How to Study for the AP World History: Modern Exam

The AP World History: Modern exam is a college-level AP exam developed by the College Board. It is taken in May upon completion of the equivalent AP course. This exam tests your understanding of historical concepts covered in the course units and your ability to analyze primary and secondary sources and identify patterns and connections that can support a historical interpretation. 

The best way to study for the AP World History: Modern exam is to create your own study plan and ramp up your studies as you get closer to the exam date. Taking the AP World History: Modern course is not sufficient test prep for most students. It’s important to create a personalized study schedule and take practice tests to check your progress. You’ll also want to understand what’s tested on the AP World History: Modern exam as well as how you’ll be tested. In this high-level guide, we discuss the exam’s format, expectations, and grading system. We also suggest some AP World History: Modern exam study resources to enhance your studies. 

What is Tested on the AP World History: Modern Exam?

The main goal of this exam is to test your ability to think like a historian. To that end, it’s important to review what is tested on the AP World History: Modern exam as well as how you’ll be tested – and graded. To succeed on this exam, you’ll need to go beyond the memorization of facts to demonstrate college-level abilities. 

The College Board has identified specific historical thinking skills, reasoning processes, and course themes you’ll be tested on during the AP World History: Modern exam. Below, we discuss and describe each of these exam elements.

Historical Thinking Skills

Thinking like a historian requires effective use of historical thinking skills, like the ones listed below. You’ll be expected to use these six historical thinking skills on the AP World History: Modern exam to earn a top score.

  1. Development and Processes: Can you identify and explain historical developments and processes?
  2. Sourcing and Situation: Can you analyze the sourcing and situation of primary and secondary sources? Can you discuss a source’s purpose, point of view, intended audience, and limitations (including bias or limited perspective)?
  3. Claims and Evidence in Sources: Can you identify and analyze a source’s key claims, arguments, credibility, and use of evidence? Can you compare arguments and explain how a source’s argument might be supported, qualified, or rebutted?
  4. Contextualization: Can you connect specific events and facts to wider settings and broader trends? Can you identify, describe, and explain how a specific development or process is situated within a larger historical context?
  5. Making Connections: Can you take advantage of the historical reasoning processes listed below to analyze patterns and connections between historical developments and processes?
  6. Argumentation: Can you put forward a defensible claim about a historical trend or development? Can you communicate this argument in the form of a clear and effective thesis, and can you back it up with specific historical evidence? Can you make connections within and between historical periods and different regions? Can you discuss the strengths and limitations of sources and arguments?

[ LISTEN: Barron’s AP World History: Modern Podcast Episode 2: “Six Historical Thinking Skills” on Apple and Spotify ]

Historical Reasoning Processes

The AP World History: Modern exam will also ask you to use historical reasoning processes when answering questions on the exam, especially in the essay section. You’ll want to keep these reasoning processes in mind as you formulate your answers to exam questions.

  1. Comparison: Analyzing likenesses and differences.
  2. Causation: Understanding cause and effect, assessing competing explanations for why something happens.
  3. Continuity and Change: Tracing a process or development over time, paying attention not just to what changes but also to what stays largely the same.

Themes in AP World History: Modern

The AP World History: Modern exam will test your mastery of facts and your critical and interpretive skills. There are six overarching themes you’ll want to study before taking the exam.

  1. Governance: What political forms do societies adopt, and who rules whom? What state building and administrative techniques do governments use to maintain order and exercise power? How and why do revolutions take place, and what impact do they have? Beyond monarchies, empires, and nation-states, what regional and international bodies—such as the United Nations—have exerted influence throughout history? How have expansion, conflict, and diplomacy affected history?

    [ LISTEN: Barron’s AP World History: Modern Podcast Episode 3: “Governance” on Apple and Spotify ]

  2. Cultural Developments and Interactions: What do societies believe religiously, philosophically, and politically? What artistic and intellectual traditions do they develop? How and when does the interaction of peoples lead to cultural sharing—or to cultural Clashes?

