The Study Guide

It’s difficult to cram for a test that covers such a wide variety of material, but there are several resources that you can review that will help to refresh your memory and fill in some gaps. If you’re more confident about your knowledge and preparation, your test-taking experience will be much more pleasant.

Table of Contents

  1. Test Question Format
  2. Content Overview
  3. Study Guide
  4. Helpful Resources

Test Question Format

The Praxis II English Language, Literature and Composition: Content Knowledge exam is comprised of 120 multiple choice questions. You are given two hours (120 minutes) to complete the exam, so you can count on having about one minute for each question. The test is structured similarly to the SAT and Praxis I that you took–it is contained in a sealed test booklet and acocompanied by a Scantron (“shade in the bubble”) sheet.

In general, each question is in reference to a statement or short passage (several lines to several paragraphs in length). No more than about two or three questions apply to each short passage, so if you really get hung up on a passage, move on to the next. If time remains, come back to any passages that you felt were tricky.

Content Overview

The test’s title is fairly accurate. You must have a fairly strong grasp on the English language, English literature (including American, British, and world), and writing.

In order to assess your knowledge about these categories, the test includes three main question types: those that assess your ability to read and understand text, those that test your knowledge about the history and structure of the English language, and those that test your knowledge about writing.

More specifically, the questions are broken down as follows:


It is strongly recommended that you consult ETS’ “Test at a Glance” Bulletin (PDF) for more information about test format and questions.

Study Guide

You should be very familiar with the information below. While all of it the literary concepts are “fair game,” if you are pressed for time then you may want to focus on the literary terms and genres first, followed by the major texts’ synopses, and the literary movements/periods last.

Also, be certain that you have a good sense of grammar and mechanics. If you have time, visit a university Writing Cente–most  offer study guides for the Praxis I, and a significant portion of the grammar and mechanics material encountered on the Praxis II was also on the Praxis I. Many Writing Centers have several binders/study guides with very clear examples and explanations of major grammar and mechanics issues.


Literary Terms to Memorize
You can expect many of the following to be on the exam. It is recommended that you become familiar with all of them, since they will probably be used at least once as an answer or option. According to IUP students who have taken the Praxis II already, the terms in boldface are some of the most common that appear repeatedly throughout the test.

  • Apostrophe
  • Antagonist
  • Antithesis
  • Anastrophe
  • Aphorism
  • Anticlimax
  • Aphorism
  • Apocalypse
  • Apositive
  • Archetype
  • Argument (logical fallacies, appeals, etc.)
  • Blank verse
  • Biography
  • Burlesque
  • Caricature
  • Caesura
  • Catastrophe
  • Catharsis
  • Conceit
  • Cliché
  • Connotation
  • Consonance
  • Closet drama
  • Couplet
  • Dactyl
  • Denotation
  • Denouement
  • Diction
  • Discourse
  • Epiphany
  • Epilogue
  • Exposition
  • Figure of speech
  • Free verse
  • Foreshadowing
  • Grotesque
  • Hyperbole
  • Inversion
  • Memoir
  • Metonymy
  • Motif
  • Metaphor
  • Mock heroic
  • Monologue
  • Onomatopoeia
  • Oxymoron
  • Overstatement
  • Paradox
  • Parallelism
  • Persona
  • Personification
  • Picaresque
  • Plot
  • Quatrain
  • Rhyme Royal
  • Sarcasm
  • Scansion
  • Satire
  • Soliloquy
  • Sestet
  • Setting
  • Sprung rhythm
  • Spenserian stanza
  • Stock character
  • Strophe
  • Stream of consciousness
  • Superego
  • Symbol
  • Synecdoche
  • Terza Rima
  • Trochaic pentameter
  • Villain
  • Zeugma


Literary Genres to Memorize
You can expect nearly all of the following to be on the exam, so strive to become VERY
familiar with them!

