Doing well on the AP World History exam really relies on your ability to understand patterns in history. By familiarizing yourself with trends in history as opposed to memorizing facts, you can get a 5 on the AP World History exam. For more on how to study for AP World History, see our blog post here.
Now to the good stuff… here are 50+ AP World History tips.
Thesis/Introductory Paragraphs for AP World History
1. Answer ALL of the question: Make sure your thesis addresses every single part of the question being asked for the AP World History free response section. Missing a single part can cost you significantly in the grading of your essay.
2. Lean one way: Trying to appease both sides creates an argument that’s not nearly as strong as if you take a stance.
3. Lead your reader: Help your reader understand where you are going as you answer the prompt to the essay–provide them with a map of a few of the key areas you are going to talk about in your essay.
4. Organize with strength in mind: When outlining the respective topics you will be discussing, start from the topic you know second best, then the topic you know least, before ending with your strongest topic area. In other words, make your roadmap 2-3-1 so that you leave your reader with the feeling that you have a strong understanding of the question being asked.
5. Understand the word “Analyze”: When the AP exam asks you to analyze, you want to think about the respective parts of what is being asked and look at the way they interact with one another. This means that when you are performing your analysis on the AP World History test, you want to make it very clear to your reader of what you are breaking down into its component parts. For example, what evidence do you have to support a point of view? Who are the important historical figures or institutions involved? How are these structures organized? How does this relate back to the overall change or continuity observed in the world?
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Answering AP World History DBQ Tips
1. Group with intent: One skill tested on the AP exam is your ability to relate documents to one another–this is called grouping. The idea of grouping is to essentially create a nice mixture of supporting materials to bolster a thesis that addresses the DBQ question being asked. In order to group effectively, create at least three different groupings with two subgroups each. When you group–group to respond to the prompt. Do not group just to bundle certain documents together. The best analogy would be you have a few different colored buckets, and you want to put a label over each bucket. Then you have a variety of different colored balls which each color representing a document, and you want to put these balls into buckets. You can have documents that fall into more than one group, but the big picture tip to remember is to group in response to the prompt. This is an absolute must. 33% of your DBQ grade comes from assessing your ability to group.
2. Assess POV with SOAPSTONE: SOAPSTONE helps you answer the question of why the person in the document made the piece of information at that time. It answers the question of the motive behind the document.
3. S: S represents Speaker or Source. You want to begin by asking yourself who is the source of the document. Think about the background of this source. Where do they come from? What do they do? Are they male or female? What are their respective views on religion or philosophy? How old are they? Are they wealthy? Poor? Etc.
4. O: O stands for occasion. You want to ask yourself when the document was said, where was it said, and why it may have been created. You can also think of O as representative of origin.
5. A: A represents for audience. Think about who this person wanted to share this document with. What medium was the document originally delivered in? Is it delivered through an official document or is it an artistic piece like a painting?
6. P: P stands for purpose. Ask again, why did this person create or say this document? What is the main motive behind the document?
7. S: S is for the subject of the document. This is where you see if you have an understanding of how the subject relates to the question the test is asking you. Think about if there are other documents or pieces of history that could further support or not support this document source.
8. TONE: Tone poses the question of what the tone of the document is. This relates closely with speaker. Think about how the creator of the document says certain things. Think about the connotations of certain words.
9. Explicitly state your analysis of POV: Your reader is not psychic. He or she cannot simply read your mind and understand exactly why you are rewriting a quotation by a person from a document. Be sure to explicitly state something along the lines of, “In document X, author states, “[quotation]”; the author may use this [x] tone because he wants to signify [y].” Another example would be, “The speaker’s belief that [speaker’s opinion] is made clear from his usage of particularly negative words such as [xyz].”
10. Assessing Charts and Tables: Sometimes you’ll come across charts of statistics. If you do, ask yourself questions like where the data is coming from, how the data was collected, who released the data, etc. You essentially want to take a similar approach to SOAPSTONE with charts and tables.
11. Assessing Maps: When you come across maps, look at the corners and center of the map. Think about why the map may be oriented in a certain way. Think about if the title of the map or the legend reveals anything about the culture the map originates from. Think about how the map was created–where did the information for the map come from. Think about who the map was intended for.
12. Assessing Cultural Pieces: If you come across more artistic documents such as literature, songs, editorials, or advertisements, you want to really think about the motive of why the piece of art or creative writing was made and who the document was intended for.
13. Be careful with blanket statements: Just because a certain point of view is expressed in a document does not mean that POV applies to everyone from that area. When drawing from the documents, you need to explicitly state which author and document you are citing.
