Excelling on the AP European History exam can be a challenge. With only 8.6% of test takers scoring a 5 and another 16.9% scoring a 4 in 2014, AP European History represents one of the most difficult Advanced Placement exams to score high on. But fear not, hopefully after reading this list of comprehensive tips, you’ll feel more confident and prepared to rock your AP European History test!
Now to the good stuff… here are 50+ AP European History tips.
AP European History DBQ & FRQ Essay Tips & Advice
1. Answer the question: This seems like a no-brainer, yet thousands of AP European History test takers forget about this every year. When you address the question, make sure you answer all parts of the question; AP graders evaluate your essays based on a rubric and award a point if you answer all parts of the question.
2. Know the rubric like the back of your hand: This goes in hand with the last tip. By the time the test rolls around, make sure you know that AP graders are looking for these key components: an answer to all parts of the question, a clear thesis, facts to support the thesis presented, use of all documents, and inclusion of point of view/evaluation of document bias. Here are the 2014 Scoring Guidelines.
3. Don’t be afraid to namedrop/be specific: When it comes to answering the FRQs, be a test taker who can identify and specify names of certain people who had measurable impact in European History. This means use primary examples! For example, if the question asks you how Louis XIV was able to centralize his government, you should specifically talk about intendants, the Fronde Wars, the Edict of Fontainebleau, etc. Write with confidence when citing specific events or people.
4. Group, group, group, and did we say group?: When you read and analyze documents, make sure to group your documents into at least three groups in order to receive full credit. You should group based on the three respective key points you will be discussing in the body of your essay.
5. Practice grouping: Just to hit the nail in the coffin, here are a few starting blocks for how to group documents. Think about how the document works in relation to politics, economics, imperialism, nationalism, humanitarianism, religion, society & culture, intellectual development & advancement. Pretty much every single document the CollegeBoard ever created can fit into one of these buckets.
6. Assess the author’s perspective: As you work your way through the documents and group them, keep a few clear questions in mind, “Why is the author writing this? What perspective is he or she coming from? What can I tell from his or her background?” Asking yourself these questions will help you ensure part of your thesis and essay integrates bias and analysis of bias.
7. Read the historical background: The little blurb at the beginning of the document isn’t there for no good reason. The historical background section of AP European History is like the freebie slot on a bingo card—it will reveal to you the time period of the document and allow you to gain a little perspective into the point of view of the source.
8. Connect between documents: The difference between scoring a perfect score on your essays and scoring an almost perfect score can often come down to your ability to relate documents with one another. As you outline your essay, you should think about at least two opportunities where you can connect one document to another. So how do you connect a document? Well one way would be writing something along the lines of, “The fact that X person believes that XYZ is the root of XYZ may be due to the fact that he is Y.” So in this example, I may pull X person from document 1, but use document 4 to support my Y of the reason why he thinks a certain way. When you connect documents, you demonstrate to the grader that you can clearly understand point of views and how different perspectives arise. It also is a way to demonstrate your analytical abilities.
9. Start practicing as early as possible: AP European History isn’t quite like AP World History where you can get away with just understanding key trends and patterns. Because the test is much more detailed-oriented, you need to start practicing at least a month and a half prior to your AP European History exam date. Go to AP Central’s homepage for AP European History and select a few essay questions to tackle for the weeks leading up to the exam. Try to tackle two to five a week. Find a proctor like a sibling, parent, or teacher and have them simulate the test for you under timed conditions.
10. Do not blow off the DBQ: In 130 minutes, 50% of your AP European History grade is determined. In case you didn’t know the AP European History exam is a 50-50 split between multiple choice and free-response questions. Students often overlook the importance of the DBQ and FRQs. Don’t be that student. Did you know if you got 0/80 multiple choice questions right but scored 9s on your FRQs and your DBQ, you would still get a 3 based on the 2009 exam curve? It’s crazy, but it’s true.
