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The Expert's Guide to the AP European History Exam

Posted by Ellen McCammon | Jul 1, 2016 6:00:00 PM

Advanced Placement (AP)

 

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The AP European History course and exam cover the history of Europe from 1450 to the present. That means you'll be asked about everything from the Renaissance to the European Union — it's a lot! Not to mention, the exam was just revised in 2016, making everything a bit more complicated.

If you need guidance for the AP exam, read on. In this article, I’ll give an overview of the exam, go in-depth on each of its sections, go over how the exam is scored, offer some preparation tips, and finally explain some key things to keep in mind on test day!

 

AP European History Exam Format and Overview

The AP Euro Exam for 2017 will be held on Friday, May 12.

The test is three hours and 15 minutes long. It has two sections, each of which is further split into a part A and a part B. It is important to note that within each section, you will not be forced or signaled to move on from part A to part B at any point in time. You will need to manage the time within each section yourself, although you will be periodically informed of how much time is remaining.

Here’s an overview chart of each part of the exam:

Section and Part

Question Type

Number of Questions

Time

% of Score

1A

Multiple Choice

55

55 recommended (105 total for section 1)

40%

1B

Short Answer

4

50 recommended (105 total for section 1)

20%

2A

Document-Based Question (DBQ)

1

55 recommended (90 total for section 2 including 15-minute reading period)

25%

2B

Long Essay

1 (choose 1 of 2)

35 recommended (90 total for section 2 including 15-minute reading period)

15%

 

As you can see, Section I consists of a 55-question multiple choice section, worth 40% of your exam grade, and a 4-question short answer section, worth 20% of your exam sky. Part I, in total, is 105 minutes, with a recommended 55 minutes on multiple choice and 50 minutes on the short answer.

Section II, the essay section, consists of the document-based question, for which you have to synthesize historical documents into a coherent analysis of a historical moment, and the “long essay,” for which you will have to choose between two questions and then write an essay analyzing a historical moment with no outside sources at your disposal. The DBQ is worth 25% of your grade, and the long essay is worth 15%. You will receive 90 minutes for Section II, including a 15-minute reading period. The College Board recommends spending 55 minutes on the DBQ (including the reading period) and 35 minutes on the second essay.

Section I is worth 60% of your exam score, and Section II is worth 40%. In terms of what individual parts are worth the most, the multiple choice section and the DBQ are the subsections worth the most on the exam, at 40% and 25%, respectively.

It’s worth noting that the exam was revised for 2016. Past administrations of the exam included more multiple-choice questions, no short answer, and had three essay questions instead of two. The recent revision means that there are not very many up-to-date practice resources available through the College Board for this exam, since old released exams have slightly different formats. That doesn’t mean you can’t use them, but you will need to be aware of the differences (see the section on practice resources below). 

In the next sections of this guide, I’ll break down each of the exam sections further.

 

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This is the old-old form of the exam. 

 

Section 1: Multiple Choice and Short Answer

In this section, I’ll go over what you can expect to see on section 1 of the AP Euro exam. All question examples come from the AP Course and Exam Description.

 

Part A: Multiple Choice

On the multiple choice question, you’ll be presented with primary and secondary historical sources and then asked to answer two-five questions relevant to each source. In that sense, the 55 questions are almost divided up into a series of little mini-quizzes. The presentation of sources in the text ties into the revised exam’s focus on historical evidence and the actual work that historians do in evaluating and analyzing that evidence.

There are two kinds of questions on the multiple-choice section of the exam: source analysis questions, and outside knowledge questions.

 

Source Analysis

Most of the questions in the multiple-choice section (probably about ⅔) are source analysis questions. These are questions that ask you to analyze the source presented in some way. You may be asked to link the events described in the source to a broader historical movement, contrast the source with other sources, determine if the source supports or contradicts a particular historical trend, and so in. In general, you will need to have some degree of outside historical knowledge to complete these questions, but they are at their core questions about what the source says or means, often within the broader historical moment.

Example:

1source_analysis.png

 

Outside Knowledge

These are questions that have little, if anything, to do with the source itself, and instead ask you a historical question based on your own knowledge. It will most likely be about events connected to or immediately following the time period described in the source, but the source is not the focus of the question, and it will not provide much help in answering the question.

Example: 

2outside_knowledge.png

 

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What could this mean?

