A Beginner’s Guide to AP History Tests

By Elena and Lily 

AP history courses are not the easiest to study for, but we have some amazing tips for you that we’ve either figured out on our own or were taught by our AP history teachers, one of which is an AP reader. Many of these study tips have helped me (Elena) get a 4 on the Covid-Freakshow-AP World History Test last year, as well as get many of our friends 5s. 

Photo by Ekrulila on Pexels.com

Stimulus Based Multiple Choice (SBMC)

One of the reasons why the AP test is so weird and difficult is because of the stimulus based multiple choice. The questions aren’t meant to be straightforward, and are designed in a way that can be very difficult to understand, especially if you don’t know how to approach these questions.

Although every question is assigned to some sort of document, not every question actually requires you to read or look at the stimulus. Additionally, many of these documents can be a little bit difficult to understand if you forget something or don’t know the context. Therefore, looking at the questions before looking at the stimulus is especially beneficial for your AP tests.

The multiple choice questions on your history AP test are created with the assumption that you already know the information, so you won’t get questions that are testing basic facts. Common questions you might see could be along the lines of “Which movement would this author most likely be a part of?”

That’s why this section is so difficult. The multiple choice is not written the way you’re used to seeing it written, so you have to be able to notice more within the questions. You could look at the date of the stimulus, or maybe the author they included on the sourcing might give you an idea. You should probably be able to eliminate at least one or two of the answer choices, so use the process of elimination to help you.

One of the skills you need to learn for the sbmc is to understand what someone’s point of view is from a short paragraph or from a picture. This can be really, really difficult, especially when there’s multiple options that work. In fact, a lot of questions might have multiple answers that work, but it’s your job to figure out what the best one is. This takes practice, and it’s not something that many people can easily do. That’s why the AP history tests have fairly low rates for 5’s. 

However, it isn’t impossible to do good on the AP test, especially if you work to actually understand the material and practice. Even on the sbmc section.

Short Answer Question (SAQ)

For most people the Short Answer Question tends to be the easiest part of the ap test, however that by no means makes it easy. You’ll find once you get a good outline of how to do it you can be writing them fast and easy!

There are normally 3 parts to each SAQ. You will oftentimes get a stimulus to prompt the question, however this is not always the case. Make sure to carefully examine what each question is asking and answer it quickly and concisely. Oftentimes you will be given a time period and a short prompt then have parts a, b, and c. A and B are often very similar with C being the outlier of the 3. 

Overtime I have learned that being concise is key for answering the SAQ portion. Teachers recommend 3-5 sentences on average for each part of the question, however I always stick to three specifically sometimes adding another sentence if I feel necessary. Your 3 sentences should follow a simple format. 

In your first sentence restate the question and answer it. For example if the question asks “What was one of the causes of the American Revolution.” You’ll want to respond with “One of the causes of the American Revolution was…” 

Then for your second sentence you want to use a Proper Noun to state your evidence. Make sure you name an event/person and briefly explain what it is. 

You can follow up in your third sentence with why it answers the question. You can make this portion a few more sentences if needed too, overall if you can try to keep it brief however. 

After just a few practices you’ll probably find this section of the test is the easiest and using the reliable formula you can quickie and productively get it all answered. So, don’t spend too long practicing this section once you get it down, the over sections are going to need a lot of your time. 

Long Essay Question (LEQ)

The long essay question is going to require you to know the most evidence surrounding the prompt. If unprepared for the prompt this section could be the most difficult part of the test, as their is no stimulus or documents to help you find the answers or collect evidence, however, if prepared it can be relatively easy. 

You want to start off your introduction with context, try to use a proper noun in your context to give evidence that you won’t be using it later on in your essay. From class to class the evidence you’ll want to use in the context may vary, so I recommend checking with your teacher where you should get your context form. Overall context tends to be about 3-4 sentences. 

Right after the context you are going to want to write your thesis. In order to get all the points on your test you are going to want to give 2 or 3 points (3 recommended) to support your answer to the prompt, you are also going to want to make a point to show the other side of the argument, the side you aren’t fighting for, in order to get the complexity point on the test, meaning you understand other perspective. 

Make sure not to use your specific evidence in your points, but using blanket statements such as “the economy” and “politics” also isn’t what they’re looking for in the test. 

For each paragraph you are then going to want to start with a short mini thesis to introduce the point you will be talking about, then use at least 3 proper nouns to back up your points. Tell the event and describe how it pertains to the prompt. Make sure to have all of your evidence be clear and organized in each paragraph.

Don’t be afraid to add more evidence then you think you need, the ap scorers can’t count off for what you get wrong, so be prepared to add extras, that way if you get one wrong you still have plenty of other pieces of evidence to make up for it. 

Studying for this portion of the test can be difficult as you have to remember a lot of names and dates compared to the other sections. I recommended watching videos on the different time periods in your class and reviewing your book to take notes on the most important events. Making sure you know what happened and the effect it had on the world around them. 

After making sure you have a good understanding on the major people and events from history, practice writing LEQs from old prompts to get a good grasp of how to use evidence and practice within the time restraints. 

Remember, these essays aren’t being graded on your grammar or word choice and how fancy they sound. Your job is to show them you have a good understanding of the events in history and you can properly answer the prompt written. 

Document Based Essay Question (DBQ)

The Document Based Essay is largely similar to the Long Essay Question, except for the fact that you have to examine documents. You do not need to know as much evidence on your own, since most of the evidence you are going to be using will be in the documents. However, you do need to know how to synthesize an argument based off of multiple sources.

Basically, the DBQ is an essay you write in a set amount of time. You have 15 minutes to examine 6 or 7 documents and start preparing your essay, and then 45 minutes to write the essay. Within the first 15 minutes, you want to think about what you can write to use for context, what you should make your thesis be, what evidence is in the documents, and what outside evidence you can use. Yes, this is a lot, and you can use some of the other 45 minutes you have to do this, but you want to have as much time as possible to write your essay.

College Board has a clear rubric laid out on their website for this essay. Before taking the AP test, either look through the rubric they have, or you can check our patreon as we will be posting a deep dive into the rubric on there, and we will be explaining everything you need and everything you should do to get all the points. We will also be posting an outline you can learn to use which will drastically help you in writing your essay.

Thankfully, you get points for what you do right, and College Board doesn’t take off points for what you do wrong. This means you can have false information in your essay, as long as you have correct information somewhere else that gets you the points. For this reason, you want to include whatever you can. Unless you know with 140% certainty that the outside evidence you include is correct, add at least 1 or 2 others to make sure you get the points for the outside evidence. You do not have to source every single document, but if you do the bare minimum and mess up, you are going to lose points on that. If you source every document, you are more likely to get all of those points.

To help yourself study for this section of the test, make sure to do practice DBQs. Look at various documents and learn to analyze them. Look at who wrote the documents or where they came from, and think about the different ways you can source them. Then, either check your essay against the rubric yourself or have someone else check your essay for you.

If you learn how to write the DBQ effectively, this section is going to be easy points for you to get on the AP test that will boost your score. Therefore, practice carefully and learn how to write this essay by either using the resources we will be adding on our patreon within the next month or examine the rubrics and the information in your textbook yourself to help you write this.

Thank you so much for reading the second post of our 2021 AP Test Prep series! We will be posting this series all through April and May, so let us know what you want us to write about. If you have any tips, please leave them down in the comments. If you found this post useful, make sure to leave a like. Don’t forget to follow our blog if you like our content, and subscribe to our rss feed to get notified every time we post. For more content from us, check out our social media linked down below! 

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