14. Bias will always exist: Even if you’re given data in the form of a table, there is bias in the data. Do not fall into the trap of thinking just because there are numbers, it means the numbers are foolproof.
15. Be creative with introducing bias: Many students understand that they need to show their understanding that documents can be biased, but they go about it the wrong way. Rather than outright stating, “The document is biased because [x]”, try, “In document A, the author is clearly influenced by [y] as he states, “[quotation]”. See the difference? It’s subtle but makes a clear difference in how you demonstrate your understanding of bias.
16. Refer back to the question: As you write your DBQ essay, make sure to reference back to the question to show the reader how the argument you are trying to make relates to the overarching question. This is one way you clearly demonstrate that you spent a few minutes planning your essay in the very beginning.
17. Leave yourself out of it: Do not refer to yourself when writing your DBQ essays! “I” has no place in these AP essays.
18. Stay grounded to the documents: All of your core arguments must be supported through the use of the documents. Do not form the majority of your arguments on what you know from class. Use what you learned in class instead to bolster your arguments in relation to the documents presented.
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Overall AP World History DBQ Essay Tips & Advice
1. Start essay practice early: At least one month before the AP World History exam date, organize a few essay questions you will work through for the next four weeks before the test. Find a proctor whether that be a parent, peer, or teacher and have them simulate a timed test as you answer the essay.
2. Familiarize yourself with the time limits: Part of the reason why we suggest practicing essays early is so that you get so good at writing them that you understand exactly how much time you have left when you begin writing your second to last paragraph. You’ll be so accustomed to writing under timed circumstances that you will have no worries in terms of finishing on time.
3. Learn the rubric: If you have never looked at an AP World History grading rubric before you enter the test, you are going in blind. You must know the rubric like the back of your hand so that you can ensure you tackle all the points the grader is looking for. Here are the 2014 Scoring Guidelines.
4. Read the historical background: You know that little blurb at the beginning of the document? The test takers don’t put it there for no reason. The historical background is like a freebie–it can tell you the time period of the document and shed a little insight into the POV of the source. Read it!
5. Familiarize yourself with analyses of art: This one is optional, but a great way to really get used to analyzing art is to visit an art museum and to listen to the way that art is described. Often times there will be interpretations of the artist’s intent and perspective.
AP World History Multiple Choice Review Tips
1. Identify key patterns: You know that saying, history repeats itself? There’s a reason why people say that, and that is because there are fundamental patterns in history that can be understood and identified. This is especially true with AP World History. If you can learn the frequent patterns of history in relation to the six time periods tested, you’ll be able to guess in a smart manner when you have absolutely no idea about something.
2. Use common sense: The beauty of AP World History is when you understand the core concept being tested and the patterns in history; you can deduce the answer of the question. Identify what exactly is being asked and then go through the process of elimination to figure out the correct answer. Now, this does not mean do not study at all. This means, rather than study 500 random facts about world history, really focus in on understanding the way history interacts with different parts of the world. Think about how minorities have changed over the course of history, their roles in society, etc. You want to look at things at the big picture so that you can have a strong grasp of each time period tested.
3. Familiarize with AP-style questions: If AP World History is the first AP test you’ve ever taken, or even if it isn’t, you need to get used to the way the CollegeBoard introduces and asks you questions. Find a review source to practice AP World History questions. Albert.io has hundreds of AP World History practice questions and detailed explanations to work through.
4. Make note of pain points: As you practice, you’ll quickly realize what you know really well, and what you know not so well. Figure out what you do not know so well and re-read that chapter of your textbook. Then, create flashcards of the key concepts of that chapter along with key events from that time period.
5. Supplement practice with video lectures: A fast way to learn is to do practice problems, identify where you are struggling, learn that concept more intently, and then to practice again. Crash Course has created an incredibly insightful series of World History videos you can watch on YouTube here. Afterwards, go back and practice again. Practice makes perfect, especially when it comes to AP World History.
6. Strike out wrong answer choices: The second you can eliminate an answer choice, strike out the letter of that answer choice and circle the word or phrase behind why that answer choice is incorrect. This way, when you review your answers at the very end, you can quickly check through all of your answers. One of the hardest things is managing time when you’re doing your second run-through to check your answers—this method alleviates that problem by reducing the amount of time it takes for you to remember why you thought a certain answer choice was wrong.
7. Answer every question: If you’re crunched on time and still have several AP World History multiple-choice questions to answer, the best thing to do is to make sure that you answer each and every one of them. There is no guessing penalty for doing so, so take full advantage of this!
Tips Submitted by AP World History Teachers
1. Use high polymer erasers: When answering the multiple choice scantron portion of the AP World History test, use a high polymer eraser. It is the only eraser that will fully erase on a scantron. Thanks for the tip from Ms. J. at Boulder High School.
