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How to Pass the AP European History Exam

Updated on June 5, 2015
Juan de Pareja, a popular subject on both the AP Euro exam itself and the textbook for some.
Juan de Pareja, a popular subject on both the AP Euro exam itself and the textbook for some.

Introduction: The AP European History Exam

One of the biggest misconceptions about the AP Euro exam is that you have to acquire an immense amount of knowledge about European history just to be successful. As a teacher who has taught AP European History for the past seven years, let me say that nothing could be further from the truth. Let's be clear: you do have to know the basic themes and time periods of the subject. However far too often I have seen students who are unsuccessful in their attempt to pass the exam spend too much time focusing on cramming details and a major dates into their heads. They seem to think that memorizing dates and important people will guarantee them at least a 3 on the exam. They focus all of their time on preparing for the multiple choice section of the exam and leave the most important part left to chance: the essays.

Let's take a look at the exam itself and see how a student can ensure his/her greatest chance of success. The exam consists of three timed parts:

  1. The multiple choice section
  2. Document Based Question (DBQ), and
  3. The free response section (essay).
  • Each section is grade separately as a raw score and then added together to get the overall raw score.
  • Depending on the year and the number of students taking the exam, a raw score of 65 for all three sections combined should be enough to pass.
  • That raw score is then converted into the grading scale used by the college board to determine whether or not you have displayed enough proficiency to earn college credit for the course.
  • The grading scale progresses from 1-5. One being the lowest score you can achieve (basically if you spell your name correctly you receive this score) to five being the highest score possible.

For our purposes we will focus on achieving a minimum score of 3 because that is the lowest you can score to get college credit. It should be noted that a 3 does not automatically ensure college credit, that is determined by the college that you apply to. However it is good enough for most colleges and universities in the U.S.

AP Euro Strategies for Success

So how can you be successful on the AP Euro exam? Let's go through a breakdown of each section and some useful tips that I've written up for each one.

The Multiple Choice Section:

First things first: Stop focusing on the multiple choice portion of the exam.

There are some truths that a student should understand:

  • No matter how good your teacher is, he/she cannot possibly cover every single detail of 400 years of history in one year. At least not to the level that allows you to get every question correct on the multiple choice portion. I have always told my students that if you get just 50% (40 questions out of 80) correct you are doing very well.
  • Questions are randomly chosen and could cover details that your teacher did not cover. But do not fear. You are not penalized that much for a wrong answer. Your raw score is based on the number you get correct, not on the number you missed! For every right answer you get 1.25 points, but for every wrong answer you are just penalized .25 of a point (you get no points for leaving the question blank). So even if you miss half of the questions you come out ahead. So, just guess. You might luck up and pull a few correct answers from questions you have no clue about. Either way, you come out ahead in the long run.

So, if you get just 30 questions right you receive a score of 25. Sounds pretty bad, right? But read on.

The Document Based Question (DBQ)

The most important part of the exam is the Document Based Question (DBQ). It is an essay question based on documents (usually between 12 and 16) provided to the student at exam time.

Here is the big secret about the DBQ: you do not need to know anything about history to score well on this portion of the exam. That is because the skills that the DBQ is assessing are not historical skills at all. Rather it asses the skill set of interpreting the documents themselves:

  • Can the student group documents into certain categories?
  • Does the student use most or all of the documents to support his essay answer?
  • Does the student understand what the documents say?
  • And perhaps most importantly, does the student understand the document writers point of view?

The DBQ is also the only portion of the exam that gives bonus points:

  • Once you have reached the basic criteria of six categories for the question (i.e. grouping, POV, and understanding) then extra points are given for doing such things as giving extra groups, POV's and using all of the documents provided.
  • The DBQ is then given a raw score (1-9) based on those criteria. That score is then multiplied by 4 to give your overall raw score for the DBQ. For example a 6 equals a raw score of 24 and a 7 equals 28 and so on.
  • Remember that an overall raw score of 65 usually gets you a 3 on the exam itself. So if you score a 7 on the DBQ you get a 28. Add that to your multiple choice score and you now have a raw score of 53.

You are over halfway home (remember, we are striving for a 65) and you have not even taken the last part of the exam.

The Essays

The final section of the exam consists of two sets of three questions from various periods of European history. The student chooses one question from set one and writes an essay on that question. He/she then chooses another question from the second set of three and writes that essay.

The same scoring rules apply for this section as it did from the DBQ section: Each essay is graded 1-9 and then multiplied by 4 to get the raw score for each essay. The section is then added to the previous two and the final overall raw scored is given. So even if you score just a 4 on each essay you will receive a section raw score of 32. Add that to your previous two sections and you have a total raw score of 85, which is well above what is needed to get a final grade of 3.

Though it may look like you do not need to prepare for this section, you should realize that there are things you can do to help yourself.

