Doing well on the AP World History exam really relies on your ability to understand patterns in history. By familiarizing yourself with trends in history as opposed to memorizing facts, you can get a 5 on the AP World History exam. For more on how to study for AP World History, see our blog post here.
Now to the good stuff… here are 50+ AP World History tips.
Thesis/Introductory Paragraphs for AP World History
1. Answer ALL of the question: Make sure your thesis addresses every single part of the question being asked for the AP World History free response section. Missing a single part can cost you significantly in the grading of your essay.
2. Lean one way: Trying to appease both sides creates an argument that’s not nearly as strong as if you take a stance.
3. Lead your reader: Help your reader understand where you are going as you answer the prompt to the essay–provide them with a map of a few of the key areas you are going to talk about in your essay.
4. Organize with strength in mind: When outlining the respective topics you will be discussing, start from the topic you know second best, then the topic you know least, before ending with your strongest topic area. In other words, make your roadmap 2-3-1 so that you leave your reader with the feeling that you have a strong understanding of the question being asked.
5. Understand the word “Analyze”: When the AP exam asks you to analyze, you want to think about the respective parts of what is being asked and look at the way they interact with one another. This means that when you are performing your analysis on the AP World History test, you want to make it very clear to your reader of what you are breaking down into its component parts. For example, what evidence do you have to support a point of view? Who are the important historical figures or institutions involved? How are these structures organized? How does this relate back to the overall change or continuity observed in the world?
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Answering AP World History DBQ Tips
1. Group with intent: One skill tested on the AP exam is your ability to relate documents to one another–this is called grouping. The idea of grouping is to essentially create a nice mixture of supporting materials to bolster a thesis that addresses the DBQ question being asked. In order to group effectively, create at least three different groupings with two subgroups each. When you group–group to respond to the prompt. Do not group just to bundle certain documents together. The best analogy would be you have a few different colored buckets, and you want to put a label over each bucket. Then you have a variety of different colored balls which each color representing a document, and you want to put these balls into buckets. You can have documents that fall into more than one group, but the big picture tip to remember is to group in response to the prompt. This is an absolute must. 33% of your DBQ grade comes from assessing your ability to group.
2. Assess POV with SOAPSTONE: SOAPSTONE helps you answer the question of why the person in the document made the piece of information at that time. It answers the question of the motive behind the document.
3. S: S represents Speaker or Source. You want to begin by asking yourself who is the source of the document. Think about the background of this source. Where do they come from? What do they do? Are they male or female? What are their respective views on religion or philosophy? How old are they? Are they wealthy? Poor? Etc.
4. O: O stands for occasion. You want to ask yourself when the document was said, where was it said, and why it may have been created. You can also think of O as representative of origin.
5. A: A represents for audience. Think about who this person wanted to share this document with. What medium was the document originally delivered in? Is it delivered through an official document or is it an artistic piece like a painting?
6. P: P stands for purpose. Ask again, why did this person create or say this document? What is the main motive behind the document?
7. S: S is for the subject of the document. This is where you see if you have an understanding of how the subject relates to the question the test is asking you. Think about if there are other documents or pieces of history that could further support or not support this document source.
8. TONE: Tone poses the question of what the tone of the document is. This relates closely with speaker. Think about how the creator of the document says certain things. Think about the connotations of certain words.
9. Explicitly state your analysis of POV: Your reader is not psychic. He or she cannot simply read your mind and understand exactly why you are rewriting a quotation by a person from a document. Be sure to explicitly state something along the lines of, “In document X, author states, “[quotation]”; the author may use this [x] tone because he wants to signify [y].” Another example would be, “The speaker’s belief that [speaker’s opinion] is made clear from his usage of particularly negative words such as [xyz].”
10. Assessing Charts and Tables: Sometimes you’ll come across charts of statistics. If you do, ask yourself questions like where the data is coming from, how the data was collected, who released the data, etc. You essentially want to take a similar approach to SOAPSTONE with charts and tables.
