Expert Tips On Taking The AP European History Exam

Sophie Pertofsky
Jul 15, 2021

Sophie Flint has been tutoring with Simplifi EDU for over four years, specializing in AP European History. Sophie loves history so we decided to ask her opinion on why you should study history (even if you’re a math major!) and share some of her expertise on how to best study for and take the extremely challenging AP European History exam.

HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN TUTORING/TUTORING AP EUROPEAN HISTORY?

I tutored prior to working with Simplifi EDU, but I came in as an AP Euro History tutor and am going into my fourth year doing that.

CAN YOU TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCE WORKING ON AP EUROPEAN HISTORY WITH STUDENTS?

It’s been a great experience overall. European history is a difficult subject as you know, and I’ve worked with students who have had different needs: some who may have needed more help understanding concepts and facts whereas some needed more help with writing assignments or for some it was their first encounter with the critical thinking the test requires. Each student has had different strengths and weaknesses but share the difficulty of the course itself.

WHY DO YOU THINK THAT SO MANY STUDENTS STRUGGLE IN THIS CLASS?

It can be daunting because it covers a LOT of information - a huge period of time and an entire continent.

WHY IS THIS CLASS SO DIFFICULT?

There are two reasons why it’s super hard: first, the course is covering over 700 years of history between many periods, places, actors across Europe. That much material is so difficult to understand and memorize. Many students  who take this course haven't really touched on European history before, then all of a sudden they're deep diving into it.

It’s also the first AP course offered at many high schools - including Malibu High - so those methods of thinking, reading, writing, those freshmen have never learned. It’s a very deep dive into a subject that’s new; add to that the skills of having to know to write an ABQ, read a primary source, ect.. It’s all difficult and takes a lot of hard work, time, and patience to work through.

WHAT WAS YOUR EXPERIENCE TAKING AP EUROPEAN HISTORY IN HIGH SCHOOL?

At my high school, AP European History was offered senior year as an elective, which in my opinion was more beneficial than taking it freshman year.. My first AP course was human geography - I loved it and it got me interested in international things. I knew I would enjoy European history. I didn’t take it just because it was an AP class, I took it because I was interested in the subject. I did a lot of reading, pretty much every part of that textbook I was reading.

WHAT PERIOD OF EUROPEAN HISTORY DO YOU FIND THE MOST FASCINATING?

In addition to European history I love art history; I love where art intersects with history. While studying abroad I picked up on 17th Century European art - that’s when Europe started to explore and globalization picked up, and you can see that through the art. Vermeer painted daily life scenes in the Netherlands, for example, and through those scense you really get a glimpse of what Europe is up to at that time, where people are traveling, what they’re bringing back, etc. The European travel and trade as globalization started is fascinating to see through the art of the time.

WHAT DO YOU THINK ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT SKILLS FOR A STUDENT TO MASTER IF THEY WANT TO GET A 5 ON THE AP EUROPEAN HISTORY EXAM?

There are two parts of the AP European History test: writing and multiple choice. Writing skills are so important; there are certain ways to write and things to include in your response. Knowing the writing style and writing the correct way, you can even get some points even if you’re not confident you know what’s going on in the question. You can’t just answer the question; you have to do it the way the AP wants you to.

The essentials of knowing the AP writing style are being able to analyze the sources they give you and connect them, then write a thesis to back it up. When a grader goes through a response there are several possible points you can score, and hitting a few of the correct pieces can buy you points. For example: did you have a thesis? Did you cite six out of seven source docs? Are you able to identify a point of view using four analysis points? Even if you don’t remember what was going on in that time period, being able to at least include those essentials can help you score at least a few points.

Then you have the multiple choice section: you have to really read the questions carefully, and things like context and the process of elimination to answer those.

WHAT ARE YOUR PRO TIPS FOR SUCCEEDING IN AP EUROPEAN HISTORY?

Really practice your multiple choice questions to get a sense of what the questions will be like, and take practice tests. You can find some AP practice tests online.

To help prepare for the writing exam, I like to take a piece of paper and write a topic at the top, then go down and list every other related topic, person, issue, or time period that’s related to it, to help me think through how things are interconnected. That way I’m thinking through the ways in which elements of history are connected and who the players are, which is a lot of what the writing part of the exam is about.

WHY DO YOU THINK IT’S SO IMPORTANT TO STUDY HISTORY?

We can't understand ourselves and our world without understanding what's happened, both in the recent past, but also in the centuries before us that led to where we are now. Especially now, during a time that can feel very polarizing, history helps us learn from past experience that our neighbors, communities, or countries lived through. It helps us to understand others and where they've come from, whether they're from a European country or live just down the street.

WHAT’S ONE OF YOUR FAVORITE EUROPEAN HISTORY FUN FACTS?

Not necessarily a fun fact, but I think people often forget that Europe hasn't always looked the way it does now... most people are surprised to learn that Germany, as we know it as a whole country, did not become what it is today until the 1870s... Italy as well... we forget that this "national" sense of culture and place has not always been there. Remembering that Europe is a diverse and changing place helps us understand historical Europe and today's Europe.

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