Many high school students decide to take AP European History, one of the most difficult AP History classes offered. In this course, memorization of specific details key, which, originally, may not seem too daunting. However, students must memorize details that span from 1450 to the present day, while taking into account social movements, political changes, and other themes. This can seem overwhelming (and sometimes, it is), but with a simple breakdown and some study tips, you, too, will be able to dominate the AP European History course and exam.
Setup of Exam
The multiple-choice section requires a lot of memorization of names and dates. The course offered at your high school should cover all key topic areas, while focusing on themes. The multiple-choice section is broken down into three equal parts: one-third on cultural and intellectual themes, one-third on political themes, and one-third on social and economic themes.
A good way to remember facts and names, and where to apply them, is to attach a certain theme to each person (but we will get to that later).
Half of the multiple-choice section will focus on 1450-1800, and the other half will focus on post-Napoleonic European history.
The exam consists of 80 multiple choice questions, in which students have 55 minutes to answer them all.
The second half of the exam, the free-response section, is a bit different. In the free-response section, students must answer two free-response questions, and one document-based question. In all, writing the three essays shouldn’t exceed the time limit of 130 minutes. The DBQ (document-based question) is mandatory – that is unless you decide not to do it, and take a zero, but why would you do that? The FRQs (free-response questions) are a bit different. You will receive two “banks” of questions, each bank will have three possible FRQ topics. Students will pick one essay to write from one of the banks, and pick a different essay from the other bank. Generally, one bank has questions that will range from 1450-1800, and the second bank will have questions that range from 1800-present day. This isn’t solidified, of course, but it seems to be a pattern.
Memorization of key names and dates will also be crucial here. In the grading rubrics, it says that you must back up your claims with evidence. Plan to have 2-4 pieces of evidence for each body paragraph to score more points. This will come easy, especially if you memorize a lot of facts for the multiple choice section. Bringing in evidence for the DBQ isn’t really that necessary, the College Board is giving you evidence in the documents. What is important in the DBQs, however, is point of view. Try to throw in an analysis of POV in each body paragraph; that is, bring up the fact that there are no writings from peasants, or how this guy believes in a different opinion, etc.
Time management skills are crucial for this section; work on practice exams to learn what essays you work the quickest on. I know, for me, I began to realize that I could quickly write a FRQ, so on exam day, I allotted myself more than the recommended time on the DBQ. You should do the same! It will save you a lot of stress and, if you spend more time working on the essay format you generally do worse on, you may even improve your score!
Also, the College Board LOVES focusing on women, so they will give you a FRQ on women. They will. It always happens. You can choose not to write that FRQ, of course, but, if you take the risk and succeed, it will help you score higher (take it from me, I took the risk, and failed. Miserably).
Take both the multiple choice section and the free-response section seriously! They make up equal parts of your score, so if you feel you did really bad on the first section, you really can’t make up for it in your essays. However, within the free-response section, the DBQ is weighted the highest. If you’re going to focus on anything, focus on that!
Personally, when I took AP Euro a few years ago, I loved it. I have not had a class challenge me as much as my AP Euro class, and although it was the most challenging course I’ve taken thus far, I gained a lot of skills. I became a better writer, thanks to countless hours of DBQ and FRQ writing. I also became a better studier, and I picked up on strategies that helped me memorize those key facts and names (all of which I will share with you later).
The exam can be scary, in the sense that it is massive, and very specific. There will also be surprises thrown at you; for me, there were a lot of questions concerning modern-day/90s affairs. I didn’t study those, and it drove me crazy. I also chose the woman essay, because the other two essay options in that bank dealt with modern affairs. As a result, I royally screwed up the women essay.
Although the AP European History exam will be changing next year (that is, the 2015-2016 school year), here are some tips that can help you study for exams in the course, or memorizing material:
Tip 1: Make it a soap opera.
This is essentially just a silly way to remember dates and names! This technique helped me ace tests in the course and allowed me to dominate in the multiple choice section of the AP Exam. It seems really childish, but it works. Think about it; every person (or group of people) mentioned in the course has some connection with other people (cough – royalty), and often times, for really silly reasons. Royal families hated each other for petty reasons, citizens of nations often slaughtered people because they felt like it, and King Henry VIII of England had a lot of lady issues. What better way to connect everyone than pretending they’re a bunch of drama-filled actors or teenagers? This will also help you remember their beliefs and what they did that was significant during their reign/lifetime (because more likely than not, it pissed someone off). This way, you can make connections with themes too. Eventually, when you hear the name Martin Luther, you will be able to rattle off what he did, what movement he was in, and who hated him. If you can do this for the most important people in European history, you will be golden.
Try connecting each person with a theme or movement, and also a movement they hate. That way, when you see multiple choice questions about any theme, movement, revolt, etc., you will be able to quickly remember who was for it, and who was against it.
Tip 2: Remember specifics.
This isn’t AP World, where you have to make cross-cultural connections and endlessly discuss themes. This also isn’t AP Econ, where memorizing shifting factors would be your best bet. ETS loves dates and names in AP Euro, and knowing them all will help you score higher. For example, you could be writing a FRQ on the explorers, and making almost no sense. But, then you throw in Vasco de Gama and Christopher Columbus to back up your horrible arguments, and suddenly, the scorer realizes “oh, they know what they’re talking about”. I wish I was kidding, but I’m not. Even on the College Board’s website, they emphasize “evidence” in their AP European History Tips. Want to know a cool way to remember all of the names and dates that will help you in essays? See Tip 1!
Tip 3: STUDY WOMEN!
This is by far one of the most important things – and it will make you or break you. It broke me, so I know! ETS loves throwing a women-centered essay on the AP Euro exam, and if you do it, you may be doomed. With this essay, you can’t really dance around the issue and throw in a few names. You either understand it and receive a really high score, or you do terrible. Make sure you study important women, make sure you know what time period they are in, and what they did. Make sure to recognize how the status of women changed over time. Make sure you understand family dynamics. Anything that could somehow be related to women, know! I saw this tip while I was studying for the Euro exam, and kind of brushed it over. In the end, I had to write the woman essay because I had no clue what to write for the other two. In my woman essay, I actually think I mentioned Madeleine Albright for some unknown reason. She’s not even European. Don’t be me. Study women.
- Take practice tests!
- Practice writing your essays
- Time yourself while practicing exam material
- Know the rubric!
- When writing essays, try to go in chronological order
- Answer every question, there is no guessing penalty
- Spend more time on the questions towards the end of the multiple choice section; they’re generally laid out by difficulty
Debra is currently a high school senior from the Philadelphia suburbs and will be attending Wellesley College in the fall. She really likes history, politics, gender issues, and the classics (but mostly Latin)! In her spare time, you can catch her blogging, watching TV, and discussing feminist prose.
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