11. Assessing Maps: When you come across maps, look at the corners and center of the map. Think about why the map may be oriented in a certain way. Think about if the title of the map or the legend reveals anything about the culture the map originates from. Think about how the map was created–where did the information for the map come from. Think about who the map was intended for.
12. Assessing Cultural Pieces: If you come across more artistic documents such as literature, songs, editorials, or advertisements, you want to really think about the motive of why the piece of art or creative writing was made and who the document was intended for.
13. Be careful with blanket statements: Just because a certain point of view is expressed in a document does not mean that POV applies to everyone from that area. When drawing from the documents, you need to explicitly state which author and document you are citing.
14. Bias will always exist: Even if you’re given data in the form of a table, there is bias in the data. Do not fall into the trap of thinking just because there are numbers, it means the numbers are foolproof.
15. Be creative with introducing bias: Many students understand that they need to show their understanding that documents can be biased, but they go about it the wrong way. Rather than outright stating, “The document is biased because [x]”, try, “In document A, the author is clearly influenced by [y] as he states, “[quotation]”. See the difference? It’s subtle but makes a clear difference in how you demonstrate your understanding of bias.
16. Refer back to the question: As you write your DBQ essay, make sure to reference back to the question to show the reader how the argument you are trying to make relates to the overarching question. This is one way you clearly demonstrate that you spent a few minutes planning your essay in the very beginning.
17. Leave yourself out of it: Do not refer to yourself when writing your DBQ essays! “I” has no place in these AP essays.
18. Stay grounded to the documents: All of your core arguments must be supported through the use of the documents. Do not form the majority of your arguments on what you know from class. Use what you learned in class instead to bolster your arguments in relation to the documents presented.
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Overall AP World History DBQ Essay Tips & Advice
1. Start essay practice early: At least one month before the AP World History exam date, organize a few essay questions you will work through for the next four weeks before the test. Find a proctor whether that be a parent, peer, or teacher and have them simulate a timed test as you answer the essay.
2. Familiarize yourself with the time limits: Part of the reason why we suggest practicing essays early is so that you get so good at writing them that you understand exactly how much time you have left when you begin writing your second to last paragraph. You’ll be so accustomed to writing under timed circumstances that you will have no worries in terms of finishing on time.
3. Learn the rubric: If you have never looked at an AP World History grading rubric before you enter the test, you are going in blind. You must know the rubric like the back of your hand so that you can ensure you tackle all the points the grader is looking for. Here are the 2014 Scoring Guidelines.
4. Read the historical background: You know that little blurb at the beginning of the document? The test takers don’t put it there for no reason. The historical background is like a freebie–it can tell you the time period of the document and shed a little insight into the POV of the source. Read it!
5. Familiarize yourself with analyses of art: This one is optional, but a great way to really get used to analyzing art is to visit an art museum and to listen to the way that art is described. Often times there will be interpretations of the artist’s intent and perspective.
AP World History Multiple Choice Review Tips
1. Identify key patterns: You know that saying, history repeats itself? There’s a reason why people say that, and that is because there are fundamental patterns in history that can be understood and identified. This is especially true with AP World History. If you can learn the frequent patterns of history in relation to the six time periods tested, you’ll be able to guess in a smart manner when you have absolutely no idea about something.
2. Use common sense: The beauty of AP World History is when you understand the core concept being tested and the patterns in history; you can deduce the answer of the question. Identify what exactly is being asked and then go through the process of elimination to figure out the correct answer. Now, this does not mean do not study at all. This means, rather than study 500 random facts about world history, really focus in on understanding the way history interacts with different parts of the world. Think about how minorities have changed over the course of history, their roles in society, etc. You want to look at things at the big picture so that you can have a strong grasp of each time period tested.
3. Familiarize with AP-style questions: If AP World History is the first AP test you’ve ever taken, or even if it isn’t, you need to get used to the way the CollegeBoard introduces and asks you questions. Find a review source to practice AP World History questions. Albert.io has hundreds of AP World History practice questions and detailed explanations to work through.