11. Print out your writing: Writing a coherent essay is a difficult task. In order to do this successfully on the AP European History test you want to make sure that you have spent a few minutes in the very beginning of the test to properly plan out an outline for your essay. You may have heard this advice hundreds of times from teachers but the reason why teachers give it is because it really does help. Ultimately, if you go into your essay without a plan your essay will read without a sense of flow and continuation. One of the things you are assessed on is your ability to create a cohesive argument.
12. Organizing with chronological order: One way that you can order some essays is by using chronological order. When you frame your argument around chronological order, you want to look for transition points and use those as an opportunity to start a new paragraph.
13. Compare and contrast: Sometimes on the AP European History test you’ll be asked to compare and contrast. In this case a lot of students simply compare but they do not contrast. Make sure that you allocate at least one paragraph for each component.
14. Refine your thesis: Crafting the van Gogh of thesis statements can be difficult when under a time crunch. But don’t worry the good thing is that if you create a general thesis statement to work off of, you can go back and refine your thesis statement at the very end. Don’t be afraid to come up with the general idea and go with that; then at the end of the paper, revise your original thesis around the main arguments that you’ve made throughout.
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AP European History Multiple Choice Review Tips
1. Read continuously: Here’s the thing about AP European History—it’s incredibly detailed-oriented. That means it’s not quite like some other AP tests where you can just cram two nights before and get a 5. In order to really understand connections in European History, you need to keep up with your reading throughout the school year. This not only applies to help you in the multiple choice section, but also in the essay portion to understand what time period the prompts are coming from. Viault’s Modern European History should be like your bible when it comes to reading about AP European History.
2. Identify and hone in on your greatest weaknesses: When you start practicing multiple choice for AP European History, you’ll quickly realize that there are certain time periods and things you know like the back of your hand, and others that are just very hazy to you. After you have had a practice session with AP European History multiple-choice questions, write down the areas where you struggled and review those sections of your class notes. Make flashcards and review 15-20 every night before you go to bed.
3. Supplement your learning with video lectures: While YouTube can be a distractor at times; it can also be great to learn things on the fly! Crash Course has some great videos here pertaining to AP European History. Use them to affirm what you know about certain time periods and to bolster what you already know; then, practice again.
4. Hank’s History Hour: Going along the lines of alternative ways to learn AP European History, you can also learn a great deal from Hank’s History Hour, which is a podcast on different topics in history. This is a great way to actually go to sleep since you can listen to the podcast while you dose off. Did you know when you go to sleep you remember what you heard last the best when you wake up?
5. Answer every question: If you’re crunched on time and still have several AP European History multiple-choice questions to answer, make a solid attempt at answering each and every one of them. With no guessing penalty, you literally have nothing to lose.
6. Create flashcards along the way: After you have gotten a multiple choice question wrong, create a flashcard with the key term and the definition of that term. Think about potential mnemonics or heuristics you can use to help yourself remember the term more easily. One way is to think about an outrageous image and to associate that image with the term related to AP European History.
7. Use the Process of Elimination: When it comes to tackling AP European History questions, the process of elimination can come in handy if you can eliminate just one answer choice or even two, your odds of getting the question right significantly improve. Remember there is no guessing penalty so you really have nothing to lose.
8. Don’t overthink things: When it comes to answering easy questions, typically the shortest response is also the right response. Easy questions typically have easy answers. Try not to choose strangely worded answer responses for easy questions. Most importantly, don’t overthink things.
9. All questions are the same weight: When it comes to the AP European History test, all multiple-choice questions are weighted equally. That means that you want to make sure that you take your time in the very beginning so that you don’t get easy questions wrong.
10. Use common sense: Often times with multiple-choice questions, contextual cues are given that signal the time period that the question is testing you on. Look out for these sorts of clues. Understanding and recognizing when a clue is given is fundamental to helping you understand what concepts you’re being tested on.
11. Take advantage of chronology: When it comes to answering the multiple-choice questions, the questions are actually grouped in sets of 4-7 questions each. Practice recognizing when you’re at the start and end of a group. This will allow you to mentally think about the different time periods that are being tested while also staying alert throughout the duration of the test.
