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Thomas Broderick

AP European History Exam


No one forgets his or her first AP Exam. For me, it was May 2002. The place? Franklin, Tennessee. The test? You guessed it: AP European History. After a year of taking an extremely hard, but thoroughly enjoyable, class, my classmates and I filed into our school’s library. A proctor read the instructions, we unwrapped our tests, and the next three hours went by in a blur. I told you that I remembered it, not that I remembered it particularly well. 😉


AP European History Test

Your Brain After the AP European History Exam


I’m going to assume that the AP European History Exam will be your first AP Exam, too. I bet you’re a little nervous. There is no need to fret! The following guide is an extensive look at what you can expect on test day. Get comfy, because this is going to take a while.

As this article is long, here is a table of contents you can use if you just have a question or two about the Exam:

  • How You’re Assessed on the Exam
  • Successful Time Management
  • Test Content: Section I
    • Multiple-Choice Questions
    • Short-Answer Questions
  • Test Content: Section II
    • Document-Based Question
    • Long Essay Question
  • In the End


How You’re Assessed on the Exam

Through multiple choice questions, short-answer questions, a document-based question, and the long essay question, the AP European History Exam measures the following knowledge and skill sets:

  • The Five Themes
    • How Europe and the World Interact
    • Poverty and Prosperity
    • Objective vs. Subjective History
    • The State and Power
    • The Individual and Society
  • The Four Periods of European History
    • 1405 to 1648
    • 1648 to 1815
    • 1815 to 1914
    • 1914 to the Present
  • Historical Thinking Skills
    • Chronological Reasoning
    • Analyzing Primary and Secondary Sources
    • Making and Supporting an Argument
    • Making Connections Between Historical Events


Successful Time Management

In this section I will break down the length of the AP European History Exam, and offer suggestions on how to make sure you successfully finish each section of the test. First a piece of recycled advice from my ACT articles: take multiple timed practice tests to become used to the tests format, content, and pacing.

Section I: Multiple Choice (55 Questions, 55 Minutes, 40% of Total Exam Score)

Though the ACT might be a year in your future, take a look at my advice on ACT Time Management. The same basic rules apply to this Exam’s multiple choice section. In short, as you have one minute per question, it’s a relatively easy task to track your time. Don’t forget, though, some questions might take a little longer than one minute, and some might take a little less. Don’t panic if you’re a little behind and the test is halfway over.

Section I: Short-Answer Questions (4 Questions, 50 Minutes, 20% of Total Exam Score)

As our calculations tell us, you have 13 minutes and 15 seconds per short-answer question. Though 13 minutes for a ‘short’ question sounds like more than enough time, there are a lot of steps involved in each questions. More on why in just a bit.

Break (10 Minutes)

Break is an important time during any AP Exam, and for first timers like yourself, don’t waste it. Visit the restroom and drink a little water. But most importantly, eat something! Section II of the AP European History Exam takes a lot of brain power. Give your brain the fuel it needs!

Section II: Document-Based Question (1 Question, 55 Minutes, 25% of Total Exam Score) and Long Essay Question (1 Question, 35 Minutes, 15% of Total Exam Score)

The second part of the AP European History Exam is a 90-minute writing test consisting of two parts. Most students feel the time crunch in this section. Why? There is no pause between the Document-Based Question (DBQ) and Long Essay. That’s right; you get to decide how you want to split 90 minutes between these two important tasks.

Like other timed writing tests, both being aware of your time and planning can solve a lot of time management issues. Here are some tips you can use on test day.

  • Use the first 15 minutes of your DBQ to read/plan.
  • Use the first 5 minutes of your Long Essay to do the same as above.
  • Once you’ve selected evidence, DON’T ADD MORE halfway through your essay. That will eat up more time. Substitution for a stronger piece of evidence is fine.
  • Set aside the last five minutes of both essays as a ‘wrap-up’ time.
    • During ‘wrap-up,’ skim your essay to make sure you’ve followed all the directions and included all your evidence. Having all these pieces in place is more important than any concluding paragraph.


Test Content: Section I (Multiple Choice and Short Answer)

Now that we’ve talked about time management, let’s talk about what to expect on the test.


If you have a good teacher, he/she will have used old AP European History multiple-choice questions on your unit tests. Though the actual Exam will be different, practicing old Exam questions will prepare you for the difficulty level of the real thing.

As for the questions, here’s what to expect. The fifty-five questions are grouped into sets of two to five. In each set you will be asked to respond to some material (political cartoon, quote, picture, song lyrics etc.) and use that material along with your own knowledge to answer the questions.

