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Taking an AP World History class requires strong critical thinking and writing skills. For many students it’s a very first attempt at an AP course. Preparing to take the AP World History exam? Give yourself plenty of time and resources to prepare for the big day.

The test is challenging. In 2020, only 9 percent of students received the top score of five on the test. But with careful planning, hard work, and determination, you can  ace the AP world history test.

Here are some study strategies to help you succeed in class.

Keep Up with History Class Readings

To succeed in class, you have to keep up with a mountain of reading.  Many AP World History courses require a full 20-page (or more) textbook chapter per week! Even more, there’s bound to be primary sources.

Reading long passages can be tough. It’s all too easy to fumble through the archaic language of primary sources. After hours of frustration, you realize you’ve retained almost nothing. But you can avoid this pitfall by developing active reading skills.

First, take notes while you read. Next, create an outline of each chapter in your notebook. That not only helps you retain information while reading, but provides a useful study guide. You refer back to that handy guide when it’s time to study for the AP exam in the spring.

The AP world history exam is not something you can cram for the night before. You have to prepare throughout the year to do well.

Outline Each Chapter

You won’t have time to reread your entire textbook when preparing for the AP exam. That’s why it’s important to take good notes as you go. Outlining each chapter as you read it is a great study tool. Suddenly, it’s easy to skim important facts or dates or brush up on relevant information.

Outlining each chapter helps you create your own AP study guide. And don’t forget that many history textbooks have chapter outlines or summaries. Take advantage of these ready-made study tools!

It’s impossible to memorize hundreds of names, dates, places, and events. That’s why using outlines and summaries is the work smart approach. Narrow your focus and keep your sanity as you prepare for the AP exam.

Focus on the AP Exam’s Historical Thinking Skills

The College Board wants AP World History students to become active readers and successful students of history. Keep those goals in mind as you engage with the course materials. According to the College Board, students should learn the methods that historians themselves use to understand history.

The AP test evaluates nine historical thinking skills that can be grouped into four categories. These categories include:

1. Analyzing Historical Sources and Evidence

You can improve these skills by analyzing a variety of primary and secondary sources. Think letters, legal documents, novels or works of art, for instance. Exposure to a variety of multi-media sources will help you discover the complex perspectives that shape our understanding of history.

2. Making Historical Connections

Comparison – You can practice this skill by reading and evaluating multiple perspectives on historical events. Compare diverse perspectives and then form your own conclusions about an event.

Contextualization – Connect historical events to broader historical trends. First, situate an event or historical figure within a larger context. Then provide perspective on the thinking, biases or preconceptions of the actors involved. Finally, draw conclusions about the significance of that event.

3. Deploying Chronological Reasoning

Causation – You must be able to analyze and evaluate historical cause and effect. Practice identifying these relationships as long-term or immediate

Patterns of Continuity and Change – Recognize and assess continuity and change over time. Identify patterns and relate a single historical event to broader themes or processes, such as colonialism or industrialization.

Periodization – Study the ways that history is divided into periods. Develop a point of view about whether and to what extent a period such as the Cold War adequately captures all the events occurring on that timeline.

4. Bringing Together Historical Arguments

Synthesis is one of the most challenging skills a student must demonstrate on the AP World History exam. Can you bring together all these historical skills into an interesting thesis? And can you support that thesis with relevant evidence? Then you’re ready for synthesis.

Be Strategic in Your Memorization

It’s impossible to memorize everything from your AP World History class. But the good news is you don’t need a photographic memory to do well on the AP exam.

Sure, the AP exam readers may ask you to give evidence to explain how World War I influenced late colonialism. Or they may ask you to compare and contrast instances across multiple continents when religious conflict turned into political conflict. But they will never ask you to pinpoint the dates of the 100 Years’ War or name the Chinese dynasties in chronological order.

Instead, take note of the key facts that illustrate the themes of the course. Identify 100 (or so) names and terms and make flashcards. For example, you should include the names of key figures, cultural and religious concepts, economic trends, major wars or conflicts. Limit yourself to those people, places and facts that are versatile enough to answer a number of different questions.

Focus on General Trends and Themes in World History

Keep a close eye on the AP World History themes before you start your memorization. Think of each fact, map, vocabulary word, treaty or historical figure as a puzzle piece. Choose only those puzzle pieces that help you assemble a clear picture of history.

To be clear, the College Board tells us outright what the bigger puzzle looks like. It divides AP World History into nine historical periods. Each period captures an important theme. In general, those themes explain how cultures and civilizations interact, influence each other and come into conflict. They also explain how civilizations advance technologically and economically, and change over time.

The exam focuses on nine units from 1200 to the present day. These include:

  1. The global tapestry
  2. Networks of exchange
  3. Land-based empires
  4. Transoceanic interconnections
  5. Revolutions
  6. Consequences of Industrialization
  7. Global conflict
  8. Cold War and decolonization
  9. Globalization

For each time period, you should focus on the major world powers. In addition, identify the political, economic, technological and social changes.

Being able to recognize patterns is critical for acing the test. You’ll see patterns such as:

  • Cause and effect
  • Action and reaction
  • Oppressor vs. oppressed
  • Dissemination and receptor

Situate evidence within the context of these historical trends and patterns. It brings depth and coherence to your argument. History is much easier to understand when you can recognize patterns. The AP exam graders will not be impressed with a student who has memorized a list of dates and names but can’t analyze their significance.

Work on Timing for the AP Exam

Practice tests will familiarize you with time limits of the test. Without adequate practice, taking the test can be daunting. What’s more, you may not even finish!

Understanding the material is only half the battle. You also need to answer questions quickly.

For example, you’ll have 55 minutes to answer 55 multiple-choice questions. This section is worth 40% of your score. That’s only one minute per question, so you have to read and respond quickly.

In short, working confidently and finishing the exam requires practice.

Practice Speed Writing

For the essay portion of the AP test, you need to brainstorm and plan quickly. Then, you have to write well-organized essay with a clear thesis. Cite specific evidence that supports both your broad argument and each specific point.

Practice writing essays within the time limits. Stick to short and grammatically correct sentences. And make sure the first sentence of each paragraph clearly states the point you intend to make.

It takes time to develop the skills you need to think on your feet and produce a quick essay. The more you practice writing under time pressure, the better you’ll feel about your abilities on test day.

Hire a Tutor

AP World History Study Strategies You Need to Know

Tutors aren’t just for struggling students or those who are at risk of failing. An AP World History tutor can help even high-achieving students. Whatever your level, a tutor can help build strong historical thinking skills and help you stay on track with course material and reading throughout the AP course. Or they can help you review content to prepare for the AP exam.

A tutor can also help you develop a study schedule for the AP World History test. They can work with you on weak areas and help you develop the study strategies you need to do your absolute best.

Invest in AP Exam Prep Materials

You can find many free prep materials online. In addition, there are many excellent AP World History resources available for purchase. Even if you pay attention in class, you still need supplementary materials to help you ace the test.

A prep book will focus on key concepts you’re likely to see on the test. Make sure you purchase an updated version, because the course and exam changed significantly in 2019. What’s more, you can find packs of pre-made flash cards.

Keep in mind that a tutor can also help you do well on the AP world history test. An expert tutor can help you develop a tailor-made study strategy to keep you focused and get you ready to do your best.

Ace the AP World History Test

Acing the AP world history test isn’t easy. In fact, it takes determination, preparation, and hard work. But the good news is there are many ways to increase your chances for success. Our expert tutors are here to help.

If you are hoping to get college credit on the AP world history test, or you want to keep up with the heavy workload all year long, tutoring may be an excellent option for you. Contact us today to discuss your academic goals.