I love English. Like, really love English. But when pre-reg rolled around at the end of my junior year, I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to major in English or music. So naturally, I decided to absolutely overload my schedule with both so I could see which area I’d rather pursue. In addition to my […]
I love English. Like, really love English. But when pre-reg rolled around at the end of my junior year, I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to major in English or music. So naturally, I decided to absolutely overload my schedule with both so I could see which area I’d rather pursue. In addition to my new position as Talon Copy Editor and two semesters of Writing for Publication, I set my mind on taking both AP English Literature and AP English Language.
Although one or two have asked in the past, no Christian Brothers student has ever taken both classes simultaneously. But I was absolutely determined to be the first. When I brought my pre-reg form to Ms. Chrys Cassetta with both English classes at the top of my list, I was denied. She didn’t think it was a wise choice — spoiler alert: she was kind of right — and so she signed me into AP Lit. However, Ms. Cassetta did say that if I wanted, I could go talk to Ms. Loretta Kenney, head of the CB English Department.
I then presented my case; she too thought it was a bad decision, but she promised to discuss it with the department. When we met again, she told me that the English Department was split; some believed that I could handle it and thought that I should be able to make my own decision, while others thought that taking both was a suicide mission. She warned me that I wouldn’t be able to drop out of either class and made me repeat after her: “It’s okay to get a B.”
But in the end, she agreed to sign off on the second English class if I was absolutely sure. And I was.
One thing to never underestimate: the collective wisdom of teachers. They have so much experience in their fields that I guarantee you that they do in fact know more than we students do. As more teachers warned me that taking both AP English classes was a bad idea, it would’ve been wise to listen.
However, there’s also something to be said for headstrong teenagers.
I have had an incredible time taking both classes. I had wanted to dive deeper into the English language, and I did. The learning opportunities I’ve had this year have been absolutely unparalleled. Both courses have been fascinating, challenging, and very rewarding. I have no doubt that I’m a better writer now than I was at the start of the year.
Are there days when I regretted my decision? Of course. I’d be lying if I said there weren’t. Juggling both classes has been one of the hardest aspects of my senior year. Learning an entirely new style of writing is difficult enough — jumping between rhetoric analysis and literary analysis between sets made the experience quite overwhelming.
Reading two novels at a time was more challenging than I thought it would be; when AP Lit was reading Heart of Darkness and AP Lang was reading Frankenstein, I ended up having to keep separate two frame story introductions set on steamboats. So far, I’ve only had one block day with back-to-back timed essays, but that was an experience that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Balancing the two classes hasn’t been easy, but if I could go back in time, I would definitely do it all again.
I’m glad that I took both courses because I wanted to know for sure what the different classes are like and how they compare to each other. Since no CB student had ever taken both before, I felt like there was no other way to obtain that information.
But now there is.
I believe that the English department was absolutely right, and to be clear, I do NOT recommend following in my footsteps. Taking both classes is doable, but I think it would be a much smoother experience to simply immerse yourself fully in one class. Instead, use this article, the course catalog, and conversations with your English teacher to make an informed decision about which AP English class is better suited to you.
First, consider what each curriculum is like and what the goals of each class are. Mrs. Maureen Wanket, who currently teaches AP Language & Composition, has taught AP Literature in the past and describes how the two curriculums differ.
“The purpose of AP Language is to analyze nonfiction rhetoric. The tasks are very different; the kind of reading is very different. The three essays for Advanced Placement Language & Comp are argument, persuasion, and analyzing someone else’s argument,” she says. “The synthesis essay is about research and compiling all different sources into your argument. It’s just a completely different thing than what Literature is and what the Literature test asks for.”
Ms. Marian Shackel, CB’s AP Lit teacher, explains what exactly her class entails.
“Quite simply, it’s reading literature, writing about literature, and discussing literature. And most of the literature we read is fiction, as opposed to nonfiction [which is analyzed in AP Lang],” the veteran teacher says. “Whereas AP Lang & Comp students are looking at rhetorical devices, AP Lit & Comp students are looking at literary devices, or literary tools, that a writer would use… it really is kind of apples and oranges.”
In other words, AP Literature is the same type of writing that students do in freshman, sophomore, and junior literature classes, although on a more complex level. It’s fine-tuning the skills that we’ve already been taught.
