By Moe Mijjum
AP World History: A course designed to cram thousands of years of history into a short teaching period. While learning everything from the Stone Age to the Jazz Age may seem impossible, passing the AP world history exam is not. There are 2 major sections: The multiple-choice and the essay.
Section I: The Multiple Choice Section:
The exam includes 70 multiple choice questions to be completed in 55 minutes. This may seem overwhelming at first, but with proper preparation you’ll find these questions represent the key concepts you’ve been studying all year.
Although period 1 (1-600 BCE) sets the foundation for AP world history, it only consists of 5% of the multiple-choice questions. This is mainly because we know very little about what happened in the first 600 years of human history, and what we do know has little significance with our present day. Period 2 (600 BCE- 600 CE) makes up 15% of the questions, and Period 3 (600 CE- 1450), Period 4 (1450-1750), Period 5 (1750-1900), and Period 6 (1900- present) each make up 20% of the test questions.
It is important to manage your time efficiently while taking the exam. You’ll have less than a minute to work out each question; know your strengths and weaknesses. If you’re staring at a question for longer than 30 seconds and you still don’t know what it’s asking, skip it and come back to it at the end. Use your time to correctly answer questions you know you can get right. If you come back to a question and still don’t know the answer, make a guess and move on. Remember, you’re not penalized for incorrect answers so it’s ok to guess.
When guessing on the multiple-choice, your chances of getting it right are higher than you think. Oftentimes, the answer choices will include 2-3 answers that are impossible because they’re inaccurate based on the time period. You can also eliminate answers that are impossible simply because they are not within the region specified in the question. It’s perfectly normal to guess on a question, but more often than not you’ll be able to narrow it down to 2 very good possible choices.
Section II: The Essay Section
There are three different types of essays for the world history exam: The comparative, the continuity and change over time essay, and the DBQ. The great part about the world history exam is that it offers a general prompt, and you get to choose what civilizations/key concepts you’d like to use to develop your essay.
The Comparative Essay
The comparative essay is just what it sounds like: a comparative essay. You will be given a prompt and different ways to go about answering it. For example, you may be asked to compare and contrast the economic systems either within China and Russia, Rome and Greece, or The Ottoman Empire and India. When answering this prompt, choose the civilizations you know the most about. If you find yourself stuck, try to remember one thing about the civilizations you chose. Oftentimes, remembering one little thing can lead to remembering a string of information. If you can remember who the emperor of China was at the time, you can remember what their government was like, what jobs they supported, and what philosophies they followed. This may not seem useful at first glance, but when putting together your essay you’ll find all of this will help you develop your argument.
The Continuity and Change Overtime Essay
The continuity and change over time essay is probably the most difficult. It requires close analysis over a certain trend in any given area in any given time period. The point of the continuity and change overtime essay is to see how well you can analyze the progression of history. The prompt may ask you to analyze the changes and continuities in Western Europe between the Middle Ages and The Renaissance. First, you need to make sure you hit all points of the essay from the beginning of the time period to the end. Explain what life was like in the middle ages, then point out any innovations that happened after, and finally end with how life was in the renaissance. The prompt always contains the rubric, so make sure you read it to know if you need a direct comparison, similarities, etc.
The DBQ Essay
The DBQ essay is less about your knowledge of AP World and more about how well you can comprehend pieces of information. You’ll be given around 8 documents and their sources; each document will have a different point of view and some may even be pictures or graphs. When answering the DBQ, be sure to answer all parts of the prompt. You’ll be given 15 minutes to read and analyze the documents, and another 40 to write.
Make sure while analyzing the documents you’re underlining key ideas, taking note of who the source is, and writing small paraphrases to replace the big chunks of information. By doing this, you’ll be able to quickly refer back to any source without having to read the entire document again. You’ll also have to group the documents together in order to develop organization.
If the prompt asks what were the effects of communism in 20th century China, you may want to group based on which documents support communism, which documents are against communism, and which documents are neutral. You can also group based on who the speaker is, where the source is from, what’s the religious affiliation of a certain article, and just about anything else you find the documents have in common. Avoid using empty connections like “these are both graphs, so I’ll group them together.” The AP reader wants to see you group based on historical significance.