12. Understand the progression of question difficulty: The AP European History test is outlined so that the easiest questions are presented to you at the very beginning of the test. However, as you navigate through the test you’ll realize that the questions get harder and harder. Use this to your advantage. Stay aware of how much time you’re spending in different sections of the multiple-choice section. While you want to make sure that you allocate enough time at the very end for answer difficult questions, you really want to make sure that you knock the first 60 questions out of the ballpark.
13. Study themes appropriately: Generally speaking, the AP European History test dedicates 20 to 30% of the multiple-choice section 2 testing cultural or intellectual subject areas. The remaining 80% are split relatively evenly between economic and political factors, as well as overall social issues.
14. Use your writing utensil: As you work through the multiple-choice section of the AP European history test, physically circle and underline certain aspects of answer choices that you know for fact are wrong. Get in this habit so that when you go back to review your answer choices, you can quickly see why you thought that particular answer choice was wrong in the first place. This is a technique that you can use for more than just the AP European History test.
15. Circle EXCEPT: EXCEPT questions can often throw students off so make sure that you get in the habit of physically circling every time you see the word EXCEPT.
16. Go with your gut: You know what I’m talking about…when you’re at the end of your test and you go back to that one question that nagged you and you think that you need to change your answer. Don’t. More often than not your gut was right. There’s a reason why you chose that answer so go with your instinct.
17. Use checkmarks: If you feel confident about your answer to a particular multiple-choice question, make a small checkmark next to that question number. The reason why you want to do this is that when you go back to review your answer choices, you’ll be able to quickly recognize which questions you need to spend more time taking a second look at. Also, making this checkmark gives you momentum moving forward throughout the multiple-choice section. If you feel good about an answer, that little bit of positive reinforcement will help keep you alert as you move through the multiple choice questions.
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Overall How to Study for AP European History Tips
1. Do not read your book for straight facts and figures: The way middle schools teach history set up high school students for failure when it comes to tackling challenging history courses. Rather than memorize facts from your book like you’ve done since middle school, create a framework and general understanding of the core themes from your reading. Believe it or not, knowing the type of bread that XYZ leader liked is not important. A lot of history books go excessively in depth in regards to the nitty gritty. Learn to selectively read the important bits of information and practice summarizing the key points of your reading by outlining 3-5 key takeaways in your notes on your readings. If you cannot connect the dots, then you will simply craft essays with random “name drops” and “date drops”; as a result, your AP score will reflect your inability to create a cohesive argument.
2. Try out the SQ3R method: This is a popular studying technique that can be applied for more than just AP European History. Francis Robinson originally created it in a 1946 book called Effective Study.
3. S (Survey): Preview what you are about to read. Look at the beginning of the chapter and look at the end. Look at the main headings of each subsection of the chapter. Read the discussion questions often found at the end of sections. Think about how this section relates to a larger part of history; think about how this may connect to something you’ve previously learned.
4. Q (Question): Think about questions to keep in mind as you prepare to read. One way to do this is by re-framing the headers of subsections and to pose them as questions. Ask questions such as, “Why is this important?”, “What does this reveal to me about the overall time period?”, etc.
5. Read (R): Now you can begin to read. After surveying and questioning, you can now read the chapter keeping the prep work you’ve done in mind. Doing S and Q beforehand helps keep you engaged and active. Make sure you use your pencil to guide yourself as you read. If you can write in your book, circle and underline key things. Active reading helps the content stick with you.
6. Recall (R): At the end of each major section, take a minute or two to recall the key things that you just read about. Review the bolded key terms, and answer the main questions you posed to yourself earlier. Use your own words to describe what you just read. Think about it like you are telling your best friend about what you read about today. Saying things out loud can help you remember things more easily.
7. Review (R): You can either do this with a friend or by yourself. After you’ve done SQRR, you want to top everything off with review. Look at the notes you’ve taken along the way and test yourself on the key bits of information from your reading. The key to the SQ3R method is creating a system of processing information and making that information stick. By reviewing several times at random points of the day, you’ll help move the information you’ve learned from your short-term memory to your long-term memory.