AP Lang, on the other hand, is a whole new ballgame. Instead of discussing characters and metaphors and themes, AP language is about the writing itself — how an author persuades the reader to believe the argument, why he or she chose each specific word. The concept can be very difficult for students to grasp — it certainly was for me — and it often takes a few misses before getting it right.
“The rhetorical timed writes are pretty rough,” comments Raul Arambula III (’17). “It took me a couple to get into a good rhythm.”
And even though the AP Lit formal essays are the same type of literature analysis, the standards are higher than ever. Students who write essays the night before get a rude awakening in Ms. Shackel’s class.
“The formal essays — it’s a lot of preparation and a lot of crazy work that we have to do,” shares Grace Leu (’17).
Although each class has a unique set of challenges, students have endless positive things to say about both.
“[AP Lang] is one of my favorite classes,” gushes Ayana Watkins (’17). “It’s a really interesting class, and I’ve learned a lot. My writing has definitely improved.”
“I just like the fun we have,” says Raul of AP Lang. “[Mrs. Wanket] makes every lesson engaging and a lot of fun.”
“The people!” exclaims Patrick Barnes (’17) when asked about his favorite part of AP Lit. “I really like how close [we all are]. There’s 15 kids in it, and I just think it’s really fun. Everyone just gets into it.”
“I like [AP Lit’s] small class size,” agrees Grace. “We all get really into the books and the meaning behind everything… It’s pretty fun when we all bounce ideas off each other.”
Both classes are enjoyable, but they’re very different. Because AP Lit is such a small class, there’s a certain level of exclusivity.
“I feel really cool going into room 103 with just 14 other kids and Ms. Shackel,” Patrick says.
With that comes an automatic bond and a special closeness between the students; anyone in AP Lit could name all of the others without hesitation. Such an environment fosters wonderful discussions because no one is nervous to share opinions.
AP Lang, on the other hand, has multiple sets throughout the day. Although some of the sets are pretty close in size to AP Lit and have a very close bond, everyone knows that Mrs. Wanket will be teaching the same thing to another group of students later that day. Which isn’t a problem — that’s how most classes work, after all — but it doesn’t have the same tight-knit feeling as AP Lit.
AP Lit is more predictably structured. For instance, right now we’re in the poetry unit; we know that every 45-minute class will be spent reading and discussing poems from “the brick” (our textbook of sorts), and every block day will be a sample AP timed essay and objective test. During the first semester, we received monthly schedules that listed exactly what we’d be doing each day and what reading homework we had.
AP Lang has the dates of reading quizzes — usually every Tuesday and Friday — on Schoology, but each day is a surprise. Not to say that Mrs. Wanket doesn’t have a set lesson plan, but it’s just not as obvious to the students.
AP Lang’s atmosphere is more relaxed. We read in class on Mondays and start the other days with journaling, but besides that, the schedule varies. Sometimes we’ll split into teams and prepare debates; sometimes we’ll discuss AP test prompts. Overall, the class is very engaging and interesting — and a ton of fun.
But honestly, everyone has so much fun in both classes. In Lit a few days ago, I laughed so hard that I actually started crying when we were split into our working groups. AP Literature just has a slightly more “intellectual” feel; a majority of the jokes are based on the texts we’re reading, so if you think that’s too nerdy, then AP Lit is not the place for you.
Undeniably, the teacher plays a huge part in creating the atmosphere of a classroom. CB is fortunate enough to have excellent teachers for both AP classes, but Ms. Shackel and Mrs. Wanket do have vastly different teaching styles and attitudes.
Obviously, which teacher you’d prefer shouldn’t be the main factor of your choice because a) your focus should be on the curriculum and which class you could get more out of and b) you never know when the English Department could switch things around. Now with that being said, I do think it’s a good idea to know what you’re getting yourself into; different students mesh better with different types of teachers.
For Patrick, Ms. Shackel was definitely an important aspect of his choice.
“I missed Ms. Shackel from having her freshman year,” he shared. “I think she’s really fun to be around, and she has an infectious personality.”
It’s hard not to crack a smile whenever she makes a joke. Her humor is witty and moves quickly, so if you’re zoning in and out, you won’t catch much of it. It’s clear that Ms. Shackel is wonderful at analyzing literature and poetry, but she prefers to spark a discussion and see what the class comes up with before explaining the material.
