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AP World History Free Response

How to Approach AP World History Free-Response Questions

The AP World History Exam can be one of the most challenging AP exams to take because of the vast time-frame and the number of significant historical events, people, and developments that are covered in the course. Even more challenging for some may be how to approach the AP World History free-response questions. These questions not only cover a broad spectrum of topics, but require you to use your historical thinking skills to defend your response by providing historical evidence to support your written answers to these questions.

What is the format of AP World History?

The AP World History Exam contains two parts that will allow the AP graders to assess your knowledge of the historical content contained in the AP World History course. You will have to use the historical thinking skills that you developed in the course to successfully navigate both parts of the exam. Your performance on the exam will be compiled and weighted to determine your AP Exam score (1 to 5). To review the nine historical thinking skills, you can use the Rubrics for AP Histories plus Historical Thinking Skills resource on the CollegeBoard website.

Use the chart below to follow along with the two parts of the AP World History Exam.

Section Questions Type # of Questions Timing % of Total Exam Score
I Part A: Multiple Choice

– Questions appear in sets of 2 to 5

– You will analyze historical texts, interpretations, and evidence

– Primary and secondary sources, images, graphs, and maps are included

55 55 minutes 40%

Part B: Short-Answer Questions (SAQs)

– Questions provide opportunities for you to explain the historical examples that you know best

– Some questions include texts, images, graphs, or maps

4 40 minutes 20%
II Part A: Document-Based Question (DBQ)

– You will Analyze and synthesize historical data

– You will assess written, quantitative, or visual materials as historical evidence

1 55 Minutes (includes 15-minute reading period) 25%

Part B: Long Essay Question (LEQ)

– You can select one question among the two given

– You will explain and analyze significant issues in world history

– You will develop an argument supported by an analysis of historical evidence

1 (chosen from a pair) 35 minutes 15%

The first part of the exam (Section I, Part A) consists of multiple-choice questions that will test your content knowledge by analyzing and interpreting primary and secondary sources. Section I also contains a series of short answer questions (Part B) and will address one or more of the course themes.

The second part of the AP World History contains the document-based question (DBQ) and long essay questions (LEQ). These questions will that ask you to demonstrate historical content knowledge and thinking skills through written responses.

All written parts of the exam (SAQs, DBQ, and LEQ) make up the general concept of the AP World History Free Response Questions (FRQs).

Why is the AP World History Free-Response Important?

Free response questions need to be a huge part of your AP World History exam preparation and practice schedule, because this section of the exam will make or break you. Why do we say that? The AP World History free-response questions make up 60% of your total scaled score. That is why we have put together this review to show you how to approach the AP World History FRQs.

It is important to know how the AP World History Exam is scored. This knowledge will be helpful in understanding the impact that the free-response questions will have on your overall exam score. As of the posting of this article, the CollegeBoard has not released an official scoring worksheet that shows the latest changes in the AP World History Exam. In the meantime, we have created an AP World History Score Calculator. This calculator takes the relative percentages of each respective section of the exam as outlined here and references the Rubrics for AP Histories to compute your 2017 projected score.

The AP World History Scoring Calculator is an excellent demonstration of how much weight is put on the FRQs compared to the multiple-choice questions. As you’ll see, doing well on the FRQs can really make your final score soar!

What Content is Covered in the Free-Response Section of AP World History?

Each exam question will measure how you can apply historical thinking skills to one or more of the learning objectives within a particular historical context from the six periods of world history. The FRQs also require you to provide specific historical evidence as part of your written response.

Short-Answer Questions

SAQs will address one or more of themes of the course. You will have to use your historical thinking skills to respond to primary and secondary sources, a historian’s argument, non-textual sources (maps or charts), or general suggestions about world history. Each question will ask you to identify and explore examples of historical evidence relevant to the source or question.

Document-Based Question

The DBQ measures your ability to analyze and integrate historical data and to assess verbal, quantitative, or visual evidence. Your responses will be judged on your ability to formulate a thesis and back it up with relevant evidence. The documents included in the DBQ can vary in length and format, and the question content can include charts, graphs, cartoons, and pictures, as well as written materials. You are expected to be able to assess the value of different kinds of documents, and you’ll be required to relate the material to a historical period or theme, thus focusing on major periods and issues. Therefore, it is crucial to have knowledge beyond the particular focus of the question and to incorporate it into your essay to get the highest score.

