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The Expert's Guide to the AP European History Exam

Posted by Ellen McCammon | Jan 29, 2020 9:45:00 AM

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! In addition, the course is changing slightly for 2020, making everything a bit more complicated.

If you need guidance for the AP European History exam, read on. In this article, we'll give you an overview of the exam, take a close look at each of its sections, offer some key preparation tips, and explain some important things to keep in mind on test day.

 

AP European History Exam Format and Overview

The next AP Euro Exam will be held on Wednesday, May 6, 2020, at 12 pm.

The test is three hours and 15 minutes long and consists of two sections, each of which is further split into a Part A and a Part B.

Here's an overview of each section of the AP European History exam:

Section Question Type # of Questions Time % of Score
1A Multiple Choice 55 55 mins 40%
1B Short Answer 3 (for third, choose 1 of 2 prompts) 40 mins 20%
2A Document-Based Question (DBQ) 1 60 mins (including a 15-minute reading period) 25%
2B Long Essay 1 (choose 1 of 3 prompts) 40 mins 15%

 

As you can see here, Section 1 consists of a 55-question multiple-choice section, worth 40% of your overall grade, and a three-question short-answer section, worth 20% of your score. In total, Part 1 is 95 minutes long.

Meanwhile, Section 2 consists of one document-based question, for which you have to synthesize historical documents into a coherent analysis of a historical moment, and a longer essay, for which you must write one essay analyzing a historical moment, with no outside sources at your disposal.

The DBQ is worth 25% of your final grade, whereas the long essay is worth 15%. You'll get 100 minutes for Section 2, including a 15-minute reading period.

Section 1 is worth 60% of your exam score, and Section 2 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 recently revised in 2018 and is changing slightly again for 2020. The most recent revision is minimal, though: according to the College Board, not much is changing except for the fact that "the short answer questions will now be more tightly aligned with the course skills."

These revisions mean that there are not that many up-to-date practice resources available through the College Board, since old released exams have slightly different formats. That doesn't mean you can't use them—just that you'll need to be aware of these differences.

In the next sections of this guide, I'll break down each of the AP Euro exam sections even further.

 

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This is the old-old form of the AP Euro exam.

 

Section 1: Multiple Choice and Short Answer

Here, we'll go over what you can expect to see on Section 1 of the AP European History exam. All question examples come from the 2020 AP Course and Exam Description.

 

Part A: Multiple Choice

  • Time: 55 minutes
  • Number of Questions: 55
  • Percent of Score: 40%

On this section, you'll be presented with primary and secondary historical sources and asked to answer three to four questions relevant to each source. In that sense, the 55 questions are almost divided up into a series of mini-quizzes. Each question has four possible answer choices.

Note that the presentation of sources in the text ties into the AP test's focus on historical evidence and the actual work historians do when it comes to evaluating and analyzing evidence.

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

 

Source Analysis

Most of the questions in the multiple-choice section are source-analysis questions. These are questions that ask you to analyze the historical source presented in some way. You might be asked to link the events described in the given source to a broader historical movement, contrast it with other sources, determine whether it supports or contradicts a certain historical trend, and so on.

In general, you will need to have some degree of outside historical knowledge to be able to answer these questions, but they are at their core questions about what the source says or means, often within the overarching historical moment.

Below is an example of a source-analysis question:

body_ap_euro_mc_question_sample_1

 

Outside Knowledge

These are questions that have little, if anything, to do with the source itself, and instead ask 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 will therefore not provide much help in answering it.

Here's an example of a multiple-choice question that tests your outside knowledge:

body_ap_euro_mc_question_sample_2

 

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What could this mean?

 

Part B: Short Answer

  • Time: 40 minutes
  • Number of Questions: 3 (for third short answer, choose 1 of 2 prompts to respond to)
  • Percent of Score: 20%

The short-answer section is three questions long and lasts 40 minutes, giving you approximately 13 minutes per question. You will be asked to give a total of three pieces of information (labeled A-C). For example, you might be asked to provide two pieces of information in favor of a historical thesis and one piece of information against.

You'll get different types of stimuli, or sources, for each question, as well as different topics. Here's what you can expect on test day:

Short-Answer Question Stimulus/Source Topic
Question 1 Secondary source(s) Historical developments or processes between the years 1600 and 2001
Question 2 Primary source Historical developments or processes between the years 1600 and 2001
Question 3 (choose one) No stimulus Historical developments or processes between the years 1450 and 1815
Question 4 (choose one) No stimulus Historical developments or processes between the years 1815 and 2001

 

There is generally an element of choice to these questions. For example, you might 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.

Here's an example of question 2 (with a primary source):

body_ap_euro_short_answer_question_sample

 

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Keep your answers short like this guy.

 

Section 2: Free-Response Section

Now that we've explained what you can expect in Section 1, let's review what you'll be asked to do on Section 2 of the AP Euro exam. Again, all sample questions come from the 2019-20 Course and Exam Description.