 

Part B: Short Answer

The short-answer section is four questions long, with a recommended 50 minute response time (as part of Section I’s 105 minutes). This leaves about 12 minutes per question. On every short answer question, you will be asked to provide a total of three pieces of information. You might be asked to provide two pieces of information in favor of a historical thesis and one piece of information against, for example.

For most of the short answer questions, you will be presented with a primary or secondary source and asked to answer a multi-part question analyzing the source and/or describing historical events relevant to the source. There is generally an element of choice to these questions—i.e., you will need to name one reason of many that something happened or two consequences of a particular event, but you will not be required to name particular events.

 

Example:

3source_short_answer.png

There are also short-answer questions without a source, for which you may be asked to analyze or examine a statement about history. Again, you will generally be asked to provide three total pieces of historical evidence, but you will have flexibility as to what events you could appropriately name to answer the question. 

 

Example:

4non_source_short_answer.png

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Keep your answers short like this guy.

 

Section 2: Free-Response Section

In this section, I’ll review what you’ll be asked to do on section 2 of the AP Euro exam.

 

Part A: Document-Based Question

On the DBQ, you’ll be given six-seven sources, made up of primary and secondary sources, and asked to write an essay analyzing a historical issue. This is meant to put you in the role of historian, interpreting historical material and then relaying your interpretation in an essay. You’ll need to combine material from the sources with your own outside knowledge.

You’ll have 15 minutes to plan the essay, and then 40 minutes to write it. The 15-minute planning period is specifically designated and timed at the beginning of section II, and you will be prompted to begin your essays at the close. However, no one will prompt you to move on from the DBQ to the long essay—you’ll need to manage that time yourself.

Below see an example DBQ. Associated documents can be found in the Course and Exam Description.

Example:

5DBQ.png

 

Part B: Long Essay

The Long Essay will ask you a broad thematic question about a period or periods in history. You will need to create an analytical essay with a thesis that you can defend with specific historical evidence that you learned in class.

You’ll be given a choice between two questions for this essay. It’s recommended that you spend 35 minutes on this question, but again, you won’t be prompted to move from one essay to another so you’ll need to manage the time yourself.

Example:

6long_essay.png

 

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A main theme of Europe: cheese.

 

How the AP European History Exam Is Scored 

The multiple-choice section of the exam is worth 40% of your score, short answer is worth 20%, the DBQ is worth 25%, and the long essay is worth 15%. As on other AP exams, your raw score will be converted to a scaled score from 1-5. Last year, about 10% of all test-takers received a 5, and about 17% received a 4. The test is difficult, but it’s definitely possible to do well if you prepare. So how is your raw score obtained? I’ll go over how points are awarded on each part of each section.

 

Multiple Choice

Well, as on other AP exams, on the multiple choice section, you receive a point for each question you answer correctly. This means you could receive a total of 55 points on the multiple-choice section, weighted as 40% of your total score.

 

Short Answer

Every short-answer question will ask you to provide three pieces of information. You will receive one point for every correct, relevant piece of information you provide as directed by the question. For example, if a question asks for one cause of a particular conflict, one result of a particular conflict, and one similar situation in a different country, and you provided one cause and one result, you would receive two out of three points. As there are four short answer questions, you can get up to twelve points on the short answer section, weighted at 20% of your total exam score.

 

The Document-Based Question

The DBQ is worth 25% of your total score, and it is scored on a seven-point rubric. I’ll give a quick rubric breakdown here.

 

Rubric Breakdown:

Skill Name

What The Rubric Says

What It Means

Thesis and Argument Development

1 point: Presents a thesis that makes a historically defensible claim and responds to all parts of the question. The thesis must consist of one or more sentences located in one place, either the introduction or the conclusion.


Scoring note: Neither the introduction nor the conclusion is necessarily limited to a single paragraph.

This point is for having a thesis that can be reasonably supported by the documents and other historical facts. Your thesis must be located in your introduction or conclusion.

Thesis and Argument Development

1 point: Develops and supports a cohesive argument that recognizes and accounts for historical complexity by explicitly illustrating relationships among historical evidence such as contradiction, corroboration, and/or qualification.

You can get an additional point for having a super thesis. A super thesis is one that accounts for the complex relationships in history.

Document Analysis

1 point: Utilizes the content of at least six of the documents to support the stated thesis or a relevant argument.

