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The Best AP World History Books for 2019

Article by Jane Newsom. Last Updated: Monday, Oct 15, 2018.

AP World History Overview

AP World History covers a broad array of topics and themes spanning history from 600 B.C.E to present, and 5 major geographies including Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe, and Oceania. The course presents a representation of the most common understandings, themes, and skills taught by professors from a variety of colleges in introductory World History courses. There are no prerequisites for the class, but students should possess the ability to read and write at a college level.

We’ll cover the course, exams, and our picks for the best AP World History books, Flashcards, and Review Guides for test year 2019 below, but if you just can’t wait, here’s the short list:

The famous saying says “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” Modern times are full of contentious relationships between nations, and the sorts of context for current events that can be provided through the study of History can be very useful. Whatever your motivation for studying AP World History, we’re here to help you succeed!

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Course Summary

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

There are 5 key themes covered by AP World History, the same which you would expect to find in an entry level college history class:

Interactions Between Humans and the Environment

Environmental factors have shaped the societies in which humans have organized throughout history. Things like rainfall patterns, climate, and available flora and fauna dictate the natural and human curated resources available. In more recent times, human activity has begun to shape the environment in turn.

Development and Interactions of Cultures

The origins, use, adaptations, and dissemination of ideas between societies is the second major theme covered. Various ways in which humans interact lead to the exchange of parts of their cultures. These cultural changes can be tracked across societies over time.

State Building, Expansion, and Conflict

The origin and impact of hierarchical systems in different periods and cultures is the third theme in AP World History. Comparing the different types of states, such as kingdoms, empires, and nation states can help one understand the different types of structures which occur in different cultures.

Creation, Expansion, and Interaction of Economic Systems

The 4th theme studies the different ways in which societies have developed to produce, distribute, and consume goods across time and place. These factors influence things like migration, social structure, cultural and technical diffusion, and state formation.

Development and Transformation of Social Structures

The final theme studies the relationships between humans, how societies develop and place their members in groups, and how people interact based on these groups. It also focuses on how social practices, roles, and practices are created, maintained, and changed over time.

Exam Summary

The above mentioned major themes are thoroughly tested in the AP World History exam. The student’s knowledge is assessed through questions in multiple choice or free response format, lasting 3 hours and 15 minutes. The exam is broken up into 4 parts, and the parts are weighted to determine a final score between 1 and 5.

Section 1: Multiple Choice and Short Answer

  • Part A: 55 multiple choice questions, lasting 55 minutes, 40% of overall score.
  • Part B: 3 short answer questions, lasting 40 minutes, 20% of overall score.

Section 2: Free Response

  • Part A: 1 document based question, lasting 60 minutes, 25% of overall score.
  • Part B: 1 long essay question, lasting 40 minutes, 15% of overall score.

The multiple choice section is grouped into sets between 2-5 questions each. Each question asks the student to respond to a primary or secondary source like a written passage, image, or chart. Question sets will focus on a particular period, but may require students to make connections to other thematic developments from other periods.

The short answer section has 4 total questions, with students required to answer the first and second, and either the third or fourth question. Each question requires the student to cite examples of historical events or concepts related to the topic.

The document based question requires a student to present an argument based on historical source material. It includes 7 documents like charts, graphs, written material, etc. Students are also expected to include examples and information which is not explicitly included in the document set for top marks.

The long essay question requires students to choose from 1 of 3 essay topics. Each topic covers 3 periods from the curriculum, and the student must develop and support an argument with specific examples and information.

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

Best AP World History Books

AP World 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 World History

Barron's AP World History
2019 Edition
by John McCannon Ph.D.
(as of 17 Aug 19 10:20 GMT)

Pros: In depth review and tons of online content.
Cons: Some people find certain sections to be overly wordy.
Best For: Year long course supplement, or final exam review.
Our Rating: 5.0 / 5

Barron’s AP World History is our top pick for Best AP World History Book for 2019. It has tons of great review material, as well as access to bonus online content. Additional features include:

  • 5 full length practice tests (2 printed and 3 online) with detailed answers and explanations.
  • In-depth review of world history covering the major course themes.
  • Strategies for each of the 4 test question types.
  • Study planning resources to help you focus your time.

This guide is well suited for students who either want to supplement other required course materials, or for those looking for a last minute review leading up to the exam. Whatever your use case, this book is your best bet for exam prep.

Cracking the AP World History Exam

Cracking the AP World History Exam
2019 Edition
by Princeton Review
(as of 17 Aug 19 10:20 GMT)

Pros: Solid digital and print resources.
Cons: Some answer explanations lack clarity.
Best For: Year long study aid to compliment course textbook.
Our Rating: 5 / 5

Cracking the AP World History Exam by Princeton review is another solid entry in this list. It has basically all the same features as the Barron’s guide, and it was honestly a toss up. Features included:

  • 5 Full length practice tests (4 in the book + 1 online).
  • Tried-and-true strategies to help you avoid traps and beat the test.
  • Essential tactics to help you work smarter, not harder.
  • Key terms, timelines, and detailed maps, in every content review chapter.