Even though Ms. Shackel is usually focused in AP Lit (and pushing the pace with her “Days until the AP Test” poster), it’s obvious that she also cares about her students deeply and wants us to enjoy learning together. Oh, and did I mention that she bakes?
Mrs. Wanket is known and beloved around CB’s campus, and this year has been my first opportunity to find out why. It took me a little while to become accustomed to her personality and teaching methods; I think most students and teachers go through that phase of not-quite-clicking for the first few weeks or months, but since I had Ms. Shackel freshman year, I was already pretty comfortable around her by the start of AP Lit.
However, I can safely say that Mrs. Wanket grew on me very quickly and has become one of my absolute favorite teachers at CB. She is so incredibly kindhearted, genuine, positive, and encouraging. The conversations that I’ve had with Mrs. Wanket have been some of the brightest spots of my senior year.
When it really clicked for me — when I really felt like I first connected to and understood her — was when I went in after school to go over one of the first timed writes. That was when I first really saw the “writer” side of Mrs. Wanket and gained a new respect for her and her abilities. I can’t stress enough how much I recommend getting help from her in AP Lang. She has very flexible hours, and it’s the fastest and easiest way to figure out what exactly she — and the AP board — is looking for. Plus it shows your teacher that you’re putting in an effort, which never hurts.
“[Going over my writing with Mrs. Wanket] helps a lot,” Raul states. “Any essay she assigns, I’ll talk to her outside of class. She gives me good feedback and helps me make my essays better.”
As well as teachers’ personalities and behaviors in the classroom, the instructor’s attitude toward homework is another aspect worth considering. Neither Ms. Shackel nor Mrs. Wanket assigns busywork or unreasonable demands. Most of the homework from both AP classes is reading the novels and texts that we discuss in class. Mrs. Wanket’s reading schedule is broken up into chunks of about three to five chapters per quiz, whereas in Ms. Shackel’s class, we usually just have a final due date for the entire novel and are expected to manage our own time.
But to be clear, that means actually reading. Sparknotes will do absolutely nothing for you in either class.
“If the student is someone who cuts corners with reading, they’re going to be miserable in this class,” warns Mrs. Wanket. “They’re going to be constantly catching up. And even if they succeed for a while, they know it’s just a matter of time.”
“If you pick AP Lang, make sure you read — and actually read throughly,” advises Raul. “[The workload] isn’t too heavy. Most of our workload is just reading which, if you keep up, is not bad.”
In addition to knowing what happens in both classes, it’s important to know what doesn’t. I’ve heard a surprising number of misconceptions about the two classes. Hopefully, I can set them straight.
First off, many students are intimidated by the idea of taking AP Lit. Now, I could reassure you about how manageable the transition to AP Lit is, but since I’m a future English major who was crazy enough to take both AP Lit and AP Lang, my answer probably wouldn’t be very reassuring. So instead, here’s how Grace described her transition.
“It’s not as scary as it seems,” she reveals. “I’ve been taking college-prep classes since freshman year, and I was really scared to take AP [Lit] because it was going to be a lot, all at once, for me. But that’s not true at all, and I really enjoy it. It’s one of my favorite classes.”
The other major misconception about AP Lit is that it’s the “hard AP” — that Lit is more work than Lang. Even some current students from both classes believe that.
“I’ve heard students say, ‘AP Lit is too much work,'” comments Ms. Shackel. “And I’ve had students at the end of the year who are in my class say, ‘Well, it’s not that it was too much work. It’s just a different kind of work.’ I think any kind of AP class you take is going to be work. That preconceived notion that one class is going to be more work than another class… I’m sorry, AP is work.”
As far as I’m concerned, I’ve actually found AP Lang to be far more work than AP Lit. If you’re considering taking either of these classes, you’re probably pretty good at writing essays. And so with Ms. Shackel’s class, you can just continue the process from your other years at CB. Yes, the books are more complex, yes, there’s a higher standard of writing, and yes, it’s a rigorous course — but it’s at least the same style of writing that you’ve been doing for the past three years.
Since it’s is such a different type of writing than anything we’ve ever done, I think Lang is much harder to learn. You have that adjustment period where you’re trying to figure out what you’re even being asked to do before you can start mastering the new skills.
The belief that AP Lang is the “easy class” frustrates Mrs. Wanket because she often has a few disappointed students who signed up for her class with the wrong expectations.
