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Home > AP Courses and Exams > Course Home Pages > Preparing Students for the AP European History Exam

Preparing Students for the AP European History Exam

by Adrienne J. Phillips
Palos Verdes Peninsula High School
Rolling Hills Estates, California

Two weeks to go until the AP European History Exam. You're in "panic mode." Or maybe you're calmly trying to survey what you have taught, what you still have to teach, and what the students can still teach themselves... which can put you in a panic if you aren't already in one!

Where do you start? How can you use your time most effectively? How can you help your students use their time most effectively -- especially if this is their first AP Exam?

Reviewing the Content
Here are some suggestions to help you prepare yourself and your students for this challenging period.
  • REVIEW: This is the time to focus on reviewing what your students have already learned. It's not a time to give volumes of new information for your class to memorize. You want to build students' confidence by reassuring them they do have the tools to do well on the exam.
  • ORGANIZE: Distribute a calendar, listing each day's activity and materials that should be brought to class. Do not concern yourself with makeup material for absentees; it's more important to keep the majority on track. Make it quite clear that there is simply no time remaining in class to review the previous day's activity. Use each day to focus on a specific skill or area you want to emphasize. Begin each day with a quiz on a particular theme or century, then score the quiz and discuss answers.
  • QUIZ: Put together quizzes of terms, names, ideas, documents... anything you think they should know. Organize by type of information or chronologically -- whatever will be more effective for your students. (Organize differently from what you have done during the year, so these new quizzes don't become an exercise in rote memory.) Matching tests are fairly quick to write, especially if you draw from your course syllabus, workbook, teacher's text guide, or something that summarizes main ideas from your readings and/or lectures. If you don't have time to write all the quizzes you want, divide the class into small groups, with each group writing and scoring one quiz.
  • OUTLINE: Have your students write possible free-response questions, then outline answers and write introductions to those questions. Instruct students to type all FRQ outlines on only one page, with 11- or 12-point type, forcing them to select words carefully. Outlines should be organized logically, written with phrases rather than sentences. The introductory paragraph that follows should be limited to 2 to 4 sentences, including a detailed thesis. If you have them write and outline FRQs all year long, your pupils will have a large file of essay outlines, which they can also use for review.
  • SUMMARIZE: Collectively or individually, have students create a timeline of key events and trends from 1450 to the present. This timeline can be developed throughout the year, but if you haven't done anything like that so far, now's the time to have the class go through texts and notes, compiling a chart of key trends and movements (philosophical, religious and political movements, socioeconomic trends, cultural movements in art, literature, etc.). A group chart can be compiled on butcher paper, stretching around the classroom, while individual charts can be stored in students' binders or report files. Alternatively, class members working in small groups can create sections of charts, with each group focusing on one theme or on one century, and share their results with the class.
  • ENCOURAGE STUDY GROUPS: The more your pupils discuss what they have learned with one another, the more likely they are to remember facts and link concepts. Memorizing is not as important as understanding relationships and the sequence of events.
Understanding the AP Examination
  • DISCUSS STRATEGIES: Do your students know that there are no points deducted for incorrect answers and no points are awarded for unanswered questions? On the free-response section, do they know how to time themselves effectively to complete all three essays?
  • PRACTICE TIMING: Can you meet with your students after school or on a weekend to give them a full practice exam? This is particularly helpful for students who have never taken an AP Exam before, which includes most sophomores. As you prepare students for the exam, discuss strategies for pacing themselves during during each section. It's better for students to discover that they were unable to finish all three essays in the practice session than to have that happen in the actual AP Exam.
  • GIVE ACTUAL AP EXAMS: The College Board has recently published the 2004 AP European History Exam, available through the online College Board Store (see link below in "See also"). Previously published exams include 1984, 1988, 1994, and 1999. The 1994 and 1999 exams also can be purchased through the College Board Store, while the 1984 and 1988 versions can often be obtained from other AP teachers. You may have to modify the exam length for your own specific class period, but you can use one of the longer ones (1984 and 1988 each took one hour and 15 minutes) for an after-school or weekend administration.

    The 1994, 1999, and 2004 exams have essay questions based on the current Group I and Group II format. For the DBQ, either substitute a core-scored DBQ (from 2000 on) or create core-scoring for an earlier one.

    Grading essays quickly is difficult in such a short time, but if you have taught your students how to core-score DBQs, you can have them score each other's on a score sheet, which will help you put a final score on the essay more quickly. Managing to score two groups of FRQs in the short time you have remaining before the exam is difficult, but you can speed up the process by having your best students or teaching assistants (if you have them) read a set of essays on one topic and try to put them in order from best to worst. Even if you can't score all of these essays in the review time you have, you will at least have exposed your students to the difficulty of timing themselves to write three essays in just under 2 hours.
Before the Exam
On the day before the AP Exam, remind your students to get a good night's sleep and to eat selectively the next morning. Since AP European History has an afternoon slot, discuss with your students how they should spend that morning. If your students don't have to attend school on the day of an AP Exam, you might meet with them at someone's house on the morning of the exam for a final review. This last minute review has several advantages:
  • Students are not sitting home by themselves worrying.
  • You can discuss possible essay questions and answers.
  • You can review last-minute strategies and discuss concerns they still have.
  • You can select previously administered multiple-choice sections of exams and essays for students to review. Each student can look over his or her DBQ and FRQ essays for patterns of strengths and weaknesses as a reminder of what to do and not do when writing essays later that day.
  • Prepare a checklist of possible tasks for participants to do. This list helps them stay focused on those activities most useful to them.
  • You can help them RELAX! Tell some humorous stories as you eat an early lunch.
You or the parent of the house may try to arrange for a nutritious lunch, either with a potluck buffet or by collecting money and ordering food.

Of course, you need to figure out how to get a substitute teacher for your other classes. Is there an AP teacher of another class who will cover your classes that day if you do the same for him on the day of his exam? Would your administrators give you sub coverage if you convince them that this last review session could raise your AP grades?

Because I have sophomores who can't drive and we live in an area with very limited public transportation, I have used the argument for getting sub coverage that students can't easily get to school in the middle of the day for their exam. Parents instead drop their students in the morning at a house within walking distance of school, and everyone walks to school for the exam.

If you have stressed survival skills for each part of the exam with your students during the year, the review will certainly go more smoothly than if you have ignored a part of the exam. If you find that you have omitted a valuable lesson, take whatever time you can spare to teach that point. Keep encouraging your students to do their best. Remember that the exam grade is not as important as the skills they have learned during the year with you!


Adrienne Joy Phillips has taught AP European History since 1980. The author of the 1992 Teacher's Guide to the Advanced Placement Course in European History, she has received national recognition as a Fulbright recipient and a Presidential Scholar-Distinguished Teacher. She has also been chosen as High School Teacher of the Year by Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District.


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