If you are considering taking the AP® European History course and exam, then you’ve probably already asked yourself, “Is AP® European History Hard?” It’s perfectly natural for you to want to seek an answer to a question like this and we guarantee that you’re not the only one. Despite how regularly AP® students ask this question, it can be rather difficult to find someone that will answer the question honestly.
That’s why we’re not going to beat around the bush here when it comes to AP® Euro difficulty. The answer is yes, AP® European History is hard. But that doesn’t mean a 5 is not achievable. It also doesn’t mean that the whole AP® Euro review process is not a worthwhile one.
This AP® Euro study guide will highlight how and why successfully passing the AP® European History exam is a difficult feat to accomplish. We will cover the key skills that are required to earn that 5 on the exam, analyze the ways that the AP® Euro exam differs from the other AP® exams you may be taking, and lay out all of the benefits of taking the AP® European History course.
Let’s get started!
By the Numbers
Statistically speaking, AP® Euro ranks somewhere in the middle. It’s not the most difficult AP® list on the AP® block, but it’s no walk in the park either. Let’s take a look at these numbers:
Those are the grade distributions for the years 2010 through 2015. As you can see, only 10.3 percent of people earned a five in the year 2015, while 26.1 percent of the AP® Euro test takers received a score of 1 on the exam for the same year. The mean score for all the years mentioned above comes to 2.78.
In other words, this is not an easy test to pass. Even though it may not be considered the most difficult AP® exam out there, you’re still going to have to stay on top of your studies for this one. None of this indicates that the AP® Euro exam is an impossible feat. So, that’s ultimately good news.
Even if you’re not the kind of European history buff who owns the name of every single English monarch by name and in successive order, you can still use AP® European History study guides to your advantage and score a 5 when it comes to test day
Why is AP® European History Difficult?
Before we go full-blown into the nitty-gritty details of the AP® Euro exam itself, we wanted to let you in on the difficult nature of the AP® Euro course and exam. Let’s take a look at the course name: AP® European History.
The name indicates a massive time period. The name can apply to a rather vast array of topics and ideas. But don’t worry too much; you will not be responsible for European history in its entirety. Since college-level courses rarely expect you take all of European history in a single semester, neither does the CollegeBoard.
When going through your AP® European History review process, it would be a good idea to remember that the course is broken up into four important periods, approximately beginning with the year 1450. They are
• Period 1: 1450 to 1648
• Period 2: 1648 to 1815
• Period 3: 1815 to 1914
• Period 4: 1914 to the Present
Even though you will not be held responsible for knowing the entirely of European history, the amount of content for AP® Euro is still massive. In its AP® European History Course Overview packet, CollegeBoard describes the course in these terms:
The AP® European History course focuses on developing students’ understanding of European history from approximately 1450 to the present, The course has students investigate the content of European history for significant events, individuals, developments, and processes n four historical periods, and develop and use the same thinking skills and methods (analyzing primary and secondary sources, making historical comparisons, chronological reasoning, and argumentation) employed by historians when they study the past. The course also provides five themes (interaction of Europe and the rest of the world; poverty and prosperity; objective knowledge and subjective visions; states and other institutions of power; and individual and society) that students explore throughout the course in order to make connections among historical developments in different times and places.
This is all just a really long and complicated way of saying that AP® Euro students are going to have to know more than the important dates and names in Europe’s past. There is a method to studying and writing history and this method is something that the CollegeBoard wants AP® Euro students to learn. On top of learning how to think and work like a professional historian, AP® Euro students have several central themes that they need to be aware of throughout the entire course.
These themes(interaction of Europe and the rest of the world; poverty and prosperity; objective knowledge and subjective visions; states and other institutions of power; and individual and society)may or may not apply to whatever time period or topic you are discussing for the moment. With this in mind, studying a single topic could mean that you have to look at that topic from five different angles. For example, the rise and fall of Napoleon Bonaparte touches on all five of these themes, meaning that you have to understand more than just how his military maneuvers affected the battlefield.
There is another aspect of the AP® Euro exam that can strike fear in just about any AP® student’s heart: the DBQ. DBQ stands for Document Based Question and is a rather difficult aspect of the AP® Euro exam. The DBQ is in the essay-writing section of the exam, where students are expected to write a clear and concise essay that revolves around six or seven primary-source documents.