2. Outline, outline, outline: Take a few minutes to outline your essay based on themes, similarities, bias, etc. It’s the easiest way to craft a fluid essay. Thanks for the tip from Mr. M at Chapel Hill High School.
3. Stay ahead of your reading and when in doubt, read again: You are responsible for a huge amount of information when it comes to tackling AP World History, so make sure you are responsible for some of it. You can’t leave all the work up to your instructor. It’s a team effort. Thanks for the tip from Mr. E at Tri-Central High.
4. Integrate video learning: A great way to really solidify your understanding of a concept is to watch supplementary videos on the topic. Then, read the topic again to truly master it. Thanks for the tip from Mr. D at Royal High School.
5. Keep a study log: Study for three hours for every hour of class you have and keep a study log so that you can see what you accomplished every day as you sit down to study. Thanks for the tip from Mr. R. at Stephen F. Austin High.
6. Practice with transparencies: Use transparencies or a white board to create overlay maps for each of the six periods of AP World History at the start of each period so that you can see a visual of the regions of the world being focused on. Thanks for the tip from Ms. W at Riverbend High.
7. Read every word: Often times in AP World History many questions can be answered without specific historical knowledge. Many questions require critical thinking and attention to detail; the difference between a correct answer and an incorrect answer lies in just one or two words in the question or the answer. Thanks for the tip from Mr. R. at Mandarin High.
8. Cover the entire time frame: When addressing the DBQ on continuity, make sure to cover the entire time frame unless you specifically write in your thesis about a different time period. Thanks for the tip from Mr. H at Great Oak High.
9. Summarize then answer: Ms. B recommends at Desert Edge High recommends to summarize what you know about each answer choice and then to see if it applies to the question when answering the multiple choice questions.
10. Master writing a good thesis: In order to write a good thesis, you want to make sure it properly addresses the whole question or prompt, effectively takes a position on the main topic, includes relevant historical context, and organize key standpoints. Thanks for the tip from Mr. G at Loganville High.
11. Tackle DBQs with SAD and BAD: With the DBQ, think about the Summary, Author, and Date & Context. Also consider the Bias and Additional Documents to verify the bias. Thanks for the tip from Mr. G at WHS.
12. Create a refined thesis in your conclusion: 35 with 40 minutes to write each of your essays, starting with a strong thesis can be difficult, especially since students can find it challenging in what they are about to write. By the time you finish your essay, you have a much more clear idea of how to answer the question. Take a minute and revisit the prompt and try to provide a much more explicit and comprehensive thesis than the one you provided in the beginning as your conclusion. This thesis statement is much more likely to give you the point for thesis than the rushed thesis in the beginning. Thanks for the tip from Mr. R at Mission Hills High.
13. Annotate: Textbook reading is essential for success in AP World History, but learn to annotate smarter, not harder. Be efficient in your reading and note taking. Read, reduce, and reflect. To read – use sticky notes. Using post-its is a lifesaver – use different color stickies for different tasks (pink – summary, blue – questions, green – reflection, etc.) Reduce – go back and look at your sticky notes and see what you can reduce – decide what is truly essential material to know or question. Then reflect – why are the remaining sticky notes important? How will they help you not just understand content, but also understand contextualization or causality or change over time? What does this information show you? Thanks for the tip from Ms. J at Legacy High.
14. Relate back to the themes: Understanding 10,000 years of world history is hard. Knowing all the facts is darn near impossible. If you can use your facts/material and explain it within the context of one of the APWH themes, it makes it easier to process, understand, and apply. The themes are your friends. Thanks for the tip from Ms. J at Legacy High.
15. Form a study group: Everyone has different talents and areas of strength. You don’t, and shouldn’t, try to tackle this class all by yourself. Form a study group and learn from each other, help everybody become better by sharing your talents and skills. This is also a place where you can vent your frustrations and feel a sense of unity and belonging. We are truly all in this together. Thanks for the tip from Ms. J at Legacy High.
16. Look for the missing voice in DBQs: First, look for the missing voice. Who haven’t you heard from in the DBQ? Who’s voice would really help you answer the question more completely? Next, if there isn’t really a missing voice, what evidence do you have access to, that you would like to clarify? For example, if you have a document that says excessive taxation led to the fall of the Roman Empire, what other piece of information would you like to have access to that would help you prove or disprove this statement? Maybe a chart that shows tax amounts from prior to the 3rd Century Crisis to the mid of the 3rd century crisis? Thanks for the tip from Ms. J at Legacy High.