Writing your AP essays can seem scary no matter what. There’s always the fear that you’ll know absolutely nothing about the topic. It’s important that you take a deep breath, relax, and trust that everything you’ve learned the past 9 months was worth it. You know the information; it’s only a matter of being able to remember it. The multiple-choice prior to the essay should help jog your memory on all the major topics you reviewed over the year, so pay attention to your answers in that portion as well.
You’re Not Doomed to Fail
As a student taking AP world, I was certainly overwhelmed with all the information. I barely knew the difference between BC and CE, and I thought Jesus’ last name was Christ. But the AP World History course is specifically designed to give you everything you need to pass the exam, all you have to do is use the tools you’re given. The exam tests you on big concepts and their effects more than anything else. You don’t have to know every emperor that ever lived in China, but it’d be good to know who was the prosperous emperor of each dynasty, and what everlasting contributions did they leave with China?
The most valuable resources are your key concepts (you can print it out from the College Board’s website.) It has all the big ideas, important concepts and people from each time period. These are especially useful because although review books are nice, they’re very condensed and require a sit-down study session. The key concepts have enough information for you to study, but not so much where nothing actually registers in your mind. Use the key concepts as a guideline for what’s important and what’s trivial.
A review book- worth the $20 or a waste of locker space? I felt the review book was extremely helpful when studying. I paired it with the key concepts to weed out which topics I could completely skip in the book, and took extensive notes on a few details from each major concept. It’s also good to reinforce ideas that your classroom textbook may not go in-depth in. Also, if your class textbook is anything like mine, you’ll want to rip your brains out every time you read it. A review book is a good alternative in case your textbook is too condensed, or just too difficult to read.
Although your AP World History class plays a key role in getting a good score on the exam, it’s important that you use your own time to study as well. You should be studying all year for your AP class, but when it came to the exam I felt it was best to start my independent study around March. It was close enough to the actual date of the AP exam so I remembered the information, but it wasn’t so close where I felt like I was cramming.
Use weekends to your advantage. Gather a group of friends and crack open those review books. If you know you’ll get easily distracted, go to a library or any other place that will get you in the studying mindset.
Spring break and other breaks are the best time to study. It may seem like a drag, studying during the last fun break of the year, but the truth is that those 7 days are extremely valuable to an AP student. They’re right before the AP exam so the material will stick, and there are only a few days a year where we don’t have to worry about all 6 of our classes at once, so use it to your advantage. Split up the course in sections (like the 6 time periods and their key concepts!) and make a study schedule. Even if you just study for an hour a day, it’ll make you that much more prepared for the exam.
Practice Makes Almost Perfect
As May approaches, it’ll do you some good to look up practice exams online. You can find them just about anywhere, and your review book may even have 2 or 3. Constantly get yourself in the mindset of a lengthy exam. When you’re taking practice exams, take them seriously. Pretend as though they’re the actual test so you can shake off your pre-exam jitters.
If your teacher doesn’t assign many essays, it wouldn’t hurt to write a few sample essays yourself. Get a group of friends and exchange essays. Follow the rubric and grade each other. The Collegeboard offers sample essays and their scores online, so you can look at exactly what the AP reader is looking for. Remember: the more you practice, the more confident you’ll be on the day of the AP exam.
You Can Do It!
For many students, the AP world history exam may be the first AP exam you ever take. The key is:
- Actively study as much as you possibly can second semester.
- Go through the key concepts, establish what’s important, and take notes from your review book.
- Write sample essays and have a teacher or peer grade them.
- Take sample multiple-choice exams. Review the questions you get wrong, understand why you missed them.
- Relax! You know the information that’s on the exam; trust that you’ll remember it.
- Get plenty of rest the night before. There’s no sense in studying the entire year only to crash from sleep deprivation during the test.
You should find comfort in the fact that AP world history is less fact based, and more like a story. As long as you can piece together the components of our world’s history, you’ll own the exam.
Moe Mijjum is currently a junior at Van Nuys High School who loves writing and playing oboe and alto sax for the school’s concert/marching band.
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