4. Make note of pain points: As you practice, you’ll quickly realize what you know really well, and what you know not so well. Figure out what you do not know so well and re-read that chapter of your textbook. Then, create flashcards of the key concepts of that chapter along with key events from that time period.
5. Supplement practice with video lectures: A fast way to learn is to do practice problems, identify where you are struggling, learn that concept more intently, and then to practice again. Crash Course has created an incredibly insightful series of World History videos you can watch on YouTube here. Afterwards, go back and practice again. Practice makes perfect, especially when it comes to AP World History.
6. Strike out wrong answer choices: The second you can eliminate an answer choice, strike out the letter of that answer choice and circle the word or phrase behind why that answer choice is incorrect. This way, when you review your answers at the very end, you can quickly check through all of your answers. One of the hardest things is managing time when you’re doing your second run-through to check your answers—this method alleviates that problem by reducing the amount of time it takes for you to remember why you thought a certain answer choice was wrong.
7. Answer every question: If you’re crunched on time and still have several AP World History multiple-choice questions to answer, the best thing to do is to make sure that you answer each and every one of them. There is no guessing penalty for doing so, so take full advantage of this!
Tips Submitted by AP World History Teachers
1. Use high polymer erasers: When answering the multiple choice scantron portion of the AP World History test, use a high polymer eraser. It is the only eraser that will fully erase on a scantron. Thanks for the tip from Ms. J. at Boulder High School.
2. Outline, outline, outline: Take a few minutes to outline your essay based on themes, similarities, bias, etc. It’s the easiest way to craft a fluid essay. Thanks for the tip from Mr. M at Chapel Hill High School.
3. Stay ahead of your reading and when in doubt, read again: You are responsible for a huge amount of information when it comes to tackling AP World History, so make sure you are responsible for some of it. You can’t leave all the work up to your instructor. It’s a team effort. Thanks for the tip from Mr. E at Tri-Central High.
4. Integrate video learning: A great way to really solidify your understanding of a concept is to watch supplementary videos on the topic. Then, read the topic again to truly master it. Thanks for the tip from Mr. D at Royal High School.
5. Keep a study log: Study for three hours for every hour of class you have and keep a study log so that you can see what you accomplished every day as you sit down to study. Thanks for the tip from Mr. R. at Stephen F. Austin High.
6. Practice with transparencies: Use transparencies or a white board to create overlay maps for each of the six periods of AP World History at the start of each period so that you can see a visual of the regions of the world being focused on. Thanks for the tip from Ms. W at Riverbend High.
7. Read every word: Often times in AP World History many questions can be answered without specific historical knowledge. Many questions require critical thinking and attention to detail; the difference between a correct answer and an incorrect answer lies in just one or two words in the question or the answer. Thanks for the tip from Mr. R. at Mandarin High.
8. Cover the entire time frame: When addressing the DBQ on continuity, make sure to cover the entire time frame unless you specifically write in your thesis about a different time period. Thanks for the tip from Mr. H at Great Oak High.
9. Summarize then answer: Ms. B recommends at Desert Edge High recommends to summarize what you know about each answer choice and then to see if it applies to the question when answering the multiple choice questions.
10. Master writing a good thesis: In order to write a good thesis, you want to make sure it properly addresses the whole question or prompt, effectively takes a position on the main topic, includes relevant historical context, and organize key standpoints. Thanks for the tip from Mr. G at Loganville High.
11. Tackle DBQs with SAD and BAD: With the DBQ, think about the Summary, Author, and Date & Context. Also consider the Bias and Additional Documents to verify the bias. Thanks for the tip from Mr. G at WHS.
12. Create a refined thesis in your conclusion: 35 with 40 minutes to write each of your essays, starting with a strong thesis can be difficult, especially since students can find it challenging in what they are about to write. By the time you finish your essay, you have a much more clear idea of how to answer the question. Take a minute and revisit the prompt and try to provide a much more explicit and comprehensive thesis than the one you provided in the beginning as your conclusion. This thesis statement is much more likely to give you the point for thesis than the rushed thesis in the beginning. Thanks for the tip from Mr. R at Mission Hills High.
