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. If you’re preparing to take the AP World History exam, you want to 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. Careful planning, hard work, and determination can help you be one of the few who aces the AP world history test.
Here are some study strategies to help you succeed in class.
Keep Up with Class Readings
One of the most important things you can do to succeed in class is to keep up with your reading assignments. Many AP World History courses require students to read a full 20-page (or more) textbook chapter per week, plus other primary sources.
Reading long passages can be tough. Many students fumble through a chapter for hours only to discover they’ve retained little of what they read. But you can avoid this pitfall, which tempts students to fall further behind in class readings, by developing active reading skills.
Take notes while you read. 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 can reference when it’s time to study for the AP exam in the spring.
The AP world history test is not something you can cram for right before the test. You have to prepare throughout the year to do well.
Outline Each Chapter
As you prepare for the AP World History exam, you probably won’t have time to reread your entire textbook. That’s why it’s important to take good notes as you go. Outlining the chapter as you read it is a great study tool. This allows you to skim important facts or dates or brush up on relevant information.
As you go through your AP course, outlining each chapter helps you create your own AP study guide. Many history textbooks have extra features, including chapter outlines and summaries you can use to your advantage.
It’s impossible to memorize hundreds of names, dates, places, and events throughout the semester. Using outlines and summaries is a smart way to narrow your focus and keep your sanity as you prepare for the AP exam.
Focus on Historical Thinking Skills
The best way to become an active reader and successful student of history is to keep the College Board’s goals for AP World History firmly in mind as you read and engage with the course materials. According to the College Board, students should learn the methods that historians themselves use to understand historical events, individuals, developments, and processes.
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, including letters, legal documents, novels or works of art. Exposure to a variety of multi-media sources will help you discover the complex and sometimes differing perspectives that shape our understanding of a given event or moment in history.
2. Making Historical Connections
Comparison – You can practice this skill by reading and evaluating multiple perspectives on historical events. This helps you compare diverse perspectives and form your own conclusions about an event.
Contextualization – This skill relates to your ability to connect historical events to broader historical trends. You must be able to situate a single moment, mode of thinking or historical figure within a larger context, provide perspective on the thinking, biases or preconceptions of the actors involved, and draw conclusions about the broader historical significance.
Synthesis – This is one of the more challenging skills on the AP exam. It involves your ability to bring together other historical thinking skills — make connections and note similarities between historical issues.
3. Deploying Chronological Reasoning
Causation – You must be able to analyze and evaluate historical cause and effect. You should practice identifying these relationships as long-term or proximate.
Patterns of Continuity and Change – Some questions require you to recognize and assess historical continuity and change over time. One common denominator is the ability to relate patterns to broader themes or processes.
Periodization – Study the ways that history is divided into periods. These models are often the subject of debate among historians.
4. Bringing Together Historical Arguments
Synthesis is one of the most challenging skills a student must demonstrate on the AP World History exam. It involves your ability to bring together all the above skills into a coherent and interesting thesis with support from relevant historical evidence.
Be Strategic in Your Memorization
It’s impossible to memorize everything you learn in your AP World History class. Know that your AP exam readers will expect you to marshal specific and compelling evidence to explain how World War I influenced the relationships between European nations and colonized people or compare instances when religious conflict gave rise to political conflict on multiple continents.
To help, make flashcards with the names of historical figures, cultural and religious concepts, political and economic trends, wars and conflicts that best illustrate the themes of the course and that you could use in a versatile way to answer a number of different questions.
Focus on General Trends and Themes in History
Your memorization exercises should be done in the context of the broader historical themes the AP World History exam addresses. Think of each fact, map, vocabulary word, treaty or historical figure as a puzzle piece. The College Board wants you to judiciously select the right puzzle pieces and assemble them into a coherent picture that gives your reader a fresh understanding of history.
The College Board is very clear about what that bigger puzzle looks like. It divides AP World History into nine historical periods, each one of which captures an important theme of how cultures and civilizations interact, influence each other, come into conflict, advance technologically and economically and change over time.
The exam focuses on nine units from 1200 to the present day. These include:
- The global tapestry
- Networks of exchange
- Land-based empires
- Transoceanic interconnections
- Consequences of Industrialization
- Global conflict
- Cold War and decolonization
For each time period, you should focus on the major world powers, politics of the time, economic development, and 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
Always be explicit in situating the evidence you use in the context of these broader 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 cannot position them in the context of broader historical trends.
Work on Timing
One reason you should take practice tests is to familiarize yourself with what you have to accomplish within the time limits of the test. Without adequate practice, taking the test can be a daunting experience.
Understanding the material is only half the battle. You must be able to answer questions quickly to make the most of your time.
For example, you’ll have 55 minutes to answer 55 multiple-choice questions. This section of the test is worth 40% of your total score. That allows only one minute per question, so you have to read and respond quickly. Working confidently within the time constraint requires practice.
Practice Speed Writing
For the essay portion of the AP test, you must be able to brainstorm and plan quickly. You must answer the prompt and write a well-organized essay with a clear thesis. Cite specific evidence that supports both your broad argument and each specific point.
Practicing writing essays within the allotted time is key. You must be able to plan and write your essay on time to receive full credit. 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 response. The more you practice writing essays using time constraints, the better you’ll feel about your abilities on the day of the test.
Hire a Tutor
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 build solid historical thinking skills and stay on track with course material and reading throughout their 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 Prep Materials
Although you can find many free prep materials online, 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 with a modern focus on world history and the AP exam. You can also find packs of pre-made flash cards with AP World History terms, themes and historical figures.
Keep in mind there are tutoring services available to help you do well on the AP world history test. An expert tutor can help you develop a tailor-made study strategy to help you focus and prepare for the exam.
Ace the AP World History Test
Acing the AP world history test isn’t easy. It takes determination, preparation, and hard work. The good news is there are many ways you can prepare for the test and 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.