Excelling on the AP European History exam can be a challenge. With only 8.6% of test takers scoring a 5 and another 16.9% scoring a 4 in 2014, AP European History represents one of the most difficult Advanced Placement exams to score high on. But fear not, hopefully after reading this list of comprehensive tips, you’ll feel more confident and prepared to rock your AP European History test!
Now to the good stuff… here are 50+ AP European History tips.
AP European History DBQ & FRQ Essay Tips & Advice
1. Answer the question: This seems like a no-brainer, yet thousands of AP European History test takers forget about this every year. When you address the question, make sure you answer all parts of the question; AP graders evaluate your essays based on a rubric and award a point if you answer all parts of the question.
2. Know the rubric like the back of your hand: This goes in hand with the last tip. By the time the test rolls around, make sure you know that AP graders are looking for these key components: an answer to all parts of the question, a clear thesis, facts to support the thesis presented, use of all documents, and inclusion of point of view/evaluation of document bias. Here are the 2014 Scoring Guidelines.
3. Don’t be afraid to namedrop/be specific: When it comes to answering the FRQs, be a test taker who can identify and specify names of certain people who had measurable impact in European History. This means use primary examples! For example, if the question asks you how Louis XIV was able to centralize his government, you should specifically talk about intendants, the Fronde Wars, the Edict of Fontainebleau, etc. Write with confidence when citing specific events or people.
4. Group, group, group, and did we say group?: When you read and analyze documents, make sure to group your documents into at least three groups in order to receive full credit. You should group based on the three respective key points you will be discussing in the body of your essay.
5. Practice grouping: Just to hit the nail in the coffin, here are a few starting blocks for how to group documents. Think about how the document works in relation to politics, economics, imperialism, nationalism, humanitarianism, religion, society & culture, intellectual development & advancement. Pretty much every single document the CollegeBoard ever created can fit into one of these buckets.
6. Assess the author’s perspective: As you work your way through the documents and group them, keep a few clear questions in mind, “Why is the author writing this? What perspective is he or she coming from? What can I tell from his or her background?” Asking yourself these questions will help you ensure part of your thesis and essay integrates bias and analysis of bias.
7. Read the historical background: The little blurb at the beginning of the document isn’t there for no good reason. The historical background section of AP European History is like the freebie slot on a bingo card—it will reveal to you the time period of the document and allow you to gain a little perspective into the point of view of the source.
8. Connect between documents: The difference between scoring a perfect score on your essays and scoring an almost perfect score can often come down to your ability to relate documents with one another. As you outline your essay, you should think about at least two opportunities where you can connect one document to another. So how do you connect a document? Well one way would be writing something along the lines of, “The fact that X person believes that XYZ is the root of XYZ may be due to the fact that he is Y.” So in this example, I may pull X person from document 1, but use document 4 to support my Y of the reason why he thinks a certain way. When you connect documents, you demonstrate to the grader that you can clearly understand point of views and how different perspectives arise. It also is a way to demonstrate your analytical abilities.
9. Start practicing as early as possible: AP European History isn’t quite like AP World History where you can get away with just understanding key trends and patterns. Because the test is much more detailed-oriented, you need to start practicing at least a month and a half prior to your AP European History exam date. Go to AP Central’s homepage for AP European History and select a few essay questions to tackle for the weeks leading up to the exam. Try to tackle two to five a week. Find a proctor like a sibling, parent, or teacher and have them simulate the test for you under timed conditions.
10. Do not blow off the DBQ: In 130 minutes, 50% of your AP European History grade is determined. In case you didn’t know the AP European History exam is a 50-50 split between multiple choice and free-response questions. Students often overlook the importance of the DBQ and FRQs. Don’t be that student. Did you know if you got 0/80 multiple choice questions right but scored 9s on your FRQs and your DBQ, you would still get a 3 based on the 2009 exam curve? It’s crazy, but it’s true.
11. Print out your writing: Writing a coherent essay is a difficult task. In order to do this successfully on the AP European History test you want to make sure that you have spent a few minutes in the very beginning of the test to properly plan out an outline for your essay. You may have heard this advice hundreds of times from teachers but the reason why teachers give it is because it really does help. Ultimately, if you go into your essay without a plan your essay will read without a sense of flow and continuation. One of the things you are assessed on is your ability to create a cohesive argument.