The point of the DBQ is for you to show that you understand the complexities of the historical narrative being discussed. That means structure and argumentation matter nearly as much as the evidence you use. This is no easy task and scare off even the most stalwart AP® student.
Even though the DBQ is a huge pain you can master it with hard work and dedication. One of the first steps to achieving this is to understand how the DBQ and the AP® Euro exam are structured.
If you want to master the AP® Euro exam, understand how the exam is structured. This piece of advice actually applied to every AP® course and exam you may be interested in taking, but it is especially true of AP® European History.
Here is how the exam breaks down:
• Section I — Part A: Multiple Choice — 55 questions; 55 minutes
• Section I — Part B: Short-Answer Questions — 4 questions; 50 minutes
• Section II — Part A: Document-based Question — 1 question; 55 minutes (includes a reading period with a suggested time of 15 minutes)
• Section II — Part B: Long Essay Question — 1 question (chosen from a pair); 35 minutes
If you haven’t already done so, look through the AP® European History Course Overview and the AP® European History Course and Exam Description for a thorough outline of how both the AP® Euro course and exam works. When reading through these, you’ll notice that the exam is broken down into two major components, the multiple-choice/short-answer section and the DBQ/long essay section.
The multiple-choice section consists of 55 questions where you will be expected to examine excerpts from various historical works and answer corresponding questions regarding the piece. These will be stimulus based questions and may come from either primary or secondary sources, so you will have to understand not only the events of the past but how historians themselves have interpreted those events. You will be given just under one hour to complete this portion.
Then comes the short-answer section. Unlike the DBQ or the long essay, these short-answer questions do not require a thesis. The expectation, however, is for you to understand the topic at hand. You may be asked a question or two about a primary-source document or you could be asked to explain the reason a certain event occurred.
Here’s an example question for the short-answer section of the exam:
Answer parts a, b, and c.
a) Briefly explain ONE important similarity between the wards of religion in France and the English Civil War.
b) Briefly explain ONE important difference between the wars of religion in France and the English Civil War.
c) Briefly analyze ONE factor that accounts for the difference you identified in part B.
The questions vary, which means you have to study hard for this section of the exam.
Like we stated above, the DBQ stands for Document-Based Question and is arguably the most difficult part of the AP® Europe Exam. You will have 55 minutes to answer a single question. Your answer is going to revolve around 6 or 7 primary-source documents that range between photographs, letters, legal cases, etc.
But the answer you provide is going to have to be in a concise essay format with a thesis that covers nearly every single document and shows that you understand the complexities of the historical narrative provided. That means structure and argumentation matter nearly as much as the evidence you use.
The final part of the exam will probably feel like a cake-walk after finishing the DBQ. This part of the AP® Euro exam will have you write a long essay on a broad topic. Critical thinking and historical analysis are important in these, all while the evidence you choose to use is mostly up to you. Like the DBQ, organization and the creation of a strong thesis are essential components of this part of the AP® Euro exam. Here’s an example question:
“Analyze whether or not the revolutions of 1848 can be considered a turning point in European political and social history.”
Whether you choose to take the course at school or do your own AP® European History review process, you are going to want to get a solid grasp on the historical thinking skills associated with the AP® Euro course and exam.
It goes without saying that AP® European History covers the history of Europe. But some events are more important than others. For example, you do not really need to know that Karl Marx met with Friedrich Engels in the Chetham’s Library in Manchester, England. Instead, any good AP® Euro study guide will tell you how their book, The Communist Manifesto, changed the face of social and political movements of the modern era.
So, of course, the dates and names of Europe’s past will be important when you start studying for the AP® Euro exam, but the emphasis really should be on the historical thinking skills that come with studying the past.
The CollegeBoard indicates these central historical thinking skills as:
• Analyzing Evidence—using and interpreting evidence from the past as a way to create historical narratives.
• Interpretation—understanding that the past can be interpreted and constructed.
• Comparison—viewing events and peoples in relation to one another rather than seeing the past as a series of isolated incidents.
• Contextualization—understanding that events occur for a reason and those reasons are based within a context.
• Synthesis—students will make connections and use a diverse set of documents and arguments to create an understanding of the past.
• Causation—events and ideas have both long and short-term causes.
• Patterns of Continuity and Change—understanding that even though something like a war can be devastating, the underlying causes of that war may not have disappeared with the signing of a treaty. Or vice versa.
