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1. About this Course

It covers all of the substantive material that is usually taught in a British literature course at the college level. It reviews authors, works, periods, common literary terms, such as metaphor and personification, and basic literary forms, such as the sonnet and the ballad. 

"In these lectures we will cover a wide variety of topics quickly, and you will learn a lot of new vocabulary, theories, and history of literature. We will go over 1) Literature Terminology 2) Poetry Terminology 3) Other Important Terms, 4) Literary Periods, 5) Literary Criticism, and 6) Writing the Essay. You will also review additional readings and practice test questions to prepare for the test," explains Erika Figel, professor in the City University of New York system.

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.

Our “English 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 the Exam and the Essay on English Literature

The CLEP exam contains approximately 95 questions to be answered in 90 minutes.

To pass you would need to have read widely and developed an appreciation of English literature, demonstrating an understanding of mayor writers and being knowledgeable on 
literary periods and common literary terms, themes, and forms.

Some of the questions on the exam will ask to identify the author of a representative quotation or to recognize the period in which an excerpt was written.

In addition to the multiple-choice test, some schools require to complete an essay section 

If this is the case, you will need to respond to two of three essay topics. 

  • An essay on the first topic, a persuasive analysis of a poem, will be required; candidates are advised to spend 35 to 40 minutes on it.
  • For the second essay, you will be asked to choose one of two topics that present a specific observation, position, or theme. Depending on the topic chosen, you will choose any work by a particular author to appropriately support the claim or select works from a designated list provided. You should plan to spend 50 to 55 minutes on the essay. 

You are expected to write –in paper-and-pencil-format– a well-organized, clear and precise prose.

The essay section is scored by faculty at the institution that requests.

There is an additional fee for taking this section, payable to the institution that administers the exam.

3. Required Knowledge and Skills

The CLEP exam requires you to demonstrate:

  • 35%-40% Knowledge of:
    • Literary background
    • Identification of authors
    • Metrical patterns
    • Literary references
    • Literary terms

  • 60%-65% Ability to:
    • Analyze the elements of form in a literary passage
    • Perceive meanings
    • Identify tone and mood
    • Follow patterns of imagery
    • Identify characteristics of style
    • Comprehend the reasoning in an excerpt of literary criticism

4. Course Modules

Following are the main topics and percentages of the exam’s questions, mostly based on the College Board's description of the course:


Module 1: Literature Terminology

  1.0 Introduction

  1.1 Plot   

  1.2 Setting   

  1.3 Characters   

  1.4 Point of View   

  1.5 Symbol and Figurative Language   

  1.6 Theme   

  1.7 Mood   

  1.8 Tone   


Module 2: Poetry Terminology

  2.0 Introduction

  2.1 Meter   

  2.2 Rhyme   

  2.3 Stanza   

  2.4 Epic   

  2.5 Haiku

  2.6 Sonnet

  2.7 Terza Rima

  2.8 Villanelle

  2.9 Rhyme Royal

  2.10 Sestina

  2.11 Blank Verse

  2.12 Free Verse

  2.13 Additional Poetic Terms


Module 3: Other Important Terms

  3.0 Introduction 

  3.1 Allegory   

  3.2 Alliteration   

  3.3 Allusion

  3.4 Antithesis

  3.5 Hyperbole

  3.6 Imagery

  3.7 Irony

  3.8 Metaphor/Simile

  3.9 Onomatopoeia

  3.10 Style

  3.11 Symbolism

  3.12 Personification


Module 4: Literary Periods

  4.0 Introduction

  4.1 Mythology: Prometheus   

  4.2 Medieval Period   

  4.3 King Arthur   

  4.4 Death Be Not Proud by John Donne   

  4.5 Piers Plowman by William Langland   

  4.6 Renaissance Period   

  4.7 Hamlet by William Shakespeare   

  4.8 Macbeth by William Shakespeare   

  4.9 Othello by William Shakespeare

  4.10 Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

  4.11 The Faerie Queene

  4.12 Age of Enlightenment

  4.13 Romantic Period

  4.14 Pre-Raphaelites

  4.15 Picaresque

  4.16 Realism

  4.17 Naturalism

  4.18 Modernism

  4.19 Postmodernism

  4.20 Richard Cory

  4.21 Essayists

  4.22 Women Writers


Module 5: Literary Criticism

  5.0 Introduction to Literary Criticism   

  5.1 Psychoanalytic Theory   

  5.2 Formalist Theory   

  5.3 New Criticism Theory   

  5.4 Reader Response Theory   

  5.5 Structuralist Theory   

  5.6 Feminist Theory   

  5.7 Marxist Theory

  5.8 Deconstructive Theory

  5.9 Platonic Theory


Module 6: Everyman

  6.1 Everyman


Module 7: Non-fiction

  7.1 Non-fiction 


Module 8: Reading List

  8.0 Introduction

  8.1 Works from Undated to 1678

  8.2 Works from 1712 to 1749

  8.3 Works from 1760s to 1871

  8.4 Works from 1879 to 1915

  8.5 Works from 1916 to 1956

  8.6 Works from 1958 to 1973

  8.7 Authors from Margaret Atwood to Robert Herrick

  8.8 Authors from Samuel Johnson to Percy Bysshe Shelley

  8.9 Authors from Tobias Smollett to W.B. Yeats


Module 9: Writing the Essay

  9.0 Introduction

  9.1 Analyzing a Poem

  9.2 Writing a Persuasive Analysis of a Poem

  9.3 Planning the Second Essay

  9.4 Writing the Second Essay

5. About Prof. Erika Figel

Professor Erika Figel teaches at Queens College and Queensborough Community College in New York City. She has previously taught at SUNY Old Westbury, University of New Haven, and Ramapo College.

She teaches courses in composition and literature at both the freshman and upper class level. She has lectured on poetry and women’s rights in New York and Connecticut.

She has toured as a featured poet in Northern California and has published her poetry in various journals including Watchword, 580 Split, and Switchback.

She received her Bachelor’s from New York University’s Leonard N. Stern School of Business and studied at Hofstra Law School before decided to pursue her Masters in Fine Arts at California College of the Arts in San Francisco

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® English Literature: at a Glance

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