12. Organizing with chronological order: One way that you can order some essays is by using chronological order. When you frame your argument around chronological order, you want to look for transition points and use those as an opportunity to start a new paragraph.
13. Compare and contrast: Sometimes on the AP European History test you’ll be asked to compare and contrast. In this case a lot of students simply compare but they do not contrast. Make sure that you allocate at least one paragraph for each component.
14. Refine your thesis: Crafting the van Gogh of thesis statements can be difficult when under a time crunch. But don’t worry the good thing is that if you create a general thesis statement to work off of, you can go back and refine your thesis statement at the very end. Don’t be afraid to come up with the general idea and go with that; then at the end of the paper, revise your original thesis around the main arguments that you’ve made throughout.
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AP European History Multiple Choice Review Tips
1. Read continuously: Here’s the thing about AP European History—it’s incredibly detailed-oriented. That means it’s not quite like some other AP tests where you can just cram two nights before and get a 5. In order to really understand connections in European History, you need to keep up with your reading throughout the school year. This not only applies to help you in the multiple choice section, but also in the essay portion to understand what time period the prompts are coming from. Viault’s Modern European History should be like your bible when it comes to reading about AP European History.
2. Identify and hone in on your greatest weaknesses: When you start practicing multiple choice for AP European History, you’ll quickly realize that there are certain time periods and things you know like the back of your hand, and others that are just very hazy to you. After you have had a practice session with AP European History multiple-choice questions, write down the areas where you struggled and review those sections of your class notes. Make flashcards and review 15-20 every night before you go to bed.
3. Supplement your learning with video lectures: While YouTube can be a distractor at times; it can also be great to learn things on the fly! Crash Course has some great videos here pertaining to AP European History. Use them to affirm what you know about certain time periods and to bolster what you already know; then, practice again.
4. Hank’s History Hour: Going along the lines of alternative ways to learn AP European History, you can also learn a great deal from Hank’s History Hour, which is a podcast on different topics in history. This is a great way to actually go to sleep since you can listen to the podcast while you dose off. Did you know when you go to sleep you remember what you heard last the best when you wake up?
5. Answer every question: If you’re crunched on time and still have several AP European History multiple-choice questions to answer, make a solid attempt at answering each and every one of them. With no guessing penalty, you literally have nothing to lose.
6. Create flashcards along the way: After you have gotten a multiple choice question wrong, create a flashcard with the key term and the definition of that term. Think about potential mnemonics or heuristics you can use to help yourself remember the term more easily. One way is to think about an outrageous image and to associate that image with the term related to AP European History.
7. Use the Process of Elimination: When it comes to tackling AP European History questions, the process of elimination can come in handy if you can eliminate just one answer choice or even two, your odds of getting the question right significantly improve. Remember there is no guessing penalty so you really have nothing to lose.
8. Don’t overthink things: When it comes to answering easy questions, typically the shortest response is also the right response. Easy questions typically have easy answers. Try not to choose strangely worded answer responses for easy questions. Most importantly, don’t overthink things.
9. All questions are the same weight: When it comes to the AP European History test, all multiple-choice questions are weighted equally. That means that you want to make sure that you take your time in the very beginning so that you don’t get easy questions wrong.
10. Use common sense: Often times with multiple-choice questions, contextual cues are given that signal the time period that the question is testing you on. Look out for these sorts of clues. Understanding and recognizing when a clue is given is fundamental to helping you understand what concepts you’re being tested on.
11. Take advantage of chronology: When it comes to answering the multiple-choice questions, the questions are actually grouped in sets of 4-7 questions each. Practice recognizing when you’re at the start and end of a group. This will allow you to mentally think about the different time periods that are being tested while also staying alert throughout the duration of the test.
12. Understand the progression of question difficulty: The AP European History test is outlined so that the easiest questions are presented to you at the very beginning of the test. However, as you navigate through the test you’ll realize that the questions get harder and harder. Use this to your advantage. Stay aware of how much time you’re spending in different sections of the multiple-choice section. While you want to make sure that you allocate enough time at the very end for answer difficult questions, you really want to make sure that you knock the first 60 questions out of the ballpark.