17. Go with your gut: When choosing an answer, it can be tempting to feel anxious and to potentially start second guessing yourself. Don’t. Tests are designed to make test takers get stuck between two or three answer choices (leading to anxiety and eating away time for completing the test). Limit the amount you second guess yourself. If you studied properly, there is a reason why your mind wanted you to pick that original answer before any of the other choices. Thanks for the tip from Mrs. S at Carnahan High School of the Future.
18. Don’t forget to B.S. in your DBQ: B.S. on everything! (Be Specific).
19. Remember your PIE: Writing a thesis is as easy as PIE: Period, Issue, Examples.
20. Look at every answer option: Don’t go for the first “correct” answer; find the most “bulletproof” answer. The one you’d best be able to defend in a debate.
Are you a teacher or student? Do you have an awesome tip? Let us know!
Hopefully you’ve learned a lot from reading all 50+ of these AP World History tips. Doing well in AP World History comes down to recognizing patterns and trends in history, and familiarizing yourself with the nature of the test. Once you get comfortable with the way questions are presented, you’ll realize that you can actually rely on quite a bit of common sense to answer the DBQs as well as the multiple choice questions. Students often think the key to AP history tests is memorizing every single fact of history, and the truth is you may be able to do that and get a 5, but the smart way of doing well on the test comes from understanding the reason why we study history in the first place. By learning the underlying patterns that are tested on the exam, for example how opinions towards women may have influenced the social or political landscape of the world during a certain time period, you can create more compelling theses and demonstrate to AP readers a clear understanding of the bigger picture.
In case you’re the type of student that needs a more structured study plan, we created a one-month AP World History Study Guide here.
Find the patterns, master crafting the essays, and practice hard, and you’ll do well come May. Good luck!
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WHAT THIS HANDOUT IS ABOUT
This handout describes what a thesis statement is, how thesis statements work in your writing, and how you can craft or refine one for your draft.
Writing in college often takes the form of persuasion—convincing others that you have an interesting, logical point of view on the subject you are studying. Persuasion is a skill you practice regularly in your daily life. You persuade your roommate to clean up, your parents to let you borrow the car, your friend to vote for your favorite candidate or policy. In college, course assignments often ask you to make a persuasive case in writing. You are asked to convince your reader of your point of view. This form of persuasion, often called academic argument, follows a predictable pattern in writing. After a brief introduction of your topic, you state your point of view on the topic directly and often in one sentence. This sentence is the thesis statement, and it serves as a summary of the argument you’ll make in the rest of your paper.
WHAT IS A THESIS STATEMENT?
A thesis statement:
- tells the reader how you will interpret the significance of the subject matter under discussion.
- is a road map for the paper; in other words, it tells the reader what to expect from the rest of the paper.
- directly answers the question asked of you. A thesis is an interpretation of a question or subject, not the subject itself. The subject, or topic, of an essay might be World War II or Moby Dick; a thesis must then offer a way to understand the war or the novel.
- makes a claim that others might dispute.
- is usually a single sentence somewhere in your first paragraph that presents your argument to the reader. The rest of the paper, the body of the essay, gathers and organizes evidence that will persuade the reader of the logic of your interpretation.
If your assignment asks you to take a position or develop a claim about a subject, you may need to convey that position or claim in a thesis statement near the beginning of your draft. The assignment may not explicitly state that you need a thesis statement because your instructor may assume you will include one. When in doubt, ask your instructor if the assignment requires a thesis statement. When an assignment asks you to analyze, to interpret, to compare and contrast, to demonstrate cause and effect, or to take a stand on an issue, it is likely that you are being asked to develop a thesis and to support it persuasively.
HOW DO I GET A THESIS?
A thesis is the result of a lengthy thinking process. Formulating a thesis is not the first thing you do after reading an essay assignment. Before you develop an argument on any topic, you have to collect and organize evidence, look for possible relationships between known facts (such as surprising contrasts or similarities), and think about the significance of these relationships. Once you do this thinking, you will probably have a “working thesis,” a basic or main idea, an argument that you think you can support with evidence but that may need adjustment along the way.
Writers use all kinds of techniques to stimulate their thinking and to help them clarify relationships or comprehend the broader significance of a topic and arrive at a thesis statement.
HOW DO I KNOW IF MY THESIS IS STRONG?
If there’s time, run it by your instructor or make an appointment at the Writing Center to get some feedback. Even if you do not have time to get advice elsewhere, you can do some thesis evaluation of your own. When reviewing your first draft and its working thesis,ask yourself the following:
- Do I answer the question? Re-reading the question prompt after constructing a working thesis can help you fix an argument that misses the focus of the question.