One point is for making use of 6-7 of the documents in your argument.

Document Analysis

1 point: Explains the significance of the author’s point of view, author’s purpose, historical context, and/or audience for at least four documents.

One point is for going more “in-depth” on at least four of the documents by analyzing the author’s point of view or purpose, the historical context, or the audience of the document.

Using Evidence Beyond the Documents

Contextualization - 1 point: Situates the argument by explaining the broader historical events, developments, or processes immediately relevant to the question.


Scoring Note: Contextualization requires using knowledge not found in the documents to situate the argument within broader historical events, developments, or processes immediately relevant to the question. The contextualization point is not awarded for merely a phrase or reference, but instead requires an explanation, typically consisting of multiple sentences or a full paragraph.

One point is for locating the issue within its broader historical context. So be sure to mention any “big-picture” movements happening that are shaping the events you are writing about in the DBQ!

Using Evidence Beyond the Documents

Evidence beyond the documents - 1 point: Provides an example or additional piece of specific evidence beyond those found in the documents to support or qualify the argument.


Scoring Note 1: This example must be different from the evidence used to earn other points on this rubric.


Scoring Note 2: This point is not awarded for merely a phrase or reference. Responses need to reference an additional piece of specific evidence and explain how that evidence supports or qualifies the argument.

One point is awarded for using a specific historical example not found in the documents as evidence for your argument.

Synthesis

1 point: Extends the argument by explaining the connections between the argument and ONE of the following:

  1. A development in a different historical period, situation, era, or geographical area.
  2. A course theme and/or approach to history that is not the focus of the essay (such as political, economic, social, cultural, or intellectual history).
  3. A different discipline or field of inquiry (such as economics, government and politics, art history, or anthropology)

Scoring Note: The synthesis point requires an explanation of the connections to different historical period, situation, era, or geographical area, and is not awarded for merely a phrase or reference.

For this final point, you need to connect your argument about the specific issue presented in the DBQ to another geographical area or historical development or movement.


In previous years, the DBQ was out of 9 points, instead of this year’s 7. Last year, the average score was 3.98 - just shy of 4. Most students, then, got under half credit on the DBQ.  

 

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She diligently studies for the DBQ.

 

Long Essay

The long essay is worth the least of all of the exam components at only 15% of your total score. It’s scored out of a 6-point rubric. I’ll go over how you can get those six points here. This rubric is a little whacky because 2 of the points for “Argument Development” are completely different depending on what the “Targeted Historical Skill” is. So pay attention to which points are for which skills!

 

Rubric Breakdown:

Skill Name

What The Rubric Says

What It Means

Thesis

1 point: Presents a thesis that makes a historically defensible claim and responds to all parts of the question. The thesis must consist of one or more sentences located in one place, either in the introduction or the conclusion.

Your thesis makes a reasonable claim and responds to the entire question. It is located in the introduction or the conclusion.

Argument Development: Targeted Historical Thinking Skill

1 point:


Comparison: Describes similarities AND differences among historical individuals, developments, or processes.


OR


Causation: Describes causes AND/OR effects of a historical event, development, or process.


OR


Continuity and Change Over Time: Describes historical continuity AND change over time.


OR


Periodization: Describes the ways in which the historical development specified in the prompt was different from and similar to developments that preceded AND/OR followed.

Essentially, this point is for comprehensively addressing the historical skill referenced in the prompt. If you are supposed to compare, you compare. If you are supposed to describe causes and/or effects, you do. Note that you will lose points if the question specifically asks about causes AND effects (for causation) or events before AND after a given historical development (for periodization) and you only address one.

Argument Development: Targeted Historical Thinking Skill

1 point:


Comparison: Explains the reasons for similarities AND differences among historical individuals, events, developments, or processes.


OR


Causation: Explains the reasons for the causes AND/OR effects of a historical event, development, or process.


OR


Continuity and Change Over Time: Explains the reasons for historical continuity AND change over time.


OR


Periodization: Explains the extent to which the historical development specified in the prompt was different from and similar to developments that preceded AND/OR followed.

You don’t just mention events connected to the historical skill (comparison, causation, continuity/change over time, or periodization)—you explain and elaborate on the reasons for those events taking place.  

Argument Development: Using Evidence

1 point: Addresses the topic of the question with specific examples of relevant evidence.