  • Drama
  • Comedy
  • Tragedy
  • Tragic-comedy
  • Playwright
  • Novel
  • Prose
  • Short story
  • Allegory
  • Epic
  • Ballad
  • Pastoral
  • Epistle
  • Essay
  • Myth
  • Romance
  • Fable
  • Poetry
  • Sonnet
  • Legend
  • Elegy
  • Lyric
  • Metaphysical poetry

Major Texts’ Synopses


“Definition of a classic — something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read.” ~Mark Twain

Though Twain may have been correct, you still should refresh your memory or learn about classics that you may not have covered in your literature survey courses. You can do this in one of several way. Some students scan their anthologies and textbooks. Most read the plot summaries/synopses of the major literary works at Spark Notes (literature, poetry, and drama) or the free book notes at BookRags. While it is advisable to peruse all of the summaries at Spark Notes or BookRags, you may not have enough time.

If you are pressed for time or cramming, then it is VERY STRONGLY RECOMMENDED that you at least read the synopsis of each work on the list below. Most of these titles consistently appear on the exam. If you work straight through without interruption, you can probably familiarize yourself with every one of these major works on Spark Notes within about 90 minutes.  Note, I am not saying you can learn much about these sources in 90 minutes, only that you can familiarize yourself quickly if time is your enemy.

Anonymous – Beowulf
Achebe, Chinua – Things Fall Apart
Agee, James – A Death in the Family
Austen, Jane – Pride and Prejudice

Baldwin, James – Go Tell It on the Mountain
Beckett, Samuel – Waiting for Godot
Bellow, Saul – The Adventures of Augie March
Bradbury, Ray – Farenheit 451
Brontë, Charlotte – Jane Eyre
Brontë, Emily – Wuthering Heights

Camus, Albert – The Stranger
Cather, Willa – Death Comes for the Archbishop
Chaucer, Geoffrey – The Canterbury Tales
Chekhov, Anton – The Cherry Orchard
Chopin, Kate – The Awakening
Conrad, Joseph – Heart of Darkness
Cooper, James Fenimore – The Last of the Mohicans
Crane, Stephen – The Red Badge of Courage

Dante – Inferno
de Cervantes, Miguel – Don Quixote
Defoe, Daniel – Robinson Crusoe
Dickens, Charles – A Tale of Two Cities     &     Oliver Twist
Dostoyevsky, Fyodor – Crime and Punishment
Douglass, Frederick – Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
Dreiser, Theodore – An American Tragedy
Dumas, Alexandre – The Three Musketeers

Eliot, George – The Mill on the Floss
Eliot, T.S. – the Wasteland
Ellison, Ralph – Invisible Man
Emerson, Ralph Waldo – Selected Essays

Faulkner, William – As I Lay Dying
Faulkner, William – The Sound and the Fury
Fielding, Henry – Tom Jones
Fitzgerald, F. Scott – The Great Gatsby
Flaubert, Gustave – Madame Bovary
Ford, Ford Madox – The Good Soldier

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von – Faust
Golding, William – Lord of the Flies

Hardy, Thomas – Tess of the d’Urbervilles
Hawthorne, Nathaniel – The Scarlet Letter
Heller, Joseph – Catch-22
Hemingway, Ernest – A Farewell to Arms
Homer – The Iliad
Homer – The Odyssey
Hugo, Victor – The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Hurston, Zora Neale – Their Eyes Were Watching God
Huxley, Aldous – Brave New World

Ibsen, Henrik – A Doll’s House

James, Henry – The Portrait of a Lady
James, Henry – The American
Joyce, James – A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Kafka, Franz – The Metamorphosis
Kingston, Maxine Hong – The Woman Warrior

Lee, Harper – To Kill a Mockingbird
Lewis, Sinclair – Babbitt
London, Jack – The Call of the Wild

Mann, Thomas – The Magic Mountain
Marquez, Gabriel García – One Hundred Years of Solitude
Melville, Herman – Bartleby the Scrivener
Melville, Herman – Moby Dick
Miller, Arthur – The Crucible
Morrison, Toni – Beloved

O’Connor, Flannery – A Good Man is Hard to Find
O’Neill, Eugene – Long Day’s Journey into Night
Orwell, George – Animal Farm

Pasternak, Boris – Doctor Zhivago
Plath, Sylvia – The Bell Jar
Poe, Edgar Allan – Selected Tales
Proust, Marcel – Swann’s Way
Pynchon, Thomas – The Crying of Lot 49

Remarque, Erich Maria – All Quiet on the Western Front
Rostand, Edmond – Cyrano de Bergerac
Roth, Henry – Call It Sleep