    [ LISTEN: Barron’s AP World History: Modern Podcast Episode 4: “Cultural Developments and Interactions” on Apple and Spotify ]

  3. Technology and Innovation: How have societies responded to the human desire for greater safety, prosperity, and efficiency? What techniques and devices have they adapted or innovated over time? What scientific insights and technological innovations have they developed? How have they coped with the intended and unintended consequences—cultural, socioeconomic, and environmental—of scientific and technological advancement?

    [ LISTEN: Barron’s AP World History: Modern Podcast Episode 5: “Technology and Innovation” on Apple and Spotify ]

  4. Economic Systems:  How do people in a society make a living? What goods and services do they produce, and what resources do they use? How do trade and commerce affect societies and the way they interact? What systems have societies used to organize labor? What impact have these systems, including industrialization, capitalism, and socialism, had on history?

    [ LISTEN: Barron’s AP World History: Modern Podcast Episode 6: “Economic Systems” on Apple and Spotify ]

  5. Social Interactions and Organization: Who has power and status within a society? What norms determine how a society’s members are grouped, which social classes exist, and how those classes interact with each other? Why do some societies lean more toward hierarchy and others toward social mobility? What roles do cities play in social and economic development? How are gender relations governed? How are ethnic and racial minorities defined and treated?

    [ LISTEN: Barron’s AP World History: Modern Podcast Episode 7: “Social Interactions and Organization” on Apple and Spotify ]

  6. Humans and the Environment: How has the natural world shaped the development of human societies, and how have humans, seeking resources and using various tools and technologies, shaped the natural world in return? Where have human societies migrated and settled, and how and why did they do so? How have diseases and ecological changes affected humans throughout history?

    [ LISTEN: Barron’s AP World History: Modern Podcast Episode 8: “Humans and the Environment” on Apple and Spotify ]

Time Periods on the AP World History: Modern Exam


In 2019, the College Board modified the AP World History exam and renamed it the “AP World History: Modern” exam. This updated exam focuses on human history worldwide, from 1200 C.E. to the present. The distribution of multiple-choice questions will be roughly even across time (with slightly less emphasis on the 1200–1450 period). The time periods tested on the AP World History: Modern exam are listed below.

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

What is the Format of the AP World History: Modern Exam?

The format of the AP World History: Modern exam is consistent with other AP history exams. Each section is timed, so it’s important to use your time wisely and keep an eye on the clock. The exam is 3 hours and 15 minutes long and is split into two sections. Section I consists of the multiple-choice sections and short-answer questions. Section II consists of the document-based question (DBQ) and long essay question (LEQ). There is a short break between sections I and 2.

Section I, Part A: Multiple-Choice Questions

In the first part of the AP World History: Modern exam, you’ll be asked to answer 55 multiple-choice questions in 55 minutes. Each question includes four answer options, and you’re asked to pick the one that best answers the question. The multiple-choice section of the AP World History: Modern exam is worth 40% of your total exam grade.

Section I, Part B: Short-Answer Questions

Immediately after the multiple-choice portion of the exam, you are asked to use content knowledge and historical thinking skills to provide written responses to three short-answer questions. The first two short-answer questions on the AP World History: Modern exam are required. You will then have the choice to complete the third or fourth question, so be sure to choose the one you feel most confident in answering. You will have 40 minutes to complete the short-answer questions, and it’s worth 20% of your total exam grade.

Section II, Part A: The Document-Based Question

The second section of the AP World History: Modern exam is 100 minutes long and asks you to write two essays: a document-based question (DBQ) and a long essay question (LEQ). You may write the essays in whichever order you wish, but we recommend starting with the DBQ. The document-based question (DBQ) on the AP World History: Modern exam requires you to perform well on two fronts. Not only does the essay itself have to be solid (complete with a good thesis), but you must demonstrate skillful handling of the provided documents. We recommend spending 60 of the essay section’s 100 minutes on the DBQ because of its complexity. The DBQ is worth 25% of your total exam grade.