13. Study themes appropriately: Generally speaking, the AP European History test dedicates 20 to 30% of the multiple-choice section 2 testing cultural or intellectual subject areas. The remaining 80% are split relatively evenly between economic and political factors, as well as overall social issues.
14. Use your writing utensil: As you work through the multiple-choice section of the AP European history test, physically circle and underline certain aspects of answer choices that you know for fact are wrong. Get in this habit so that when you go back to review your answer choices, you can quickly see why you thought that particular answer choice was wrong in the first place. This is a technique that you can use for more than just the AP European History test.
15. Circle EXCEPT: EXCEPT questions can often throw students off so make sure that you get in the habit of physically circling every time you see the word EXCEPT.
16. Go with your gut: You know what I’m talking about…when you’re at the end of your test and you go back to that one question that nagged you and you think that you need to change your answer. Don’t. More often than not your gut was right. There’s a reason why you chose that answer so go with your instinct.
17. Use checkmarks: If you feel confident about your answer to a particular multiple-choice question, make a small checkmark next to that question number. The reason why you want to do this is that when you go back to review your answer choices, you’ll be able to quickly recognize which questions you need to spend more time taking a second look at. Also, making this checkmark gives you momentum moving forward throughout the multiple-choice section. If you feel good about an answer, that little bit of positive reinforcement will help keep you alert as you move through the multiple choice questions.
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Overall How to Study for AP European History Tips
1. Do not read your book for straight facts and figures: The way middle schools teach history set up high school students for failure when it comes to tackling challenging history courses. Rather than memorize facts from your book like you’ve done since middle school, create a framework and general understanding of the core themes from your reading. Believe it or not, knowing the type of bread that XYZ leader liked is not important. A lot of history books go excessively in depth in regards to the nitty gritty. Learn to selectively read the important bits of information and practice summarizing the key points of your reading by outlining 3-5 key takeaways in your notes on your readings. If you cannot connect the dots, then you will simply craft essays with random “name drops” and “date drops”; as a result, your AP score will reflect your inability to create a cohesive argument.
2. Try out the SQ3R method: This is a popular studying technique that can be applied for more than just AP European History. Francis Robinson originally created it in a 1946 book called Effective Study.
3. S (Survey): Preview what you are about to read. Look at the beginning of the chapter and look at the end. Look at the main headings of each subsection of the chapter. Read the discussion questions often found at the end of sections. Think about how this section relates to a larger part of history; think about how this may connect to something you’ve previously learned.
4. Q (Question): Think about questions to keep in mind as you prepare to read. One way to do this is by re-framing the headers of subsections and to pose them as questions. Ask questions such as, “Why is this important?”, “What does this reveal to me about the overall time period?”, etc.
5. Read (R): Now you can begin to read. After surveying and questioning, you can now read the chapter keeping the prep work you’ve done in mind. Doing S and Q beforehand helps keep you engaged and active. Make sure you use your pencil to guide yourself as you read. If you can write in your book, circle and underline key things. Active reading helps the content stick with you.
6. Recall (R): At the end of each major section, take a minute or two to recall the key things that you just read about. Review the bolded key terms, and answer the main questions you posed to yourself earlier. Use your own words to describe what you just read. Think about it like you are telling your best friend about what you read about today. Saying things out loud can help you remember things more easily.
7. Review (R): You can either do this with a friend or by yourself. After you’ve done SQRR, you want to top everything off with review. Look at the notes you’ve taken along the way and test yourself on the key bits of information from your reading. The key to the SQ3R method is creating a system of processing information and making that information stick. By reviewing several times at random points of the day, you’ll help move the information you’ve learned from your short-term memory to your long-term memory.
8. Connect, connect, connect: In case we haven’t mentioned it enough, AP European History is all about connecting the dots. Whether you’re just doing your nightly reading or reviewing for your test, it’s helpful and essential that you recognize how events and people in history are interrelated. History is the study of how people interact with one another. One technique to make sure you are connecting the dots is to write key events or terms on flashcards; then at the end of your reading or review session, categorize your flashcards into 5-7 different categories. You may end up doing this by time period, by a significant overarching event, etc. A good way to think about this is you have 5-7 drawers, and a bunch of random things lying around in your room. Each thing represents some event or important person in history and you want to fit all the things into one drawer in order to make your room clean again. If the clean room analogy doesn’t work for you, try to think of a way to get in the categorizing mindset yourself and let us know about it!