Salinger, J.D. – The Catcher in the Rye
Shakespeare, William – Hamlet
Shakespeare, William – Macbeth
Shakespeare, William – A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Shakespeare, William – Romeo and Juliet
Shaw, George Bernard – Pygmalion
Shelley, Mary – Frankenstein
Silko, Leslie Marmon – Ceremony
Solzhenitsyn, Alexander – One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
Sophocles – Antigone
Sophocles – Oedipus Rex
Steinbeck, John – The Grapes of Wrath
Stevenson, Robert Louis – Treasure Island
Stowe, Harriet Beecher – Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Swift, Jonathan – Gulliver’s Travels

Tan, Amy – The Joy Luck Club
Thackeray, William – Vanity Fair
Thoreau, Henry David – Walden
Tolstoy, Leo – War and Peace
Turgenev, Ivan – Fathers and Sons
Twain, Mark – The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Voltaire – Candide
Vonnegut, Kurt Jr. – Slaughterhouse-Five

Walker, Alice – The Color Purple
Wharton, Edith – The House of Mirth
Welty, Eudora – Collected Stories
Whitman, Walt – Leaves of Grass
Wilde, Oscar – The Picture of Dorian Gray
Williams, Tennessee – The Glass Menagerie
Woolf, Virginia – To the Lighthouse
Wright, Richard – Native Son

Literary Movements/Periods
The major literary movements and periods can be subdivided into three categories: American literature, British literature, and world literature.

For each movement or period, know

  1. a few facts about the time period (time span and major events like wars, plagues, migrations, etc.)
  2. the major and minor authors
  3. recurring themes, motifs, and concepts
  4. how the period or movement compares to other periods or movements
American Literature:

  • Colonial period
  • Revolutionary period
  • Civil War
  • Romantic period
  • Twentieth Century
  • Modern era
  • Realism
  • American drama
  • American novel
  • American fiction
  • American poetry
  • Native American literature
  • African American literature
  • Latino/a literature
English Literature

  • Old English period
  • Medieval period
  • Renaissance and Elizabethan
  • Seventeenth Century
  • Eighteenth Century
  • Romantic period
  • Victorian period
  • Twentieth Century
World Literature

  • Caribbean literature
  • Russian literature
  • European literature
  • Ancient Greece
  • Ancient Rome
  • African literature (colonial and post-colonial)

You may either read the list below or follow this link to a printable version of the study guide. The answers have NOT been provided for you, but the next section (Helpful Resources) can help you find most of what you need.

Grammar & Mechanics
If you’re not already comfortable with the following concepts, you should research their meanings before the test. Also, if you have any major weaknesses in the following area, learn how to recognize them and correct them. Many universities and colleges have writing centers with, at the least, tutors; some even haves binders with diagnostic exams so that you can assess your own strengths and weaknesses in many of these areas. You can also view the online resources at the bottom of the page.

  • Sentence structure (syntax)
  • Sentence types (simple, compound, complex, compound/complex)
  • Subject-verb agreement
  • Run-on sentences, including fused sentences and comma splices
  • Pronoun antecedent agreement
  • Fragments
  • Faulty predication
  • Parts of speech
  • Kinds of nouns (common, proper, concrete, abstract, collective)
  • Conjunctions
  • Modifiers
  • Kinds of verbs (transitive, intransitive, linking, auxiliary)
  • Tenses (present tense, past tense, future tense, present perfect tense, past perfect tense, future perfect tense).
  • Distinguishing a verbal from a verb
  • Kinds of verbals (infinitive, participles, gerunds)
  • Pronoun case
  • Phrases
  • Clauses
  • Effective sentences
  • Punctuation (comma, period, question mark, semicolon, exclamation point, apostrophe, colon, quotation marks, dash, parenthesis, brackets, hyphen)
  • Capitalization rules
  • Denotations & connotations

Helpful Resources Your most helpful study materials will come from former American and British literature anthologies (if you didn’t sell them back after each semester), as well as the websites below.Suggested Texts:
Although most of what you need can be found online, the book below is essentially a complete, thorough, and efficient study guide for the Praxis II. It contains nearly every single term and genre, as well as key information about the major literary movements and periods, in a concise text.