- Have I taken a position that others might challenge or oppose?If your thesis simply states facts that no one would, or even could, disagree with, it’s possible that you are simply providing a summary, rather than making an argument.
- Is my thesis statement specific enough? Thesis statements that are too vague often do not have a strong argument. If your thesis contains words like “good” or “successful,” see if you could be more specific: why is something “good”; what specifically makes something “successful”?
- Does my thesis pass the “So what?” test? If a reader’s first response is, “So what?” then you need to clarify, to forge a relationship, or to connect to a larger issue.
- Does my essay support my thesis specifically and without wandering? If your thesis and the body of your essay do not seem to go together, one of them has to change. It’s okay to change your working thesis to reflect things you have figured out in the course of writing your paper. Remember, always reassess and revise your writing as necessary.
- Does my thesis pass the “how and why?” test? If a reader’s first response is “how?” or “why?” your thesis may be too open-ended and lack guidance for the reader. See what you can add to give the reader a better take on your position right from the beginning.
Suppose you are taking a course on 19th-century America, and the instructor hands out the following essay assignment: Compare and contrast the reasons why the North and South fought the Civil War. You turn on the computer and type out the following:
- The North and South fought the Civil War for many reasons, some of which were the same and some different.
This weak thesis restates the question without providing any additional information. You will expand on this new information in the body of the essay, but it is important that the reader know where you are heading. A reader of this weak thesis might think, “What reasons? How are they the same? How are they different?” Ask yourself these same questions and begin to compare Northern and Southern attitudes (perhaps you first think, “The South believed slavery was right, and the North thought slavery was wrong”). Now, push your comparison toward an interpretation—why did one side think slavery was right and the other side think it was wrong? You look again at the evidence, and you decide that you are going to argue that the North believed slavery was immoral while the South believed it upheld the Southern way of life. You write:
- While both sides fought the Civil War over the issue of slavery, the North fought for moral reasons while the South fought to preserve its own institutions.
Now you have a working thesis! Included in this working thesis is a reason for the war and some idea of how the two sides disagreed over this reason. As you write the essay, you will probably begin to characterize these differences more precisely, and your working thesis may start to seem too vague. Maybe you decide that both sides fought for moral reasons, and that they just focused on different moral issues. You end up revising the working thesis into a final thesis that really captures the argument in your paper:
- While both Northerners and Southerners believed they fought against tyranny and oppression, Northerners focused on the oppression of slaves while Southerners defended their own right to self-government.
Compare this to the original weak thesis. This final thesis presents a way of interpreting evidence that illuminates the significance of the question. Keep in mind that this is one of many possible interpretations of the Civil War—it is not the one and only right answer to the question. There isn’t one right answer; there are only strong and weak thesis statements and strong and weak uses of evidence.
Let’s look at another example. Suppose your literature professor hands out the following assignment in a class on the American novel: Write an analysis of some aspect of Mark Twain’s novel Huckleberry Finn. “This will be easy,” you think. “I loved Huckleberry Finn!” You grab a pad of paper and write:
- Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn is a great American novel.
Why is this thesis weak? Think about what the reader would expect from the essay that follows: you will most likely provide a general, appreciative summary of Twain’s novel. The question did not ask you to summarize; it asked you to analyze. Your professor is probably not interested in your opinion of the novel; instead, she wants you to think about why it’s such a great novel—what do Huck’s adventures tell us about life, about America, about coming of age, about race relations, etc.? First, the question asks you to pick an aspect of the novel that you think is important to its structure or meaning—for example, the role of storytelling, the contrasting scenes between the shore and the river, or the relationships between adults and children. Now you write:
- In Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain develops a contrast between life on the river and life on the shore.
Here’s a working thesis with potential: you have highlighted an important aspect of the novel for investigation; however, it’s still not clear what your analysis will reveal. Your reader is intrigued, but is still thinking, “So what? What’s the point of this contrast? What does it signify?” Perhaps you are not sure yet, either. That’s fine—begin to work on comparing scenes from the book and see what you discover. Free write, make lists, jot down Huck’s actions and reactions. Eventually you will be able to clarify for yourself, and then for the reader, why this contrast matters. After examining the evidence and considering your own insights, you write:
- Through its contrasting river and shore scenes, Twain’s Huckleberry Finn suggests that to find the true expression of American democratic ideals, one must leave “civilized” society and go back to nature.
This final thesis statement presents an interpretation of a literary work based on an analysis of its content. Of course, for the essay itself to be successful, you must now present evidence from the novel that will convince the reader of your interpretation.
SPECIAL THANKS TO: Mr. Brynes of Leonardtown High School