The AP World History Exam can be one of the most challenging AP exams to take because of the vast time-frame and the number of significant historical events, people, and developments that are covered in the course. Even more challenging for some may be how to approach the AP World History free-response questions. These questions not only cover a broad spectrum of topics, but require you to use your historical thinking skills to defend your response by providing historical evidence to support your written answers to these questions.
What is the format of AP World History?
The AP World History Exam contains two parts that will allow the AP graders to assess your knowledge of the historical content contained in the AP World History course. You will have to use the historical thinking skills that you developed in the course to successfully navigate both parts of the exam. Your performance on the exam will be compiled and weighted to determine your AP Exam score (1 to 5). To review the nine historical thinking skills, you can use the Rubrics for AP Histories plus Historical Thinking Skills resource on the CollegeBoard website.
Use the chart below to follow along with the two parts of the AP World History Exam.
|Section||Questions Type||# of Questions||Timing||% of Total Exam Score|
|I||Part A: Multiple Choice|
– Questions appear in sets of 2 to 5
– You will analyze historical texts, interpretations, and evidence
– Primary and secondary sources, images, graphs, and maps are included
Part B: Short-Answer Questions (SAQs)
– Questions provide opportunities for you to explain the historical examples that you know best
– Some questions include texts, images, graphs, or maps
|II||Part A: Document-Based Question (DBQ)|
– You will Analyze and synthesize historical data
– You will assess written, quantitative, or visual materials as historical evidence
|1||55 Minutes (includes 15-minute reading period)||25%|
Part B: Long Essay Question (LEQ)
– You can select one question among the two given
– You will explain and analyze significant issues in world history
– You will develop an argument supported by an analysis of historical evidence
|1 (chosen from a pair)||35 minutes||15%|
The first part of the exam (Section I, Part A) consists of multiple-choice questions that will test your content knowledge by analyzing and interpreting primary and secondary sources. Section I also contains a series of short answer questions (Part B) and will address one or more of the course themes.
The second part of the AP World History contains the document-based question (DBQ) and long essay questions (LEQ). These questions will that ask you to demonstrate historical content knowledge and thinking skills through written responses.
All written parts of the exam (SAQs, DBQ, and LEQ) make up the general concept of the AP World History Free Response Questions (FRQs).
Why is the AP World History Free-Response Important?
Free response questions need to be a huge part of your AP World History exam preparation and practice schedule, because this section of the exam will make or break you. Why do we say that? The AP World History free-response questions make up 60% of your total scaled score. That is why we have put together this review to show you how to approach the AP World History FRQs.
It is important to know how the AP World History Exam is scored. This knowledge will be helpful in understanding the impact that the free-response questions will have on your overall exam score. As of the posting of this article, the CollegeBoard has not released an official scoring worksheet that shows the latest changes in the AP World History Exam. In the meantime, we have created an AP World History Score Calculator. This calculator takes the relative percentages of each respective section of the exam as outlined here and references the Rubrics for AP Histories to compute your 2017 projected score.
The AP World History Scoring Calculator is an excellent demonstration of how much weight is put on the FRQs compared to the multiple-choice questions. As you’ll see, doing well on the FRQs can really make your final score soar!
What Content is Covered in the Free-Response Section of AP World History?
Each exam question will measure how you can apply historical thinking skills to one or more of the learning objectives within a particular historical context from the six periods of world history. The FRQs also require you to provide specific historical evidence as part of your written response.
SAQs will address one or more of themes of the course. You will have to use your historical thinking skills to respond to primary and secondary sources, a historian’s argument, non-textual sources (maps or charts), or general suggestions about world history. Each question will ask you to identify and explore examples of historical evidence relevant to the source or question.
The DBQ measures your ability to analyze and integrate historical data and to assess verbal, quantitative, or visual evidence. Your responses will be judged on your ability to formulate a thesis and back it up with relevant evidence. The documents included in the DBQ can vary in length and format, and the question content can include charts, graphs, cartoons, and pictures, as well as written materials. You are expected to be able to assess the value of different kinds of documents, and you’ll be required to relate the material to a historical period or theme, thus focusing on major periods and issues. Therefore, it is crucial to have knowledge beyond the particular focus of the question and to incorporate it into your essay to get the highest score.