13. Annotate: Textbook reading is essential for success in AP World History, but learn to annotate smarter, not harder. Be efficient in your reading and note taking. Read, reduce, and reflect. To read – use sticky notes. Using post-its is a lifesaver – use different color stickies for different tasks (pink – summary, blue – questions, green – reflection, etc.) Reduce – go back and look at your sticky notes and see what you can reduce – decide what is truly essential material to know or question. Then reflect – why are the remaining sticky notes important? How will they help you not just understand content, but also understand contextualization or causality or change over time? What does this information show you? Thanks for the tip from Ms. J at Legacy High.
14. Relate back to the themes: Understanding 10,000 years of world history is hard. Knowing all the facts is darn near impossible. If you can use your facts/material and explain it within the context of one of the APWH themes, it makes it easier to process, understand, and apply. The themes are your friends. Thanks for the tip from Ms. J at Legacy High.
15. Form a study group: Everyone has different talents and areas of strength. You don’t, and shouldn’t, try to tackle this class all by yourself. Form a study group and learn from each other, help everybody become better by sharing your talents and skills. This is also a place where you can vent your frustrations and feel a sense of unity and belonging. We are truly all in this together. Thanks for the tip from Ms. J at Legacy High.
16. Look for the missing voice in DBQs: First, look for the missing voice. Who haven’t you heard from in the DBQ? Who’s voice would really help you answer the question more completely? Next, if there isn’t really a missing voice, what evidence do you have access to, that you would like to clarify? For example, if you have a document that says excessive taxation led to the fall of the Roman Empire, what other piece of information would you like to have access to that would help you prove or disprove this statement? Maybe a chart that shows tax amounts from prior to the 3rd Century Crisis to the mid of the 3rd century crisis? Thanks for the tip from Ms. J at Legacy High.
17. Go with your gut: When choosing an answer, it can be tempting to feel anxious and to potentially start second guessing yourself. Don’t. Tests are designed to make test takers get stuck between two or three answer choices (leading to anxiety and eating away time for completing the test). Limit the amount you second guess yourself. If you studied properly, there is a reason why your mind wanted you to pick that original answer before any of the other choices. Thanks for the tip from Mrs. S at Carnahan High School of the Future.
18. Don’t forget to B.S. in your DBQ: B.S. on everything! (Be Specific).
19. Remember your PIE: Writing a thesis is as easy as PIE: Period, Issue, Examples.
20. Look at every answer option: Don’t go for the first “correct” answer; find the most “bulletproof” answer. The one you’d best be able to defend in a debate.
Are you a teacher or student? Do you have an awesome tip? Let us know!
Hopefully you’ve learned a lot from reading all 50+ of these AP World History tips. Doing well in AP World History comes down to recognizing patterns and trends in history, and familiarizing yourself with the nature of the test. Once you get comfortable with the way questions are presented, you’ll realize that you can actually rely on quite a bit of common sense to answer the DBQs as well as the multiple choice questions. Students often think the key to AP history tests is memorizing every single fact of history, and the truth is you may be able to do that and get a 5, but the smart way of doing well on the test comes from understanding the reason why we study history in the first place. By learning the underlying patterns that are tested on the exam, for example how opinions towards women may have influenced the social or political landscape of the world during a certain time period, you can create more compelling theses and demonstrate to AP readers a clear understanding of the bigger picture.
In case you’re the type of student that needs a more structured study plan, we created a one-month AP World History Study Guide here.
Find the patterns, master crafting the essays, and practice hard, and you’ll do well come May. Good luck!
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Kickstart your AP World History prep with Albert. Start your AP exam prep today.
