AP Summer Reading - Literature Portfolio Notebook Questions
The following sets of questions are designed as a format for a literature portfolio notebook. You will be keeping this notebook
on all works that you read during the summer and during the school year. Begin your notebook this summer and develop a
section in your portfolio for each work that you read. Put the format at the front of the notebook and refer to it as you develop
the notebook section for each of the works that you read. For each section of your notebook, label the section with the title of
the work. Also, use the subheadings from the format as you write about each work. You do not have to copy the questions each
time. Refer to the questions in each section and develop your written commentary based on the questions for each section.
The guides that follow show processes you can use to explore works from different critical or interpretive perspectives. These
questions are the critic’s toolbox. There is no rule that says you can use questions from only one perspective, and it is usually
more productive to try several approaches. In your experiments with these processes, you should keep track of what works best
for you. It is more important to read well than it is to produce a good reading of any one work, so pay attention to what you are
learning to do as a reader and interpreter. Like any set of tools, some types of questions work in some situations, some in others.
Just as you don’t use a screwdriver when you need a hammer, so you don’t always ask the same question with each work you read.
Also, you may have to find source regarding background information. If you use internet sources, just note the web address after
you answer the question. All answers should be in YOUR OWN WORDS! No cutting and pasting. Any other reference work,
note the basic bibliographic information and list it at the end of the question it answers. It does NOT have to use the MLA
Each guide is composed of questions you might think about before, during, and after your reading of a work.
The Writer’s Life and Times
In thinking about the author, consider the following:
1. What sort of person is/was the author? How old was he or she when the work was written? How does
this work fit into the body of work produced by this author?
2. Where did the author come from? Does the author’s race, culture, or gender tell me anything? Is the
work autobiographical to some extent? What important events or relationships helped shape the
3. Was the work written to or about a specific person or persons? About a particular place? In response to
a certain event?
4. What is/was the author’s culture or society like? What important events were taking place? What was
the world view? What were the dominant values of the times? Was the writer in sympathy with or in
opposition to the mainstream of that culture?
5. What other works were produced by other writers at that time? How are they similar to and different
from this work?
Consider the following questions about yourself as the reader:
6. What are the key features of the work that strike you? What words seem important? What images stand
out most? What does the work make you think about?
7. How does the work make you feel? What mood does it put you in? Can you say why?
8. What did you like about the work? Why? What did you not like? Why?
9. Does the work remind you of an incident or person in your life?
10. How did you views change as you read the work? Did you change your mind about anything? What
ideas were challenged or tested by reading this work?
11. What is your overall response or reaction to this work? What in you and what in the work connect to
make this reaction?
12. Overall, how comfortable are you with your understanding of the work? Why might you or might you
not use this work for an essay on the AP exam?
The Work Itself
Note that the questions under this head fall roughly into three subsets: questions about the structure of the work, questions
about the characters or speaker, and questions about the idea or lessons or philosophy of the work (themes):
13. How could the work be classified as to genre or style? What expectations do you have about such a
14. What does the title suggest about the people, events, and ideas of the work?
15. What is the setting or situation? Who is talking to whom, in what circumstances or surroundings? From
what vantage point is the work narrated?
16. How is the work organized into chapters or acts or stanzas or parts? What is the content and purpose of
each part? What is the progression of thought from beginning to end (problem-solution, for example)?
17. How is figurative language (metaphor and the like) used to make special comparisons, substitutions,
exaggerations, ironic meanings, contradictions, and paradoxes?
18. How is imagery used: descriptions, use of detail, key images with value as symbols?
19. How is language used: diction (word choice), connotations, double meanings or puns, key words,
20. What patterns do you see in the work: parallels or changes in any of the elements above, shifts in tone,
changes in pace, rhythm, form, or anything else?
21. Who are the significant characters of the work? What are they like in terms of identity, personality,
behavior? What are/were important experiences in their lives?
22. What motivates each character (or the speaker)? What are their goals? What means do they use to try to
achieve them? What important decisions do they make? How do they act upon these decisions?
23. What kinds of conflicts are characters involved in? How, and to what extent, are these conflicts
resolved? How do the resolutions affect characters? How do characters change during the work?
24. How do characters influence and affect each other? How are characters’ values, attitudes, and actions
related to the norms or standards of the society within the work?
25. What characters can be considered good? In what ways? What characters can be considered evil? In
26. What does the work say about people? What people and/or actions seem to be approved of? To be
condemned? Who and what is praised or blamed?
27. Are judgments about people or actions made on the basis of consequences or results, or on the basis of
intentions or motives?
28. What forces seem to shape or control human events? do people seem to have free will? does fate
control everything? Are events and outcomes determined by biological or social forces?
29. In what ways is the work about the concepts of good and evil, right and wrong, justice, morality, or
ethics? What, if anything, does the work say about how people should act?
Connections to Other Works, People, and Events
When thinking about connections, consider the following:
30. What did people think of the work when it was first published?
31. What are the dominant or best-known interpretations of the work? What issues are featured in these
32. How have views of this work changed over time?
33. Has this work had any known impact on other writers or on events?
34. In what ways do you agree or disagree with the traditional (and other) views of this work?
35. How does this work fit into the history of literary art?
36. Can you think of another work that this work reminds you of? What is the connection for you? Why do
the works seem similar or related?
37. Is there a character (or speaker) in the work who reminds you of another character in a different work?
38. Is there a scene or event or object or situation that seems familiar or connects with a similar element in
39. Does any part of the work remind you of a folk tale, a myth, or similar kind of story, or of a person or
event or place in history?
40. Are there any names, words, or phrases that come from a familiar source?