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The Best AP World History Notes to Study With

Posted by Samantha Lindsay | Jan 18, 2020 10:33:00 AM

Advanced Placement (AP)



AP World History is a fascinating survey of the evolution of human civilization from 1200 CE to the present. Because it spans almost 1,000 years and covers massive changes in power, culture, and technology across the globe, it might seem like an overwhelming amount of info to remember for one test.

This article will help you organize your studying by providing links to online AP World History notes and advice on how to use these notes to structure and execute a successful study plan.


How to Use These AP World History Notes

The notes in this article will help you review all the information you need to know for the AP World History exam.If you are missing any notes from class or just looking for a more organized run-through of the curriculum, you can use this guide as a reference.

During your first semester of AP World History, study the content in the notes that your class has already covered. I'd recommend conducting a holistic review of everything you've learned so far about once a month so that you don't start to forget information from the beginning of the course.

In the second semester, after you've made it through most of the course, you should use these notes in conjunction with practice tests. Taking (realistically timed) practice tests will help verify that you've absorbed the information.

After each test, assess your mistakes and take note of where you came up short. Then, focus your studying on the notes that are most relevant to your weak content areas. Once you feel more confident, take and score another practice test to see whether you've improved. You can repeat this process until you're satisfied with your scores!


Background: AP World History Themes and Units

Before we dive into the content of the AP World History test, it's important to note that the exam is undergoing some massive changes for the 2019-20 school year. From now on, the test will focus on the modern era (1200 CE to the present), covering a much smaller period of time. As such, its name has been changed to AP World History: Modern (a World History: Ancient course and exam are currently in development).

Other than this major content change, the format of the exam will remain the same (since 2018).

Now then, what exactly is tested on AP World History? Both the course and exam are divided into six themes and nine units.

Here are the current World History themes:

  • Theme 1: Humans and the Environment
  • Theme 2: Cultural Developments and Interactions
  • Theme 3: Governance
  • Theme 4: Economic Systems
  • Theme 5: Social Interactions and Organization
  • Theme 6: Technology and Innovation

And here are the units as well as how much of the test they make up, percentage-wise:

AP World History Unit Time Period % of Exam
Unit 1: The Global Tapestry 1200-1450 8-10%
Unit 2: Networks of Exchange 8-10%
Unit 3: Land-Based Empires 1450-1750 12-15%
Unit 4: Transoceanic Interconnections 12-15%
Unit 5: Revolutions 1750-1900 12-15%
Unit 6: Consequences of Industrialization 12-15%
Unit 7: Global Conflict 1900-present 8-10%
Unit 8: Cold War and Decolonization 8-10%
Unit 9: Globalization 8-10%

Source: AP World History Course and Exam Description, 2019-20

You should examine all content through the lens of these themes and units.
AP World History is mostly about identifying large trends that occur over long periods of time. In the next section, I'll go through the different time periods covered in the curriculum, with links to online notes.


body_trendy.jpgMuch like these gentlemen, AP World History is very trendy. Except AP World History would never wear that godawful scarf.


AP World History Notes

The following AP World History notes are organized by rough time period. Most of the notes come from CourseNotes, which has detailed outlines that go over every chapter from the fourth edition of the textbook World Civilizations: The Global Experience.

I've also included links to notes that cover broader thematic concepts, which I've labeled as "overall notes" at the beginning of each of these sections.

Unfortunately, these notes still follow the old course curriculum in that they cover thousands of years of human history and not merely the modern era. As a result, don't expect the new World History themes and units to align directly with what's on the CourseNotes website.

One of the biggest issues with these notes is that it can be hard to pick out key concepts. There are no bold terms or summaries at the ends of the outlines. If you need a more engaging format to hold your attention, I suggest buying a World History review book instead or printing out the notes so you can highlight important points.


Background Information: 600 CE to 1450

While the new AP World History: Modern exam technically only covers as far back as 1200 CE, it's a good idea to give yourself basic background knowledge on what happened around the world in the few hundred years or so before then. Once you get to the notes that start around 1200 CE, pay more attention, as this content will likely show up on the exam.