If you’re new to AP Multiple Choice questions, let me simplify the different between them and ‘normal’ multiple choice questions. In short, AP multiple choice questions are not treasure hunt questions. During this section you will need to analyze material in order to choose the correct answer. Even so, difficulty will vary throughout this section.


Though the word ‘short’ is in the title, the four short-answer questions ask you to do a lot in 50 minutes.

Each short-answer question will present you will information to use in crafting your response. This information includes, but is not limited to the following:

  • Primary Source
  • Historian’s Argument
  • Data (such as a graph/chart) or Map
  • A proposition about European history created by the test writer.

Your questions will ask you to use the presented information in combination with the already mentioned historical thinking skills. Also, the individuals who will read your replies want to see that you are both identifying and analyzing this information in your reply, along with presenting your own ideas.

Finally, two out of the four questions will allow you some measure of choice in replying, so make sure to read the directions carefully before you start to write your answer.


Test Content: Section II (Document Based Question and Long Essay)

Document-Based Question

Though only a single question, the DBQ will ask you to do many things at once.

The test will advise you to spend 15 minutes planning and 45 minutes writing. For this section I want to discuss planning, as it is the most important part of DBQ success.


The first thing to do is read the directions and prompt! Your essay will need to do approximately seven things to be successful, and that doesn’t include what the prompt will ask you to do.

As you go through the directions/prompt, underline the main tasks you will need to accomplish in your reply. If it helps, simplify them in your own words by writing on the test booklet.

Once you have a clear idea of what you have to do, begin reading the documents. During this time, imagine that you’re a detective examining evidence. You know it’s all important, but your mission is to see the threads that tie each piece together. Expect texts of various lengths and a variety of visual sources. Have your pencil ready to mark relevant information and make comments in the margins.


Your Mind During the DBQ

You During the DBQ

The last step in planning is most important: outline your response. The benefit of an outline is that it not only organizes your thoughts before you write, it also acts as a checklist during the writing process.

Long Essay Question

The Long Essay question will give you a choice between two prompts set in two different historical eras. First, a no-brainer: choose the one you feel most comfortable answering. And once you’ve made your choice, don’t go back. You don’t have time for it.

The most important part of the long essay is the thesis. As you probably learned in your English classes, a thesis is the definitive statement of what your essay hopes to prove. Make sure it address all parts of the question, and is placed somewhere in the first paragraph once you start writing.

Once you have a thesis, your essay will need to accomplish the following goals:

  • Apply historical thinking skills.
  • Support your thesis with evidence.
  • Explain the connection between your argument and a list of choices offered by the prompt.

Success on the Long Essay means using your best writing skills along with providing historical evidence. Exam readers want to see both in your reply.

There’s one last thing to note about the Long Essay. Compared to the DBQ, the instructions are about half as long. Though you will still have some goals to accomplish in your writing, a lot more is left up to you as the writer/historian. As it more closely reflects an actual college-level essay, make sure not to neglect the Long Essay during practice tests.


In the End


AP European History Exam


Before you know it, the test will be over, and you’ll stumble outside wondering where the afternoon went. You’ll ask your peers how they think they did. Pretty soon, though, only a single question will consume you. Don’t worry, because I have your answer.

The College Board will release AP European History scores in early July.

Two months seems like a long time, but let me explain. The multiple-choice answer sheet goes through the scanner, but the essays are another story. As you’re enjoying summer break, a high school gymnasium in the Midwest is stuffed with teachers reading your essays.

For many AP first timers, getting their AP score is a bit…anticlimactic. For all the work you’ve done, all the tests, homework, essays, and the Exam itself – all you get is a number score between 1 and 5. No explanation, no comments, just a single digit!

If you earn a 3, 4 or 5, you probably won’t care about the lack of information. But if your score is 1 or 2, you’re going to wonder what happened, and probably feel a little bummed, too. My advice is to use the summer learn from your experience in the course and on the Exam. There are other AP classes out there, and don’t lose sight of the fact that AP European History taught you as much about how to succeed in an AP class as it did the curriculum.

Don’t worry about the future, AP European History scholars. Until May 6th, concern yourself only with the past. Study and practice well these last few weeks before the test, and you will do your best on test day!


About Thomas Broderick

Thomas spent four years teaching high school English, social studies, and ACT preparation in Middle Tennessee. Now living in Northern California, he is excited to share his knowledge and experience with Magoosh's readers. In his spare time Thomas enjoys writing short fiction and hiking in the Sonoma foothills.

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