Long Essay Question

You are given a chance to show what you know best on the LEQs by having a choice between two long essay options. The LEQs will measure how you use your historical thinking skills to explain and analyze significant issues in the world history themes from the course. Your essays must include a central issue or argument that you need to support by evaluating specific and relevant historical evidence. You’ll be using specific in-depth examples of large-scale events taken from the course or classroom discussion.

How to Prepare for AP World History Free-Response Questions

There are a variety of ways that you can come up with a plan of attack to prepare for AP World History free-response questions. The most efficient and productive way to do that is to create a study plan.

Have a Study Plan

Studying for the AP World History Exam can seem overwhelming because of the sheer volume of material covered in the course. This study plan should begin in the fall and take you all the way up to the exam in May.

You may want to study what you learned last and work your way back to the beginning. Or you might want to take the approach of studying from the beginning to the most recent material covered. Some students choose to study only the material that they had difficulty on in the course. All of these methods have merit, but you will have to determine what approach works for your learning style and helps you feel prepared for the exam.

The method that we do not recommend is cramming the material into your brain in the days or weeks leading up to the exam. Instead, take your time to develop depth and breadth of understanding and think historically. If you find yourself in the position of needing an intense 30-day study plan, read our One Month AP World History Study Guide.

Know what will be Covered on the Exam

The next step to preparing for AP World History free-response questions is to make sure you have a list of all of the key concepts from the six historical periods covered in the class. These concepts are found in the AP World History Course and Exam Description. You should review the course and honestly assess your comfort level with each of the key concepts. This will give you a realistic picture of your strengths and weakness, so you know where to put your efforts in your AP World History study plan.

See what has been Tested on in the Past

The third tip for getting ready for World History free-response questions is to research what the CollegeBoard has emphasized on old exams. The AP World History Exam Page lets you go back and see all of the past free-response questions as well as scoring guidelines, sample responses and commentary, and score distributions. You can use these resources to assess your ability to answer AP World History free-response questions. Practice with actual test questions, compare your responses with student responses, and then find out what your score would be.

Make Your Own Test

Another way to ensure you get the practice you need before the AP World History Exam is to make your own test. There are a couple of ways to do that. The easy way is to get a stack of notecards and create cards with various concepts. You can do key terms and definitions, dates, people, and events. This method allows you to concentrate on areas that challenged you in the course, so you don’t have to go through questions that you already know. If you want to get fancy, you can do an Internet search for “random test generators” that let you build your own test in any form. You can create multiple choice, fill in the blank or even short answer questions. Practice is the key to learning the concepts you need to excel on the exam, so whatever method you choose, keep up with it.

Ask for Help

The last tip for increasing your score on AP World History free-response questions is to review outside resources for questions or test prep recommendation. There are some great resources that we have included at the end of this post. The Internet is full of help, and everything you need to get that five on the exam is at available at the click of your mouse.

How to Answer AP World History Free-Response Questions?

Since you can’t just recall facts, dates, or people to answer the free-response questions, you will have to make sure that you put on your “historical thinking cap” to answer the FRQs. Remember – treat the question as a historian would. Here are some tips on how to answer each of the types of FRQs.

Short-Answer Questions 

You only have 40 minutes to answer four questions, each will have two or three parts. Try to immediately identify the two or three parts to the question and come up with a plan (with examples) before you start writing. Your responses to each part should be about three to six sentences. Again, practice your approach to the SAQs using old exams and responses to see what the AP graders are looking for.

Long Essay Question

The LEQ is designed to assess your ability to apply what you know about world history in an analytical way. To write a strong essay, you must show that you can create a robust and clear thesis and also bring in a vast amount of relevant evidence to support your argument.

You can succeed on the LEQ by following some specific steps that you may have used in your study plan.

First step, dissect the question. Take some time to find out what it is asking you, identifying all the parts of the question. See if you can find out directive words like analyze, compare and contrast, or find relationships. Use these keywords like puzzle pieces that you will put together with your historical skills.

Second, formulate a thesis. Your thesis is your way of telling the reader why they should care about what you have to say. Convince them that you know what you are talking about. A strong thesis will make them trust that you have the depth of knowledge to answer the question.

Don’t just restate the question, take a stand! As long you have the right kind of evidence to support your argument, be bold and make that strong assertion. Your thesis is your “road map” to your conclusion. Take your reader on a journey through world history.