Early Modern Period: 1450 to 1750


The Modern Era: 1750 to 1914


1914 to Present


You can also check out these helpful mini-outlines on each world region from CourseNotes. They give you the status of each region at different periods in history in the areas of politics, economics, social class/gender, scientific advances, art and culture, empire, and religion.


body_earthisbeautiful.jpgAh, the earth is such a beautiful and historic place!


AP World History Exam: 4 Essential Study Tips

Here are a few study tips that will help you prepare strategically for the AP World History exam. In addition to these tidbits of advice, you can check out this article with a longer list of the best study tips for this class.


#1: We All Scream for Historical Themes

I'm sure you've been screaming with delight throughout your entire reading of this article because the themes are so thrilling. Seriously, though, they're super important for doing well on the final exam. Knowledge of specific facts about different empires and regions throughout history will be of little use on the test if you can't weave that information together to construct a larger narrative.

As you look through the notes, think carefully about how everything connects back to the six major themes of the course.

For example, if you're reading about the expansion of long-distance trade networks in the early modern period, you might start to think about how these new exchanges impacted the natural environment (theme 1). If you get into this mode of thinking early, you'll have an easier time writing high-quality essays on the final exam.


#2: Practice Outlining Essays (Especially the DBQ)

It's critical to write well-organized, coherent essays on the World History test, but statistics indicate that a large majority of students struggle with this aspect of the exam.

In 2019, the average DBQ score was just 2.28 out of 7 points—ouch. That means most students had trouble incorporating these documents into their arguments in a way that flowed logically.

I guarantee you can earn much more than 2 points on the DBQ and other essay questions if you consistently practice writing outlines that follow the instructions and stay focused on the main topic. Try to become a pro at planning out your ideas by the time the exam rolls around.


#3: Know Your Chronology

You don't need to memorize a ton of exact dates, but you do need to be aware of the basic order in which major events happened in each region of the world. If someone tells you the name of an empire or dynasty, you should know which centuries it was active and what caused its rise and fall.

Pay attention to the overall developments that occurred in world history during each period designated by the course. What types of contact were made between different regions? Where were trading networks established? What were the dominant powers?

Multiple-choice and essay questions will ask you to focus on certain time periods and regions, so you should know the gist of what was going on at any given juncture.


#4: Don't Sweat the Small Stuff

It's not necessary to know the names of every single region in a particular empire and the exact dates when they were conquered. You're not expected to have a photographic memory. AP World History is mostly about broad themes.

You should still include a few specific details in your essays to back up your main points, but that's not nearly as important as showing a deep understanding of the progression of human history on a larger scale.


body_sweatthesmallstuff.jpgDon't let yourself get to this point. In terms of sweating the small stuff, I mean. You can do crunches while you study if you want. Maybe you can create your own smash hit training program that helps people exercise and study for AP tests at the same time, and you'll be so rich you won't even have to go to college. You're welcome.


Conclusion: How to Study With AP World History Notes

A well-organized set of notes can help ground your studying for AP World History. With so much content to cover, it's best to selectively revisit different portions of the course based on where you find the largest gaps in your knowledge. You can decide what you need to study based on which content areas cause you the most trouble on practice tests.

Here are some tips to keep in mind while studying the above AP World History notes:

  • Connect facts back to the themes
  • Practice writing essay outlines
  • Know the basic chronology of events
  • Don't worry too much about small details

If you meticulously comb through your mistakes and regularly practice your essay-writing skills, you'll be on the right track to a great AP World History score!


What's Next?

What's a document-based question? How do you write a good response? Read this article to learn more about the most challenging question on the AP World History test.

If you're taking AP World History during your freshman or sophomore year, check out this article for some advice on which history classes you should take for the rest of your time in high school.

How many AP classes should you take in high school? We'll help you figure out how many AP classes you should take based on your goals and the course offerings at your school.


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Samantha Lindsay
About the Author

Samantha is a blog content writer for PrepScholar. Her goal is to help students adopt a less stressful view of standardized testing and other academic challenges through her articles. Samantha is also passionate about art and graduated with honors from Dartmouth College as a Studio Art major in 2014. In high school, she earned a 2400 on the SAT, 5's on all seven of her AP tests, and was named a National Merit Scholar.

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