  1. A clear thesis. First, always write a clear thesis statement in your first paragraph. The people who score the essay portion of the exam read approximately 100 essays a day. Your goal is to make it easy for them. If your reader has to hunt for the thesis and your handwriting is terrible and you cannot take time to spell things correctly, then your reader is more likely to try to find mistakes in your essay. The more he finds the lower your score.
  2. Five structured paragraphs. Also, write a five paragraph essay with an opening paragraph and a concluding one. This helps you to organize your essay and thoughts and makes it so much easier for the reader to follow along. Remember, make it easy on him.
  3. Be straightforward. Lastly, don't try to be funny. Don't try to impress your grader with words you probably don't even understand and most importantly don't BS. AP readers are at the top of their profession and find it very insulting that a high school student would try to pull the wool over their eyes, so to speak.

There are other things you can do to help your cause: Get a good nights rest before the exam. Eat a good breakfast. And don't forget, above all: stay positive!

Hopefully this has answered a few questions about the exam and helped with taking the exam itself. Good Luck!

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    • profile image

      Ginny 6 years ago

      Thank you so much for this! I've been panicking about the MEH test for a week, and this really helped to calm me down. I'm feeling much more optimistic now.

    • profile image

      Alex 6 years ago

      I'm taking the test today and luckily I'm European so much of the knowledge is common sense for me. I've been scoring around 50-55 on the MC and getting solid 4-6 on the DBQ and FRQs. Hopefully I'll get the 4 I want.

    • profile image

      All-Nighter To Come 6 years ago

      omg thank you!!!!! i was so freaked for the test tomorrow but u made me feel loads better. im rlly good at the DBQs so im rlly glad that's the most important thing!! thank you again!!!!

    • profile image

      Mae 6 years ago

      Test tomorrow. Thank you so much, been cramming so much my head HURTS. Thanks for the boost of confidence. Aiming for at least a 3. :D

    • profile image

      Pallavi 6 years ago

      I have the exam tomorrow. If what you're saying is true, I think i love you.

    • profile image

      I should be studying 6 years ago

      im taking tomorrow and thursday off school. basically failed my FRQs in my practice today YOLO

    • profile image

      IHOPEIGETA5 6 years ago

      A good site that calculates your score is

    • profile image

      I Probably Should Be Studying. 6 years ago

      I am not ready for this exam on friday at all... i should be studying right now but i honestly have no idea where to start. I took a practice exam and scored a 4, but I was dangerously close to a 3. I got 43/80 correct on the multiple choice, an 8 on the DBQ, and a 3 & 4 on the FRQs. That was really impossible for me to do... As you can see, I fail at knowing content. The only thing keeping me from getting a 3 on the exam was the DBQ, which requires no knowledge whatsoever. Hopefully I can b-s it on the real thing this Friday. And the DBQ better be easy. Otherwise I'm failing.

    • profile image

      8th period 6 years ago

      I have a great teacher for this class, and he expects a 100% pass rate! This really helps! Thanks(:

    • profile image

      me 6 years ago


    • profile image

      european_potra 7 years ago

      thank you soo much!

    • profile image

      john jay jones 7 years ago

      thanks, whooo. we took a mock test with our teacher, i did the math and i pass it...... now the real one to come :/

    • profile image

      Jalen Sarratt 7 years ago

      this is so helpful i have been stressing for about this exam! but with mutliple choice if you get one wrong no points are deducted!

    • profile image

      thrint 7 years ago

      Whether or not your letter grade goes up depends on your school. Some school assess a higher grade point for AP classes, while others let them stand and allow the college you apply to modify the grade.

    • profile image

      jojo 7 years ago

      this helped tons thanks. is it true that in an ap class if you have a B as overall your grade goes to a A? only B

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      My teacher gave us a sheet with how they calculate the scores and I feel the one she gave us had a different scale to pass. The FRQs are multiplied by 3 point something and it requires a lot higher than a 65 to pass?

    • profile image

      Zach 8 years ago

      Thank you so much for this, it's really calmed my nerves!

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      I know someone who wrote "WTF" on his essay hahaha. Thanks a ton for this article. Made me feel loads better. I know I'm screwed for the essays but the dbq and multiple should let me pass... I hope... hahaha


    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      Holy s***, thank you soooo much. I'm about to take my exam soon and I agree with golj, this REALLY boosted my confidence and helped me gauge what I should know, Now I won't have to stress about learning what happened on what specific year and all that junk and just get the main idea, thank you sooooooooooooooooooo much!

    • profile image

      golj120 8 years ago

      Thank you so much for posting this! I've been studying like crazy for my euro test and I've been so worried. Your article really put things in perspective for me and now I feel a bit better about taking the exam. Thank you!!!

    • profile image

      WKoppin 8 years ago from Michigan

      Very insightfull; I still abhor the fact that less learning and more testaking is at work in education


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