I am now an upcoming junior. I only learned about APs as a sophomore, and I wasn't even fully aware of all of the APs I was eligible to take (silly me, I thought I actually had to take the class to take the exam). In addition, I'm far from a history nerd. I don't exactly despise history, but history is definitely near the top in my list of least favorite subjects. Before I started studying for the APWH exam, I knew nothing about history. I don't read the news, I don't read books related to history, I don't read magazines, and I wasn't even sure what century the Great Depression took place in (yes, I know, I was oblivious and living in a hermit cave). That said, I'm not an expert on AP exams and you most definitely don't have to be one either to get a 5.
I did take a class for AP world history, but I never paid attention because I was a major slacker during sophomore year. Basically, I used APWH as my study/doodling period and didn't even know the difference between Mesopotamia and Egypt until two nights before the SAT. I /probably/ should have paid attention, but I never did so yeah, I never learned anything from that class. Oh well. I didn't feel like studying too much, and so I crammed for two nights before the AP world history exam and was still scoring low 50's on practice tests when I went into take the exam.
If you think you will have to memorize absolutely everything in your study guide, toss that idea out the window right now. You don't. Anyone who says you do is completely erroneous. In my world history class, I was not the only one who studied for the exam last minute. The difference between a 1 and a 5 lies in the way one approaches the exam. If you think of the AP world history exam as a memorization test, you may have trouble with the exam. APWH isn't memorization, it's an understanding of the nature of ourselves and those around us. THE BOOKS
I ended up buying Kaplan, 5 Steps to a 5, Barron's, and PR
. I regret wasting so much money. I never even finished reading Kaplan/5 Steps to a 5, and after attempting to read my whole AP world history textbook before the exam, I never got past page 2 of the material. Don't get millions of study guides and textbooks. Save your money for something cooler like Pokemon Leaf Green.
The best study guides are Barron's and Princeton Review. Princeton Review is succinct and probably has nearly all of the information you will ever have to know. Barron's is also very good, but I warn you, it has A LOT of excess information, and might not be the best book to read for crammers.
----------------------------------------------------------- THE EXAM AND HOW TO STUDY
For the AP world history exam, you don't need to memorize every single date (which I unfortunately didn't know until the morning of the exam, and ended up memorizing the whole history of Russia. Yeah, I was convinced that Russia would be part of a FRQ for some odd reason).
I would recommend reading through your study guide more than once. The first time around, get a general idea of location/culture/history of the places that are covered. Afterwards, focus on minorities, patterns in history, and interactions (which are pretty self-explanatory anyway). Don't force yourself to memorize every single date, and don't force yourself to memorize every single detail given to you in your study guide. If you can, that's great, but if you are short on time, then all you need to do is get a general idea of culture and other broad topics. One thing you should know very well is religion though. If you know the religion of an area during a certain time period, you will find it very easy to accurately guess your way through the exam.
Here is a good example of this:
I didn't study much about India, and I wasn't exactly sure what the Gupta even was. I just knew that Hinduism was the predominant religion at the time. If Gupta is predominantly Hindu, then Gupta was probably not a great place to live for women. If Gupta is Hindu, then it also obviously follows Hindu beliefs, which means sati (wife throwing herself on husband's funeral pyre) and the veil. I studied patterns throughout history and focused on minorities, and so I knew that if women didn't have much rights, they were probably unable to own property, and they probably were obligated to follow the orders of men.
Though I didn't study anything about the Gupta, I was able to do a lot of extremely accurate guesswork, and I was easily able to answer one of the previously released FRQs from collegeboard.
Going back to patterns in history: Like I said at first, do NOT think of history as a memorization process. When you study, remember that famous quote about history repeating itself (okay I've heard it a lot, but I don't actually know the quote word for word). Anyways, the quote is true. History DOES repeat itself, and it's up to you to notice this. If you know broad topics, culture, and know just enough about each kingdom/country/group/place, then you will know the place's history without having ever learned it, like I did with the Gupta Empire (and several others lol). STAY ON THE LOOKOUT FOR PATTERNS. If you know patterns, you won't need to know much else.
Before, Collegeboard had past FRQ on their AP website, but I don't see it now... If you glanced at them before though, you'd be able to realize this pattern.
Here's another example taken from this year's AP compare and contrast question:
Compare demographic and environmental effects of the Columbian Exchange on the
Americas with the Columbian Exchange’s demographic and environmental effects on
ONE of the following regions between 1492 and 1750.
After we got our scores, I asked my friends what had bothered them most about the AP exam, and they all seemed to say that the essays gave them the hardest time. One of my friends didn't even know what to write on this question and so they ended up doodling a story. At first I didn't know how to approach this question either, but I thought about it and I managed. Again, with some basic background knowledge and a lot of guesswork.
First of all, you should know what the Columbia Exchange was. In the most vague terms, it was basically a trade of everything between the Old and New World, and the question asks for the effects that happened from the time the trade started to 1750. I chose Europe, since most of my study guide had information pertaining to Europe.
When people find new land, what happens? They obviously want it. Why do they want it? Because it might profit them, bring their nation pride, etcetc.