Barton, Edwin J., and Glenda A. Hudson. A Contemporary Guide to Literary Terms with Strategies for Writing Essays About Literature. 2nd ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004.

Suggested Sites:

The links below may not be routinely updated, so be prepared to use a search engine to find any information you need.

Literary Terms:

Literary Terms 1
Literary Terms 2
Literary Terms 3
Literary Terms 4

Literary Genres:

Major Genres and Subgenres

General Literary Movements:

General Literary Movements 1

American Literature:

American Literature 1
American Literature 2 (Early lit.)
American Literature 3 (Twentieth Century & the Modern Era)
American Literature 4 (Twentieth Century & the Modern Era)
American Literature 5 (Postmodernism)
Native American Literature 1

British Literature:

British Literature 1

World Literature:

African American Literature

Caribbean Literature

Contemporary & Postcolonial World Literature

Latino/a Literature 1

Ancient Greek Literature 1

Ancient Roman Literature 1

Grammar and Mechanics:

Style, Grammar, & Punctuation
Tips on Grammar, Punctuation, & Style
Grammar and Usage

Created by Jamie M. Lee
Copyright © 2005-2013
All rights reserved.

77 thoughts on “The Study Guide”

  1. Hello,
    I’m registered to take the Middle School Exam in April. In Maryland the 5047 is required but there are no prep books because I believe it’s new. I’m assuming your study guide is only for Secondary? If so, does anyone have any good suggestions for the Middle School 5047 exam.

  2. No, there are not pedagogy questions. Please see the description and pie chart at the top of “The Study Guide” page (where you left this comment) for a breakdown of what is on this exam. Good luck!

  3. I have been a teacher for 27 years and am taking the 5038 to add an endorsement to my license that will allow me to get out of special education (currently my only certification). Even with a masters degree and being highly qualified in ELA, I have to take and pass this with a 167. I am overwhelmed with all the info I need to review, but this guide has been the best resource on the web that I’ve found. I take the test in July 2014 and am beginning to panic, especially after printing the study guide companion for the 5038/5039. So far I’ve been attempting the practice questions and have done horribly! I am such a bad test taker, just like my students! Does anyone know what the difference is between this study guide from ets and the plain 5038 one??? I am doing much better with it rather than the combo.
    Also does anyone know how much common core related material, if any, is on the praxis 5038?
    Thanks! I’ll update after I take the test and learn my score!
    Anyway, thank you for this website and guide! It’s so comprehensive and being free-you’re an angel!

  4. Jennifer, I wish you the best of luck transitioning out of special education in your career. On the positive side, you have a solid career, so you don’t need the Praxis to maintain it. If for any reason this session doesn’t get as well as you hope, you can always learn from it and take it again. I wish I could help you with the CCSS and 5038 questions, but I’m afraid I can’t. Best of luck to you! 🙂

  5. Jennifer- I know how you are feeling. I am taking the 5047 ( for the second time) next week and am freaked out. I need this to add on to my Ec license in order to teach resource. I am not sure which one the 5038 is, but I feel your pain.
    If anyone know of any good resources for the 5047, please advise.

  6. I am currently enrolled for my masters in elementary education. I will be needing to take the praxis at the end. Will all of this literary be on it?

  7. Brittany, what Praxis will you need to take? This study guide is for the 0041, which certifies educators to teach English 7-12, valid for grade 6 in most middle schools.

  8. I’m taking the 5041 in two weeks and am absolutely flipping out about the book list–even with an MFA I didn’t realize how many of these books I haven’t read. Commencing panic attack and will be Sparknoting furiously. THANK YOU for this list!

  9. Hey everyone!
    I am taking the new praxis English 5038 test, and I was told that it is extremely similar to the 0041. I am getting a little bit overwhelmed with this whole praxis exam. I am hoping to take it in December, so I figured that I should start studying sooner rather than later. Anybody have any good tips on how I should study- timeline wise? Also, when I begin to study all the books that you have listed, should I look into the history of the book, or should I just like into the author, important quotations, etc.?

    Please! I beg someone get back to me! I wish I had a study buddy, but the reality of the situation is I am all on my own!

