AP World History VS. AP European History

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Advanced Placement classes are vitally important to your high school career. With over three dozen to choose from, it can be difficult to decide which classes to take and how to order them. In this series of articles, we’ll cover a broad selection of AP courses to help you make an informed decision on which ones are right for you. 

In today’s post, we’re looking at two courses: AP World History and AP European History. Most colleges suggest or require at least two history courses. Most students study United States History in their junior year; the class has an AP option that we’ll cover in another article. You’ll also need to study either World or European History, usually in your sophomore year. If history is a subject you’re genuinely interested in, this might be a good choice for one or more of your Advanced Placement classes. 

We’ll cover content, exams, difficulty, and other factors to consider when deciding which courses to take and when. Let’s get started. 

AP World History: Modern

AP World History: Modern (so called because it was restructured in 2019 to focus on the modern era, while a course still in development will focus on ancient world history) is a college-level history class that covers world history from the year 1200 to the present. Key concepts include cultural developments, governance, economic systems, and technology.

What does the class include?

In AP World History, students learn about global patterns over the past thousand years. Units are organized by time period, theme, and region. Students draw connections between various cultures and eras through the lenses of comparison, causation, continuity, and change.

This course in world history includes the following units:

Unit 1: The Global Tapestry (1200-1450)

The first unit introduces the regions of the world and how their empires and societies interacted.

Unit 2: Networks of Exchange (1200-1450)

This unit focuses on global trade networks and how they influenced the exchange of ideas as well as goods.

Unit 3: Land-Based Empires (1450-1750)

The third unit compares major empires and how they ruled their large territories and diverse populations.

Unit 4: Transoceanic Interconnections (1450-1750)

In this unit, the class delves into the colonization of the Americas and the European drivers of God, Gold, and Glory.

Unit 5: Revolutions (1750-1900)

This unit covers the Atlantic Revolution, the Enlightenment, and Industrialization.

Unit 6: Consequences of Industrialization (1750-1900)

This unit explores the impact of the imperialist economies of Europe, the United States, and Japan.

Unit 7: Global Conflict (1900-present)

This unit explores the global conflicts that arose from imperialist economies. 

Unit 8: Cold War and Decolonization (1900-present)

The penultimate unit looks at the effects of World War II on global politics.

Unit 9: Globalization (1900-present)

The final unit explores how globalization has transformed political and economic institutions across the world.

Throughout these units, the class focuses on six major themes:

Theme 1: Humans and the Environment

Theme 2: Cultural Developments and Interactions

Theme 3: Governance

Theme 4: Economic Systems

Theme 5: Social Interactions and Organization

Theme 6: Technology and Innovation

Key skills taught and practiced in this course include the following:

  • Analyzing primary and secondary sources
  • Making connections using historical reasoning 
  • Explaining and analyzing historical processes, developments, and events
  • Developing historical arguments

For more information, click here.

What grade is it typically taken in?

World History is usually taken sophomore year. If you’re interested in becoming a History major or just enjoy the subject, you could add it on in senior year as well. Generally, students study United States history in their junior year. 

Who should take AP World History?

Anyone who wants to take a challenging course load in order to prepare for a competitive college could benefit from adding this course to their plans. Whether you choose AP World History or AP European History will likely come down to your individual interests. Ask students at your school about their experiences with each class and their respective teachers. If you’re interested in majoring in history or a related field, consider taking both courses. 

How hard is the exam? 

The AP World History exam is 3 hours and 15 minutes long and is divided into two sections. The first section includes 55 multiple-choice questions and three short-answer questions. In the second section, you will need to answer one document-based question and one long essay question. 

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The multiple-choice questions are divided into sets of two to five questions. Each set of questions is based on a primary or secondary source, such as a map, text excerpt, or graph. The short answer questions also require you to analyze a primary or secondary source. To perform well on the exam, you’ll need to be able to understand historical texts, interpret data, and make larger historical connections. 

To answer the questions in the second section, you must be able to create a strong thesis and support that thesis using the documents provided. You should be able to analyze sources and consider the author’s point of view, purpose, audience, and context. Your answer will draw connections between documents, themes, regions, and eras. For more information on document-based questions, see this article.

The AP World History exam had a pass rate of 62% in 2022, which was higher than the other two history courses. AP European History had a pass rate of 59%. Fewer than half of all students who took the AP United States History class passed the exam.