Your historical evidence involves specific examples that are relevant to the specific topic at hand.

Argument Development: Using Evidence

1 point: Utilizes specific examples of evidence to fully and effectively substantiate the stated thesis or relevant argument.


Scoring note: To fully and effectively substantiate the stated thesis or relevant argument, responses must include a broad range of evidence that, through analysis and explanation, justifies the stated thesis or relevant argument.

Your examples are deployed to in a way that effectively supports your thesis; you tie your historical evidence back to your argument.

Synthesis

1 point: Extends the argument by explaining the connections between the argument and ONE of the following:

  1. A development in a different historical period, situation, era, or geographical area

  2. A course theme and/or approach the history that is not the focus of the essay (such as political, economic, social, cultural, or intellectual history).

  3. A different discipline or field of inquiry (such as economics, government and politics, art history, or anthropology).


Scoring note: The synthesis point requires an explanation of the connections to the different historical period, situation, era, or geographical area, and is not awarded merely for a phrase or reference.

You make a connection to another historical period or discipline. You need to explain this connection in your paper, not just mention it offhand or in one quick sentence.

 

As you can see, this rubric is really concerned with choosing appropriate, specific evidence to support your argument and adequately explaining those examples. To succeed, you’ll need to have a pretty strong knowledge base in specific historical content, more so than on any other section of the exam. You will have some element of choice in which of the two questions to select.

That covers it for what’s on the exam. Next, we’ll address how you should prepare.

 

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You can't tell by looking, but this kitten is an AP Euro expert.

 

How to Prepare for the AP Euro Exam

There are five key ways to prepare:

 

Start Reviewing Content Early

One major thing you can do to help yourself on this exam is to start reviewing content early in the year. As soon as you know enough to start reviewing, you should be periodically looking back at old material to refresh your knowledge. If you make sure your knowledge is constantly renewed, you’ll have less work to do as you get closer to exam day because you’ll maintain a fairly high level of familiarity with an entire year’s worth of historical material. That means you’ll be able to focus primarily on building skills for the exam.

 

Fill In Gaps

As soon as you realize you don’t know or understand very much about a particular historical period or movement—maybe after doing less than awesome on a test, paper, or project—you should work to shore up that knowledge with extra studying and review. Consult with your teacher on what you are missing if you can. This will help keep you from serious weakness on the exam if the DBQ (or, heaven forbid, both the long essays) ends up being about an area you don’t really know anything about.

 

Seek Breadth and Depth in Knowledge

As you review historical content, you’ll want to balance acquiring breadth and depth. You definitely need to understand the major historical movements and moments of European History. But you should also know some specific facts and events about each era to maximize your chances of success on the short-answer and free-response sections. Of course, you aren’t going to be able to memorize every single date and person’s name ever mentioned in class for the purposes of the AP exam, but you should try to make sure you have at least a few facts that you could use as specific evidence in an essay about any of the major historical happenings covered in the course.

 

Understand Historical Evidence

One of the most important skills you can build for the AP Euro exam is understanding historical evidence. When you confront primary and secondary sources on the AP exam, you’ll need to think about who is writing, why they are writing, their audience, and the historical (or current) context they are writing in. What is the source evidence of? Is it relating facts, opinions, or interpretations?

For more guidance on working with primary and secondary sources, see this online lesson from a college history professor.

 

Practice the DBQ

Because the DBQ somewhat unusual compared to the typical AP essay, you’ll need to make sure you understand how to plan and write one. You’ll need to really work not just on your skills understanding historical evidence, but also your ability to synthesize different pieces of historical evidence into a coherent interpretation or argument about a historical topic. On top of that, you’ll need to make a connection to another time period, movement, or discipline! Use the rubric as a guide to improving your DBQ skills, and check out my guide to writing a great DBQ essay.

 

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Filling in some very important gaps.

 

Tips for Test Day

Of course, all of the typical preparation tips apply: get a good night’s sleep, eat a good breakfast, manage your time closely, answer every question, and so on and so forth. But here are two specific AP Euro test tips to help you make the most of your exam time.