  10. Hi, Angie,

    You’re absolutely taking the right steps by getting started early! I waited until the last minute, which was very overwhelming, and why I created this study guide years ago! 🙂 While I can’t help with the 5038 or help you understand how to study for it, if it IS like the 0041, then I can answer your book question. Basically, I just skimmed the names of the books. I really can’t remember exact wording of any question, but I think there were two sort of like this: “Which author and book featured a dog, Buck, in the gold rush Yukon?” (It was multiple choice–it was Jack London’s Call of the Wild.) Another was about “Which author and book featured a boy who turned into an insect?”–actually, I think that one may have been an excerpt from the book, but it was still obviously Khafka/Metamorphosis. Even though I’d never read any of those books, or very few, the passages selected and wording of the questions made that section pretty darn easy, honestly. I didn’t study the history of the books; I just skimmed the plot summaries and authors’ names and kept pushing through. It definitely worked! Sorry if that’s not more helpful, but it helped me to pass. 🙂 Good luck!

  11. Glad to see you were on this page recently! (Are you currently a teacher, btw?) I am, as others have said, very grateful you put all this together. There is no study guide for the 5038 until this September, which is when, I suppose, it is first being printed. After a bunch of research and deciding that if I studied this page I would at least be going in the right direction, I just today realized the 5308 is the new 0041! Again, thanks for all you have done here!

  12. Hey its me again! lol sorry!
    While I was going through the study guide you gave me- which may I say I finished making- I realized that the praxis recommends you analysis or interpret certain excerpts from different types of literature. Do you know of any books that may help assist me in analyzing or interpreting?


  13. Taking test tomorrow (5038) anyone have any last minute advice? Was it harder or easier than study test by ETS?

  14. Thank you so much! I used to be a teacher, and I’m still involved in education, but I’ve gone to the corporate side of education. Hmm, it sounds like this site is going to be defunct soon, but I’m glad ETS is staying with the times. 🙂

  15. I just wanted to chime in a little on the Praxis II exams, as I have taken a slew of them. How hard you find them depends on how you study for a test. Although we spend a great deal of time getting our students to internalize their learning, so that is becomes a broad base, the truth is that ETS fairly consistently creates tests that are specific to certain facts and figures that can be learned by rote memorization. Remember, you don’t have to get a perfect score, you just have to pass. All that said, let me give you some of the techniques that have worked well for me. First, I always purchase any practice tests that ETS sells that should be relevant to what I am studying. The interactive versions are nice, but go away off of your computer in about ninety days, so I always buy an ebook version to keep. If I don’t have the exact test, because of revamping, etc., I will purchase those closest to the content, including older versions. That becomes a baseline of knowledge. Next, I go to Peterson’s Online Prep Center and see if there are any CLEP or DANTES exams that deal with the subject matter, or will have some overlap. If you are military in any way, you can have three practice tests for free. If not military, the cost is minimal. For example, I used the Analyzing and Interpreting Literature practice tests when studying for the Middle School Language Arts exam. Tons of overlap. Since you can always sign up and take the tests again, you can begin to see where you have made headway. You can also print out the test to keep for your own records to revisit. I also signed up for one of the Praxis II study sites that offered practice exams for about $65, and you could take multiple exams over and over, they would just reset the exams. It was nice to see some of the same literature on the Praxis exams, even if the questions were a little different. The bottom line is that this exposure to very similar titles and questions starts to bring this all into focus, and everything starts to click. Don’t forget to check out quizlet for lists of terms and definitions that have been created by other crazed students in the past. The work has been done, and you have to be crazy not to access it. I am NOT a flash card person, but I will study lists of terms that are subject specific. Once again, it is free, and multiple exposures starts to create a network of knowledge and things fall into place. Once I start taking the practice exams, I retake and retake, always going back to find out what I did wrong, and then I force myself to write out the correct version of each wrong answer, including rationale if that helps. Take the test again, but only test on the ones you missed. You already know the rest of them. Every four or five attempts, breeze through the entire test, just to keep the stuff fresh in your brain, but the rapid correct and repeat is to lay down a better memory on the things you are not 100% on – yet. The first Praxis II exams I took were in Biology, followed by General Science, before the computer administered tests. I was an alternate route teacher candidate many years out of school. Even not knowing what to expect, I scored 15-18 points above the required scores and passed. Ambitious, I aimed at Elem. Ed., using the techniques I’ve described. I received a 194, a score of recognition from ETS, but I was annoyed that I had gone back and changed a couple of answers because I felt guilty that I had so much time left. It cost me a perfect score. Since then I have also had high 180’s in Middle School Science, as well as Middle School ELA. I am on this site tonight because I want to take a CLEP exam for credit, since the state and I have agreed to disagree about one three hour course in undergrad that my school called English, but the state does not. So the irony is that now I am actually going to take that CLEP exam on Literature! I freely admit that I am an overachiever when it comes to tests, but most teachers want to do better than just barely squeak by.