As you can probably guess, that's exactly what happened. Nations sent their people to the Americas because they wanted land, and what the land could offer.
Now, what can land be used for again? Well in history, people find new land, like it, and settle in it. Therefore, we can guess that at least some people moved to the Americas. There you have your first effect: population change. If Europeans move to the Americas, then there is definitely going to increase in the Americas.
Second idea to tackle is trade, which is a huge part of history in whatever you study. Since most sugar was traded after 1750, you can't make that the foundation of your essay, but you know that you can mention it because when the Columbian Exchange began, people were starting to make plantations/etc. The making of plantations is definitely a demographic change right? Plantations need workers, and how do you get them? Well, use the natives. BUT we know this:
The Columbian Exchange was not only a way to trade food and animals, but also to trade ideas and, more importantly, disease. When Europeans came, they brought smallpox (a sickness), and though the Europeans were immune, the natives were not (how could they be, when they hadn't been exposed to it before, and let's not get into a discussion of natural selection). What happens when people with no immunity are exposed to a disease? That's right, the majority of them would probably fall ill and die. Therefore, we can infer that the population of NATIVES in the Americas fell, even though though Europeans were moving into the area.
I could continue on with a plethora of ideas that go along with this essay, but I think you understand my point. You don't HAVE to memorize everything about everything to ace the free response. Just get a general idea, understand patterns, use your common sense, and you'll be able to correctly guess your way through at least half the test.
The multiple choice is no different from the free response, except for the fact that it might actually be significantly EASIER. Again, if you go into the test with the mindset of memorizing everything you have to know, then you will end up approaching every question the same way... which is trying to search your brain for information you /might/ have skimmed over sometime in your past life. That's a huge waste of time. Don't do it.
The questions on the world history exam only have 4 answer choices (not 5 like most AP exams). This made me frolick because that's an increase from a 20 to a 25% probability of getting a totally random guess correct. If you can narrow down two answer choices, that's already a 50% chance of getting a guess correct.
Not just that, but if you focus on general ideas and patterns, the test will be even easier.
What I noticed is that a lot of the test was analysis. There are pictures, passages, quotes, and diagrams that you may have never seen in your life. If you try to think about where you might have seen these diagrams before, you'll most likely never find the answer you're looking for. I'm not even going to talk about the passage based questions, since those are a piece of cake. All you have to do is read, and choose an answer that matches the passage. No memorization involved, and you're given all of the information you need (like for the DBQ. I love the APWH DBQ for that very reason).
When you look at each multiple choice question, think about all of the answer choices. First of all, there will be some extremely obviously wrong ones, so cross those out immediately. If you're stuck, then think. What helped me was thinking about this:
"What is the nature of humankind? In this situation, what would a society do? What would cause this event to happen? What would be the inevitable outcome?"
Remember, people in history are only human. They aren't mystical creatures from Uranus that have ... mystical powers for a lack of better words. They make mistakes, they come up with wrong conclusions, they have their own beliefs, and they are included in the saying that history repeats itself.
Lastly, don't slack off too much. By "get a general understanding", I literally mean "get a general understanding". You can't get a 5 solely from guesswork. Like I said, don't waste your time memorizing the name of every Roman emperor before Diocletian, but you WILL need to get an idea of what went on and when it went on. You should know the religions (if any) of every area you cover, you should have some information about every place mentioned in your study guide, and you should know some major events and revolutions and deviations from normal patterns in history.
Here are some topics I would recommend going over before the AP (feel free to add to the list):
Big City-States/Kingdoms/etc (eg what happens when leaders want to expand?)
Inventions and Innovations in Technology (what was the motivation behind it? what is it used for?)
Interactions with the environment (environment is also a key in your guesswork, especially in earlier civilizations. If an environment cannot sustain a population, then what happens? What do people do to modify their environments? The environment tells us a lot about culture, money problems, invaders, government, innovation, etc)
Art and Sciences (again, culture)
Government, organization (and how effective they are)
Revolts and Revolutions (why are people displeased? what is the outcome of a revolt/revolution?)
etc. I'm too lazy to finish my list.
Anyways, I hope you get my point. To get a 5 on the APWH exam, you don't need to be a genius. You don't need to be a history whiz. You don't need to be an expert at taking APs. All you need is some background knowledge, common sense, and an understanding of society's interaction with its surroundings throughout history. Luckily for you, people, despite what others may say, are very similar to each other and often do the same things over and over again throughout history (and our daily lives as I constantly notice in my school hallways LOL).
Good luck with your AP endeavors! (and good luck to me with mine ohhowiwishapchemwaslikeworldhistory)
I probably can't answer any specific history-related questions (eg sorry, but I have no clue what dynasty silk was invented during...) but if you have any vague-ish questions I'd love to (try to) answer them. (:
And yes, I got a 5 on the exam. I finished the multiple choice with plenty of time left over to double and triple check my answers. On the FRQ section, I wrote 2-4 pages for each question (whereas my friend, who is a genius at history, decided to write enough to fill her whole booklet... which freaked me out big time) and I finished my essay early enough to edit and take a nap.