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AP World History Review: 5-Step Study Plan


It's difficult to know where to start when studying for the AP World History test. The few months you have to study for the exam are dwarfed by the nearly 1,000 years of history covered by the curriculum. The good news is that this AP exam mainly asks you to look at long-term trends rather than minute details, so it's not as daunting to review for as you might think.

In this guide, we'll give you a brief overview of the test content, lay out a template for a successful AP World History review plan, and introduce some essential study strategies for making the most of your prep time.


What's on the AP World History Exam?

The AP World History test has undergone some big changes for 2019-20, so it's important that you know what to expect on test day. Previously, the AP exam covered thousands of years of human history and development; now, however, it only covers about 800 years (1200 CE to the present). Due to these changes, the course and test have been renamed AP World History: Modern (an AP World History: Ancient test is currently in development).

Note that the overall format and structure of the exam itself hasn't changed since 2018, just the content.

So what's on the new AP World History exam? This test covers six themes and nine units. For links to notes that go through all the content, you can check out our AP World History study guide.


AP 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


AP World History Units

The following chart shows how much each unit will show up on the World History exam:

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


There's a lot of information packed in here! So how can you actually start reviewing for the World History test? In the next section, I'll give you some advice on how to create a study plan that'll get you the best score possible.


This represents your progression toward a 5 as you go through this AP World History review plan. Hopefully, you'll end up less arrogant than the dude on the tallest pillar, though. He needs to tone down the attitude.


Easy 5-Step AP World History Review Plan

Below, we give you a step-by-step review plan for the AP World History exam that will get you on the right track with your studying. Here's an estimate of the timeline for these five steps:

  • Step 1: 3.5 hours
  • Step 2: 1 hour
  • Step 3: 2 hours
  • Step 4: 2 hours
  • Step 5: 3.5 hours

That's a total of around 12 hours for one cycle of this prep process. It's well worth your time to go through it at least once if you're dedicated to earning a great score!


Step 1: Take and Score a Diagnostic Test

The first step in your AP World History review should be to take a full-length practice test to see where you're scoring. Based on your scores, you can set a goal for yourself and make study plans that fit with the amount of work you need to do to improve.

When you take this practice test, be sure to adhere to the official time limits:

Section Question Type Time # of Questions Time per Question
1A Multiple Choice 55 mins 55 1 min
1B Short Answer 40 mins 3 13 mins
2A Document-Based Question 60 mins 1 60 mins
2B Long Essay 40 mins 1 40 mins


It's a challenge to write this fast, so try to get used to these time restrictions as soon as possible. In addition, be sure to answer every question, as there's no penalty for incorrect answers. It's a good idea to circle any multiple-choice questions for which you weren't entirely sure of the answer. Even if you get them right, you should still review the content later in your studying.


Step 2: Analyze Your Mistakes

After you take and score your practice test, go through your mistakes and detect any issues you had with the material. Try to categorize your mistakes by unit or time period so that you can get a better idea of what you need to study.

Note any patterns that occurred. Were you especially rusty in a certain geographic area? Did questions dealing with particular themes give you the most trouble? Take this step very seriously because it will get you on the right track with your AP World History studying going forward!



Step 3: Study Relevant Content Areas

Now that you've gone through your mistakes, it's time to dive back into your notes and review whatever you forgot. Work your way through all the gaps in your memory that manifested themselves on the test.

Make sure that you're absorbing the information and not just reading it over. Follow the tips in the previous section on looking for larger themes, and check in with yourself after each section of notes to make sure what you learned didn't fall out of your brain immediately.


Step 4: Do a Dress Rehearsal for the Essays

The next step before taking another practice test is to do a little essay rehearsal. I'll reemphasize the importance of practicing essay-writing skills in the upcoming strategy section, but I also think they warrant their own step in the study process.

Just knowing the information won't guarantee you a high score if you write too slowly or aren't prepared to connect specific examples with trends and themes.

Take a look back at your first World History practice test, and note the strengths and weaknesses of your DBQ and Long Essay. Try to write new essays (or essay outlines) that improve on your original essays and would score higher based on the current scoring guidelines.