Section II, Part B: The Long Essay Question

The long essay question on the AP World History: Modern exam will test a particular historical reasoning skill, such as comparison, causation, or the ability to track continuity and change over time. You will be presented with three LEQs and select one to answer. All three options will test the same historical reasoning skill and focus on the same course theme but cover a different time period. We recommend spending 40 minutes on the LEQ. It is worth 15% of your total exam grade.

AP World History: Modern Exam Study Resources

Listed below are some AP World History: Modern study resources we recommend as you prepare to take the exam.

Barron’s AP World History: Modern Exam Resources

  • AP World History: Modern Premium: Written and reviewed by AP experts, the latest edition of Barron’s AP World History: Modern Premium includes in-depth review and online practice. Sharpen your test-taking skills with five full-length practice tests, and get a leg up with tips, strategies, and study advice for exam day.
  • Barron’s Online Learning Hub: Register your Barron’s AP World History: Modern Premium book online for access to our exclusive online materials that complement your book. Simulate the exam experience with an online timed test option and check your learning progress with three online practice tests.
  • Barron’s AP World History: Modern Podcast: Get free, quick prep from Barron’s experts by studying with Barron’s AP® World History Podcast. In this educational podcast, we’ll discuss historical thinking skills and themes, explore the time periods covered on the exam, walk you through answering the different question types, pose questions and provide answers, and offer tips and strategies to help you succeed. This Barron’s podcast is available on Apple Podcasts, Audible, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and Stitcher.
  • Barron’s on Kahoot!: Put your world history knowledge to the test with free quizzes developed by Barron’s experts.

College Board AP World History: Modern Exam Resources

  • AP World History: Modern Course and Exam Description PDF: Download the College Board’s official course and exam overview to understand the full picture of this AP course and exam.
  • AP World History: Modern Free-Response Questions: Review the free-response questions from the 2021 AP World History: Modern exam. These questions include the short-answer questions, document-based-question, and long essay question. The College Board has posted these old questions to help you prepare for this year’s free-response questions.
  • AP Exam Policies and Guidelines: Review the College Board’s policies and procedures before you sit for the exam. Learn about exam fees, what to bring on exam day, and more.

AP World History: Modern Exam Scores

Like all AP exams, AP World History: Modern is scored on a scale of 1 to 5, with a score of 5 being the highest. The multiple-choice section of the exam is worth 40 percent of the overall score. The short-answer questions are worth 20 percent, the DBQ is 25 percent, and the LEQ is 15 percent. Grades for the exam are calculated according to a complex formula that converts raw scores from the multiple-choice and written portions of the text into a final standard score which we describe below. 

  • 5: Extremely well qualified. Accepted by most colleges and universities for some kind of academic credit or benefit. Earned in recent years by roughly 10% of students.
  • 4: Well qualified. Accepted by many colleges and universities for some kind of academic credit or benefit. Earned by roughly 15–20% of students.
  • 3: Qualified. Accepted by many colleges and universities for some kind of academic credit or benefit, but often of a limited nature. Earned by roughly 25–30% of students.
  • 2: Possibly qualified. Accepted by only a few colleges and universities for academic credit or benefit, generally quite limited. Earned by roughly 25% of students.
  • 1: No recommendation. Not accepted anywhere. Earned by roughly 15–20% of students.

How to Get a 5 on the AP World History: Modern Exam

Earning a 5 on the AP World History: Modern exam is no small feat. According to data from the College Board, less than 10% of students who took the exam in 2021 received a top score. To be one of the few students who excels on this exam, you’ll need to take your studying to the next level with curated tips and strategies from our experts. Review our top study tips for getting a 5 on the AP World History: Modern exam, according to our experts.

How Do I Earn College Credit from the AP World History: Modern Exam?

Universities and colleges vary in their policies regarding AP exams. Most schools will give college credit to students who score 3 or above on AP exams, but some will not give college credit no matter how high your score is. If you’re interested in earning college credit from your AP World History: Modern exam score, check the College Board’s AP Credit Policy or contact the school directly to see how you can receive college credit or advanced placement (meaning you could skip certain courses in college).

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