AP European History

This course focuses on the cultural, political, economic, and social developments that shaped Europe from 1450 to the present. 

What does the class include?

Like AP World History, AP European History is organized into nine units. 

Unit 1: Renaissance and Exploration

This unit covers the rapid change seen during the Renaissance as well as the commercial revolution and colonialism that changed the shape of European society.

Unit 2: Age of Reformation

This unit includes strains of Christianity in Europe and the effects of the Reformation.

Unit 3: Absolutism and Constitutionalism

This unit deals with economic developments and political power. 

Unit 4: Scientific, Philosophical, and Political Developments

This unit moves on to new ways of thinking that transformed Europe. 

Unit 5: Conflict, Crisis, and Reaction in the Late 18th Century

This unit covers English dealings with Europe and the effects of the French Revolution.

Unit 6: Industrialization and Its Effects

This unit deals with the Industrial Revolution and urbanization.

Unit 7: 19th-Century Perspectives and Political Developments

This unit explores nationalism and shifting alliances leading up to the first World War.

Unit 8: 20th-Century Global Conflicts

This unit deals with the World Wars and their effect on Europe. 

Unit 9: Cold War and Contemporary Europe

The final unit looks at global superpowers in the decades following World War II. 

For more information, check out this sample syllabus

What grade is it typically taken in?

European History is usually studied sophomore year. For some students, it’s their first AP class. 

Who should take AP European History?

This class is a staple for students who want to take a challenging course load and improve their college admission prospects. Whether you choose AP World History or AP European History is up to you. If you’re interested in majoring in history or a related field, you could take both courses. 

How hard is the exam? 

The AP European History exam had a pass rate of 59% in 2022, which was lower than the AP World History exam pass rate of 62%. It had a slightly higher rate of students who scored five out of five: 14% as opposed to 13% for World History. These statistics vary slightly from one year to the next, and the difficulty levels of the two exams are very similar. 

How to Study for AP History Exams

Preparing for these exams begins on your first day of class and continues through the year. You’ll need to take detailed notes and engage with all of the course materials consistently to become comfortable with the many skills and concepts that these classes cover. Review frequently throughout the year to avoid cramming at year’s end or showing up to the exams ill prepared. 

In order to score well on AP History exams, you’ll need to be able to write strong answers to the essay questions. Practice writing outlines with a strong thesis, putting your ideas in context, and providing at least three pieces of strong evidence taken from your studies. Pay attention to the main themes and interconnectedness of the topics that you’re writing about. 

AP exams are given in May over a two-week period. As you approach the exam, it’s wise to take some practice tests. Remember, taking a practice test is only the first step. After that, you’ll need to review your mistakes, study the topics you were unable to answer correctly, and then take a second practice test. Repeat this as many times as needed.

In the days before the exam, give yourself some time to breathe and get plenty of sleep. AP exams do not penalize test takers for wrong answers. So if you’re unsure, don’t skip the question! Take your best guess and move on, coming back around to review at the end if you have time. 

Click here for more advice on studying for AP exams. 


AP World History covers world history from the year 1200 to the present, whereas AP European History focuses on Europe from 1450 to the present. AP World History takes a broader look at world regions and trade networks, while AP European History delves deeper into Europe. 

The two exams have similar pass rates and score distributions, so that’s not likely to affect your decision. Both classes have higher pass rates than the third option for history, which is AP United States History. Here are last year’s score distributions for the three exams:

Exam  5 4 3 2 1
AP World History 13.2% 21.9% 27.0% 23.7% 14.3%
AP European History 13.5% 21.0% 24.4% 29.7% 11.4%
AP United States History 10.8% 15.6% 21.9% 23.0% 28.8%

If you’re stuck on choosing between these two courses, talk to students who have taken one or both at your school. Often the teacher can make or break your experience of any given course, so that’s always an important aspect to consider. Look over the syllabuses for the two classes and decide which one is more interesting to you. If you’re fascinated by history, you could always take both (ideally in different years) to get a jump on that introductory-level college coursework.

Stay tuned for more articles on other Advanced Placement courses. And please reach out if you need help planning your course schedule, understanding advanced concepts, or studying for your exams. Our experienced tutors can help you prepare for your exams and decide which AP classes to take next year.

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