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The 4 Best AP Art History Books [2019-2020]

Article by Jane Newsom. Last Updated: Tuesday, Aug 13, 2019.

AP Art History Overview

AP Art History covers the production of art, human responses to it, and the very nature and meaning of art through the study of artistic traditions spanning history. The course’s primary aim is to teach students awareness of the many factors that influence artists, their creative processes, and their audiences alike. AP Art History is designed to be equivalent to an introductory college art history survey, and uses a set of over 200 artistic works to guide students in their learning. There are no prerequisites for the class, and students with strong interest in the arts and humanities are especially encouraged to enroll.

We’ll cover the course, exams, and our picks for the best AP Art History books, Flashcards, and Review Guides for test year 2020 below, but if you just can’t wait, here’s the short list:

Since a large component of the AP Art History Exam is based on memorization of the 250 works contained in the course Image Set, extra study materials including flashcards are strongly recommended for each and every student.

AP Art History is a uniquely useful course in that it teaches real skills which can be applied by any museum visitor anywhere in the world. From the Louvre in Paris, to the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco, the knowledge students gain in this course will stick with them through the years and bring a new appreciation for the works of artists great and small.

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Course Summary

A full Course Description for AP Art History is available from collegeboard.org.

The AP Art History course is comprised of material covering 3 main concepts:

  • Artists use ideas and materials to create aesthetic events, objects or acts.
  • Creation of art is shaped by tradition and change.
  • Interpretations of art are variable.

The key concepts outlined above are taught to students through a collection of learning objectives. One or more objectives are covered in each of the 10+ course modules. By the end of the course, the student should be able to:

  • Differentiate the components of form, function, content, and context of a work of art
  • Explain how artistic decisions about art making shape a work of art.
  • Describe how context influences artistic decisions about creating a work of art
  • Analyze form, function, content, and context for a work of art to explain possible intentions for its creation
  • Describe features of tradition or change in a single work of art or in a group of related works
  • Explain how and why specific traditions or changes are demonstrated in a work or group of works
  • Analyze the impact of a single or group of related works of art on other artistic production
  • Identify works of art
  • Analyze how formal qualities or content of a work of art elicit a response
  • Analyze how contextual variables lead to different interpretations of a work of art
  • Justify attribution of an unknown work of art
  • Analyze relationships between works of art based on their similarities and differences

Generally speaking, the course is focused around the study of an “image set“ containing 250 pieces of artwork. The set includes works that are categorized by geographic and chronological boundaries spanning the entire globe from 30,000 B.C.E. to present day. The full set is broken into 10 groups ranging between 10 and 50 pieces which are studied as a unit. Roughly 65% of the works are categorized as being from the “western” tradition, with the remaining 35% coming from other regions and traditions. The image set also forms the basis of the AP Art History Exam, and by the end of the course, the student is expected to have complete familiarity with each of the 250 works.

Exam Summary

Students taking the AP Art History Exam are responsible for demonstrating each of the above mentioned learning objectives on any of the 250 works in the Image Set. Test takers are responsible for knowing the following key facts for each work in the set:

  • Title or designation of a work of art
  • Name of the artist or culture of origin of the work
  • Date of creation for the work of art
  • Media / materials used to create the work of art

In addition, students will be expected to provide attribution for unknown works of art outside of the official image set, based on the key learnings, traditions, and themes they’ve learned by studying the works.

Finally, students may be asked to discuss a work of their choosing that is outside the curriculum’s image set. When doing so, they should be able to provide the same key information (title, author, date, media) for the work as they would for images in the official set. The AP Art History exam lasts 3 hours and contains 2 sections (multiple choice and free response).

The Multiple Choice section:

  • 1 hour long and consists of 80 multiple choice art history questions.
  • It accounts for 50% of the overall exam score.
  • There are 8 groups of 3-6 questions on an image of a work of art, and 35 individual questions.

The Free Response section:

  • 2 hours long and contains 6 questions.
  • It accounts for 50% of the overall exam score.
  • There are two 30 minute essay questions, and four 15 minute essay questions.

For exam dates, refer to The College Board AP Calendar.

Best AP Art History Books

AP Art History has several strong contenders for the best textbooks and review guides which we’ve ranked for you above. Continue on for detailed information on each one!

Barron’s AP Art History

Barron's AP Art History
4th Edition
by John B. Nici M.A.
Price:$4.79
(as of 17 Aug 19 10:20 GMT)

Pros: Flashcards, practice tests and supplemental materials included.
Cons: Some material lags behind current test version.
Best For: Supplemental study aid for the duration of the course and leading up to the exam.
Our Rating: 5 / 5

Barron’s AP Art History review guide is currently on it’s 4th edition, and comes bundled with access to 2 full length online practice tests (complete with answers and detailed explanations for each question). In addition, the book also includes flashcards for each of the works in the AP Art History image set. The full list of features include:

  • Multiple choice questions and answers for each chapter covering the material you learned
  • A comprehensive review of major art movements and artists.
  • Bonus chapters covering works outside the European tradition.
  • A diagnostic test and two full length practice tests complete with answers and comprehensive explanations.

Barron’s AP Art History is widely praised by teachers and students as being one of the best resource for students. Given it’s wide range of bonus materials, detailed coverage of the course work, and modest price tag, this is our top recommendation and pick for “Best Value” in an AP Art History Book. You can’t go wrong with Barron’s!

