutes.  The kicker is that you’ll have to read a long passage and then answer a handful of questions about the passage.  The “easy” part here is that you don’t have to have preexisting knowledge about the works on the test.  They won’t ask you who the main character of Such-and-Such was, or who wrote a particular novel.  In short, you can walk in cold.

When you read a passage and understand it well,  you’ll probably do great on the questions that follow.  Each test is random so you may end up with “easier” passages, like those from Huckleberry Finn or Emily Dickenson.  Lucky you!  Now, the problem comes when the passage is extra long, extra technical, extra wordy, or just extra “old-fashioned.”  The problem, is now you’re faced with a handful of questions you probably won’t get right.  If your version of the exam has 12 long passages and you only really understood 4 of them, it’s not going to turn out well for you.   You really need to understand most of your passages and answer most of the questions correctly.  (It’s also possible to understand the passage and miss questions, but we’ll hope that’s not the case!)

What kind of passages?

Francis Bacon. (1561–1626). Essays, Civil and Moral.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.

“He that hath wife and children hath given hostages to fortune; for they are impediments to great enterprises, either of virtue or mischief. Certainly the best works, and of greatest merit for the public, have proceeded from the unmarried or childless men; which both in affection and means have married and endowed the public. Yet it were great reason that those that have children should have greatest care of future times; unto which they know they must transmit their dearest pledges. Some there are, who though they lead a single life, yet their thoughts do end with themselves, and account future times impertinences. 1Nay, there are some other that account wife and children but as bills of charges. Nay more, there are some foolish rich covetous men, that take a pride in having no children, because they may be thought so much the richer. For perhaps they have heard some talk, Such an one is a great rich man, and another except to it, Yea, but he hath a great charge of children; as if it were an abatement to his riches. But the most ordinary cause of a single life is liberty, especially in certain self-pleasing and humorous 2 minds, which are so sensible of every restraint, as they will go near to think their girdles and garters to be bonds and shackles. Unmarried men are best friends, best masters, best servants; but not always best subjects; for they are light to run away; and almost all fugitives are of that condition. A single life doth well with churchmen; for charity will hardly water the ground where it must first fill a pool. It is indifferent for judges and magistrates; for if they be facile and corrupt, you shall have a servant five times worse than a wife. For soldiers, I find the generals commonly in their hortatives put men in mind of their wives and children; and I think the despising of marriage amongst the Turks maketh the vulgar soldier more base. Certainly wife and children are a kind of discipline of humanity; and single men, though they may be many times more charitable, because their means are less exhaust, yet, on the other side, they are more cruel and hardhearted (good to make severe inquisitors), because their tenderness is not so oft called upon. Grave natures, led by custom, and therefore constant, are commonly loving husbands, as was said of Ulysses, vetulam suam prætulit immortalitati [he preferred his old wife to immortality]. Chaste women are often proud and froward, as presuming upon the merit of their chastity. It is one of the best bonds both of chastity and obedience in the wife, if she think her husband wise; which she will never do if she find him jealous. Wives are young men’s mistresses; companions for middle age; and old men’s nurses. So as a man may have a quarrel 3 to marry when he will. But yet he 4 was reputed one of the wise men, that made answer to the question, when a man should marry,—A young man not yet, an elder man not at all. It is often seen that bad husbands have very good wives; whether it be that it raiseth the price of their husband’s kindness when it comes; or that the wives take a pride in their patience. But this never fails, if the bad husbands were of their own choosing, against their friends’ consent; for then they will be sure to make good their own folly.”

Are you exhausted?  Was that ok?  How would your teen do with that?  Is the essay content too mature?  This passage is a good representation of this exam.  If your teen hasn’t read classic literature, this exam will give him trouble.   If your teen is a slow reader, this exam will give him trouble.  If your teen zones out after a half hour of hard reading, this exam will give him trouble.  This exam asks 80 questions and allows 90 minutes.   If 1/2 – 3/4 that time is spent reading, they’re left with only about 15-20 seconds per question.

When I took this exam, I felt my mind starting to wander somewhere around the first hour.  It took a lot of focus to get through the last questions, and toward the end, I was simply “pushing through and hoping for the best.”  My husband’s experience with this CLEP exam was enough of a turn off that he didn’t want to attempt any others after this one.  He told me his last 20 or so questions were all marked “B” because it seemed like a good choice- he just wanted to get through it.   My 17-year-old son took this exam and hated it (but passed) and told me it was exhausting.

As to not discourage you, others find this exam really enjoyable!  I’ve asked our Minnesota Homeschooling for College Credit group leader Jenny Bergren to share some words about her daughter’s experience with this exam.  She took it a couple months back and had a great experience.

My daughter just took and passed her first CLEP- Analyzing and Interpreting Literature. She got a 65 and found it to be easy. She even finished 25 minutes early. 

Regarding her daughter’s background:

She’s my reader and poetry writer. I expected it to be easy for her because this subject is her strength. She already knew how to understand and analyze literature before she started studying. She does it for fun!   

