Is AP World History Hard? A Complete Guide | BestColleges (2023)

  • AP World History covers political, economic, cultural, and social history.
  • The College Board recently changed the class so it focuses on 1200 to the present.
  • The class builds strong analytical, research, and writing skills.
  • Students should ask teachers and former students about the class at their school.

More than 300,000 students took the AP World History exam in May 2020. And when the scores came back, World History ranked among the 10 hardest AP classes, based on the number of passing scores.

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Based on test scores, many students find the test harder than other AP exams. However, the class strengthens key skills for college-bound high schoolers, making it a valuable addition to many students' schedules.

What Does AP World History Cover?

AP World History covers economic, political, social, and cultural changes from 1200 to today. Learners evaluate primary sources, images, and other historical records to strengthen their understanding of history and historical inquiry.

In the past, AP World History covered a much larger time frame. In 2019, the College Board modified the exam and renamed it AP World History: Modern. In the future, students may be able to take AP World History: Ancient, in addition to the modern class.

The AP World History exam 2022 covers the following topics:

  • The Medieval World, 1200-1450
  • The Early Modern World, 1450-1750
  • The Modern World, 1750-1900
  • The Global World, 1900-Present

What Determines the Difficulty of AP World History? 3 Key Factors

How hard is AP World History?

Students can decide whether to sign up for AP classes based on the course material and their skills. Researching the pass rate for the AP World History exam also provides valuable information for students considering the class.

The Pass Rate

In May 2020, around 60% of AP World History test-takers earned a passing score. That falls below the average 71% pass rate for AP classes. In addition, a below-average number of World History test-takers earn a perfect score of 5.

Data from previous years indicates that AP World History ranks among the more difficult AP exams. However, the College Board recently modified the scope of the course and test, in part because the exam challenged students. In the future, test scores may increase as a result of the modifications.

AP Class/Exam Pass Rate (3 or Higher) Perfect Score (5)
AP World History 60.2% 9.2%
All AP Classes 71.13% 19.57%

Source: College Board

Fewer than 10% of test-takers receive a perfect score on the AP World History Exam. Compared to other AP classes, only half as many test-takers score a 5. However, that does not necessarily make AP World History one of the hardest AP exams. Instead, the difficulty depends a great deal on your teacher and school.

The Course Material

Before 2019, AP World History covered ancient through modern history. Students often struggled to cover so much material in one year. However, the College Board modified the exam in 2019 to cover 1200 through the present.

The course still covers a large amount of material, particularly compared with other AP exams. Learners examine global patterns of exchange, empire building, political revolutions, industrialization, and global conflict. The recent modification to the scope of the class helps educators and students prepare for the exam.

Your Subject Skills

AP World History appeals to learners with a certain skill set, including strong research, reading, and writing abilities. World history students must closely analyze documents, identify historical processes, and communicate their ideas clearly and effectively.

Specifically, the class pushes students to identify primary and secondary source claims, critically evaluate evidence, and develop arguments based on primary source documents. These skills prepare learners for other AP history courses and college-level history classes.

When Should You Take AP World History?

When do high schoolers typically take AP World History? The answer depends on the school. However, many schools offer world history in 10th grade. Students often study World History before taking AP U.S. History.

Since many students take AP World History as sophomores, it may represent one of their first AP classes. As a result, students may prefer to avoid taking multiple AP classes at the same time. However, high schoolers with more experience, including juniors and seniors who have taken AP classes, may take World History with other AP classes.

AP World History Exam: What You Need to Know

In May 2020, over 300,000 students took the AP World History exam. But fewer than 185,000 students earned passing scores on the test. The following table shows the score distribution for the exam.

AP World History
Exam Score Number of Students Percentage of Students
5 27,899 9.2%
4 69,065 22.8%
3 85,338 28.2%
2 79,086 26.1%
1 41,554 13.7%

Source: College Board

How Is the AP World History Exam Structured?

Students complete the AP World History exam over the course of 3 hours and 15 minutes. During that time, test-takers complete 55 multiple-choice questions, three short-answer questions, and two free-response questions.

The free-response section includes a document-based question, where students read multiple primary source documents to answer the prompt. The section also includes an essay question. The College Board provides sample questions and practice exams that provide examples of the exam format.

  • Section I (Part A): 55 Multiple-Choice Questions (55 Minutes)
  • Section I (Part B): 3 Short Answer Questions (40 Minutes)
  • Section II: 2 Free-Response Questions (1 Hour and 40 Minutes)

How Is the AP World History Exam Scored?

Test-takers receive a score on a 1-5 scale, with 5 representing the highest score and 3 a passing score. The College Board weighs each section of the World History exam differently.

The first section, which consists of multiple-choice and short-answer questions, makes up 60% of the final score. The second section, which includes a document-based question and an essay, makes up the remaining 40%.

Students often find the document-based question and essay more challenging. AP classes typically focus on these sections.

Section 1 60%
Multiple-choice Questions 40%
Short-answer Questions 20%
Section 2 40%
Document-Based Question 25%
Long Essay Question 15%

Source: College Board

AP World History: What Score Do I Need for College Credit?

The College Board considers a 3 on the AP World History exam a passing score. But that does not necessarily mean students will receive college credit for a 3.

Each college decides whether to grant credit for AP exams and what scores qualify. Most colleges that accept AP scores award credit for a 4 or 5 on the test. Some also grant credit for a 3.

Students considering AP exams can research the credit policy at their potential colleges.

Should I Take AP World History?

High schoolers often wonder which AP classes to take. AP World History remains a popular option, and the course covers an exciting period in history with scientific advances, imperial clashes, and social revolutions.

Students with strong research, analytical, and communication skills often thrive in AP World History. The class may challenge high schoolers with weaker writing skills. A large portion of the exam score comes from short-answer and essay questions.

Before signing up for AP World History, speak with teachers and past students at your school to learn more about the class.

Frequently Asked Questions About AP World History

Is AP World History worth it?

High schoolers choosing classes often wonder if a certain AP class will be worth the effort. In the case of AP World History, around 60% of test-takers earn a passing score and, potentially, college credit. The exam may save students thousands in college tuition, making it a worthwhile class.

Even for students who do not take the AP exam or earn a passing score, the class builds valuable academic skills. Learners analyze documents, craft evidence-based arguments, and strengthen their reasoning and analytical abilities. That makes AP World History worth it for any student.

Do colleges care about AP World History?

Many colleges award credit for AP exam scores. At some schools, passing scores on the World History exam may also meet general education requirements. Many colleges, for example, set a global perspectives requirement, which the exam may fulfill.

Taking World History can also demonstrate an interest in challenging, college-level coursework. Admissions staff may look for AP classes as a sign of academic rigor. As a result, taking AP classes can pay off -- even for students who do not take AP exams.

Does AP World History cover ancient history?

AP World History used to cover ancient history, but it no longer does.

The College Board made changes to the class in 2019 in response to teacher feedback and student test scores. The scope of the class, which used to stretch from the ancient world to today, presented many challenges for learners.

Currently, the College Board offers AP World History: Modern, which focuses on 1200 to the present. The organization may offer an AP World History: Ancient course in the future.


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