The Insider’s Complete Guide to AP Art History

The Insider's Complete Guide To AP Art History
Volume 3
by Larry Krieger
Price:$18.95
(as of 17 Aug 19 10:20 GMT)

Pros: In depth essays for each of the works in the image set.
Cons: Too wordy for some students, not great for last minute prep.
Best For: Helping the student attain a deeper understanding of the material early and throughout the course.
Our Rating: 4.5 / 5

The Insider’s Complete Guide to AP Art History is another solid entry in the list of to AP Art History review guides. The guide is currently on volume 3, and approaches the subject matter in a slightly different way from some of the other books on our list. Each work covered in the book is given a detailed 1-2 pages of long form explanations, descriptions, and interesting facts rather than a bulleted short form list for memorization. Additional features include:

  • 80 multiple choice questions similar to the ones found on the real exam.
  • Glossary including concise definitions and examples from the required list of works.
  • Enhanced coverage for works in Africa, Asia, and global contemporary.

The Insider’s Complete Guide to AP Art History is generally well reviewed by both teachers and students. It’s long form content is a change of pace from much of the other AP Art History Review materials available and helps concepts stick. This book pairs well with any of the other guides on our list, and we highly recommend it!

AP Art History Crash Course

AP Art History Crash Course
2nd Edition
by Asch & Curless
Price:$2.99
(as of 17 Aug 19 10:20 GMT)

Pros: Narrow focus on specific exam topics.
Cons: Limited number of images.
Best For: Final review leading up to the exam.
Our Rating: 4.5 / 5

AP Art History Crash Course aims to cut out the fluff, and cover only materials required for the actual exam. Perfect for the student who is short on study time, or otherwise looking for a quick and relevant review prior to taking the AP test. Features included in the book:

  • Covers only the information tested.
  • Detailed test-taking strategies for both multiple choice and essay sections.
  • List of key terms you must know.
  • One full length online practice test included.

AP Art History Crash Course is unusual for an Art History book, in that it includes limited images of the works of art in the test set. It’s generally not recommended as the only resource a student refer to while preparing for the test, but is a great supplement to other materials or last minute review.

The Annotated Mona Lisa

The Annotated Mona Lisa
3rd Edition
by Carol Strickland
Price:$19.33
(as of 17 Aug 19 10:20 GMT)

Pros: General Art History overview helps with understanding broad concepts.
Cons: Not written with focused on AP exam topics.
Best For: Supplemental material which compliments other exam specific guides.
Our Rating: 4.0 / 5

The Annotated Mona Lisa is a unique entry on this list of best AP Art History textbooks, in that it’s more of a general art history overview and wasn’t authored specifically with Advanced Placement students or tests in mind. That said, it’s a highly regarded work with a wealth of information which is directly related to the course and exam. Features include:

  • More than 300 photographs with page length essays and sidebars.
  • Covers 25,000 years of art history broken into 5 sections.

We don’t generally recommend this book as your sole resource when prepping for the exam, but it’s so well done that we felt we had to include it here. If you’re looking to supplement your Art History knowledge, and don’t mind that it isn’t directly tied to the Image Set or the exam, this is a great resource.

Best AP Art History Flashcards

In addition to the excellent books mentioned above, AP Art History students will see significant benefits in prepping for the exam using flashcards. Our top picks for Best AP Art History Flashcards are outlined below.

AP Art History Exam Flashcard Study System

AP Art History Exam Flashcard Study System
Feb 14, 2013
by Mometrix Media LLC
Price:$41.71
(as of 17 Aug 19 10:20 GMT)

Pros: Information directly related to the test, available in multiple formats.
Cons: Words only, no images.
Our Rating: 3.5 / 5

AP Art History Exam Flashcard Study System is a set of AP Art History flashcards available in physical or kindle formats. They’re somewhat unusual for an Art History exam in that they don’t include pictures, but can still serve a purpose in preparing for the exam. Key Features include:

  • Includes 3 sections covering multiple historical periods each.
  • Multiple formats (kindle and physical) available.

AP Art History Flashcards Review

AP Art History Flash Cards Review
2016 Update
by Virtual Flashcards
Price:$28.99
(as of 17 Aug 19 10:20 GMT)

Pros: Digital format with option to print them out.
Cons: Software contains no instructions and some may find it unintuitive to use.
Our Rating: 4.5 / 5

AP Art History Flashcards Review is computer software containing over 1100 flashcards with the ability to add your own. If you’re looking for physical cards you can take on the go, then you would need to print them out - but it’s an otherwise excellent resource. Key features include:

  • Over 1100 flashcards.
  • Ability to print and take them on the go.
  • Click here for a Free Software demo.

Wrapping Up

AP Art History is a challenging subject, requiring significant memorization of the works in the image set, as well as general knowledge of the broader topic of Art History. We’ve outlined what we believe are the best resources available to AP Art History students, and leave the final choice up to the reader based on their personal needs.

Your particular circumstances will dictate the best choice for you. To recap:

Top Overall RecommendationBarron’s AP Art History
Top Pick For Course SupplementBarron’s AP Art History
Top Pick For Last Minute PrepAP Art History Crash Course
Top Pick For FlashcardsAP Art History Flashcards Review

All things being equal, we suggest Barron’s AP Art History for its fantastic mix of in depth review material, low price, and access to valuable practice tests and other content. It’s also our top pick for those students looking to supplement their course material all year long.

For students in more of a time crunch, or looking for more abbreviated material focused specifically on the exam, we recommend AP Art History Crash Course. Flashcards are extremely valuable for AP Art History prep, so we also strongly recommend AP Art History Flashcards Review for students short on time.

Whatever your circumstance, supplemental study and review materials are a key part of ensuring success on the exam. We’ve listed some of the best AP Art History resources available. Good luck, and study hard!

Sources and Further Reading

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