Exam preparation materials


How to Crack the System


Welcome to the World of AP World History

So you want to take the Advanced Placement World History Exam. Presumably you are taking an AP World History course that is teaching you college-level world history. Assuming you have a good teacher and a good textbook, you probably know a ton of stuff already about what’s happened in the world for the last several thousand years. So why do you need another book to teach you how to take the AP World History Exam?

First, if you want to do well on the AP World History Exam, you either need to know everything that ever happened in the world or you can learn what parts of world history are tested on the AP World History Exam. Because learning everything that ever happened in the world is unlikely, we’ve opted to give you a topical review of World History à la Advanced Placement.


Second, there is more to scoring highly on a standardized test like the AP World History Exam than simply reviewing all the history that will appear in the test. How often have you gotten questions wrong on a test even though you knew your stuff? To do well on the AP World History Exam or any AP exam, you need to know not only what is tested but also how it is tested. How many multiple-choice questions are there, and what periods do they cover? What kinds of essays are on the test and how much time should you spend on each question? Once you know the answers to questions like these, you will be better able to show what you know on the test. For example, you are given two hours to write three essays. How much time should you spend on each essay? Which essay should you write first? How much time should you spend planning your essay versus actually writing your essay? The answers to these questions, as well as strategies for scoring your personal best, are what Part I of this book is all about.


Finally, you need to practice. Doing some trial runs—writing AP-style essays, answering AP-type multiple-choice questions—is one of the best ways to get yourself ready for the AP World History Exam. Think about it: If you are a tennis player, you attend practice every day. You practice serving, you practice your backhand, and you play some matches against other teammates. Doing this type of practice helps you become as prepared as you can possibly be for a real match. This same type of practice—drilling each skill plus taking some full-length practice tests—will help you be as prepared as you can possibly be for the AP World History Exam.


Taking an AP World History course with a less-than-stellar teacher? Just decided that you must take the AP World History Exam even though you are not taking the course? Home schooling in world history without a course book or outline? No problem.Part II of this book will provide you with a thorough outline of the history you need to know plus guidelines for what you can do to further bolster your AP World History knowledge.



The AP World History Exam is divided into two sections: multiple choice and free-response essays. Section I of the test is comprised of 70 multiple-choice questions to be answered in 55 minutes. Section II of the test begins with a ten-minute reading period (time to review the documents you must use for the first essay question), followed by a two-hour period to write three essays.


The AP World History Exam divides all history into six major periods from about 10,000 years ago to the present. On the multiple-choice section of the test, the distribution of questions is as follows:

Now, you may be wondering why the first period spans thousands of years while the last period spans a little more than 100 years. When more and more societies came into being and got more complex, world history also got more complex. Also, we have more historical accounts and documents to study from recent history than we do from ancient history, so we simply know more about what happened in the last 100 years. Even though there are 8000 years in the first period, 800 in the third period, and just over 100 in the last period, you can study each period for the same amount of time. The review of history included in this book divides world history into the periods covered on the exam in order to help guide your study.


While the multiple-choice section of the test asks questions from each of the above periods, these questions do not appear in any particular order. In other words, when you take the multiple-choice part of the exam, you’ll jump from the Roman Empire to the present back to the Middle Ages back to the present and so on. Some students find it a challenge to shift gears rapidly from hunter-gatherers to NAFTA to Galileo, so be sure to do a few trial runs on the practice tests in Part III of this book.


In the free-response section of the exam, you are asked to write three essays, each in response to a question. The questions are:

The document-based question or DBQ: As the name implies, the DBQ is based on a collection of four to ten documents that you must use in order to answer the question. Luckily, you will have 10 minutes at the start of the essay portion of the test to read the given documents prior to writing your essay. That may not sound like a lot right now, but don’t worry. Our chapter on the DBQ will tell you exactly what to do with those 10 minutes.

The continuity and change-over-time essay: Again, as the name implies, you need to answer a question about how something changed over a certain period of time and how it remained the same. These questions tend to deal with large global issues such as technology, trade, culture, migrations, or biological developments. Our chapter on change over time and comparative essays will help you get organized for this essay.

The comparative essay: The comparative essay typically asks you to compare how two societies responded to a major theme or event. Our chapter on change over time and comparative essays will help you get organized for this essay.


What is the AP World History Exam really testing? In a nutshell: Can you make connections between different societies over different periods of time? In other words, for any given period of history, can you explain who was doing what? How did what they were doing affect the rest of the world? What changed about the society during this period of time? To show what you know about world history, keep this big-picture perspective in mind as you study and answer multiple-choice questions or construct essays. To help you do this, keep an eye out for certain recurring themes throughout the different time periods. Specifically, be on the lookout for the following:

· How did people interact with their environment? Why did they live where they did? How did they get there? What tools, technology, and resources were available to them? How was the landscape changed by humans?

· What new ideas, thoughts, and styles came into existence? How did these cultural developments influence people and technology (for example: new religious beliefs or Renaissance thought)?

· How did different societies get along—or not get along—within a time period? Who took over whom? How did leaders justify their power? Who revolted or was likely to revolt? And were they successful?

· How did economic systems develop and what did they depend on in terms of agriculture, trade, labor, industrialization, and the demands of consumers?

· Who had power and who did not within a given culture and why? What was the status of women? What racial and ethnic constructions were present?

For each time period covered in Part II of this book, you will find boxes that identify these major themes, plus a Big Picture overview and a Pulling It All Together summary for each period. The introduction to Part II will fill you in on how to use these tools as you study.