9. Create a cheat sheet: While unfortunately you won’t be able to use your cheat sheet on the actual test, you can use a cheat sheet to help simplify your reviewing process as the AP European History test gets closer. Create a cheat sheet that is flexible and can be added on to—then as the year progresses and you do more and more readings, add to your cheat sheet. Before you know it, you’ll have a handy and hopefully concise reference guide that you can turn to in those last few weeks before the test.
Tips Submitted by AP European History Teachers
1. Keep referring back to the question: While writing the essay portion, especially the DBQ, remember to keep referring back to the question and make sure that you have not gone off on a tangent. When students drop the ball on an essay it is usually because they do not answer the question. Thanks for the tip from Ms. N at South High School in MI.
2. Review your vocab: Complete the vocabulary at the beginning of each section of your preferred AP European History prep book. If you do not know the meaning of the terminology in a question you will not be able to answer the question correctly. Thanks for the tip from Ms. O at Northville High in MI.
3. Do lots of point-of-view statements: You don’t want to suffer on your DBQ because you only had two acceptable POV’s. Do 4 or 5 or 6. And be sure to say how reliable a source is ABOUT WHAT based on their background, audience or purpose. Thanks for the tip from Steve!
4. Complete readings as they are assigned: Chunking material is the best
way to learn and then to synthesize material. Look at the primary sources and secondary sources to support textual readings. Think in thematic terms. Thanks for the tip from Ms. J at Trinity High in PA.
5. Supplement your in-class learning with videos: Tom Richey has put together a comprehensive YouTube playlist just for AP European History students. You can check it out at here. He also has a great website you can check out here.
6. Provide context in your DBQ: When trying to write a point of view statement for the DBQ you must include three things: First, state who the author really is.Second, what did he actually say.Third, why is said it.
Are you a teacher? Do you have an awesome tip? Let us know!
Hopefully you’ve learned a ton from reading all 50+ of these AP European History tips. Remember, AP European History is one of the most challenging AP exams to score high on, so it’s crucial you put in the work to get you there. Read actively and review constantly throughout the year, so that you do not feel an incredible burden of stress as the AP exam nears. Approach readings using SQ3R, connect the dots between documents, and understand how you are going to be graded by AP readers. You’re going to do great! Good luck.
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We all know that success on the AP® history exams depends on the success of our students’ writing. Yes, knowledge of history is key… and the ability of students to read sources carefully is important, but if our students are not prepared to express their understanding through effective writing… well, what they know won’t help them! So, we have to ask ourselves this question: How can we help our students be successful on the essay portions of the AP® exam? I am suggesting that to answer that question… you ask yourself a different one… How do I make pecan pie?
When I was growing up, my grandmother made the best pecan pie in the world! I looked forward to her pie on every holiday, and, if I was lucky, at family birthday dinners. When I grew up and became a real grown-up, I decided it was time I learned to make this amazing dish. My grandmother graciously agreed to teach me to make pecan pie. Now, my grandmother (and probably yours) could create her pecan pie without much reference to a recipe. But, she wrote down the recipe with the ingredients and instructions so that I, too, could create a pecan pie. I used the recipe, I followed the instructions… and, low and behold, I baked a pecan pie… It was not as good as my grandmother’s pie, but it was good! I was proud! After a few successful pies, I got a little cocky and did not pay close attention to the recipe… and when I took the pie out of the oven I discovered that I had made pecan soup! Without careful attention to the recipe, I could not make a good pecan pie…
Now, I know what you are thinking… what does pecan pie have to do with AP® essay writing? Well, we wouldn’t expect our students to be able to make a pecan pie without a recipe… why should we expect them to be able to write an essay without one. Here’s the thing… a pecan pie is a complicated concoction with a lot of parts … when it is done well, it is a beautiful thing… but when it is not done well… well, you get pecan soup! The same is true for an AP® essay. The AP® essay is a complicated concoction with many parts, but it’s construction can be boiled down to a recipe that students can learn and follow to write beautiful essays. We can teach students the recipe and use it to help them not only write well-developed essays for the AP® exam, but also to write effective essays in other courses and in college. Since the rubrics for AP® essays are the same across all three history courses (AP® US History, AP® World History and AP® European History), the recipe can be effectively implemented in each course.
