CLEP American Literature Exam

The CLEP: American Literature examination was developed by the College Board as a way for individuals to demonstrate undergraduate-level knowledge and skills in the field of American Literature. Almost three thousand American colleges give credit to students who pass a CLEP exam; for this reason, many college-bound students take a CLEP exam in order to skip over introductory courses.

To succeed on the American Literature exam, students will need to master the following topics and skills: the characters, plots, settings, and themes of particular literary works (46-60% of the exam); interpreting short poems or excerpts from long poems and prose works (25-40%); the historical and social settings of specific works and authors and the relationships between literary works and traditions (10-15%); and understanding the critical theories of American writers, literary terms, and verse forms (5%). By era, the content of the exam is broken down as follows: the colonial period, 1620-1830 (10-15% of the exam); the Romantic period, 1830-1870 (25%); the period of realism and naturalism, 1870-1910 (25%); the modernist period, 1910-1945 (25%) ; and the contemporary period, 1945 to the present (10-15%). The American Literature exam consists of 100 multiple-choice questions and must be completed within 90 minutes. There is an optional essay section that will be graded by each institution that requests it.


After the exam is complete, an unofficial score report will be made available. This score report will include the total score on a scale of 20 to 80; the American Council on Education recommends that students get credit if they score 50 or above. The total score is the raw score (number of correct answers) adjusted according to the difficulty of the exam version. The College Board does not distinguish between unanswered questions and questions answered incorrectly, so test-takers are encouraged to respond to every question. Some of the questions on the exam are pre-test questions, which are used to develop future versions of the exam and do not contribute to the raw score. It is impossible for the test-taker to determine which questions are pre-test questions. The CLEP exams are administered in both computer and paper formats at over a thousand locations throughout the world. To register for an exam, visit the College Board website.

CLEP American Literature Practice Questions

1. Which of the following Hemingway novels is set during the Spanish Civil War?
A: The Sun Also Rises
B: Islands in the Stream
C: The Old Man and the Sea
D: For Whom the Bell Tolls
E: To Have and Have Not

2. Which statement best describes the theme of The House of Mirth, by Edith Wharton?
A: The United States has a superior economic system.
B: Slavery can not endure where other people are free.
C: Moral decay lies beneath the flashy veneer of New York high society.
D: Women deserve the right to vote.
E: The expansion of American influence creates moral dilemmas.

3. Who is the narrator of The Great Gatsby?
A: Nick Carraway
B: Daisy Buchanan
C: F. Scott Fitzgerald
D: Jay Gatsby
E: Dean Moriarty

4. Which of the following American poets produced most of his work in England?
A: W.H. Auden
B: T.S. Eliot
C: John Berryman
D: Robert Lowell
E: H.W. Longfellow

5. Which early twentieth-century novelist scored his first hit with Winesburg, Ohio?
A: H.L. Mencken
B: Lionel Trilling
C: Thomas Wolfe
D: Sherwood Anderson
E: Ring Lardner

6. Who wrote the novel Beloved, in which a former slave struggles to raise her children?
A: William Faulkner
B: Maya Angelou
C: James Baldwin
D: Thomas Pynchon
E: Toni Morrison

Read the following poem by Anne Bradstreet (1612?-1672) and answer the questions that follow.

On My Dear Grandchild Simon Bradstreet, Who Died on 16 November, 1669, being but a Month, and One Day Old

No sooner came, but gone, and fall’n asleep,
Acquaintance short, yet parting caused us weep;
Three flowers, two scarcely blown, the last i’ th’ bud,
Cropt by th’ Almighty’s hand; yet is He good.
With dreadful awe before Him let’s be mute,
Such was His will, but why, let’s not dispute,
With humble hearts and mouths put in the dust,
Let’s say He’s merciful as well as just.
He will return and make up all our losses,
And smile again after our bitter crosses
Go pretty babe, go rest with sisters twain;
Among the blest in endless joys remain.

7. “Three flowers, two scarcely blown” is an example of which literary device?
A: alliteration
B: synecdoche
C: simile
D: metaphor
E: personification

8. How many grandchildren has the poet lost?
A: One
B: Two
C: At least three
D: No more than two
E: It is impossible to determine

9. What is the rhyme scheme of this poem?
A: ABABABC
B: ABBA CDDE
C: ABCDEF
D: AABBCCDDEEFF
E: ABBCCDDEEF

10. What kind of verse does this poem exemplify?
A: epitaph
B: elegy
C: ode
D: paean
E: sonnet

CLEP American Literature Answer Key

1. D. This novel tells the story of an idealistic American who comes to fight with the Republican army.
2. C. This satirical novel exposed the scandalous private lives of the ultra-rich during America’s Gilded Age.
3. A. Carraway narrates the high life and bitter fall of Gatsby in Fitzgerald’s classic novel.
4. B. Eliot moved to England in 1914 and eventually became a British citizen.
5. D. Anderson’s breakthrough novel satirized small-town life in the American Midwest.
6. E. Many critics contend that Beloved is the best novel of the past twenty years.
7. D. The author describes her deceased grandchildren as flowers prematurely cut by God.
8. C. The poet describes how her grandson will be buried between his two sisters.
9. D. The poem has twelve lines, with each pair of lines comprising a unique rhyme.
10. B. An elegy is a poem written in remembrance or mourning of something departed.

CLEP American Literature Test Breakdown