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Analyzing and Interpreting Literature


1. About this Course

It covers the fundamentals of Analyzing Literature that are usually covered throughout a one-semester, undergraduate college course. The goal of the creator of this course – Modern States Education Alliance, a non-profit organization – is to prepare you to pass the College Board's CLEP examination and obtain college credit for free.

This examination contains multiple-choice questions based on passages of poetry, drama, fiction and nonfiction from American and British literature. It includes approximately 80 multiple-choice questions to be answered in 98 minutes. Some colleges may require candidates to take an optional essay section in addition to the multiple-choice section.

Through the guidance of Dr. Dana (Dean) Simpson, from Tufts University, the "Analyzing and Interpreting Literature" course will review materials intended to improve your ability to analyze prose, interpret metaphors and reinforce terminology used to discuss literary texts. 

"After you complete this course, study the modules, and take the practice tests, it is my aim that you will be ready to take the CLEP exam and get college credit for this course," says Professor Simpson.

This course is organized into three modules that contain short video lessons, exercises and reading. All of the course material has been released at once so you can complete it anytime. 

Our “Analyzing and Interpreting Literature” course is completely self-paced. There are no prerequisites to take this course, and it is entirely free. Any student who wants to save time and money while completing freshman year in college can take it.

2. About Dr. Dana (Dean) Simpson, from Tufts University

Dr. Dana "Dean" Simpson is a university lecturer and educational consultant from the Boston area. He teaches courses on writing, language and literature in the US and abroad and works with educators to improve their teaching practices.

Mr. Simpson teaches writing courses for first-year college students that cover the essentials of college composition in a variety of contexts. He also teaches more advanced courses on literary analysis and creative writing in Spanish as well as in English.

Literature courses that he teaches include classes on Western literature, Colonial literature, Spanish literature and literature from the Americas. Language courses that he teaches are in Spanish, English and French. He also teaches linguistics, communication, art history and poetry abroad, in addition to graduate classes on literacy and pedagogy in Boston.

His research interests include Vanguard and Symbolist poetry, Medieval Studies, Gender Studies, Basque studies and Innovations in teaching. He has also published four books of poetry in Spanish, as well as numerous scholarly articles in Spanish and English.

Mr. Simpson holds Masters and Doctorate degrees from Middlebury College, and a Masters in Higher Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He has taught at Tufts, Boston University, Bentley, Brandeis, Stonehill, Harvard and MIT, among others. Abroad, he regularly teaches in China and in Southeast Asia. As a consultant, he has worked in the USA, Latin America and Asia with teachers and professors on curricular development, assessment and methodology.

3. Required Knowledge and Skills

The CLEP exam requires you 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.

4. The CLEP Examination

The CLEP 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

 35%-45% Poetry 

 35%-45% Prose (fiction and nonfiction)

 15%-30% Drama


 3%–7% Classical and pre-Renaissance

 20%–30% Renaissance and 17th Century

 35%–45% 18th and 19th Centuries

 25%–35% 20th and 21st Centuries

5. Course Modules

Following are the main topics of our course, mostly based on the College Board's description of the course:

Module 1: Structure of the test 

  1.1  Structure of the test 

  1.2  What we will do

  1.3  What you need to demonstrate

  1.4  Breakdown of the test

Module 2: Poetry (35%-45%)

  2.1  Poetry: Why?

  2.2  Poetry: How?

  2.3  Poetry: Tone

  2.4  Poetry: Verse and Rhyme

  2.5  Poetry: Meter

  2.6  Poetry: Form

  2.7  Poetry: Meaning

  2.8  Poetry: More on Construction

  2.9  Poetry: Rhetorical Techniques


Module 3: Prose (35%-45%)

  3.1  What is it?

  3.2  Why?

  3.3  The Novel

  3.4  Short Stories

  3.5 Essays

Module 4: Drama (15%-30%)

  4.1  About

  4.2  Plot

  4.3  Characters & Theme

  4.4  Types of Plays

Module 5: Writing the Essays

  5.1 Writing the Essays

  5.2 Analysis of Poem "Walking Around"

  5.3 Analysis of Short Story "The Necklace"

Module 6: General Observations and Connections

  6.1 General Observations and Connections

6. How CLEP Works

Developed by the College Board, CLEP (College-Level Examination Program®) is the most widely accepted credit-by-examination program.

CLEP’s credits are accepted by 2,900 colleges and universities, according to the College Board. These tests assess college-level knowledge in 33 subject areas.

Modern States Education Alliance is the non-profit organization behind these edX-style courses. Its project is called “Freshman Year for Free” and its mission is to make college more accessible and affordable through free, high-quality online education.

• CLEP® Analyzing and Interpreting Literature: at a Glance

• 'Passing the CLEP and Learning with Modern States' orientation course