AP Art History: Everything You Need to Know

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Advanced Placement (AP) classes introduce high school students to the rigor of college coursework. You’ll prepare for the challenge of college classes by honing skills like analytical thinking, evidence-based writing, and studying.

As a bonus, you can show college admissions officials that you’re capable of succeeding in college, and you can even earn college credit. There are 38 AP history courses, and one of them is AP Art History.

If you’re thinking about taking AP Art History, it’s important to do your research and make sure the class is the right fit for you. Luckily, we’ve done all the research for you! This guide will tell you everything you need to know about AP Art History.

AP Art History Overview

In AP Art History, you’ll explore art from prehistory to the present across six continents. You’ll research, read, discuss, and write about art, artists, and your responses to and interpretations of art. You’ll analyze art from a visual, contextual, and comparative standpoint. In addition to analyzing individual works of art, you’ll develop an understanding of patterns and connections across history.

As an AP Art History student, you’re expected to know 250 pieces of art, called the AP Art History 250. You’ll learn facts about each piece of art, its creation, and how it fits into the larger picture of art history.

AP Art History Skills and Content

The College Board expects students to master both “art historical thinking skills” and course content.

Art Historical Thinking Skills

AP Art History students should develop the following art history thinking skills, which will form the basis of many tasks on the AP exam:

  • Visual Analysis- Ability to identify works of art and describe visual elements including form, style, materials, technique, and content. You must also explain how artistic decisions about these visual elements shape a work of art.
  • Contextual Analysis- Ability to describe contextual elements of a work of art, such as function, subject matter, and reception. You’ll also explain how intent or purpose shapes the creation or meaning of a work of art, how and why context influences artistic decisions, and how these decisions elicit a response or shape the piece’s reception.
  • Comparison of Works of Art- Ability to describe similarities and differences in two or more works of art, including how they are similar and/or different in the way they convey meaning.
  • Artistic Traditions- Ability to explain how and why a work of art demonstrates continuity or change within an artistic style, tradition, or practice and its meaning or significance. You’ll also explain the influence of art on other artistic production within or across cultures.
  • Visual Analysis of Unknown Works- Ability to describe form, style, materials, technique, and content of an unfamiliar work of art. You’ll also describe how these artistic decisions shape the work of art.
  • Attribution of Unknown Works- Ability to attribute a work of art to a specific culture, style, or artist. Justify your reasoning by explaining similarities with other works of art by the artist or within that culture or style.
  • Art Historical Interpretations- Ability to describe multiple art historically relevant interpretations of a work of art, its reception, or its meaning.
  • Argumentation- Ability to articulate a defensible claim about a work(s) of art using specific, relevant evidence. Explain how the evidence justifies the claim.

Course Content

AP Art History course content covers five big ideas and is divided into ten units.

The big ideas are:

  • Culture
  • Interactions with other cultures
  • Theories and interpretation
  • Materials, processes, and techniques
  • Purpose and audience

Course content is organized into the following ten units, which are listed alongside their weighting on the multiple-choice portion of the AP Art History exam:

  • Unit 1: Global Prehistory, 30,000-500 BCE (4%)
  • Unit 2: Ancient Mediterranean, 3500 BCE- 300 CE (15%)
  • Unit 3: Early Europe and Colonial Americas, 200-1750 CE (21%)
  • Unit 4: Later Europe and Americas, 1750-1980 CE (21%)
  • Unit 5: Indigenous Americas, 1000 BCE-1980 CE (6%)
  • Unit 6: Africa, 1100-1980 CE (6%)
  • Unit 7: West and Central Asia, 500 BCE-1980 CE (4%)
  • Unit 8: South, East, and Southeast Asia, 300 BCE-1980 CE (8%)
  • Unit 9: The Pacific, 700-1980 CE (4%)
  • Unit 10: Global Contemporary, 1980 CE to Present (11%)

As you explore art across time periods and around the globe, you’ll apply the big ideas listed above to the content you’re learning. It’s a lot of ground to cover, but knowing what to expect from the start can help you manage and succeed.

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Is AP Art History Hard?

Ultimately, the difficulty of any class is a matter of opinion. Like every AP course, AP Art History is designed to challenge you. But some students will struggle more than their peers, while others will excel more than others.

AP Art History covers many places, time periods, and works of art, and it requires you to use a range of skills. You need to know about art styles and techniques, artists, regions, how art and culture are interconnected, and more. You must also apply skills like reading, research, critical and analytical thinking, and writing. For these reasons, AP Art History is generally considered more difficult than the average AP class.

Now, let’s look at some more objective measurements to judge the difficulty of AP Art History. You probably know that every AP course concludes with an AP exam. Your score on the exam determines whether you’ll receive college credit, and how much college credit you’ll earn. Scores range from 1 (the lowest) to 5 (the highest), and a 3 is required to pass.

The pass rate for the AP Art History exam is 55%. Compared to other AP exams, this pass rate is below average. Only 12 AP exams have a lower pass rate than AP Art History. These include AP U.S. History, AP English Literature and Composition, and AP Physics 1.

Here’s a full score breakdown for AP Art History:

  • 5: 12%
  • 4: 19.6%
  • 3: 23.8%
  • 2: 30.1%
  • 1: 14.6%

On message boards like College Confidential and Reddit, AP Art History students say that the most difficult part about the class (and the exam) is the high volume of information you need to know. However, many students agree that most of the course material and exam questions are straightforward.

