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An On-Line Jump Start Guide to the Advanced Placement World History Course

Bill Strickland


     In 1995, Heidi Roupp addressed the task of preparing instructors to teach world history (Teaching World History: A Resource Guide (New York: M. E. Sharpe, 1997) The value of this work and others that followed served to encourage me to prepare the following resource guide for teachers who are not merely new to the field, but who may in addition be tasked at the end of the school year to begin teaching an Advanced Placement course in World History the following fall. Ideally, a new instructor should participate in a 5-day AP Summer Institute or at the very least a 1-day regional workshop (a listing is provided at The following has been prepared to assist those who, for perhaps more than merely time constraints, are unable to attend these workshops and have limited access to published guides and other literature.

The Essentials

An instructor new to the AP process should begin by visiting "AP Central" at The APWH Course Description, also known as the "Acorn Book" is THE document that defines APWH, the course and exam, everything. The Acorn book is available for no cost at An instructor who has not mastered the Acorn book is depriving their students of much of their chance of passing the examination. Much the same is true of the APWH Teacher's Guide housed at

     An additional essential on-line stop is Jay Harmon's Advanced Placement World History website, ( Harmon is the founder of the APUS, AP Euro, and APWH listserves. He is a member of the APWH Test Development Committee and the un-official "uncle" to all APWH teachers. His website points to textbooks, readers, other teachers' sites; in short, most everything you need to get started.

     World History Connected, ( the free on-line journal affiliated with the World History Association has for more than five years offered an enormous body of literature on the scholarship and teaching of world history. Each issue includes articles by experienced AP teachers whose topical essays range from classroom strategies to visual literacy. Its January 2010 issue will offer insight into the changes contemplated in the World History examination.

     The AP-World Listserv (register at features conversations among teachers on key issues. Membership is free. To join it, merely enter your name, email address and set a password.

     You can see examples of helpful APWH listserv discussions in the past few years at The selected topics include: "Bell Ringers;" (how to make effective use of the first few class minutes) discussions about how to teach necessary essay writing skills for the Continuity and Change-Over Time (CCOT) , DBQ; and common questions regarding POV, Grouping, and how the AP exam is scored.

     The 1st and 2nd appendices to this essay offers basic statistical information that helps explain to students (and parents! I use this on "Back to School night") about realistic expectations for APWH. What is the average score? What score is a "good" essay," etc. These charts/graphs will answer many of your questions for how the exam is scored. I've included a Microsoft Word file with my comments for how I interpret the statistics, along with hints that function like a "script" for how to present this information to students and parents. The second file is just the original Excel file in case you want to edit any of the characteristics of the graphs.

     The 3rd appendix is based on the Instructional Planning Report (IPR) that the College Board mails to all AP schools (addressed to your Principal, not your AP Coordinator). It has a statistical breakdown of your school's APWH students' performance on the 2008 Exam. It is mailed every year during September. If you have NOT received this, pester your Principal until she/he tracks it down for you. This document has valuable detailed information that every AP teacher needs to know about how your school's students performed on the AP Exam each year.

     The 4th and 5th appendices offer "Must Know" dates and geographic regions. While specific dates are not overly emphasized in the course, a few dates will help students chronologically sequence their knowledge. There is no "official" list of which dates students are responsible for. This is just a compilation I use2. Teachers are welcome to edit these selections as they see fit. Also included is a list of "Must Know Geographic Regions" because students often need help locating regions according to the APWH definition. I use both these resources as quizzes throughout the year to make sure students still remember the information they learned over the past several weeks. I find this periodic, incremental/cumulative review especially valuable in helping students not feel overwhelmed at the sheer volume of information they've learned.

     Appendix #6, Change Analysis Charts: These are helpful in periodic review throughout the year for preparation for the Continuity and Change Over Time question.3

     Appendices #7-10, Name Five: I use these for end-of-year (or periodic) review. The "keys" are still incomplete, but they might at least give you and your students an idea of how to organize the mountain of information they have been exposed to. Students should select as specific as possible examples of each category. Ideally every example would start with a capital letter. (e.g. "NAFTA" rather than "trade.")

     The 11th appendix is a series of Timelines: I use these to help students get a visual sense of chronology. By the end of the year students can place each timeline next to each other to get a quick overview of the entirety of world history. The value and use of timelines are further explored by Sharon Cohen in this issue of World History Connected.

An AP World History Examination Survival Guide

Instructors of other types or levels of instruction do not have to teach the skills necessary to excel on the "final" examination to the degree that AP teachers must . Moreover, the essay formats and rubrics used to score the thousands of AP-WH examinations has limited flexibility by design. The College Board trains AP examination readers to ignore student errors of fact. Instead, readers adhere closely to the rubric prepared for each essay they grade, assigning points for the requirements students have met. The College Board assumes students to be fully in command of rubric terms. Failure to prepare students in essay format and rubric patterns accounts for a large proportion of failures on the exam. Nothing angers readers more than to see the low scores they must give well-written essays that fail to address the format or rubric simply because their teachers either failed to train them properly, or, what is often clear from the exam, never trained them to do so at all.