Regarding her daughter’s prep for the exam:

She went through the Modern States course to get the free voucher but the only thing she learned was a few terms. She did say the practice tests were a lot harder than the real test. She scored abysmally on the second practice test (29 right out of 80?).

How it went:

I told her not to worry because I’m taking her to Chick-fil-A whether she passes or not. 😉 She wouldn’t talk about what was on the test specifically because she said you have to agree not to. But she did say she enjoyed the passages that she read.

Anything else?

When I asked her what was the most helpful in preparing for the test she said the chapter in your book regarding taking a test. She was so glad that she had read the part about not canceling the test score because they ask you repeatedly. Not that she wanted to. But when they ask you more than once it makes you feel like you are doing something wrong!

Thanks for that feedback Jenny!

Is this the easiest exam? 

About 75% of those who take it WILL PASS.

Analyzing and Interpreting Literature


The Analyzing and Interpreting Literature exam covers material usually taught in a general undergraduate course in literature. Although the exam does not require familiarity with specific works, it does assume that test takers have read widely and perceptively in poetry, drama, fiction, and nonfiction. The questions are based on passages supplied in the test. These passages have been selected so that no previous experience with them is required to answer the questions. The passages are taken primarily from American and British literature.

The exam contains approximately 80 multiple-choice questions to be answered in 98 minutes. Some of these are pretest questions that will not be scored. Any time test takers spend taking tutorials and providing personal information is added to actual testing time.

An optional essay section can be taken in addition to the multiple-choice test. The essay section requires that two essays be written during a total time of 90 minutes. For the first essay, candidates are asked to analyze a short poem. For the second essay, candidates are asked to apply a generalization about literature (such as the function of a theme or a technique) to a novel, short story, or play that they have read.

Candidates are expected to write well-organized essays in clear and precise prose. The essay section is scored by faculty at the institution that requests it and is still administered in paper-and-pencil format. There is an additional fee for taking this section, payable to the institution that administers the exam.

Knowledge and Skills Required

Questions on the Analyzing and Interpreting Literature exam require test takers to demonstrate the following abilities.

  • 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 emphasizes comprehension, interpretation, and analysis of literary works. A specific knowledge of historical context (authors and movements) is not required, but a broad knowledge of literature gained through reading widely and a familiarity with basic literary terminology is assumed. The following outline indicates the relative emphasis given to the various types of literature and the periods from which the passages are taken. The approximate percentage of exam questions per classification is noted within each main category.


35%–45% Poetry
35%–45% Prose (fiction and nonfiction)
15%–30% Drama

National Tradition

50%–65% British Literature
30%–45% American Literature
5%–15% Works in translation


3%–7% Classical and pre-Renaissance
20%–30% Renaissance and 17th Century
35%–45% 18th and 19th Centuries
25%–35% 20th and 21st Centuries

Score Information

Credit-Granting Score for Analyzing and Interpreting Literature

ACE Recommended Score*: 50
Semester Hours: 3

Each institution reserves the right to set its own credit-granting policy, which may differ from that of ACE. Contact your college as soon as possible to find out the score it requires to grant credit, the number of credit hours granted, and the course(s) that can be bypassed with a satisfactory score.

*The American Council on Education’s College Credit Recommendation Service (ACE CREDIT) has evaluated CLEP processes and procedures for developing, administering, and scoring the exams. The score listed above is equivalent to a grade of C in the corresponding course. The American Council on Education, the major coordinating body for all the nation’s higher education institutions, seeks to provide leadership and a unifying voice on key higher education issues and to influence public policy through advocacy, research, and program initiatives. Visit the ACE CREDIT website for more information.

Study Resources for Learning to Read Literature

The most relevant preparation for the Analyzing and Interpreting Literature exam is attentive and reflective reading of the various literary genres of poetry, drama, and prose.

You can prepare for the exam by:

  • Reading a variety of poetry, drama, fiction, and nonfiction
  • Reading critical analyses of various literary works
  • Writing analyses and interpretations of the works you read
  • Discussing with others the meaning of the literature you read

K12 Curriculum

When I taught my own teens how to analyze literature, some of it was organic and spontaneous, but I really enjoyed the way Teaching the Classics (IEW – Adam and Missy Andrews) gave me tools to facilitate analysis in a homeschool setting.  If you use their product, you’ll want the DVD and workbook, but you can use it with all your children.


Textbooks and anthologies used for college courses in the analysis and interpretation of literature contain a sampling of literary works in a variety of genres. They also contain material that can help you comprehend the meanings of literary works and recognize the devices writers use to convey their sense and intent. To prepare for the exam, you should study the contents of at least one textbook or anthology, which you can find in most college bookstores. You would do well to consult two or three texts because they do vary somewhat in content, approach, and emphases.

A recent survey conducted by CLEP found that the following textbooks (first author listed only) are among those used by college faculty who teach the equivalent course. You might find one or more of these online or at your local college bookstore. HINT: Look at the table of contents first to make sure it matches the knowledge and skills required for this exam.

