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Top 5 Changes in the AP World History Exam

The AP World History exam does not expect you to memorize countless events and names. The goal of the course is to recognize themes, patterns and interaction throughout history


Out with the old, in with the new. With 2017 looming around the corner, it is only a matter of time before your students face the new AP World History exam. While the test is still made up of two sections, there have been several major changes within these sections, ranging from less multiple choice questions to add short response questions and even a new course framework. You can rest easy though, as we’ll walk you through with the new exam. Let’s begin!

5. Short Answers

At the top of the list we’ll begin with short answer questions. This question type is the latest addition to the exam, so here is what you need to know:

  • They are found in Section 1. And by they, I mean four questions.

  • You’ll have 50 minutes to complete them.

  • Most importantly, these questions will test the student’s ability to recall historical evidence and information. Think of them as smaller essays.

I know, I know, students are exactly fond of writing. However, just consider this: flexibility. Instead of having to deal with the rigid structure of a multiple choice question, short answer responses give the students wiggle room to show that they truly know the material. Besides, even if the student knew little about the topic, he/she can still write something down and get some points instead of getting it flat out wrong just because they bubbled the wrong answer. Speaking of multiple choice questions...

4. Multiple Choice

While Multiple choice questions may appear intimidating, keep in mind that it is all about pacing yourself. Also, make sure that your students remember to bubble their answers


In exchange for the addition of short answer questions, several multiple choice questions were shaved off. And by shaved, I mean 15 questions. That’s right, your students can rest easy as there are now 55 multiple questions instead of 70. But before you can celebrate, keep in mind that students have approximately 55 minutes for the multiple choice section.

3. DBQ

While your students may have gotten less multiple choice questions, the Document Based Question (DBQ), is here to stay. Traditionally, DBQ provides the student with historical documents, images, charts, testimonies, etc (you know the drill) Once the student reviews all the documents, he/she begins to construct an essay using only the information provided by the documents.

Arguably the most defining trait of a DBQ is that the student was only allowed to use information provided by the documents. The long essays (we’ll get to that) asked that the student use their outside knowledge (AKA, what they learned in class) to craft an essay. Truth be told, if students could use more information aside what they were given, their essays could be much richer in context.

Or at least, that’s how it used to be.

The new DBQ requires the student to bring outside information to support their argument. In other words, instead of being solely limited to using the information provided by the exam, you are now permitted to use outside relevant knowledge, thus giving you flexibility to answer the question.

2. Essays

Pay close attention as this change is a BIG one. See, back when we were students, we were required to write not one, but TWO long essays (one comparative essay and one change over time/continuity essay). In these essays, you’ll have to use relevant historical knowledge to support your thesis. However, it seems as the test creators have been bestowed with a gentler heart, as students will now be required to write one long essay. In short, students will be offered a set of questions and have to select and answer one of them. Don’t get too comfortable though, as you only have 35 minutes to write an essay.

1. Core Framework

Back when I was a student, I frequently felt overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information I was presented with. With over 2,000 years of global history to cram for, it seemed impossible to learn all of it. Nonetheless, with discipline and hard work, I managed to pass the exam with a 5. But more importantly, it is important to let your students that its okay to ask for help. After all, that is what you’re there for.

One of the biggest challenges I faced was memorizing the information. Wait, hear me out.

I understand that the overall point of the exam is to understand, not cram. However, there were moments throughout the year that where I had to learn information that weren’t necessarily essential to the topic. For instance, let’s use the Age of Exploration as an example. We aren’t just talking about discovering (re-discovering if we’re being honest) the Americas, we are talking about the beginning of mass migrations of ideas, cultures, and people. Nonetheless, there was always two, three or even four names that we had to memorize, even if it was not completely useful to the overall topic. While that may not seem like much, it begins to add up once you consider all time periods and events that are covered in class.

In essence, the new exam focuses on the student’s ability to understand historical development and macro and micro interactions instead of nonessential topics. Basically, the student should be capable of understanding interaction, whether it is between tribes or countries. It is not about memorizing random names and dates. It is about understanding change in continuity. The exam expects you to recognize patterns and themes, and as long as your students can do that, they’ll be fine.

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