Appendices 12-29 address the following related essay teaching and grading scoring issues:

#12-23 Annotated Rubrics: I developed these 12 files to teach students how to write better essays. They are the most effective tool I've found to reach students at all levels of how to improve the quality of their writing. Each year the College Board publishes a report from the Reading on how well students did on that year's exam. (see the "Student Performance Q&A," files for each year at The Annotated Rubrics combine the Essay Question, the Rubric, and the Chief Reader's comments in the Q&A file to show students how to incrementally improve their writing so that it will earn a higher score at the Reading. Each Essay Rubric category is broken down into specific examples of excellent, acceptable, and unacceptable responses.

#24 How to DBQ: This is how I teach the APWH Document Based Question.

#25 DBQ Use of Documents: I use this with my students to highlight how the DBQ Rubric is designed to reinforce the "Habits of Mind" cognitive skills that students should practice when writing DBQs. It also specifically answers students' frequent (and vague) question of "how many documents do I have to use?"

#26 Must Do Essay Checklist: I use this with my students who have trouble remembering what the Rubrics require for each essay.

#27 Essay Rubrics Quiz: Once students are familiar with the rubric requirements, I test them on the rubrics themselves. Note: there is a possible danger in "teaching to the rubric" too much. When I introduce each rubric I emphasize how the purpose of the rubric is to encourage and reinforce good writing habits that my students have likely already learned in their English classes. At the same time my experience is that students write better when they are well-versed in the rubrics, as it encourages them to "think like a Reader" while they're writing.

#28-29 Answering the Question: One of the biggest problems students have on essays is focusing specifically on what the question asks. I used this resource this year for the first time, and it has definitely made a noticeable improvement in my students' ability to focus squarely on the question. Students quickly and intuitively understand the "bulls eye" metaphor. The two files are a Word .doc and an Excel .xls file.

     Updates to this material can be found at my own on-line APWH Web Guide at ( Feel free to use, ignore, or share any of this as you see fit. Also feel free to write me seeking further explanation of any of the above at

     Learning to teach APWH can seem like the proverbial "taking a drink from a fire hydrant." Yes, there is a ton of information. After eight years of teaching this course I know I will never know it all, but I hope these files will help you teach a better course without having to reinvent the wheel. There is a supportive and encouraging community of teachers on the AP Listserv, at the Reading, and at AP Workshops and Summer Institutes throughout the year. Take advantage of other teachers' willingness to share from their experience, and be willing to ask questions. (Sounds disgustingly like what we tell our students, doesn't it?) I know how overwhelming this course can feel when you first begin. Hang in there! It's a ton of fun, and watching your students' eyes light up with surprise, frustration, laughter, skepticism, and understanding throughout the year is one of the great joys in being a teacher.

Bill Strickland teaches at East Grand Rapids High school in East Grand Rapids, Michigan. He has served as a Reader, Table Leader, and Sample Selector at the APWH Reading since 2004, and has led various AP World History workshops and Summer Institutes. He also serves on the Curriculum Development and Assessment Committee advising the College Board on the upcoming APWH Redesign that will take effect in 2011-2012.



1 The first time you access this website, you'll need to Login as "Guest" at After that you should be able to go directly to the "Helpful Listserv Discussions" directory.

2 Thanks to Monica Bond-Lamberty of Northwood High School, Silver Spring, MD for the original version of this list.

3 Thanks to Ellen Bell and Linda Black for creating the original version of these Change Analysis Charts.

4 In my opinion this is an "undiscovered diamond" containing a wealth of knowledge re: teaching, reading, and scoring of essays. Unfortunately most teachers don't even seem to know it exists. I read it thoroughly every year.



  1. 2002-2008 APWH Graphs & Commentary.pdf   

  2. 2002-2008 APWH Graphs & Stats.xls   

  3. 2008_IPR_Template.xls   

  4. Must Know Dates.pdf   

  5. Must Know Geography Regions.pdf   

  6. Change Analysis Charts.pdf   

  7. Name Five - Geog.pdf   

  8. Name Five - Geog Key.pdf   

  9. Name Five - Thematic.pdf   

  10. Name Five - Thematic Key.pdf   

  11. Timeline.pdf   

  12. DBQ 2004 Annotated Rubric.pdf   

  13. DBQ 2005 Annotated Rubric.pdf   

  14. DBQ 2006 Annotated Rubric.pdf   

  15. DBQ 2007 Annotated Rubric.pdf   

  16. CCOT 2004 Annotated Rubric.pdf   

  17. CCOT 2005 Annotated Rubric.pdf   

  18. CCOT 2006 Annotated Rubric.pdf   

  19. CCOT 2007 Annotated Rubric.pdf   

  20. Comp 2004 Annotated Rubric.pdf   

  21. Comp 2005 Annotated Rubric.pdf   

  22. Comp 2006 Annotated Rubric.pdf   

  23. Comp 2007 Annotated Rubric.pdf   

  24. How to DBQ.pdf   

  25. DBQ Use of Documents.pdf   

  26. Must Do Essay Checklist.pdf   

  27. Essay Rubrics Quiz.pdf   

  28. Answering the Question.pdf   

  29. Answering the Question.xls   


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