Step 5: Take Another Practice Test

Finally, take another World History practice test to see whether all that studying paid off! If you find that you're happy with your new score, you can take a break and just do a few light review sessions before the test. If you're still unsatisfied, though, you can repeat this study process again using the results of this test.

If you find that you haven't improved from your first test, you need to reexamine your study methods and your analysis of incorrect answers. You might have been distracted during part of the process or read through your notes too quickly without understanding them on a deeper level. Attention to detail is key if you want to see big improvements!


body_hours.jpgTwelve hours—which is how long this study process takes—is but a blink of an eye compared to 800 years of human history! Try not to think about that too much.


AP World History Review: 3 Essential Tips

Here are three of the most important strategies to keep in your back pocket as you work through your AP World History review. You can also check out this in-depth guide for additional study tips for AP World History!


#1: Don't Try to Memorize Everything

The main thing you should know about AP World History, before you start reviewing, is that you're not expected to memorize tons of specific dates or the names of every major event or figure in modern history. Don't fill up valuable space in your memory with tiny details that most likely won't come up on the test!

Instead, you should have a good idea of how major events have progressed chronologically in each region throughout history, but there's no need to get into the nitty-gritty of less prominent names and places.

Study the same way you might read Lord of the Rings (I assume you've done this if you're truly a nerd): skim over the insane names of minor characters and places that are peripheral to the main story line, but hold onto key details that will allow you to make logical sense of the plot as you progress through the book.


#2: Look for the Themes

A strong understanding of the six AP World History themes and the ability to connect them to events throughout history is the key to doing well on this test. As you study content, think back to how these themes might play into the reasons for shifts in political dynamics, cultural developments, and other trends.

This can help you come up with supporting examples to use in your free-response essays, which will ask you to explain changes over time and compare different societies. The course themes are great jumping-off points for your essays that will help you explain how events are connected and why societies have adopted different values or political systems.


#3: Practice Your Essay-Writing Skills

I want to doubly emphasize the fact that the free-response section (i.e., the DBQ and Long Essay) is your most challenging obstacle to a high score on AP World History. Two essays in an hour and 40 minutes is no easy task, even for the best writers! That's why it's critical that you practice plenty of essays before you sit down to take the real test.

If you're short on time, you don't have to practice full essays; however, you should at least write a thesis and then outline how you would support it with specific examples.

For the DBQ, which many students find to be the most challenging question on the test, look at questions and sample responses from past exams and think about how you would weave together your analysis of all the documents.

Our article provides more information on the DBQ and what you'll need to include in your answer to get a high score.


body_manuscript.jpgJust be thankful that you don't have to read the original documents. Most of these things are so illegible that I wouldn't be surprised if we were completely wrong about certain parts of our history.


Conclusion: Your Best AP World History Review

Reviewing for AP World History doesn't have to be a super stressful experience. Despite the fact that the exam covers a huge amount of content, it's also pretty forgiving if you happen to forget some of the minor historical players. Themes and long-term trends are the focus of both the course and the exam.

To recap, this is the process I recommend for conducting your AP World History review:

  • Step 1: Take and score a diagnostic test
  • Step 2: Analyze your mistakes
  • Step 3: Study relevant content areas
  • Step 4: Do a dress rehearsal for the essays
  • Step 5: Take another practice test

As you go through these steps, here are some strategies to keep in mind:

  • Don't try to memorize every little detail
  • Look for the themes
  • Practice your essay-writing skills regularly

As you practice more and start to get used to the format and content of the AP World History test, you'll see that a 5 is definitely within reach if you put in a strong effort!


What's Next?

If you're taking AP World History as an underclassman, you're probably still planning out the rest of your high school schedule. Read this article for advice on which AP classes you should take based on your school's offerings and your goals for college.

Bummed that your high school doesn't offer an AP class that you're interested in taking? Learn more about AP self-studying so you can decide whether it's the right choice for you.

You might end up taking SAT Subject Tests in addition to AP tests if you're applying to some very competitive colleges. Get the inside scoop on which test is more important for your college applications.



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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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