Long Essay Question
You are given a chance to show what you know best on the LEQs by having a choice between two long essay options. The LEQs will measure how you use your historical thinking skills to explain and analyze significant issues in the world history themes from the course. Your essays must include a central issue or argument that you need to support by evaluating specific and relevant historical evidence. You’ll be using specific in-depth examples of large-scale events taken from the course or classroom discussion.
How to Prepare for AP World History Free-Response Questions
There are a variety of ways that you can come up with a plan of attack to prepare for AP World History free-response questions. The most efficient and productive way to do that is to create a study plan.
Have a Study Plan
Studying for the AP World History Exam can seem overwhelming because of the sheer volume of material covered in the course. This study plan should begin in the fall and take you all the way up to the exam in May.
You may want to study what you learned last and work your way back to the beginning. Or you might want to take the approach of studying from the beginning to the most recent material covered. Some students choose to study only the material that they had difficulty on in the course. All of these methods have merit, but you will have to determine what approach works for your learning style and helps you feel prepared for the exam.
The method that we do not recommend is cramming the material into your brain in the days or weeks leading up to the exam. Instead, take your time to develop depth and breadth of understanding and think historically. If you find yourself in the position of needing an intense 30-day study plan, read our One Month AP World History Study Guide.
Know what will be Covered on the Exam
The next step to preparing for AP World History free-response questions is to make sure you have a list of all of the key concepts from the six historical periods covered in the class. These concepts are found in the AP World History Course and Exam Description. You should review the course and honestly assess your comfort level with each of the key concepts. This will give you a realistic picture of your strengths and weakness, so you know where to put your efforts in your AP World History study plan.
See what has been Tested on in the Past
The third tip for getting ready for World History free-response questions is to research what the CollegeBoard has emphasized on old exams. The AP World History Exam Page lets you go back and see all of the past free-response questions as well as scoring guidelines, sample responses and commentary, and score distributions. You can use these resources to assess your ability to answer AP World History free-response questions. Practice with actual test questions, compare your responses with student responses, and then find out what your score would be.
Make Your Own Test
Another way to ensure you get the practice you need before the AP World History Exam is to make your own test. There are a couple of ways to do that. The easy way is to get a stack of notecards and create cards with various concepts. You can do key terms and definitions, dates, people, and events. This method allows you to concentrate on areas that challenged you in the course, so you don’t have to go through questions that you already know. If you want to get fancy, you can do an Internet search for “random test generators” that let you build your own test in any form. You can create multiple choice, fill in the blank or even short answer questions. Practice is the key to learning the concepts you need to excel on the exam, so whatever method you choose, keep up with it.
Ask for Help
The last tip for increasing your score on AP World History free-response questions is to review outside resources for questions or test prep recommendation. There are some great resources that we have included at the end of this post. The Internet is full of help, and everything you need to get that five on the exam is at available at the click of your mouse.
How to Answer AP World History Free-Response Questions?
Since you can’t just recall facts, dates, or people to answer the free-response questions, you will have to make sure that you put on your “historical thinking cap” to answer the FRQs. Remember – treat the question as a historian would. Here are some tips on how to answer each of the types of FRQs.
You only have 40 minutes to answer four questions, each will have two or three parts. Try to immediately identify the two or three parts to the question and come up with a plan (with examples) before you start writing. Your responses to each part should be about three to six sentences. Again, practice your approach to the SAQs using old exams and responses to see what the AP graders are looking for.
Long Essay Question
The LEQ is designed to assess your ability to apply what you know about world history in an analytical way. To write a strong essay, you must show that you can create a robust and clear thesis and also bring in a vast amount of relevant evidence to support your argument.
You can succeed on the LEQ by following some specific steps that you may have used in your study plan.
First step, dissect the question. Take some time to find out what it is asking you, identifying all the parts of the question. See if you can find out directive words like analyze, compare and contrast, or find relationships. Use these keywords like puzzle pieces that you will put together with your historical skills.
Second, formulate a thesis. Your thesis is your way of telling the reader why they should care about what you have to say. Convince them that you know what you are talking about. A strong thesis will make them trust that you have the depth of knowledge to answer the question.
Don’t just restate the question, take a stand! As long you have the right kind of evidence to support your argument, be bold and make that strong assertion. Your thesis is your “road map” to your conclusion. Take your reader on a journey through world history.
Step three is the plan your evidence. Take a step back and try to recall all of the information that relates to this question. In your study plan, you may have come up with a strategy to do this (e.g., clusters, bullet lists, outline), but whatever method you use, don’t skip this step. Just remember, the clock is ticking. Plan about three minutes for these first three steps.
