History is a popular subject with many homeschoolers and Advanced Placement (AP) tests can be a way to document a homeschooler’s mastery of subject knowledge. The College Board offers three AP history exams: AP European History, AP United States History, and AP World History. This article provides an overview of the three AP history options and a discussion of their value for homeschool history students.
AP U.S. History (often called APUSH) is not just the most popular history AP but the most popular of all of the AP exams. It is most often taken by 11th graders. APUSH has been taken by around 400,000 students in recent years. This is typically taught as a full year high school course and is intended to be equivalent of a full year of college level American history. APUSH has been redesigned so students taking the test in the 2015 school year or later should be sure to use current materials that are designed for the new test. The test revision is designed to allow teachers more flexibility to cover topics of interest in more detail and to put less emphasis on covering everything in American history with an emphasis on memorization.
The revised APUSH is focused on encouraging students to engage in higher level historical thinking skills. The College Board defines these skills to be chronological reasoning, comparing and contextualizing, crafting historical arguments using historical arguments using historical evidence, and interpreting and synthesizing historical narrative. The format of the APUSH exam is as follows:
AP World History is a popular choice for a “first AP” for sophomores. It is taken by over 200,000 students in a typical year. AP world history is intended to be a full year high school course equivalent of a year of two college world history survey courses. As is the case with all APs, students receive scores from 1-5 on the exam, that roughly translate as follows 5=A, 4=B, 3=C, 2=D, 1=E. Typically fours and fives are considered good scores and one and two are considered failing marks. In recent years AP World tends to be one of the lowest pass rates of an exam with over 50% of students earning the failing marks of one or two. This may reflect that many sophomores take AP World as their first AP and may not have the maturity or study skills to do well in an AP course.
According to the College Board the AP world history exam focuses on key themes in world history including “interaction with the environment, cultures, state-building, economic systems, and social structures, from approximately 8000 B.C.E. to the present.” Students learn to apply historical thinking skills (similar to those described in APUSH above). Students learn about different periods in world history and how to analyze themes in history while working with primary source documents. The test format is as follows:
AP European History is the least commonly taken of the history APs. It is most often taken by juniors. The most common score on this exam is three with around a third of the students failing the exam by earning a score of one or two.
AP European history covers European history from 1405 to 2001 focusing on cultural, political, economic and social developments. Students learn to use primary source documents as basis for creating written essays about themes in history. Many of the questions on the exam call for students to consider themes across more than one period of history.
AP History Prep Options for Homeschoolers
Homeschoolers have a variety of choices in preparing for APs. There are a variety of online AP history courses available, including homeschool providers such as PA Homeschoolers, online schools such as Stanford Online High School, and state virtual schools using programs such as K12 or Connections. Some homeschool parents work through the resources on the College Board course syllabus and put together their own homeschool course and go through the audit procedure to be approved as an AP course. Another AP option is for homeschoolers to simply self study using whatever combination of materials they choose and opt to take the test without having taken a specific structured course in the topic.
Benefits of AP History
AP history tests can provide a way for a homeschool student to provide outside validation of their mastery of material and allows a comparison to the performance of public and private schools students studying the same subject. Many homeschoolers find adding APs to their homeschool provides a way to work on important study and test taking skills. The history courses are designed to encourage students to learn to read and interpret a variety of primary source documents (such as letters, speeches, laws, newspapers, etc.) In order to do well on the exams students need to be able to carefully follow directions and write quickly.
Will I Earn College Credit?
The opportunity to earn college credits and place out of some introductory general education courses is one of the big attractions of AP testing. These credits vary widely from school to school, so students should go into APs knowing it is far from a guarantee that they will receive credit or that it will meet a specific requirement. Students who wish to earn credits through APs may find that it is most effective to not take too many APs in the same area. At many schools that award AP credits the credits in any one subject area are limited to one course, and in this case students who are taking APUSH will not gain a credit advantage from adding AP world.
Colleges often change their AP credit policies from year to year so it is difficult to guarantee credits will be helpful at a given school, but overall students who take APs may see a benefit. UCLA awards eight credits for scores of 3 and up on AP World, APUSH, and AP European history. APUSH will meet the requirement for a US history course. University of Virginia’s AP policies provide three credits for any of the three AP history courses but only for students earning the top score of five. Students attending Vassar College can earn credit a maximum of four course credits through Advanced Placement scores. APUSH, AP World, and AP Europe are awarded course credit for scores of 4 and above.
When AP History Isn’t a Good Fit
AP history courses will not be a good choice for every student. Some homeschoolers who have a very well developed background in history prior to AP study may find that the format is limiting and doesn’t provide the richness and depth they are looking for in a high school history course. Students following a classical tradition program, such as the Well Trained Mind, may find that the time period and themes, particularly in AP World and AP European history are not a neat fit with the approach of their homeschool. Students who wish to concentrate more deeply on narrower aspects of history and read college-level books beyond textbooks may find AP history too constraining. In order to do well on AP history exams, students should expect to put some specific prep into learning the test format and the style of questions. Students should understand that AP history exams all require written essays so for students with difficulty writing under time constraints, this can be problematic. Another alternative to validate history study are SAT subject tests which are available for U.S. history and world history.