You’ll get one point for each question you get right on the multiple-choice section of the exam for a total of 70 possible points. You will also get up to 27 points for the essay section of the exam; each essay receives a score ranging from 0 to 9. But wait: Don’t be misled by these numbers. While you can earn a lot more points on the multiple-choice section of the test, each section of the exam is weighted to be worth exactly fifty percent of your score. In other words, if you do a great job on the multiple-choice section of the test but blow the essays, you won’t do very well. The moral of the story: You need to be really prepared for both parts of the test. Don’t rely on your writing skills to pull you through and ignore the multiple-choice stuff or vice versa. That strategy won’t work on this test.


Once the multiple-choice section of your test has been scanned and your essays scored by readers, ETS (your local testing giant) applies a mysterious formula that converts your raw score numbers to a 120-point scale. Somehow they turn 70 possible multiple-choice points into 60 points, and 27 possible essay points into another 60 points.

But that’s not all the magic they do. They then take your score (up to 120 points) and convert it to the standard AP 1 to 5 score that you see when you rip open the test results that come in the mail. Seems like a little bit of a letdown to do all this work for a 4, doesn’t it? However, a 4 or a 5 is the score that will most likely get you what you want from the college or university you’ll attend—college credit for World History. A 3 is considered passing and might get you college credit; then again, it might not. Therefore, your goal is to get at least a 3, preferably a 4 or 5. If you receive below a 3, it is highly unlikely that you will get college credit for your high school AP course, but you still get a grade for that class. A good grade in an AP class always looks good on your transcript.

The tricky part about the 1 to 5 scoring system is that it is designed to compare you to everyone else who took the AP World History Exam during a given year. But if the test that year was particularly tough, the top 25 percent or so of scorers will still score 4’s and 5’s. In other words, if all the scaled (0–120) scores are somewhat low, the top end will still earn high marks. Of course, the opposite is also true—if everyone does an excellent job, some people will end up with 2’s and 1’s. To give you an idea of the distribution of scores, here’s the breakdown of results from more than 167,000 students who took the 2010 test.


So what kind of score should you shoot for? Although there is no way to determine exactly how to get a 3, or a 4, or a 5, if you strive to get more than two-thirds of the raw score points on each scored segment of the test, you will most likely be on track for a 3 or above. For scores of 4 or 5, your goal should be to correctly answer 70 percent, or about 50, of the multiple-choice questions and to write three essays that are scored at 6 or above. On average, students who scored 4 or better got at least two-thirds of the multiple-choice questions correct. Specifically, we recommend you strive for the following raw scores. Keep in mind that you should answer more than 50 multiple-choice questions in order to get a raw score of 50, but that does not mean you need to answer all of them.

AP World History Raw Score Goals

AP World History Raw Score Goals


How can we tell you what to strive for when the magic formula for converting raw scores to scaled scores is unpublished, and when the pool of students each year can significantly alter the definition of a good scaled score? In truth, we can’t. However, we can tell you from years of working with AP tests that these numbers fall in the range of scores earned by students who receive 3’s, 4’s, and 5’s. When it comes to the essays, if you asked an AP World History essay grader what a good score is on an AP World History essay, he or she would say around a 6 or 7 and above (we know—we asked them). Our formulation may not be magical, but we are fairly confident that if you can earn at least the number of raw score points listed above, you stand a very good chance of earning a score of 3 or above on the AP World History Exam.


Just in case you didn’t know, your test is given in the beginning of May. It is given during the regular school day, so do everything within your power to be at school on time and well-rested that day. If for some reason you happen to get sick, don’t worry. Most schools hold a makeup day.


There are several ways you can use this book to make sure you are totally prepared for your AP World History Exam. After reading this introduction, we suggest you work through the multiple-choice chapter of the book. Knowing what to expect from this portion of the test can help you develop your strategies and plan of attack.

After that, you may want to alternate between your strategy review and your history review. For example, you can read through the first chapter in Part II (Chapter 6, “Ancient Stuff”), then work through the chapter that covers document-based questions. Next, review another chapter or two of history, then work through the chapter on the remaining two essay questions.

Alternatively, you may want to work through all of Part I first so that you have a good idea of what the test comprises. Knowing how the questions are asked on the test may change the way you review the history. No matter how you choose to work through the book, read the rest of this chapter and Chapter 2 (“Cracking the Multiple-Choice Section”) first so that you can practice with a foundation.


Remember that Part II of this book is a review of the history you need to know for the test—it is not meant to be used in place of your textbook. Most likely you’ve been reviewing world history all year. Our review will help you organize your thoughts into the correct periods, pull together the big-picture concepts that will appear on the test, and help you focus in on the areas of history that you still need to study.


Throughout this ebook you’ll encounter free-response and essay questions, just like you’ll see on the real exam. When working through them, look for the pencil-and-paper icon above. You can either fill out your answers on a separate piece of paper to mimic your actual testing experience, or use the Notes functionality on your eReader.

If you are using a touch-screen reader or app, simply hold your finger over the first word in the line and then select “Note” to create a note and begin typing your answer.

If you are using a non-touch-screen reader, move your cursor up to the line where you want to enter an answer and then begin typing to create a new note.

You can then reference your answers anytime you are reading the eBook as they will be stored as notes on your device.


Part III of this book contains two full-length AP World History practice tests. Once you’ve worked through the strategies and done some history review, take the first test. Set aside a 3-hour block of time so that you can take the test in as realistic a way as possible (don’t do it in front of the TV at 11:00 at night). After you take the test, check your answers and go back to the questions that gave you trouble. Read over the answer explanations and make sure you understand why you got answers right and wrong. Going over your test can be a very effective way to review both strategy and history.

Work on any areas that gave you trouble, then set aside another block of time to take the second test. You may want to take this second test a week or two before the real exam as a trial run. Again, take it under real testing conditions (maybe ask your parent or a friend to time you). After you finish the test, go over the answers and work through the questions that gave you trouble. Use this test as your final review before the real thing.

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