 

Focus On the Multiple-Choice and DBQ Sections

There are four components to the test, but they aren’t all equally important. The multiple-choice section is worth 40%, the DBQ is worth 25%, the short-answer is worth 20%, and the long essay is worth 15%. This means that the multiple-choice and DBQ sections together form up the majority of your score, so make sure you pay them adequate attention in time and effort. Obviously, you should do your best on every part of the test, and your score for the other two sections does matter. But if you find yourself pressed for time on either section 1 or 2, the multiple-choice and the DBQ are worth more than the other pieces of their respective sections.

 

Mine Sources for Contextual Information

The redesigned AP European History test has a renewed focus on primary and secondary sources. While most questions do still require some outside knowledge to answer, you can use the primary and secondary sources to orient yourself in history and pick up contextual details that will help you answer questions even if you are initially a little lost as to the particulars of the historical moment being described. 

Here’s an example multiple-choice question with a source:

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What can we figure out from this source? Well, we know that this is a song by French market women from the 18th century from the caption. But what is the source itself telling us?
In the first line we see the word “Versailles.” If you know that’s where French royalty lived, you’ll start to think: does this source have something to do with royalty? (If you don’t know that Versailles is where French royalty used to live, you aren’t out of luck—the second stanza offers this information implicitly). Then we see in the second line that “We brought with us all our guns.” This implies that something violent occurred at Versailles. So, something violent at the place where royalty lives.

The second stanza switches into present tense. So that means whatever happened at Versailles with the guns already took place. In the present, they say “we won’t have to go so far...to see our King...since he’s come to live in our Capital.” The King, then, lives in Paris now—so the ladies don’t have to go to Versailles to see him. If they went to show the king their guns at Versailles in the first stanza, and in the second stanza he’s been removed to Paris, this implies that the king was forcibly removed to Paris. In this light, the line “We love him with a love without equal” is ironic: they love him now that they have defeated him.

The only one of the answers that is possibly compatible with the idea of defeating a king is choice (B), creating a republican government in France. So by using sources, you can navigate many questions even if you are initially at a total loss in terms of historical contextual information.

 

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France: beautiful architecture and bloody revolution.

 

Key Takeaways

The AP European History exam is three hours and 15 minutes long and consists of two sections. The first section has two parts, a 55-minute, 55-question multiple choice exam, and a 4-question, 50-minute short answer section. The second section also has two parts: a 55-minute document-based question, and a 35-minute long essay.

Note that you will not be prompted to move from part A to part B on either section, but must manage the time yourself.

The multiple-choice section is worth 40% of your exam score, and you receive one point for every correct answer. You can expect to see questions that ask you to analyze historical sources and evidence, and questions that force you to rely completely on your own knowledge of historical events.

The short-answer question is worth 20% of your exam score. On each of the four questions you will be asked to provide three pieces of information about a historical movement or period, and you’ll get one point for each correct piece of information you provide.

The DBQ is worth 25% of your grade. You’ll be given six-seven sources and need to write an essay synthesizing your interpretation of a historical movement or period using the sources. You’ll then receive a grade out of 7 points.


Finally, the long essay is worth 15% of your grade. On the long essay, you’ll have a choice between two questions. Then, you’ll need to write an original essay supported with specific historical evidence.


To prepare for the exam, here are my best tips:

  1. Start reviewing content early in the year, and keep it up throughout!
  2. As soon as you realize there’s an era or movement you aren’t fully comfortable with, fill in those gaps in your knowledge!
  3. Seek both breadth and some depth in your knowledge of the content.
  4. Learn to understand and analyze historical evidence and primary and secondary sources.
  5. Build exam-specific skills, particularly for the DBQ.

 

Here’s my advice to make the most of test day:
  1. Focus most of your energy on the multiple-choice and DBQ sections, especially if you start to run out of time.
  2. Use sources to orient yourself in history when you need to!

 

With all this knowledge at your fingertips, you’ll crush the AP European History exam like the Hapsburgs crushed in the 30 Years’ War! Too soon?

 

What's Next?

Need more AP test-taking tips? Or help finding AP practice tests

Looking for more of our expert guides? We have complete AP exam guides for AP Human Geography, AP Language and Composition, AP Literature and Composition, AP World History, AP US History, AP Chemistry, AP Biology, and AP Psychology

 

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Ellen McCammon
About the Author

Ellen has extensive education mentorship experience and is deeply committed to helping students succeed in all areas of life. She received a BA from Harvard in Folklore and Mythology and is currently pursuing graduate studies at Columbia University.



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