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The Best AP European History Study Guide

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Posted by Christine Sarikas | Aug 27, 2021 6:00:00 PM

Advanced Placement (AP)

 

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Are you taking AP European History? If so, you know the big AP test occurs in May. Doing well on this exam is a great boost to your college applications, and it can even earn you college credit. So how can you ensure you get the score you want? That's where we come in! This AP European History study guide covers everything you need for your AP Euro review. Read on to learn what the AP Euro exam will be like (including looking at sample questions), what topics the exam will cover, how to create a personalized study plan, and the tips to follow to help you get your best score.

 

What's the Format of the AP European History Exam?

Before we discuss how to develop your AP European History study guide, let's get familiar with the test. The AP Euro 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. Section 1 is worth 60% of your exam score, and Section 2 is worth 40%.

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%

 

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Meanwhile, Section 2 consists of one document-based question, for which you have to synthesize historical documents into a coherent analysis of a historical moment, and a longer essay, for which you must write one essay analyzing a historical moment, with no outside sources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, and the long essay is worth 15%. You'll get 100 minutes for Section 2, including a 15-minute reading period. There are recommended amounts of time to spend on each essay, but no one will force you to move on to the long essay after 60 minutes (or do the DBQ first). You have the entire 100 minutes to spend as you wish on both essays.

It's worth noting that the exam was recently revised in 2018 and changed slightly again in 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.

 

What Will the AP European History Exam Test You On?

The AP European History course has nine units:

  • Unit 1: Renaissance and Exploration (1450-1648)
  • Unit 2: Age of Reformation (1450-1648)
  • Unit 3: Absolutism and Constitutionalism (1648-1815)
  • Unit 4: Scientific, Philosophical, and Political Developments (1648-1815)
  • Unit 5: Conflict, Crisis, and Reaction in the Late 18th Century (1648-1815)
  • Unit 6: Industrialization and Its Effects (1815-1914)
  • Unit 7: 19th-Century Perspectives and Political Developments (1815-1914)
  • Unit 8: 20th-Century Global Conflicts (1914-present)
  • Unit 9: Cold War and Contemporary Europe (1914-present)

Each unit will make up about 10-15% of the questions on the AP Euro exam.

Questions on the exam aren't ordered by unit, so you'll be jumping around time periods and themes throughout the test. Interested in seeing what exam questions will look like? Of course you are! Below are explanations and sample questions for each of the four main AP Euro exam sections.

 

Part 1A

For this section, you'll be shown primary and secondary historical sources and asked to answer three to four questions relevant to each source. The 55 questions are essentially 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 questions 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. Outside knowledge questions have little to do with the source and require you to have outside knowledge to answer them. Here's an example of an outside knowledge question:

euro1

 

Part 1B

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, along with the primary source:

euro2

 

Part 2A

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

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

euro3

 

Part 2B

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:

euro4

 

AP European History Study Help: 5 Steps to Follow

Now that you know what to expect from the exam, you can design your AP European History study guide. In this section, we've outlined five steps to follow while studying for AP European History exam prep. In total, the steps will take at least 11.5 hours, although you can spend more time on each step as needed. You can also repeat the entire process if you reach step 5 but still want to prepare more during your AP Euro review.

 

Step 1: Take a Full-Length Practice Test

Time: 3 hours 15 minutes

The first step is to take a full, official AP US History practice test under realistic conditions. You can check out the best AP European History study resources here. (coming soon!) Make sure you strictly time yourself on each section. Don't give yourself more time than you'll get on the actual AP exam! Mark any multiple-choice questions you had to guess on—you'll review these questions in the next step.

When you're done, score your practice test to see how well you would do on the real AP exam if you were to take it right now.

Depending on how much you're hoping to improve your score, you might have to budget for more or less study time for your AP Euro exam review. If you're already scoring close to 5 (or a low 5), you might complete these steps once and find that you're satisfied with your results. If you're scoring 2 or more AP points lower than you'd like to, however, plan to go through this process several times.

 

Step 2: Review Your Mistakes and Guesses

Time: 1 hour

After you score your practice AP European History test, review each question you got wrong, as well as those you had to take a lucky guess on. Try to categorize the mistakes by content area so you can look for patterns and determine which parts of the course you need to study the most. For example, you might do really well with source-analysis questions but struggle with outside-knowledge questions. If this is the case, you'll know you need to build up your outside knowledge of European history if you want to raise your score.

Once you've identified what you need to study as part of your AP Euro study guide, move on to reviewing the actual content. Make a list in descending order of the topics that correspond to the highest number of missed multiple-choice questions and missed points on short-answer and free-response questions.

 

Step 3: Build Up Your Weak Areas

Time: 2 hours+

Use the list you made in the previous step to guide your review of the AP European History content. Start with the areas for which you need a little refresher, and work your way up to the bigger issues you had on the diagnostic test.

When you're satisfied that you've filled the content gaps that led to your errors, you should do some practice AP Euro multiple-choice questions to make sure you really know your stuff.

 

Step 4: Practice Writing Essays

Time: 2 hours+

Next is essay practice. You really want to feel comfortable with the AP Euro essays well before the exam. This is especially true when it comes to the Document-Based Question, which has a unique format.

After examining the problems with your essays from the original diagnostic test, practice your skills on additional free-response questions. For the sake of saving time, you don't necessarily need to write out entire essays, but you should at least make rough outlines that include all the components of a successful essay. That said, if you struggled a lot with time on your initial AP practice test, we recommend going through another timed free-response section in full so you can practice moving more quickly.

 

Step 5: Take a Second Full Practice Test

Time: 3 hours and 15 minutes

Once you've gotten more familiar with the material, it's the part of your AP Euro review where you take a second full AP practice test to assess your progress. If you find that you've improved to a satisfactory level, you might stop there and just do some light review until the exam. If you're still not happy with your results, repeat this process, taking special note of where you're still making mistakes. A prep book or AP tutor can often help you if you're still struggling to understand some of the material or how to tackle the free-response questions.

 

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Tips for Your AP European History Exam Prep

You're now nearly ready to begin your AP Euro review, but first, here are three tips in mind to help make your AP Euro exam review as effective as possible. 

 

Tip 1: Understand Historical Evidence

One of the most important skills you can build for the AP Euro exam is understanding historical evidence. When you see primary and secondary sources on the AP exam, you'll need to think about who is writing, why they're writing, who their audience is, and the historical (or current) context they are writing in. Ask yourself, what is this 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.

 

Tip 2: 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 our guide to writing a great DBQ essay.

 

Tip 3: Balance Learning Details and Large Themes

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.

 

What's Next?

Taking practice tests is a key step in being well-prepared for the AP Euro exam. Learn what the best AP Euro practice tests are by reading our guide to AP Euro study resources. (coming soon)

Is AP Euro hard? How does it compare to other AP exams in terms of how well students do and how much they need to study? Our "Is AP Euro Hard" article ranks this course's difficulty on several metrics so you fully understand what you're getting into. (coming soon)

Studying is key for any AP exam, but when should you start? Read our guide on when to start studying for AP exams so you can make sure you're well-prepared on exam day.

 

Looking for help studying for your AP exam?

Our one-on-one online AP tutoring services can help you prepare for your AP exams. Get matched with a top tutor who got a high score on the exam you're studying for!

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Christine Sarikas
About the Author

Christine graduated from Michigan State University with degrees in Environmental Biology and Geography and received her Master's from Duke University. In high school she scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT and was named a National Merit Finalist. She has taught English and biology in several countries.



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