“Some kids come in thinking, ‘Oh, AP Lang & Comp is going to be the easy AP,’ and then they’re miserable. I hate to see kids miserable over English!” exclaims Mrs. Wanket. “I’d rather them be doing Hamlet with Bowers — my god, what a treasure she is — and having fun. Coming over here and reading Thoreau — can you get any drier than that? I don’t think you can; I don’t think it’s possible.”
Mrs. Wanket shares a handful of the other misconceptions that she’s come across.
“People make a mistake thinking, ‘I’m a math and science person. I would like AP Lang & Comp.’ No. Or, ‘I don’t like to read. I’d like Lang & Comp.’ Well, that’s very disappointing to people because there’s a ton of reading and my tests aren’t very easy, so people are suffering.”
Students who think that AP Lang is less reading? Absolutely wrong — there’s no way around that. Lang starts with twice the summer reading as Lit and then matches it pretty much book for book throughout the year. The sole difference with the reading is that AP Lit reads fiction, and AP Lang reads nonfiction.
But the rumor that puzzles me the most is that AP Lang is more enjoyable or applicable for students who like math or science. I don’t understand the reasoning behind it at all. AP Language is just that: a language class. Although it’s not literary analysis, it’s still analyzing the English language. And we do a few papers and extended paragraphs where we have to cite sources outside of the novel — which I’m guessing was credited as scientific — but they’re not research papers or anything like that; we’re defending an argument and trying to bring in unique and poignant facts to do so.
“Lang & Comp has nothing to do with science and math; it’s just reading things that are nonfiction to see the tricks that are behind it,” states Mrs. Wanket, who also doesn’t see the connection. “If you’re a heavy math and science student, I would always suggest go to Literature because… it’s art appreciation. You’re looking at art and into deeper meanings of art… I think it’d be so different that it’d be great.”
Now that you have all the facts and the myths have been busted, it’s time for you to pick which class you’d rather take come senior year. Along with all of the above details, the most important factor to consider is simply which curriculum you would prefer.
“Some students like nonfiction more than they like fiction,” states Ms. Shackel, “and that’s totally taste-driven as opposed to anything else. I have had students in the past — when AP Lit was the only game in town, so to speak — who did not want to get into why a character does what a character does, not interested in plot devices, not interested in any of that kind of literary stuff. Unless a student has a real love for getting into that, then the class might be a challenge… if students like reading articles and making arguments and things like that, well then Lit & Comp would not be to class for them.”
To enjoy AP Lang, you have to be willing to put in the time and effort to learn a completely new writing style. The class isn’t going to be a breeze, but it really is worth the work. Just make sure that you have the right expectations for the class.
“If you don’t love to read, don’t take Lang & Comp,” cautions Mrs. Wanket. “You have to essentially love to learn new things and to read because there’s no cutting corners… and it’s also very, very different from anything you’ve ever learned before.”
“If you’re interested in social studies and politics and political science,” continues Mrs. Wanket, “you’d be interested [in AP Lang] because it’s all about rhetoric. If you think you might want to go into law or philosophy, you’d be interested in Lang & Comp.”
“I chose AP Lit because I had taken Mastering the Essay,” recalls Grace. “Ms. Kenney told me that AP Lang was going to be kind of like Mastering the Essay on steroids, and she said that AP Lit was going to be more like American Lit on steroids. I loved Mastering the Essay, but I really liked literature and the analysis of books, so I think that’s why I went into the literature direction rather than the language direction.”
“In Honors American Literature we did AP style analysis [essays], and Ms. Cassetta said those were like the ones we would do in AP Lang,” Ayana explained. “I liked those; they were interesting to me.”
Ms. Shackel also shared one tip that caught me completely by surprise, but it’s another good aspect to consider.
“My biggest piece of advice is that [prospective students] should research the colleges and universities that they’re applying to because there are some colleges and universities who prefer one exam over the other,” she says. “It’s an informed decision that you’re making, and it should be based on where you’re applying.”
I don’t believe that one class is better than the other. Even though I don’t recommend taking both, I’m glad I had the experience so that I could explain once and for all what each class really is. What matters is that you pick a class that you’re willing to work for, whether that’s AP Literature, AP Language, or another English course altogether. No matter what you choose, you’ll end up with a phenomenal teacher and a great class, as well as a solid preparation for your future.