8. Connect, connect, connect: In case we haven’t mentioned it enough, AP European History is all about connecting the dots. Whether you’re just doing your nightly reading or reviewing for your test, it’s helpful and essential that you recognize how events and people in history are interrelated. History is the study of how people interact with one another. One technique to make sure you are connecting the dots is to write key events or terms on flashcards; then at the end of your reading or review session, categorize your flashcards into 5-7 different categories. You may end up doing this by time period, by a significant overarching event, etc. A good way to think about this is you have 5-7 drawers, and a bunch of random things lying around in your room. Each thing represents some event or important person in history and you want to fit all the things into one drawer in order to make your room clean again. If the clean room analogy doesn’t work for you, try to think of a way to get in the categorizing mindset yourself and let us know about it!
9. Create a cheat sheet: While unfortunately you won’t be able to use your cheat sheet on the actual test, you can use a cheat sheet to help simplify your reviewing process as the AP European History test gets closer. Create a cheat sheet that is flexible and can be added on to—then as the year progresses and you do more and more readings, add to your cheat sheet. Before you know it, you’ll have a handy and hopefully concise reference guide that you can turn to in those last few weeks before the test.
Tips Submitted by AP European History Teachers
1. Keep referring back to the question: While writing the essay portion, especially the DBQ, remember to keep referring back to the question and make sure that you have not gone off on a tangent. When students drop the ball on an essay it is usually because they do not answer the question. Thanks for the tip from Ms. N at South High School in MI.
2. Review your vocab: Complete the vocabulary at the beginning of each section of your preferred AP European History prep book. If you do not know the meaning of the terminology in a question you will not be able to answer the question correctly. Thanks for the tip from Ms. O at Northville High in MI.
3. Do lots of point-of-view statements: You don’t want to suffer on your DBQ because you only had two acceptable POV’s. Do 4 or 5 or 6. And be sure to say how reliable a source is ABOUT WHAT based on their background, audience or purpose. Thanks for the tip from Steve!
4. Complete readings as they are assigned: Chunking material is the best
way to learn and then to synthesize material. Look at the primary sources and secondary sources to support textual readings. Think in thematic terms. Thanks for the tip from Ms. J at Trinity High in PA.
5. Supplement your in-class learning with videos: Tom Richey has put together a comprehensive YouTube playlist just for AP European History students. You can check it out at here. He also has a great website you can check out here.
6. Provide context in your DBQ: When trying to write a point of view statement for the DBQ you must include three things: First, state who the author really is.Second, what did he actually say.Third, why is said it.
Are you a teacher? Do you have an awesome tip? Let us know!
Hopefully you’ve learned a ton from reading all 50+ of these AP European History tips. Remember, AP European History is one of the most challenging AP exams to score high on, so it’s crucial you put in the work to get you there. Read actively and review constantly throughout the year, so that you do not feel an incredible burden of stress as the AP exam nears. Approach readings using SQ3R, connect the dots between documents, and understand how you are going to be graded by AP readers. You’re going to do great! Good luck.
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By this point in your high school career, you probably already know that Advanced Placement (AP) courses and exams are administered each year under the oversight of the College Board, and that classes can sometimes lead to course credit or advanced standing in college.
The European History AP exam is one of the less common exams taken among self-studiers and enrolled students alike. In 2016, only about 100,000 of the 4.4 million students taking AP exams took the European History AP exam. If you are interested in taking the European History AP exam, whether you have taken the class or are planning to self-study, read on for a breakdown of the test and CollegeVine’s advice for how you can prepare for it.
About the Exam
The European History AP course investigates the content of European history for significant events, individuals, developments, and processes in four historical periods. In this class, you will develop your ability to analyze historical data, assess historical evidence, analyze significant issues in European history, and understand historical sources, images, graphs, and maps. The course content focuses on events from 1450 to present and provides five themes for framing connections over time and between places. The themes are interaction of Europe and the world, poverty and prosperity, objective knowledge and subjective visions, states and other institutions of power, and individual and society.
Although some of the theory in terms of how you study the past is the same as the World History AP exam, the European History AP exam is far more specific in its content. Because it covers a much smaller geographical area and time period, the knowledge required by students is much more detail-oriented than that required for World History.