Abcarian, Literature: The Human Experience (Bedford/St. Martin’s)
Arp and Johnson, Perrine’s Literature: Structure, Sound, and Sense (W.W. Norton)
Booth, Norton Introduction to Literature (W.W. Norton)
DiYanni, Literature: Approaches to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama (McGraw-Hill)

Literature Resources:

Luminarium Anthology of English Literature Great Books Online
Voice of the Shuttle Literature (in English)

Online Classes:

A fully online free course offered by Harvard via the edX partnership Modern Masterpieces of World Literature  (they have others too, even for poetry!) has a CLEP Analyzing and Interpreting course.  Homeschool Buyer’s CO-OP just added a 3-month subscription option (you used to have to buy a whole year if you wanted a discount) that is 25% off.

The Great Courses Plus  (think: Netflix for streaming educational content) has a number of literature courses, but the one you’ll want to look at is called Life Lessons from The Great Books.  They spend a great deal of time analyzing and interpreting the type of literature on this exam!  (First month is usually free)

 Free online CLEP course by Modern States Education Alliance    Modern States is a free online class with little checkpoints after each lesson.  If you complete their entire course, they will give you a voucher to take a FREE CLEP EXAM.  We have had dozens of parents report back to me that they’ve done this with MULTIPLE exams, not just one, and one mom even told me they paid her proctoring fee!  We don’t know when this program offer will expire, but until then, get your free exam! 

After Learning to Read Literature….Test Prep

For test prep and practice tests:  The best CLEP prep book on the market for this exam is the  REA Analyzing and Interpreting Literature.  You’ll notice I linked you to the older version- you can pick it up for about $4 on Amazon, and it has much better reviews!  You *can get a new version too (about $30), since both include practice tests in the back that explain “why” an answer is right or wrong, I HIGHLY recommend it in one form or another.  You can also check your local library!

Literature Guides:

(Secular) Sparks Notes are a modern version of the old yellow and black CliffsNotes.  You’ll be impressed with their catalog of about a zillion titles – also quizzes, essays, and everything you need to analyze any major literary work.  Did I mention these are free?

(Christian) Progeny Literature Guides are also like Cliffs Notes but from a Christian worldview.  Homeschool Buyer’s CO-OP has 30% off sale for members (free to become a member) and flat $5 shipping.  They sell the guides in 3-pack bundles. These are available electronically or paperback (am I the only one that still loves paper!?). For a sense of scope, a 3-pack would cover 3 books, consistent with 1 semester of high school.

Literary Terms:

This exam slips in literary terms that your teen needs to be aware of.  For instance, they might ask about a story’s mood or tone.  They might ask which passage best-demonstrated satire or foreshadowing.  I suggest using flashcards to memorize the vocabulary.  You don’t need to learn hundreds of terms, but the popular terms will certainly appear.

Cyber English literary terms page has the best free list I’ve seen in a while!

InstantCert has an online flashcard study program and a Specific Exam Resource file where members share feedback about the exam in real time.  Use code 100150 to get $5 off the $20 cost.

A fully online free course offered by Harvard via the edX partnership Modern Masterpieces of World Literature  (they have others too, even for poetry!)

The Great Courses Plus  (think: Netflix for streaming educational content) has a number of literature courses, but the one you’ll want to look at is called Life Lessons from The Great Books.  They spend a great deal of time analyzing and interpreting the type of literature on this exam!  (First month is usually free)

Not Shmoop

If you’re looking for more opportunities to earn college credit studying literature, you’re going to stumble upon Shmoop.  They have several ACE CREDIT® recommended literature courses.  I bring this up because besides the 3 CLEP literature exams (American, English, Analyzing and Interpreting Literature) no one has more college credit options for literature than Shmoop, and it’s a popular recommendation in the very large college credit forum Instantcert.  However, Shmoop is having small problems that may indicate bigger problems for their brand.   On 5/4/2018 Thomas Edison State College announced that they will no longer accept Shmoop courses. This is noteworthy because Thomas Edison is used by many members here, and TESU generally accepts *all* companies that are ACE evaluated for credit.  Later, on 5/23/2018, Shmoop sent out emails to those sites that are affiliated with their college credit programs to stop distributing links.  As such, to protect our members here, we won’t be linking you to this program, despite it holding ACE status at the time of this post.  My recommendation is to choose a different brand until such time that they’ve gotten approval full and clear.

  • American Literature
  • Classical Literature
  • Foundations of Literature
  • Literature in the Media
  • Shakespeare’s Plays
  • Women’s Literature
  • The Bible as Literature
  • Contemporary Literature
  • Holocaust Literature
  • Introduction to Poetry
  • Modernist Literature
  • Victorian Literature
  • British Literature
  • Drugs in Literature
  • Introduction to Drama
  • Literature 101
  • Shakespeare in Context
  • Western Literature

book boy

One thought on “The Easiest CLEP?

  1. You are spot on with this one. Only 3 of my kids attempted this. Two of them did well, while one of my daughters failed it the first time and had to retake it. She didn’t recommend it for her brother who hates reading, but reads well, just doesn’t like reading ‘boring’ or complicated works.


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