Need some free resources to help you prepare for the AP World History exam? This complete collection of AP World History practice tests has links to free multiple-choice questions designed for the complete AP World History curriculum, as well as real AP free-response questions and a full-length practice test. Read on to learn how to use these resources and to get links to hundreds of AP World History practice questions.
Important Note on the Recent AP World History Revision
Unfortunately for the state of AP World History practice exam resources, the AP World History Test was just revised for 2016-2017 (and underwent some minor changes during the 2017-2018 school year.) This means that there are very few resources available—official or unofficial—that are up-to-date and reflect the recent changes to the test.
This primarily affects the practice resources available for the free-response section, which has been substantially revised. Previously, the free-response section had three essay questions: a document-based question, a "continuity and change over time," essay, and a "comparative essay." Now there are only two essay questions: the DBQ, which has a new, substantially revised rubric, and the Long Essay Question (LEQ). For the LEQ you will be presented with two question options and write about one. With these changes, the free-response section now mirrors those of AP US History and AP European History, which were also recently revised.
We've flagged everything you need to know about using practice resources in light of the revisions to the test in this article.
How to Use These Resources
On the most basic level, you'll use these resources to get familiar with the format and feel of the AP test and to make sure you know the content necessary to succeed on the test. It's important to note, however, that there are two main categories of practice resources available: official College Board practice resources and unofficial resources.
Official College Board resources are the most similar to the actual AP test. (Which makes sense, because they are the ones who write the test!) You'll use these to make sure you're comfortable with the test format and question style.
Unofficial resources, however, are much more plentiful. The multiple-choice questions we link to come from two main places—textbook websites and study websites. While these resources are high quality, they won’t be exactly like the AP test. Some questions are easier; some are much harder. Some sections have true/false questions mixed in with multiple-choice while the AP test has only multiple-choice questions. Unofficial resources can be very helpful for studying, particularly for learning content, but official resources will give you the most accurate feel for what the AP test will actually be like.
Next we'll go over official, College-Board created resources and how to use them best. Then we'll present the unofficial resources out there.
There are two kinds of official College Board resources: sample multiple-choice questions, and free response questions (both current and in the old format).
There is no official released practice test for AP World History. However, you could cobble one together by supplementing the practice questions from the current AP Course and Exam Description with additional multiple-choice questions from the 2011 AP Course and Exam Description (you'll need to use 26 of 30 to make it to the requisite 55). If you decide to do that to get the full exam experience, follow the section timing as laid out here (105 minutes for section I, and 90 minutes for section II).
Otherwise, here are your options:
Official Multiple-Choice and Short Answer Questions
There are two places to get official multiple-choice questions:
You can use these to get a feel for the multiple choice and short answer portions of the test, or you can Macguyver a practice test as suggested above. If you do go with the practice test option, wait until at least March so that you know enough material to avoid being totally frustrated by the amount of material you don't know.
Official Free-Response Questions
The new AP Course and Exam Description has an up-to-date practice DBQ and practice Long Essay. Even if you don't do a makeshift practice test with new and old course descriptions as suggested above, I strongly advise that you take a timed essay section using these questions by the beginning of April at the latest. This will give you enough time to see if you are really missing any essential skill areas you need to patch up before exam day.
Otherwise, there are tons and tons of old free-response questions available at the College Board website. However, they are all in the old format. This means that the only questions that will really be useful to you are the old DBQs—the new LEQ is too different from the other old essays for those to be very helpful. If you do use old DBQs, be sure to write your essay with the new rubric in mind as the requirements for a top score have changed. A major change, for example, is that you are no longer required to make document "groups." I advise also using the new rubric to grade your own essays as best you can—or, even better, get someone else to grade them!
While official resources are essential for getting a feel for the experience of taking the test, there aren't that many—so you'll need to supplement your studying with unofficial resources.
The unofficial resources we found are from two broad categories: study websites and textbook websites. Many of the quizzes from study websites are organized by AP theme and time period and contain mixed geographic areas, so these would be good unit review resources throughout the year and will also be helpful as you ramp up your studying for the exam in the spring.
