Is AP World History Hard?

How hard is AP® World History?

“Is AP® World History easy or hard?” is a common question among students, whether you’re about to take the exam or just considering the class, and with AP® World History being one of the most popular APs® (with over 300,000 tests in 2019!), it’s tempting to see what all the hype is about.

Scores in 201954321
AP® World History8.6%18.8%28%28.8%15.8%

Number-wise, it’s not pretty. In 2019, only 8.6% of students scored a 5, which is undoubtedly low. Even more, only 55.4% of students passed (scoring a 3 or above), which is still pretty low. But, it’s also important to think about why so many students do poorer than usual on the AP® World History exam. It goes without saying that AP® World History seems like a sheer overload of information. I mean, pretty much everything ever falls under “World History.” This substantial amount of information can oftentimes overwhelm students, making them think they have to memorize verbatim every single event in history, which isn’t the case at all! In fact, it’s much more civilized than that, which brings us to…

The Content

AP® World History actually recently underwent a pretty big change, becoming AP® World History: Modern. This means that the content of the exam starts at 1200 CE, sparing most students from the thousands of years of history in the soon-to-be-released “AP® World History: Ancient.” Still, 800 years of history is a LOT, and these past 800 years haven’t been simple. That’s why the College Board, conveniently, has divided the class up into 9 distinct sections, each forming anywhere from 8-15% of the exam:

UNIT 1 – The Global Tapestry (1200 CE – 1450 CE)

UNIT 2 – Networks of Exchange (1200 CE – 1450 CE)

UNIT 3 – Land-Based Empires (1450 CE – 1750 CE)

UNIT 4 – Transoceanic Interconnections (1450 CE – 1750 CE)

UNIT 5 – Revolutions (1750 CE – 1900 CE)

UNIT 6 – Consequences of Industrialization (1750 CE – 1900 CE)

UNIT 7 – Global Conflict (1900 CE – Present)

UNIT 8 – Cold War and Decolonization (1900 CE – Present)

UNIT 9 – Globalization (1900 CE – Present)

While it’s important to know about the major events of each of these periods, like the French Revolution and the fall of Constantinople, the AP® exam will actually ask you very little about specific dates, events, or even people in history. Instead, the AP® World History exam is all about forming a historical argument, finding its connections, and examining its consequences, which brings us to…

The Skills

Like I said, the AP® World History exam is not about rote memorization. Sure, it’s key to know about major historical developments, but what’s more important in the eyes of the College Board is “thinking like a historian.” This is why the majority of the questions, especially the writing section (which boils down to  won’t be about random information but instead a quote or image describing some major historical event. With this source, the student will have to use his or her skills to analyze the passage and argue something. This boils down to six main skills:

  1. Developments and Processes

This is probably the closest to what you would think of a normal history class: recognizing and explaining major historical developments.

  1. Sourcing and Situation

This mainly entails reading and analyzing primary and secondary sources.

  1. Claims and Evidence in Sources

For this, you’ll need to take the analysis from skill #2 and focus on the argument of the speaker.

  1. Contextualization

This skill is where you may need to use a bit of background knowledge. But don’t worry! Just enough to show you know your Incan Empire from your Renaissance Europe.

  1. Making Connections

This is often the hardest skill for students, as you’ll need to use the different sources the exam gives you and figure out a way to “combine” them. This can be done in three different ways: comparison, causation, and continuity and change.

  1. Argumentation

Lastly, take everything from before (the sources, your analysis, background context, and your connection) and combine them! Make an argument and stick to it!

If all this is making AP® World History sound more like a Critical Thinking and Writing Exam, you’d be right! For most students, the writing is by far the hardest part of the exam (with the average student getting only 2.8 out of 7 points on the Document-Based Question, or DBQ). And, with the writing taking up nearly 2 and a half hours of the 3.5 hour exam, it’s easy to see why writing is such a big deal. So, whether you think the AP® World History Exam is hard depends, ultimately, on your writing and critical thinking skills.

So… I shouldn’t take it?

Not so fast! Not all hope is lost! First, the vast majority of students who take the AP® World History Exam are 10th graders, meaning the test is geared towards students who’ve never taken an AP® exam before, introducing them to the key concepts of analysis and argumentation instead of the sort of constant memorization they may have experienced in past history classes.

Second, students agree that though most of the content is challenging, it’s not impossible! That may be the reason why many students report the class as fairly medium difficulty despite the relatively low amount of students that actually get 5s.

Third, not only will the skills you develop in this class be helpful on the exam, but they’re actually critical skills for any class. Think you’re better at English? AP® World History will teach you how to form and support an argument. More science-oriented? AP® World History will show you how to come to logical conclusions from a wide variety of data (or, in World History language, sources). Ultimately, AP® World History is a great introductory course for some key skills later in life.

SAT Subject Tests

Lastly, the SAT Subject Test. Another test?!?! Yup, and trust me, it’s worth thinking about. If you’re a freshman or a sophomore (which you probably are if you’re reading this), you probably aren’t even thinking about college admissions right now. But, having some good SAT II Scores can look extremely good on a college application, and with the SAT World History Subject Tests being one of the easiest, you’ll be more than ready to ace that SAT II after getting through AP® World History! At SoFlo we can help you study for the subject test or prepare for the AP® Exam.

So, should you take AP® World History? Ultimately, it’s up to you. If you’re strong in skills like Critical Thinking and Writing (or hoping to improve), AP® World History is the class for you! If you’re not so confident, the class may be a bit more challenging. Even still, if you’re just interested in learning a bit more about the world around us, or interested in trying out an AP® class in general, AP® World History is a great opportunity!

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