The AP World History Exam
About the Exam
The three-hour-and-five-minute exam includes a 55-minute multiple-choice section and a 130-
minute free-response section, consisting of three essays.
Section I: Multiple-Choice
The 70 multiple choice questions cover world history from the Foundations period up to the
present. Several questions are cross-chronological but, for the most part, the subject breakdown
• Foundations period: c. 8000 B.C.E. to 600 C.E. -- 19–20%
• 600 C.E. to 1450 – 22%
• 1450 to 1750 -- 19–20%
• 1750 to 1914 -- 19–20%
• 1914 to the present -- 19–20%
In other words, you can’t blow off studying any particular time period and expect to do well.
Like the SAT, random guessing can hurt your final score. While you don't lose anything for
leaving a question blank, one quarter of a point is subtracted for each incorrect answer on the
test. Nevertheless, if you have some knowledge of the question and can eliminate one or more
answers, it's usually to your advantage to choose what you believe is the best answer from the
Section II: Free-Response
There are three free-response questions. You'll write a document-based essay (DBQ), a change-
over-time essay, and a comparative essay. Each essay is counted equally toward your final grade
on the exam.
Please pay close attention to the directive words in the essay questions. Ignoring directives will
result in a lower exam score. The following directives may be included:
• Analyze: determine their component parts; examine their nature and relationship
• Assess/evaluate: judge the value or character of something; appraise; evaluate the
positive and negative points; give an opinion regarding the value of; discuss the
advantages and disadvantages of
• Compare: examine for the purpose of noting similarities and differences
• Contrast: examine in order to show dissimilarities or points of difference
• Describe: give an account of; tell about; give a word picture of
• Discuss: talk over; write about; consider or examine by argument or from various points
of view; debate; present the different sides of
• Explain: make clear or plain; make clear the causes or reasons for; make known in
detail; tell the meaning of
Document-Based Essay Question
Put on your "historian" hat to demonstrate your ability to analyze source materials and develop
an essay based on those materials. Your goal: a unified essay that integrates your analysis of four
to ten given documents with your treatment of the topic. Comparative topics on the major themes
of the course often provide the topic of the DBQ, including comparative questions about
different societies in situations of mutual contact. The DBQ begins with a mandatory 10-minute
reading period. Then you'll have 40 minutes to write the essay.
The source materials are chosen for three reasons: the information they convey about the topic,
the perspective they offer on other documents used in the section, and the points of view toward
the topic they convey. There is no one perfect DBQ answer; a variety of approaches and
responses are possible depending on your ability to understand the documents and, ultimately,
judge their significance. Remember: You'll most fully understand some of the documents when
you view them within the wider context of the entire series.
When writing the document-based essay, it's important to:
• Refer specifically to individual documents within the framework of the overall topic.
• Use all of the documents.
• Discuss the materials in reference to the question -- don't just summarize them.
• Cite documents by naming the author and/or by naming the document number.
• Evaluate the point of view of at least several documents’ authors. This means more than
just listing the author’s background. It means explaining how the person’s background or
agenda is evident in (1) his/her word choice, (2) choice of topic or attitude toward the
topic, or (3) the message the author was trying to accomplish in writing the document. It
may also mean (4) assessing the reliability of the information the author presents.
However, it does not mean dismissing the author as “biased” (and therefore unreliable)
because he/she expressed an opinion or didn’t witness the events described first-hand.
Everyone has a “bias,” so this word is meaningless.
• There are no irrelevant or deliberately misleading documents.
• It's important that you put your analytic skills to work and demonstrate that you
understand context and frame of reference regarding the documents' sources and the
authors' points of view. Group or juxtapose documents in a variety of ways (e.g.
according to their ideas or points of view); suggest reasons for similarities or differences
in perspective among the documents; and identify possible inconsistencies within
• You'll be asked to explain the need for additional documents that would help you answer
the question more completely. You may also have to discuss which points of view are
missing from the given documents. It is not enough to identify the type of document that
is missing; you must also state why having this additional perspective would be
meaningful in answering the question. Moreover, the additional document must make
sense in the context of the question. For example, if a question dealt with different
perspectives on being a soldier in the Middle Ages, asking for a historical document by a
woman would make no sense (since women weren’t soldiers back then) unless you could
justify it logically (e.g. to show the perspective of family members on the domestic
effects when male soldiers went to war). Similarly, it would not be acceptable to ask for
a document from outside the time period of the question. Nor would it be OK to request
a document with a specific opinion on the topic (e.g. if all the documents speak favorably
about something, you can’t ask for a document that is negative) unless you know for
certain those documents would actually have existed and can explain why you know they
existed, by providing historical background/context.
• Since the DBQ focuses on historical skills within a world history framework, remember
to place documents chronologically, culturally, and thematically.
The change-over-time essay focuses on large global issues such as technology, trade, culture,
migrations, or biological developments. It covers at least one of the periods in the course outline
and one or more cultural areas. You must address all parts of the question. This question
requires you not only to identify historical changes, but also continuities. You must also explain
why changes took place (causation). You'll have 40 minutes to write the essay. It's
recommended that you spend five minutes planning and/or outlining your answer before you
begin writing. You may be able to choose different cases to illustrate your point.
In the final free-response essay you'll answer a comparative question that focuses on
developments in two or more societies, and their interactions with each other or with major
themes or events (e.g. culture, trade, religion, technology, migrations). This essay requires that
you identify differences and similarities between cultures (compare and contrast). You'll have 40
minutes to write the essay. It's recommended that you spend five minutes planning and/or
outlining your answer before you begin writing.
Scoring the Exam
The multiple-choice and free-response sections (taken together) are each worth half of the final
Students are given a final score of 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest. Final scores are weighted
according to a bell curve to adjust for the relative difficulty of each year’s test and the level of
preparation of all students taking it. You are therefore graded against other students across the
country, not according to an absolute standard. If the test is relatively easy one year, more
students will do well and it will be correspondingly harder to achieve a score of 4 or 5. What
may be good enough for a “B” or even “A-“ at Marlborough may not be good enough to score a
4 or 5.
Bottom line: The AP World History Exam requires students to master the largest volume of
information of any AP history exam, and to write the most sophisticated essays. And the bar
rises each year. If you want to do well on the AP exam, you must work hard and review
thoroughly. The exam is a challenge, but one you can master. You can do it!