Most of the quizzes from textbooks are organized by time period, so they can be used to check your mastery of certain historical eras (broken down by geographical area) as you learn about them in class. But don’t, for example, take every single test on ancient Greece when you first learn about it in August or September – save some for when you study in March and April so you can review (we have ten different quiz sources so you should have more than enough to practice with!).
For all multiple-choice questions, remember to practice process of elimination (eliminating answers you know are definitely wrong). Especially if you use the textbook websites, the questions could have a high level of specificity, and you’ll have to break them down by eliminating wrong answers. This is a key skill to build for the actual AP exam since the test questions will be slightly different than your teacher’s tests and your textbook’s quizzes, so you’ll need to be prepared to break them down using your existing knowledge base.
Often the wrong way is much easier to spot than the right way.
Quizzes from Study Websites
Without further ado, here are the links to the various free study resources for AP World History. First up: quizzes from study websites!
These quizzes are super handy because they are focused by AP theme and time period (e.g. “Technological and Environmental Transformations, to 600 BCE”), and aren’t limited to one geographic area. This is a great resource for preparing for the AP multiple-choice section, which will jump between geographic areas and time periods.
Like Soft Schools, Albert.io is a collection of quizzes by AP theme and time period. It also rates questions as “easy,” “moderate,” and “difficult,” to give you a sense of how deeply you understand the World History curriculum (if you’re getting a lot of the “difficults” correct, you’re definitely paying attention!).
Global Studies Review Page
This has detailed multiple-choice quizzes organized by geographic area. Since this is not designed with the AP World History test in mind, this should be used as a resource to build your overall knowledge of specific regions (which will be necessary to do well on AP World History multiple-choice). I especially recommend checking this page out if there is a specific geographic area or time period you’re struggling with.
My Max Score Practice Test
Here's a full, unofficial practice test in the old format. Not much help for the free-response section, but a great multiple-choice question resource. The answer key even has explanations!
Textbook Chapter Quizzes
Before we get into the links to textbook quizzes, a quick word of advice: if your class’s textbook is not on here, your book might have online quizzes behind a paywall, so definitely check that possibility out!
But if your textbook is here and your teacher uses these textbook quizzes for class, use the other websites so you don’t step on his or her toes. (You wouldn’t want to be accused of cheating, even if the quizzes are readily available online.)
For all of these links, navigate to the chapter of the textbook with the content you want to study (whether that’s Ancient China or the Cold War). For some of the websites this is pretty straightforward, for others, it's a bit more complicated. For example, this is how to find the quizzes from Voyages in World History:
This is where you'll land after clicking on the link. In the drop-down menu, choose the chapter you want to focus on. In this particular menu, the chapters are just labeled by number and not title, so you need to click on them to see their content.
For example, when I click on "Chapter 7" I see the focus of the chapter is the Roman Empire and rise of Christianity. Click on "ACE the Test" in the blue side-bar to get to the chapter quiz.
Now just click on "ACE Practice Tests" to launch the quiz.
The quiz will open in a new window (so you may need to disable your pop-up blocker if you have one!). Answer away!
The six textbooks listed below each contain between 25 and 30 chapters with very detailed multiple-choice quizzes, so there is tons of study material here. Again, these quizzes will be your go-to study resource as you cover different subjects in class and can also be used for more fine-tuned studying in the spring.
Because AP World History was just revised, there aren't that many up-to-date resources available. This primarily affects the practice questions available for the free-response section, since that's changed the most.
There are both official College Board resources available to help you become familiar with the test format and feel, and unofficial resources to help you learn test content. You'll need to use a mix of both to succeed on the exam! But save most of the official resources for sometime in March or April when you know most of the material so you don't waste your limited official resources!
Want to learn more about studying for AP World History? We have a detailed guide right here to plan out your studying over the whole school year.
AP World History is pretty challenging, but is it the hardest AP class you can take? Get our lists of the hardest and easiest AP classes to see where it stacks up.
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