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The Best AP World History Notes to Study With

Posted by Samantha Lindsay | Nov 4, 2018 10:33:00 AM

Advanced Placement (AP)



AP World History is a fascinating survey of the evolution of human civilization from the beginning of recorded history to the present.  Because it spans thousands of years and covers the rise and fall of countless empires and nations across the globe, it might seem like an overwhelming amount of information to remember for one test. This article will help you organize your studying more easily by providing links to online AP World History notes and advice on how to use those 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’re missing any notes from class or are just looking for a more organized run-through of the curriculum, you can use them 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 to 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 if you’ve improved on your last score. You can repeat this process until you’re satisfied with your scores! 


Background: AP World History Themes

The content for AP World History is divided into five themes that can be traced through six different historical eras. The five themes that will show up throughout the course and exam include:
  • Theme 1: Interaction Between Humans and the Environment
  • Theme 2: Development and Interaction of Cultures
  • Theme 3: State-Building, Expansion, and Conflict
  • Theme 4: Creation, Expansion, and Interaction of Economic Systems
  • Theme 5: Development and Transformation of Social Structures

You should examine all content through the lens of these themes. 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 six historical eras designated by the curriculum, each accompanied 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

These notes are organized by the six major historical periods laid out in the curriculum. Most of the notes are derived from CourseNotes, which has detailed outlines that go over every chapter from the fourth edition of the textbook World Civilizations: The Global Experience

The only notes that don’t come from CourseNotes are the chapter notes for Period 1. I took them from the APstudynotes site because it contains more detailed information on early human history. They come from a different textbook called Traditions and Encounters: A Global Perspective on the Past, 3rd EditionI’ve also included links to notes that cover broader thematic concepts within each period, which I’ve labeled as “overall notes" at the beginning of each of these sections.

The biggest issue with all of these notes is that it can be hard to pick out key concepts. There are no bolded terms or summaries at the ends of the outlines. If you need a more engaging format to hold your attention, I'd recommend buying a review book instead or printing out the notes so you can highlight important points.   


Period 1: Technological and Environmental Transformations (Up to 600 BCE)


Period 2: Organization and Reorganization of Human Societies (600 BCE - 600 CE)


Period 3: Regional and Transregional Interactions (600 CE - 1450)


Period 4: Global Interactions (1450 - 1750)


Period 5: Industrialization and Global Integration (1750 - 1900)


Period 6: Accelerating Global Change and Realignments (1900 - 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. There are outlines for Africa, East Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America, the Mediterranean, the Middle East, South Asia, the US, and Western Europe.


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


AP World History Study Tips

Here are a few study tips that will help you prepare strategically for the 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 AP test if you can’t weave that information together to construct a larger narrative. 

As you look through notes, think carefully about how everything connects back to the five major themes of the course. For example, if you're reading about the rise and spread of Islam in the 7th century, you should think about how this can be viewed in the context of Development and Interaction of Cultures. How did the spread of Islam impact cultural and political landscapes in the Middle East? What were its long-term effects on the region and why? 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 AP test, but statistics indicate that a large majority of students struggle with this aspect of the exam. In 2015, the average score on the DBQ was just 3 out of 9 points - ouch. That means most students had trouble incorporating all the documents into their argument in a way that flowed logically. I guarantee that you can earn much more than 3 points on the DBQ and other essay questions if you consistently practice writing outlines that follow the directions 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 good to know that a certain (hypothetical) emperor was attempting to unify culturally disparate regions through a shared national identity in the 5th century. It’s not necessary to know the names of every single region in the 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 to 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. Tips to keep in mind while studying the notes for this course include:

  • Tip #1: Connect Facts Back to the Themes
  • Tip #2: Practice Writing Essay Outlines
  • Tip #3: Know the Basic Chronology of Events
  • Tip #4: Don't Worry Too Much About Small Details

If you meticulously comb through your mistakes and practice your essay writing skills regularly, you're on the right track to a great AP 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 over the course of your time in high school? This article will 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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