• Periodization—the history can be broken up into definable periods.
• Argumentation—that as a student of history, you too can create and argue for a historical narrative using evidence from the past.
In other words, even though students of AP® European History explore a rather large cross-section of places and events, the actual content of the course revolves around the development of key critical-thinking skills.
On top of this, students will be held responsible for understanding the central themes of every time period covered. These include, the interaction of Europe and the rest of the world, poverty and prosperity, objective knowledge and subjective visions, states and other institutions of power, and individual and society.
In other words, there’s a lot more to knowing about Adolf Hitler than that he was the leader of the Nazi Party.
This is perhaps one of the best qualities of the AP® Euro course and exam—you don’t really need a strong background in history. You just need to be able to read.
But then again, this is easier said than done. Expect to do some high-level thinking in this AP® course. You will be expected to go deep into the past. Your ability to memorize dates and names is less relevant than your ability to critically analyze the events of the past. Not only will you have to examine and become familiar with the most important battles, thinkers, and political ideologies, but you will also have to determine the presence of any central theme that may create a deeper understanding of both and how why these events in Europe’s past occurred. In this regard, critical thinking ability and analytical skills are also highly desirable for students interested in AP® Euro.
Granted, using content analysis and critical-thinking skills when studying the past isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But if you are determined to get this course done and score a five on the exam, you can totally achieve this goal without much experience in using these skill sets in your past reading endeavors.
In fact, the CollegeBoard doesn’t really indicate any specific requirements for anyone interested in taking the AP® Euro course. All you really need is your notebook, your thinking cap, and a strong interest in Europe’s past.
Is AP® European History Worth It?
We know that we’ve spent all of this time explaining how difficult the AP® Euro review process can be, but don’t be dismayed. This course and exam is totally worth it. Plus, with hard work and dedication, acing the exam is within anyone’s reach.
In terms of academics and intellectual merit, the AP® Euro exam will help you across the board when it comes to just about any high school or college-level class. The content analysis and critical-thinking skills that are covered in this course are absolutely necessary for your future life as a student. Whether you want to be a professional historian or an astrophysicist, you will be expected to think deeply and critically. These are the skill that AP® Euro excels at helping you develop.
Another excellent reason to take AP® Euro is that it will help you out as a writer. You will develop a deep and meaningful understanding of how to create, organize, and thoughtfully execute an argumentative essay. The conceptual and interpretive nature of history is built into the AP® Euro course and exam. In other words, you will become a better writer in the end and excellent writing skills are sought after in pretty much every single classroom and job place.
Just in the nature of studying the past, you will also begin to understand the present. The core themes of the AP® Euro course, including those associated with social and state structure, will help you develop a unique and well-rounded understanding of the complex world we live in. You will walk away from this course understanding better how modern political systems operate, the reasons the societies may or may not get along, and why we are where we are. These are indispensable tools to sharpen.
On top of these, as with any AP® course, passing the AP® Euro exam will save you money. College is getting crazy expensive and if you can chip away at your coursework now, you should do it. True, AP® Euro is difficult, but all of these opportunities make it a completely worthwhile venture.
Start getting familiar with Europe’s past. Pick up a textbook or a really good history article written and just dive right in. You can never have too much information floating around in that head of yours if you are truly interested in taking AP® European History.
Once you’ve decided that you want to take the exam, the best thing to do is ask your school about taking the AP® Euro course. Make sure that you’ve met all of the requirements that your school has set into place for all the AP® Euro students.
If your school does not officially offer an AP® Euro class, you may be able to work with administrators and history teachers for an independent study course. They may be able to design you an AP® history study guide that will provide an overview that you can use to guide your studies on your own.
There is always the option of not attending any sort of AP® Euro course and taking the exam anyways. If you do go this route, make sure that you are using a good AP® European History review guide like those offered by Albert.io and stick to a solid study schedule. The AP® Euro exam is already hard enough, so you’ll want any and all that help you can get.
Even though this is a difficult exam, AP® Euro is not impossible. You’ll need to work on those reading, analytical, and composition skills, but these will definitely work to your advantage in your future college endeavors.
What do you think, is AP® European History difficult? Let us know about your experiences with the whole AP® Euro review process and what has worked and not worked out for you.
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