 

Part A: Document-Based Question

  • Time: 60 minutes (including 15-minute reading period)
  • Number of Questions: 1
  • Percent of Score: 25%

On the DBQ, you'll be given seven documents, made up of primary and secondary sources, and asked to write an essay that analyzes 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 45 minutes to write it. The 15-minute planning period is specifically designated and timed at the start of Section 2, and you will be prompted to begin your essay at the close.

Here's an example of an AP Euro DBQ (documents not shown):

body_ap_euro_dbq_sample

 

Part B: Long Essay

  • Time: 40 minutes
  • Number of Questions: 1 (choose 1 of 3 prompts to respond to)
  • Percent of Score: 15%

The Long Essay will ask you a broad thematic question about a particular historical period. You must craft an analytical essay with a thesis that you can defend using specific historical evidence you learned in class.

You'll get a choice between three prompts for this essay, each of which is based on a different historical period:

  • Option 1: 1450-1700
  • Option 2: 1648-1914
  • Option 3: 1815-2001

Below is an example of a Long Essay question on the AP Euro exam:

body_ap_euro_long_essay_sample_question

 

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A main theme of Europe: cheese.

 

How Is the AP European History Exam Scored?

As a reminder, here's how each section is weighted on the AP European History exam:

  • Multiple Choice: 40%
  • Short Answer: 20%
  • DBQ: 25%
  • Long Essay: 15%

As with other AP exams, your raw score will be converted to a final scaled score from 1 to 5. Last year, about 12% of AP Euro test takers received a 5, and about 21% received a 4. The test is difficult, but it's definitely possible to do well if you prepare.

So how is your raw score calculated? Let's go over how points are awarded on every part of each AP European History test section.

 

Multiple Choice

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. Note that there are no penalties for incorrect answers.

 

Short Answer

Short-answer questions always ask you to provide three pieces of information, labeled A-C. This means that you will receive a point for every correct and relevant piece of information you give.

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 2 out of 3 possible points.

Because you must answer three short-answer questions, you could potentially earn up to 9 points on this section, weighted at 20% of your total exam score.

 

Document-Based Question

The DBQ is worth 25% of your overall grade and is scored on a 7-point rubric. I'll give a quick rubric breakdown here:

Skill Name Rubric Description
Thesis/Claim
(0-1 points)
1 point: Responds to the prompt with a historically defensible thesis/claim that establishes a line of reasoning
Contextualization
(0-1 points)
1 point: Describes a broader historical context relevant to the prompt
Evidence
(0-3 points)
2 points (evidence from the documents): Supports an argument in response to the prompt using at least six documents 1 point (evidence beyond the documents): Uses at least one additional piece of the specific historical evidence (beyond that
found in the documents) relevant to an argument about the prompt
Analysis and Reasoning
(0-2 points)
1 point (sourcing): For at least three documents, explains how or why the document's point of view, purpose, historical situation, and/or audience is relevant to an argument 1 point (complexity): Demonstrates a complex understanding of the historical development that is the focus of the prompt, using evidence to corroborate, qualify, or modify an argument that addresses the question

 

In previous years, the DBQ was out of 9 points instead of 7. In 2018, the average score for the DBQ was 3.12. Most students, then, got under half credit on this part of the exam.

 

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She diligently studies for the DBQ.

 

Long Essay

The Long Essay is worth the least of all the exam components at only 15% of your total score. It's scored out of a 6-point rubric, which looks like this:

Skill Name Rubric Description
Thesis/Claim
(0-1 points)
1 point: Responds to the prompt with a historically defensible thesis/claim that establishes a line of reasoning
Contextualization
(0-1 points)
1 point: Describes a broader historical context relevant to the prompt
Evidence
(0-2 points)
2 points: Supports an argument in response to the prompt using specific and relevant examples of evidence
Analysis and Reasoning
(0-2 points)
2 points: Demonstrates a complex understanding of the historical development that is the focus of the prompt, using evidence to corroborate, qualify, or modify an argument that addresses the question

 

As you can see, this rubric is similar to that for the DBQ in that it's fairly concerned with choosing appropriate, specific evidence to support your argument and adequately explaining those examples. To succeed, you will need to have a strong knowledge base in specific historical content, more so than on any other section of the exam.

That covers it for what's on the AP Euro test. Next, we'll address how you should prepare for it.

 

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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: 5 Key Tips

Here are five essential tips you should know when preparing for the AP European History exam.

 

#1: Start Reviewing Content Early

One major thing you can do to help yourself on the AP Euro exam is to start reviewing content early on 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, as you'll maintain a fairly high level of familiarity with a whole school year's worth of historical material. This means that you'll be able to focus primarily on building skills for the exam.