    I almost forgot one of my best tips. End each night by taking that entire practice test that is becoming easier and higher scoring by the day. Take it, correct any mistakes in writing, and go directly to bed and sleep. The brain keeps processing the information and is even more efficient without the intrusions of a busy day. Give your brain a chance to digest what you are feeding it. How long do you need to prepare? I usually sign up for the test, allowing no more than 2.5 weeks of prep. For me, the immediacy of the event keeps motivation high. If I run into terms that I am not sure of, I will get a Facts of File book that allows me to get the most relevant amount of information in the easiest way to understand as possible. You don’t need to write a dissertation, you just need to create context.

    I hope this helps. I love the computer delivered tests – you know how you did on the multiple choice when you leave. I am currently looking at going after my Middle School Social Studies exam in the fall, so I will be looking at another round of testing. The newer tests, at least in ELA, do have some pedagogy built into them. In NJ the MS Specialization Endorsement is now called Language Arts and Literacy, a change from just a couple of years ago, and there are definitely pedagogy questions in there. Be early to the testing center, give yourself an extra hour, bring your notes on your big picture, have a terms list to look at, and a literature list like the one on this site to refresh some names day of. Then just walk in calmly and confidently, and nerves will not be getting in your way. Best of luck to all of you – I may see you at a testing center in the near future!

  16. I am extremely curious if anyone on here has taken the 5038 and what they have to say about it? I am taking it this Thursday and I have honestly only been studying recently. All of this is extremely overwhelming. I’ve taken a practice test and if I get the same % on the real test I will not pass. My two biggest areas of growth are knowledge on literature (and reading all of those plot summaries will take me a long, long time… I wish the list was narrowed down) and analyzing poetry. This site is great and I’m very appreciative of it. I will be on it a lot these next few days.

  17. As a special ed. teacher in VA, I am required to pass the Praxis in order to teach a self-contained English 8 class. I took the new test (Middle School Eng./Lang. Arts–5047). It was quite a step up from the previous test (paired passages, multiple answers, writing response, all those points mentioned above).Needless to say I didn’t pass and am studying for a retest next month. I heartily recommend purchasing the 5047 study guide and take the practice test several times. Additionally, use any other resources on the web. Good Luck!

  18. Kim berg
    how did the test end up going? Did you pass and how difficult was it for you?

  19. Took 5038 got a 189! Only studied for about 3 weekends- did not have as many questions on literature as I had prepared for, no need to read the plot synopsis of all those books. Mostly just reading comprehension and Grammar/parts of speech/ and some teaching strategy type questions.

  20. Thank you so much Toni. The practice test didn’t require as much identifying of passages or authors either, so I was assuming I would be okay in that area (though, I’m glad as a future English teacher I am more familiar with those works). I do okay on the reading comprehension, but the grammar gives me a bit of trouble at times. The teaching strategy ones are a bit tricky, but I’m realizing you really have to read the wording carefully in order to understand what it’s truly looking for.

    Angie, I take the test tomorrow. I’ve studied all day today and will be the rest of the night. I take it at 1pm so I’ll have time in the morning to get some healthy food in me and do a final bit of “cramming”.

  21. I don’t mean to be so annoying, again, but I was wondering if you were aware of any books or any website that will help with reading comprehension? I took a couple of the practice tests that you buy from ets, and I realized the majority of the ones I was getting wrong were based on reading comprehension. Its odd because I did so horrible in the practice praxis tests, but I have such a good gpa of 3.62. I don’t know what to do or where to go from here. I got a lot wrong on the reading comprehension problems, which in turn makes me pretty bummed out!

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