Step three is the plan your evidence. Take a step back and try to recall all of the information that relates to this question. In your study plan, you may have come up with a strategy to do this (e.g., clusters, bullet lists, outline), but whatever method you use, don’t skip this step. Just remember, the clock is ticking. Plan about three minutes for these first three steps.

Final step: write your essay. You should have about 30 minutes left to write your essay. There is no standard number of paragraphs you need, but generally, you want one body paragraph for each portion of the essay prompt. Just make each of the paragraphs strong. Here is a thumbnail look at each paragraph.

The first paragraph should be your introduction, which includes your thesis. Don’t get too flashy or use rhetoric. Just make sure it shows where you are going with your essay.

The body should follow the road-map you set in your introduction. Don’t just list facts, but bring an element of analysis between the evidence you give. Use smooth transitions and make sure you answer all of the questions from the prompt. The AP reader is looking for analysis, not your version of the textbook. End each body with a mini-conclusion that ties that paragraph back to your thesis.

Now it is time to wrap it up in your conclusion. Don’t just restate your thesis by recopying what you said in your introduction. Explain why your thesis is pertinent to the question. In the end, the reader should leave with a sense of coherence and completion; you can do this by tying all of your mini-conclusions together.

Document-Based Question

The DBQ is daunting at first glance, but if you break it down into steps, you will find that it is manageable. The DBQ requires you to use a large number of documents and outside information. There is no set number of each that you are required to use, but don’t just try and do the minimum if the question asks for one.

You only have 10 minutes to read the documents and 40 minutes to write your response. Don’t panic! There is plenty of time if you just have a strategy going into the exam. You have practiced your essay writing skills, and you have a study plan. You can use the same strategies we just discussed for the LEQs. It may seem like you don’t have enough time to do all this, but again, the more you practice using these strategies, the quicker you will get in finding out what is significant in each of the documents.

Here are three tips that may help you navigate the DBQ:

  1. Use your own words – Use the source to support your own ideas but don’t just quote directly from the document.
  2. Practice, practice, practice – Working through the DBQ on a regular basis will prepare you to write one under the gun on test day.
  3. Citations – When citing a document, save yourself some time by referring to it as Document # (e.g., Document 3) instead of “Sandinista National Liberation Front of Nicaragua, part platform of 1969”.

What are AP World History Free-Response Questions Like?

We have discussed in theory how to approach the AP World History FRQs. Here is an example of a question from an AP World History Exam to help you get a feel for the FRQs and get you in the right frame of mind to help you prepare for the exam.

The following is an example of a long-essay question from the 2016 AP World History Exam (Question 2).

2. Analyze economic continuities and changes in trade networks within Afro-Eurasia in the period from 600 C.E. To 1450 C.E.

A good response to this question starts with the thesis. Make sure you address at least one economic continuity and one economic change in the stated time period. It is alright to focus on Africa or Eurasia. Make sure you address all parts of the question. The continuity must be appropriate for the majority of the time-period, but the change could have occurred at any time during that period.

To back up your thesis, you will need to give factual evidence that applies to aspects or consequences of trade network (economic or noneconomic). The evidence could apply to either continuity or change. To get the maximum points, you need to have at least eight pieces of evidence to support your discussion.

To explain change over time and/or continuity, your essay needs to provide context that extends outside the region or provide context that continues chronologically outside the time-period. Finally, your essay needs to explain a cause helping to shape economic continuity and a cause helping to shape economic change in the region during the stated period.

How can I Practice AP World History Free Response Questions

There are many online resources that you may use to supplement this guide on approaching the AP World History FRQs. These study guides often have helpful tips on all aspects of AP World History test prep. You will know going into your study plan what you will need the most help with. You can target your search to help you find ways to strengthen those areas and make sure that you are ready for the exam when May rolls around.

Are you a auditory learner? Albert has a great series of posts that feature the “Best AP World History Review Videos”. Just go to Albert’s AP World History Test Prep page and you will find a whole series of review videos to choose from.

Do you have to have a book in your hand to learn and want to know what’s the best AP World History exam prep guide? Albert has that resource too. Read The Best AP World History Review Books of 2017

The more ways you can approach your preparation, the better. But the key is to have a study plan and stick to it. For the free-response questions, we can’t stress this enough – practice as much as you can. You will find that you will look forward to the time when you can sit down and write your essays with the confidence to get the score on the AP World History Exam that you dreamed of.

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