The AP® Essay Recipe:
1 part - Thesis Statement
1 part - Contextualization
6 parts - Document Analysis
4 parts - Extended Analysis
1 part - Outside Evidence
1 part - Synthesis
1 part - Argument Development
- Read the prompt carefully.
- Identify the Historical Thinking Skill required in the prompt
- Quickly analyze the seven documents
- Extend analysis of at least 4 documents by historical context, intended audience, purpose, and point of view of the author
- Write a thesis statement that addresses the Historical Thinking Skills and answers the question
- Organize at least six documents to support the thesis statement
- Contextualize the thesis by explaining the relationship of topics OTHER THAN THE PROMPT TOPIC to the thesis
- Choose one or two ways that the documents relate to one another - either by contradiction, corroboration, or qualification
- Choose at least one piece of evidence that supports your thesis
- Think of at least one way that your thesis could be applied to a different time period, different historical context, or different discipline. You only need to use one part of your thesis statement to do this.
The recipe for an AP® essay can be illustrated with an hourglass model. The hourglass model illustrates exactly where students can plug in each requirement of the AP® rubrics. This model can work in teaching students to successfully write a Document Based Question Essay, a Long Essay Question, and even more importantly, a college level essay. The AP® Essay Model below shows the recipe applied to the DBQ and to the LEQ.
AP® Essay Model for the DBQ
In the recipe for a successful AP® essay, the top part of the model represents the introduction. I explain to students that the hourglass is a good model for any essay, because essays should always start with the “big picture” that sets the essay’s thesis statement into historical context, which is what is required to show the skill of Contextualization. However, it is important to emphasize that only the DBQ requires students to write a full introductory paragraph… this is where the skill of contextualization should be shown. Contextualization in the DBQ is a skill that can be confusing for students, but it works if you explain to students that contextualizing means they are “introducing” their thesis statement. It is important that students use specific factual information (SFI) in their contextualization to show that they understand how the specific topic of the essay prompt relates to other developments, events, processes that were important in the time period. Here is a key to the recipe and to the DBQ rubric… Contextualization comes FIRST in the essay as the first 4 - 5 sentences in the introduction with the thesis statement as the last sentence (or two) in the introductory paragraph. Organizing contextualization into the introduction teaches students to write effective essays, both for the AP exam and in college.
The narrow, middle sections of the hourglass model represents the body paragraphs of the essay. As you can see in the model, the recipe for each body paragraph begins with restating a part of the thesis statement. It is important for students to understand that the recipe is designed to convince the reader that they are making a strong argument. The recipe requires students to restate a part of their thesis in each body paragraph. Then, the recipe directs students to use the sentences in the body paragraphs to illustrate the evidence that supports the historical argument in their thesis statement. The model shows that each sentence should have a purpose in supporting the thesis and that students should use transitions between sentences to illustrate the way in which different documents or evidence show contradictions in evidence or documents, corroboration between evidence or documents, and/or qualification of evidence or documents. The recipe also tells students to restate their main argument at the end of the paragraph - making the historical argument clear is key.
The bottom of the hourglass model is an inversion of the top… or an inversion of the introductory paragraph. Therefore, according to the recipe, the thesis statement comes first in the conclusion. Restating the thesis is important for making a synthesis argument. Just as the skill of contextualization should be illustrated in the introduction, the skill of synthesis can be easily shown in the conclusion. Now, the AP rubrics do not require that contextualization or synthesis be included in any certain part of the essay… and that is exactly why these skills are confusing to our students. This recipe clarifies for students where these skills can be effectively shown. So, in the conclusion, students begin by restating their thesis statement. Then, the recipe requires that students take at least one part of their thesis statement and apply it in a different time period, different geographical situation, or different discipline. Synthesis is simply showing understanding of patterns in history. And… to be completely honest, students can write a very effective DBQ (or LEQ) without the synthesis point… yes… I said that! Tell students to never stress out about the synthesis point. They should definitely try to include the synthesis argument, but it is “gravy”... (sorry for mixing my food metaphors)... but, if a student does a good job at writing the rest of the essay according to the recipe, they will be successful.
The LEQ Model follows the DBQ model. The main difference is that the skill of contextualization is not required in the LEQ and the evidence in the body paragraphs is based on evidence students know as opposed to document based evidence.