In 2015, the European History AP course was redesigned. Though the course content remains largely the same, it is now more focused towards clear learning objectives for the exam. It is also now limited in its scope to 19 concepts falling under the aforementioned five themes. The exam itself has also changed. Starting with the 2016 test, there are now fewer long essays and multiple-choice questions, and short-answer questions were added for the first time. It is important to remember when preparing for the exam to use material produced in 2015 or later, as older material will be outdated.
The European History AP exam is one of the longer AP exams, clocking in at three hours and 15 minutes. It is comprised of four sections. Section 1(a) takes 55 minutes, contains 55 multiple-choice questions, and accounts for 40% of your total score. Section 1(b) contains four short-answer questions, takes 50 minutes, and accounts for 20% of your total score. The last two sections are both long-answer responses. Section 2(a) is a document-based question spanning 55 minutes (including 15 minutes of reading time) and accounting for 25% of your score. The last section, 2(b), gives two choices of long-essay prompts, from which students must choose one and complete it in 35 minutes accounting for 15% of their score. Students familiar with the U.S. History AP or World History AP exams will benefit from knowing that the exam format and scoring rubric are exactly the same.
The European History AP exam is a tough one to master, though many students do well enough to pass (typically a score of 3 or higher). In 2016, 53.6% of students who took the European History AP received a score of 3 or higher. Of these, only 7.9% of students received the top score of 5 with another 16.2% scoring a 4. Almost one-third of all test-takers received a score of 3, contributing greatly to the exam’s pass rate. Another third of students received a score of 2, while 12.2% of test-takers scored a 1 on the exam.
Keep in mind, policies regarding credit and advanced standing based on AP scores vary widely from school to school. Regulations regarding which APs qualify for course credits or advanced placement at specific colleges and universities can be found here.
A full course description that can help to guide your studying and understanding of the knowledge required for the test can be found in the College Board course description.
Read on for tips for preparing for the exam.
Step 1: Assess Your Skills
It’s important to start your studying off with a good understanding of your existing knowledge. To learn more about the importance of formative assessments and how you can use one to get your studying off on the right foot, check out the CollegeVine article What Is a Formative Assessment and Why Should I Use One to Study?
Take a practice test to assess your initial knowledge of the material. Although the College Board European History AP website provides a number of sample test questions and exam tips, it does not provide a complete practice test. In fact, because the exam was so recently redesigned, it is difficult to find updated practice tests. Your best bet may be to use those provided in one of the many up-to-date commercial study guides. Alternatively, there is one older version of a practice test available online here and one updated practice test available here.
Step 2: Study the material
The European History AP Exam tests your knowledge of significant events, individuals, developments, and processes in European history in four historical periods from 1450 to present. You will need to learn the thinking skills and methods used by historians to study the past. These include analyzing primary and secondary sources, making historical comparisons, chronological reasoning, and argumentation. In addition to the core five themes, you will be responsible for learning 69 learning objectives. These learning objectives, grouped by theme and overarching questions, can be found clearly organized in the College Board Course Description.
Given how recently it was redesigned, there are few updated study resources for the European History AP exam. The College Board does, however, provide a series of useful videos that give an overview of curricular framework and exam format. You should also review the College Board’s Exam Tips.
For a more specific idea of where to focus your studying, you should consider using an updated formal study guide. Both the Princeton Review’s Cracking the AP European History Exam, 2017 Edition: Proven Techniques to Help You Score a 5 and Barron’s AP European History, 8th Edition have been updated to reflect the changes to the 2016 exam. Of these, Barron’s is regarded as the stronger option for long-term studying of the material, while the Princeton Review is often regarded as a better option for test practice (though some users say that its practice tests in the past have been more difficult than the actual AP exam).
There are also a number of free study resources available online. Many AP teachers have posted complete study guides, review sheets, and test questions. Be careful when accessing these, as many will be from previous versions of the exam. Remember, the content is largely the same on this year’s test, but the test will be formatted differently than it was in the past. As such, outdated exams may still have some use in testing your knowledge of content, but be sure to familiarize yourself with the updated format of the new exam.