It’s also a good idea to find out whether AP Art History is difficult at your school specifically. Get feedback from current or former AP Art History students. Ask about the classwork, homework, teacher, and the difficulty of both the course and the exam. Was the workload manageable? Was the class interesting? Did they feel prepared for the exam? Would they recommend AP Art History to others?

As you consider the difficulty of AP Art History, remember that your own skills and interests are perhaps the most important factor. If you’re interested in art history, you’ll have more motivation to learn the material and may find the course easier and more enjoyable. Are you good at retaining information? Do you like analyzing art? Do you have a solid background in history? All these factors will impact how challenging the course is for you.

AP Art History Exam

The AP Art History exam is a three-hour exam that measures your mastery of the skills and content covered in the course. It includes a multiple-choice section and a free-response section.

Multiple-Choice Section

You have one hour to answer 80 multiple-choice questions, and it accounts for 50% of your exam score.

The questions cover content from all 10 units and are based on color images of works of art. Some of the questions are individual, while others appear in sets of 2-3.

You’ll be asked to compare two or more works, analyze art historical interpretations, attribute works of art, and analyze the visual and contextual elements of works of art and link them to a larger artistic tradition.

Free-Response Section

You have two hours to answer six free-response questions, and it accounts for 50% of your exam score. The question types are:

  • Question 1- A long essay that asks you to compare a provided work of art and another work of art of your choice, explaining the significance of the similarities and differences and citing evidence to support your claim
  • Question 2- A long essay that asks you to select and identify a work of art and make evidence-based assertions about it
  • Question 3- A short essay that asks you to describe a work of art beyond the image set and connect it to an artistic tradition, style, or practice
  • Question 4- A short essay that asks you to describe the contextual influences of a work of art in the image set and explain how context influences artistic decisions or affects the meaning of a work of art
  • Question 5- A short essay that asks you to attribute a work of art beyond the image set to a particular artist, culture, or style, then justify your assertions with evidence
  • Question 6- A short essay that asks you to analyze the relationship between a provided work of art and a related artistic tradition, style, or practice

The multiple-choice section of your exam is scored by a computer. College professors and experienced AP teachers will evaluate your written responses. Your scores on the two sections are combined to form a composite score, which is converted into a 5-point scale. You’ll receive a report of your final score, and it will be sent to any colleges that you designated as score recipients when you took the exam.

How to Study for the AP Art History Exam

Throughout the school year, you’ll build foundational skills and knowledge for the AP Art History exam in the classroom.

Pay attention and take notes, then review your notes weekly. Keep a comprehensive binder of your notes and in-class work that you can read through periodically. If you struggle with a particular skill or topic, talk to your teacher or work with another student who excels in the class.

As your AP exam approaches, you’ll have to turn your studying up a notch.

Here’s what we suggest:

  • Start studying about 1.5 months before the exam.
  • During the first week of test prep, gather your notes and materials. (This part should be easy if you’ve kept an organized binder throughout the class.) Organize your notes in chronological order if they aren’t already. If any notes are missing, fill them in.
  • Purchase a test prep book that includes a practice test(s).
  • During the second week, take a full-length practice exam to assess your knowledge. Make a note of the questions that gave you difficulty and find your corresponding notes. Similarly, make a note of the questions that came easy to you. This will help you determine what to closely study and what to lightly review.
  • During the third and fourth weeks, complete another review of your notes and study materials, including your test prep book. Pay particular attention to the skills and topics that challenge you. After completing each topic, answer relevant practice questions.
  • Meanwhile, answer sample free-response questions and become comfortable with the format.
  • If any skills or topics are still especially difficult, work on them with your teacher or a study group.
  • In the last two weeks of your test prep, take another practice test. Make a note of where you’ve improved and where you’re still struggling.
  • Use your final week to focus only on any remaining area(s) of concern and answer a final set of free-response questions.
  • The night before the test, resist the urge to do any final studying. Relax and get a good night’s rest before taking your AP Art History exam.

By going into the exam feeling confident and prepared, you’ll improve your performance and increase your chances of earning college credit.

Should You Take AP Art History?

Now that you have all the information you should know about AP Art History, should you take the class?

It depends. Consider the following:

  • Feedback from students at your school about AP Art History
  • Your strengths, weaknesses, and interests
  • Your workload and schedule

It’s helpful to know the AP Art History pass rate and score breakdown. But more importantly, does the class sound appealing to you? Would you be motivated to learn the information and study effectively for the exam? Do the class and exam play to your strengths? And will you be able to balance the rigor and workload with your existing schedule?

If you can answer “yes” to most of these questions, then AP Art History may be a great fit for you.

Final Thoughts: Everything You Need to Know About AP Art History

AP Art History examines art and its cultural influences around the world, from prehistory to the present. It teaches you to analyze works of art, visual techniques, context, artistic traditions, and more. You’ll memorize, read, examine art, and write evidence-based arguments and analyses throughout the course. You’re also expected to have in-depth knowledge of 250 works of art.

The difficulty level of AP Art History is considered above average. It covers a lot of ground, and you’ll have to master a wide range of art historical knowledge and skills. In addition to the class itself, the exam is also challenging. It includes 80 multiple-choice questions and six free-response questions, with a time limit of three hours. The pass rate is below average, and only 12 AP exams have a lower pass rate.

But if AP Art History plays to your strengths and interests, and you’re willing to put in the work, you can do it! Work hard, take notes, consistently review your course materials, and begin studying 1.5 months before the big end-of-course exam. You’ll have an extensive knowledge of art history and some hard-earned college credit to show for it.

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