 

#2: Fill In Gaps

As soon as you realize you don't know or understand much about a particular historical period or movement—maybe after doing less than awesome on a test, paper, or project, for example—you should work to shore up that knowledge with extra studying and review.

If you can, consult with your teacher on what you are missing. This will help keep you from serious weakness on the exam if the DBQ or Long Essay ends up being on an area you don't actually know anything about.

 

#3: Seek Breadth and Depth in Knowledge

As you review historical content, be sure 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 specific facts and events about each era to maximize your chances of success on the short-answer and free-response sections of the exam.

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 do try to make sure you have at least a few facts you could use as specific evidence in an essay about any of the major historical happenings covered in the course.

 

#4: 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.

 

#5: Practice the DBQ

Because the DBQ is somewhat unusual compared with the typical AP essay, you will need to make sure you understand how to plan and write one. Really work on not just your ability to understand 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 improve your DBQ skills. You can also check out my guide to writing a great DBQ essay.

 

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Filling in some very important gaps.

 

Acing the AP European History Exam: 2 Test-Day Tips

Although all the typical preparation tips apply—you should get a good night's sleep, eat a healthy breakfast, manage your time wisely, and answer every question—there's even more you can do to ensure you get the score you want. Here, we introduce two AP Euro-specific test-day tips.

 

Tip 1: Focus On the Multiple-Choice and DBQ Sections

There are four parts to the AP Euro test, but they aren't all equally important due to differences in score weighting. As a reminder, the multiple-choice section is worth 40% of your overall score, the DBQ is worth 25%, the short-answer is worth 20%, and the long essay is worth 15%.

As you can see, the multiple-choice and DBQ sections make up the majority (65%) of your AP Euro score, so make sure you pay them adequate attention in terms of time and effort.

Obviously, you should still do your best on every part of the exam—your scores on the other two sections do matter! But if you find yourself pressed for time on either Section 1 or 2, the multiple-choice and the DBQ sections are worth more than the other parts, so prioritize them.

 

Tip 2: Mine Sources for Contextual Information

The AP European History test has a big 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 of a multiple-choice AP Euro question with a source:

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What can we figure out from this source? Based on the caption alone, we know right away that this is a song by 18th-century French market women. But what is the source itself telling us?

In the first line, we see the word "Versailles." Assuming you know that's where French royalty lived, you should start to think this: 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.)

We then see the second line: "We brought with us all our guns." This implies that something violent occurred at Versailles, i.e., something violent at the place where royalty lives.

The second stanza switches into the 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.

The fact that the king was in Versailles in the first stanza when they brought their guns to him and is in Paris in the second stanza implies that he was forcibly moved to Paris. In this light, the line that reads, "We love him with a love without equal" becomes 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, which discusses creating a republican government in France.

As you can see, simply 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.

 

Recap: What to Know About the AP European History Exam

The AP European History exam is three hours and 15 minutes long and consists of two sections. Section 1 has two parts: a 55-minute, 55-question multiple-choice section, and a three-question, 40-minute short-answer section. Section 2 also has two parts: a 60-minute document-based question, or DBQ, and a 40-minute essay.

Here's a quick overview of each section on the AP Euro test:

  • Multiple Choice: Worth 40% of your final score. You get a point for every correct answer (there's no penalty for incorrect answers). To answer questions, you must analyze historical sources and evidence; you must also rely on your own knowledge of historical events.

  • Short Answer: Worth 20% of your final score. On each of the three questions you'll be asked to provide three pieces of information about a particular historical movement or period. You will get a point for each correct piece of information you provide.

  • Document-Based Question: Worth 25% of your final score. You'll receive seven documents and must write an essay synthesizing your interpretation of a specific historical movement or period using these sources. The DBQ is graded out of 7 points.

  • Long Essay: Worth 15% of your final score. Here, you get to choose one prompt from among three options. You'll then need to write an essay supported with specific historical evidence. The essay is graded out of 6 points.

Here are our best tips for preparing for the AP European History exam:

  • Start reviewing content early on in the year and keep it up throughout
  • Fill in any evident gaps in your content knowledge
  • Seek both breadth and depth in your knowledge of the content
  • Learn to understand and analyze historical evidence and primary and secondary sources
  • Build exam-specific skills, particularly for the DBQ
And finally, here's our best advice for making the most of test day:
  • Focus most of your energy on the multiple-choice and DBQ sections
  • Use sources to orient yourself in history when you need to

With all this knowledge at your fingertips, you're guaranteed to crush the AP European History exam—just as the Hapsburgs crushed in the 30 Years' War! (Too soon?)

 

What's Next?

Need more AP test-taking tips? Our in-depth guide introduces the six critical tips you'll need to ace any AP exam, including AP Euro.

Looking for AP practice tests? Get tips on where to find the best practice exams in our detailed guide.

Want more of our AP guides? We've got complete AP test 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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