AP World History Exam


A long, long time ago (the spring of 2010), I was just a student teacher in a Tennessee middle school. After spending nine weeks getting to know a group of 8th graders, it came time for them to choose their freshmen year high school classes. I remembered my own trepidation about choosing my first high school classes. Would honors be too hard? Should I take French or Spanish? But for these soon-to-be high school students, they had a much harder choice: whether or not to take AP World History as freshmen.


AP World History Exam -Magoosh

My biggest fear about 9th graders taking AP World History


Needless to say, I was shocked. Even as a high school sophomore, I was barely prepared enough to take AP European History. Would these brave students, even those who enjoyed and did well in 8th grade U.S. History, succeed on the AP World History Exam?

Though I never learned my students’ fate, I want to make sure that if you’ve made the big decision to take AP World History in 2016-2017, you, too, can be successful. So if you think you’ve got what it takes, let’s not waste another minute.

Note: This article includes changes made to the AP World History Exam that will appear on the May 2017 Exam.

As this article is long, here is a table of contents if you just want to learn something specific 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 World History Exam measures your knowledge on 49 thematic learning objectives. These objectives are broken down in the following ways:

  • The Five Themes
    • Interaction Between Humans and the Environment
    • Development and Interaction of Cultures
    • State Building, Expansion, and Conflict
    • Creation, Expansion, and Interaction of Economic Systems
    • Development and Transformation of Social Structures
  • The Six Periods of World History
    • Technological and Environmental Transformations, to c. 600 B.C.E.
    • Organization and Reorganization of Human Societies, c. 600 B.C.E. to c. 600 C.E.
    • Regional and Inter-regional Interactions, c. 600 C.E. to c. 1450
    • Global Interactions, c. 1450 to c. 1750
    • Industrialization and Global Integration, c. 1750 to c. 1900
    • Accelerating Global Change and Realignments, c. 1900 to the Present
  • Historical Thinking Skills
    • Analyzing Historical Sources and Evidence
      • Primary Sources
      • Secondary Sources
      • Using Evidence to Support an Argument
    • Synthesis
      • Making Connections Between Different Historical Eras
      • Making Connections Between Different Course Themes

Successful Time Management

In this section I will break down the length of the AP World 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 article on ACT Time Management: take multiple timed practice test to become used to the tests format, content, and pacing. If your teacher is worth his or her salt, you have already been doing this as part of your class’s assessments.

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

Though the ACT might be a year or more in your future, take a look at my advice for 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: some questions might take a little longer than one minute, and some might take a little less. If you’re halfway through the test and are a little behind, don’t panic.

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 World History Exam takes a lot of brain power. Without a little bit of extra fuel, your brain will shut down early.

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 World History Exam is a 90-minute marathon 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 World History multiple-choice questions on your unit tests. Though the actual Exam will be different, practicing old Exam questions will prepare you for the Exam’s difficultly level.

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 between each question. Also, these questions may ask you to make connections between different historical time periods.


Note: The four short answer questions are a NEW ADDITION the May 2017 test. The Change over Time question is no more!

Though the word ‘short’ is in the title, the four short-answer questions ask you to do a lot in 45 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 World History created by the test writer.

Using this information, you will be asked to use the already mentioned historical thinking skills to answer each question. 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 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)

Note: The Document Based Questions and Long Essay are NEW ADDITIONS the May 2017 test. The Comparative Essay is no more!

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 40 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 a seven things to be successful:

  • Write an historically defensible thesis that responds to all parts of the question.
  • Develop a cohesive argument that illustrates relationships among your chosen evidence.
  • Use at least six of the seven documents.
  • For each document, explain the significance of the author’s POV, purpose, historical context and audience for at least four of the documents.
  • Apply context by explaining the broader historical events that are relevant to the question.
  • Use outside evidence.
  • Extend the argument by connecting it to one of the following.
    • Different historical time periods.
    • A different approach to history.
    • A different subject such as art or politics.

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 discover how each document fits with the others. 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.

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. Also, because you’ll be under a lot of stress, an outline will help you remember everything important.

Long Essay Question

The Long Essay question will give you a choice between two prompts. 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 Long Essay Question will ask you to do four things no matter which question you choose:

  • Write a thesis that makes a defensible claim and responds to all parts of the question.
  • As directed in the question, apply historical thinking skills.
  • Use evidence.
  • Extend the argument by connecting it to one of the following.
    • Different historical time periods.
    • A different approach to history.
    • A different subject such as art or politics.

These are the the skills that Long Essay readers want to see. Though you will need knowledge to answer the Long Essay question, writing and historical thinking skills are at this essay’s heart.

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 to focus on the Long Essay in your AP practice tests.

In the End

Believe it or not, once you start taking the World History AP Exam, it will be over before you know it. Your brain will be fried to say the least, but soon only a single question will consume your mind. Let me go ahead and answer it for you:

The College Board will release AP World History scores in early July 2017.

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. Imagine a high school gymnasium full of teachers sacrificing their summer break reading stacks of essays. That’s it!

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, diddly-squat!

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 likely to feel frustrated. My advice, take it or leave it, is to use the summer to mourn and move on. For a lot of people, history just isn’t their thing. For example, I did great in AP history classes, but you’d never see me taking AP Calc. Everyone’s different.


AP World History -Magoosh


Well, I hope this article has given you a taste of what’s in store on next year’s AP World History Exam. And for those of you already signed up to take AP World History in the fall, take time this summer to rest up. Starting in August, your life is going to get really busy. 🙂

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  • 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.

By the way, Magoosh can help you study for both the SAT and ACT exams. Click here to learn more!

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