Cracking the AP World History Exam didn’t quite make the #1 position, but it’s an overall very solid guide. If you’ve used either Princeton Review or Barron’s guides for other courses, and liked or disliked them, just go with that here.

World History: Preparing for the Advanced Placement Examination

World History: Preparing for the Advanced Placement Examination
2018 Edition
by Editors
(as of 17 Aug 19 10:20 GMT)

Pros: Comprehensive World History overview helps with understanding broad concepts.
Cons: No answer keys.
Best For: Supplemental material which compliments other exam specific guides.
Our Rating: 4.5 / 5

World History: Preparing for the Advanced Placement Examination is a solid resource for students looking to supplement assigned readings year long. Features include:

  • Full length text book could act as a stand alone resource.
  • Practice questions covering course materials

This books isn’t specifically tailored to students working to review the course material or exam specifics leading up to the test. That said, it’s a pretty solid overview of the key concepts and themes covered in the World History course and exam.

5 Steps to a 5: AP World History

5 Steps to a 5: AP World History
2019 Edition
by Peggy J. Martin
(as of 17 Aug 19 10:20 GMT)

Pros: Comprehensive material with multiple full length tests.
Cons: A decent amount of overlap with course textbooks and somewhat wordy in places.
Best For: Supplemental study aid for the duration of the course and leading up to the exam.
Our Rating: 5 / 5

5 Steps to a 5: AP World History is a good overall review guide which rounds out our list. It has a great overview of course material, as well as bonus online and printed materials. The full list of features include:

  • 4 Full length practice tests (2 in book and 2 online).
  • Hundreds of practice questions with answer keys.
  • Proven strategies specific to each section of the test.
  • Comprehensive overview of the AP World History Exam format.

When it comes to reviewing for the exam in the days leading up to it, 5 Steps to a 5: AP World History is a great resource. It’s got some of the best practice questions and online resources.

Best AP World History Flashcards

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

Barron’s AP World History Flash Cards

Barron's AP World History Flash Cards
3rd Edition
by Lupinskie & Caporusso']
(as of 17 Aug 19 10:20 GMT)

Pros: Well organized and comprehensive terms.
Cons: Some cards are somewhat densely packed.
Our Rating: 5 / 5

Barron’s AP World History Flash Cards are a great compliment to Barron’s AP World History guide, or any of the other books outlined above. It serves as a fantastic way to memorize key facts and information tested in the exam in a way that’s fun and entertaining. Key features include:

  • Over 420 flashcards.
  • Covers all major periods and themes from AP World History course.
  • Bonus online practice test.

We fully recommend flashcards as a supplement to any full length textbook or guidebook. Barron’s are our #1 recommendation for AP World History flashcards.

5 Steps to a 5 AP World History Flashcards

5 Steps to a 5 AP World History Flashcards
1st Edition
by Peggy J. Martin
(as of 17 Aug 19 10:20 GMT)

Pros: Available in multiple formats.
Cons: Somewhat out of date.
Our Rating: 3.5 / 5

5 Steps to a 5 AP World History Flashcards is our second pick in the flashcard category. Their flashcards are effective, but haven’t been updated in recent years. Key Features include:

  • Over 600 flashcards with key terms.
  • One item per card with bulleted answer summary.
  • Multiple formats including digital and print available.

All in all, we generally recommend the Barron’s flashcards for most students. If you’re looking for even more review material, or you have a strong liking for the 5 Steps to a 5 series review, these are a passable resource.

Wrapping Up

AP World History is a challenging topic covering tons of information spanning from 600 B.C.E to present day. There are a good number of books out there, but many of them don’t pass muster. We’ve gone ahead and rounded up our list of the Best AP World History Books for 2019, to help you choose.

Which book is right for you? It depends heavily on your particular circumstances. To recap our list of recommendations for different use cases:

Top Overall RecommendationBarron’s AP World History
Top Pick For Course SupplementBarron’s AP World History
Top Pick For Last Minute PrepCracking the AP World History Exam
Top Pick For FlashcardsBarron’s AP World History Flash Cards

For students looking to supplement other required course textbooks in year long study, our top recommendation and top pick overall is Barron’s AP World History. It has tons of great information and access to loads of online resources. We think this is likely your best overall bet.

For students who have less time to review before taking the exam, we think either the Barron’s AP World History or Cracking the AP World History Exam make great choices. They each have tons of review and practice questions, do a good job describing the exam contents, and have useful strategies you can put to work on the test.

Our top pick for flashcards is Barron’s AP World History Flash Cards. It’s a solid resource that pairs well with the Barron’s guide, or any of the other books on this list.

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 World History resources available. Good luck, and study hard!

Sources and Further Reading

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