Finally, another new, fun way to study is to use one of the recently developed apps for AP exams. These range in price from $0.99 to $4.99, but they provide a fun and easy way to quiz yourself. Make sure you read reviews before choosing one – their quality varies widely.
Step 3: Practice Multiple Choice Questions
Once you have your theory down, test it out by practicing multiple-choice questions. You can find these in most study guides or through online searches. You could also try taking the multiple-choice section of another practice exam.
The College Board Course Description includes many practice multiple-choice questions along with explanations of their answers. There are also many practice questions available in any commercial study guide. As you go through these, try to keep track of which areas are still tripping you up, and go back over this theory again. Focus on understanding what each question is asking and keep a running list of any vocabulary that is still unfamiliar.
Step 4: Practice Free Response Questions
The European History AP exam is different from many AP exams in that it consists of six free-response questions of varying length and content. To be successful on these sections, you should know what to expect from each question. If you are already familiar with the free-response portions of the U.S. History AP or World History AP exams, you will find these similar in format.
The first four free-response questions are considered short-answer and you will be allowed 50 minutes to complete them all. These questions tend to have multiple parts, with each being very specific and limited in scope. In this section you will have an opportunity to explain the historical examples you know best. You will probably be asked to interpret a graph or figure, compare and contrast the effects of different cultural approaches from specific time periods, or list distinct precipitating factors of significant historical events. You should be able to answer each part of these questions in a short, succinct paragraph.
The second free-response section is a document-based question and you will have 55 minutes to complete it. This one question alone is worth 25% of your total exam score. To master it, you will need to carefully read the question, practice active reading skills while reviewing the documents, and make a strong outline before you begin to write. In this section, you will assess written, quantitative, or visual materials as historical evidence. Be sure to completely review the outline of requirements provided before the prompt, and check them off as you are outlining and writing your response. These requirements generally include things such as a strong thesis statement and a set number of examples taken directly from the documents. Many points are lost by students who simply forget to include one of the scoring criterion.
The last free-response section is a long essay response, which you will have 35 minutes to complete. It is worth 15% of your total exam score. This section gives you the choice of two separate prompts. Remember that you only need to answer one of them, and no extra points are awarded for answering both. As in the document-based question above, you will be provided with a rough outline of key considerations for the scoring of your work.These include a strong thesis, application of your historical thinking skills, ability to support your argument with specific examples, and the synthesis of your response into a greater historical context. You will be asked to explain and analyze significant issues in world history and develop an argument supported by your analysis of historical evidence.
As you complete the last two questions, make sure to keep an eye on the time. Though you will be reminded of time remaining by the exam proctor, you will not be forced to move on to another question once the amount of time recommended for the first question has passed. Make sure you stay on track to address each section of every question. No points can be awarded for answer sections left completely blank when time runs out.
For more details about how the document-based section and long-essay section are scored, review the College Board’s scoring rubric. To read descriptions of the directives commonly found on this section, visit the Common Directives page. To see authentic examples of past student responses and scoring explanations for each, visit the College Board’s Student Samples, Scoring Guidelines, and Commentary.
Step 5: Take another practice test
As you did at the very beginning of your studying, take a practice test to evaluate your progress. You should see a steady progression of knowledge, and it’s likely that you will see patterns identifying which areas have improved the most and which areas still need improvement.
If you have time, repeat each of the steps above to incrementally increase your score.
Step 6: Exam day specifics
In 2017, the European History AP Exam will be administered on Friday, May 12 at 12 PM.
For complete registration instructions, check out CollegeVine’s How to Register for AP Exams (Even If You Didn’t Take the Class).
For information about what to bring to the exam, see CollegeVine’s What Should I Bring to My AP Exam (And What Should I Definitely Leave at Home)?
If you feel like you still need more help or you are not sure that you can do it on your own, look no further. For personalized AP tutoring, check out the CollegeVine Academic Tutoring Program, where students who are intimately familiar with the exam can help you ace it too, just like they did.
For more about APs, check out these CollegeVine posts
Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.