Final step: write your essay. You should have about 30 minutes left to write your essay. There is no standard number of paragraphs you need, but generally, you want one body paragraph for each portion of the essay prompt. Just make each of the paragraphs strong. Here is a thumbnail look at each paragraph.
The first paragraph should be your introduction, which includes your thesis. Don’t get too flashy or use rhetoric. Just make sure it shows where you are going with your essay.
The body should follow the road-map you set in your introduction. Don’t just list facts, but bring an element of analysis between the evidence you give. Use smooth transitions and make sure you answer all of the questions from the prompt. The AP reader is looking for analysis, not your version of the textbook. End each body with a mini-conclusion that ties that paragraph back to your thesis.
Now it is time to wrap it up in your conclusion. Don’t just restate your thesis by recopying what you said in your introduction. Explain why your thesis is pertinent to the question. In the end, the reader should leave with a sense of coherence and completion; you can do this by tying all of your mini-conclusions together.
The DBQ is daunting at first glance, but if you break it down into steps, you will find that it is manageable. The DBQ requires you to use a large number of documents and outside information. There is no set number of each that you are required to use, but don’t just try and do the minimum if the question asks for one.
You only have 10 minutes to read the documents and 40 minutes to write your response. Don’t panic! There is plenty of time if you just have a strategy going into the exam. You have practiced your essay writing skills, and you have a study plan. You can use the same strategies we just discussed for the LEQs. It may seem like you don’t have enough time to do all this, but again, the more you practice using these strategies, the quicker you will get in finding out what is significant in each of the documents.
Here are three tips that may help you navigate the DBQ:
- Use your own words – Use the source to support your own ideas but don’t just quote directly from the document.
- Practice, practice, practice – Working through the DBQ on a regular basis will prepare you to write one under the gun on test day.
- Citations – When citing a document, save yourself some time by referring to it as Document # (e.g., Document 3) instead of “Sandinista National Liberation Front of Nicaragua, part platform of 1969”.
What are AP World History Free-Response Questions Like?
We have discussed in theory how to approach the AP World History FRQs. Here is an example of a question from an AP World History Exam to help you get a feel for the FRQs and get you in the right frame of mind to help you prepare for the exam.
The following is an example of a long-essay question from the 2016 AP World History Exam(Question 2).
2. Analyze economic continuities and changes in trade networks within Afro-Eurasia in the period from 600 C.E. To 1450 C.E.
A good response to this question starts with the thesis. Make sure you address at least one economic continuity and one economic change in the stated time period. It is alright to focus on Africa or Eurasia. Make sure you address all parts of the question. The continuity must be appropriate for the majority of the time-period, but the change could have occurred at any time during that period.
To back up your thesis, you will need to give factual evidence that applies to aspects or consequences of trade network (economic or noneconomic). The evidence could apply to either continuity or change. To get the maximum points, you need to have at least eight pieces of evidence to support your discussion.
To explain change over time and/or continuity, your essay needs to provide context that extends outside the region or provide context that continues chronologically outside the time-period. Finally, your essay needs to explain a cause helping to shape economic continuity and a cause helping to shape economic change in the region during the stated period.
How can I Practice AP World History Free Response Questions
There are many online resources that you may use to supplement this guide on approaching the AP World History FRQs. These study guides often have helpful tips on all aspects of AP World History test prep. You will know going into your study plan what you will need the most help with. You can target your search to help you find ways to strengthen those areas and make sure that you are ready for the exam when May rolls around.
Are you a auditory learner? Albert has a great series of posts that feature the “Best AP World History Review Videos”. Just go to Albert’s AP World History Test Prep page and you will find a whole series of review videos to choose from.
Do you have to have a book in your hand to learn and want to know what’s the best AP World History exam prep guide? Albert has that resource too. Read The Best AP World History Review Books of 2017
The more ways you can approach your preparation, the better. But the key is to have a study plan and stick to it. For the free-response questions, we can’t stress this enough – practice as much as you can. You will find that you will look forward to the time when you can sit down and write your essays with the confidence to get the score on the AP World History Exam that you dreamed of.
Looking for AP English Language practice?
Kickstart your AP English Language 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.
Will you be taking the SAT or ACT soon? Not sure when to take the test? Learn the optimal time to take the SAT/ACT.
Need to study fast? Learn how to cram for the SAT/ACT in just 10 days.
Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now: