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Frequently Asked Questions

Is AP Art History Hard? Is APAH Worth Taking?

5 min readโ€ขoctober 1, 2021

Jordyn Haynes

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AP Art Historyย ๐Ÿ–ผ

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Lots of high school students building their schedules for next year wonder how easy AP Art History would be, even though how hard any course is going to be for each person is super subjective! AP Art History is about taking in totally new dimensions of art that you probably haven't spent much time thinking about. The sculptures, artifacts, and paintings that decorate exhibit halls and art museums are more than just oil on canvas, marble shaped into a person, or a bowl with images on it. They are incredibly intricate and complex artworks (yes, even the simple-looking ones) that each holds a rich and unique history behind them. If exploring the origins of these artworks sounds interesting, then AP Art History is the class for you!

How Difficult is AP Art History?

AP Art History, referred to sometimes as AP AH, is often thought of as an art class rather than as a history class, which presents a challenge to many students. Instead of painting, drawing, or sculpting, students investigate how artists use their works to impact their society. Students learn about the origins of works across different time periods and cultures.
In this course, students are responsible for memorizing a list of 250 works of art chosen by the College Board. These are often referred to as the "required works" or the "required image set." The 250 works represent many different influences, artists, time periods, mediums, and artistic traditions.
In addition to memorizing the required works, students will develop and use nine historical thinking skills:
  1. Visual Analysis
  2. Contextual Analysis
  3. Comparison
  4. Analysis of Artistic Traditions
  5. Visual Analysis of Unknown Works
  6. Attribution of Unknown Works
  7. Art-historical Interpretations
  8. Argumentation
These skills will be applied to both multiple-choice and free-response questions.
๐Ÿ’ญ A detailed breakdown of these historical thinking skills can be found on page 14 in the AP Art History Course and Exam Description.

By the Numbers ๐Ÿ”ข

Roughly about 25,000 students take the APAH exam per year, which is much smaller than the 500,000 taking exams such as AP Language and Composition, making the subject one of the smaller APs on the national scale. The table below shows the 2019 score distribution released by the College Board.

2019 APAH Score Distribution

ScorePercentage%
Pass Rate (score of 3+)63.1%
511.9%
424.6%
326.6%
224.7%
112.2%

What Students and Teachers are Saying ๐Ÿ—ฃ

"It's hard if you don't pace yourself. With that being said, you are exposed to so many intricate yet interesting concepts beyond just art. It teaches analytic and critical skills definitely making the class worth it."โ€”Aly Moosa, Student
"It is a challenging class. The problem for a lot of students who take the class, and even art teachers who teach it, is that it is much more a history class than an art class. If you took AP World, did well and liked it a bit, AP Art History might be for you. If youโ€™re a student who likes to draw and takes art classes because they are easy and fun, this is not for you.."โ€”Johnathon Keller, Teacher
"If youโ€™re good with history, you should be good with AP Art History. AP Art History is more than just memorizing names, artists, and patrons. Itโ€™s about making the connection between historical events and their impact on art."โ€”Patrick Rio, Student

Is AP Art History Worth It?

If you have an interest in art, history, or both, then AP Art History is definitely worth your time. If analysis and comparison are some of your strengths, then this class should not cause you any problems. Although aspects of memorization and analyzing/attributing unknown works of art may be challenging, AP Art History has the potential to be a highly rewarding class that awakens students to the deeper meanings, creative processes, and impacts behind artwork from all over the world throughout history.
Critical thinking and the analytical, comparison, and argumentative skills used in AP Art History translate into a plethora of future college majors and professions. Occupations such as scientists, lawyers, economists, and engineers use such skills in their day-to-day work.
About 1,239 colleges/universities accept AP Art History exam scores for college credit. Your AP scores fulfill general education requirements and/or place you in more advanced classes. The AP credit transfer policy differs for every school.

Additional Factors to Consider

1. Workload ๐Ÿ’ช๐Ÿฟ

Just like any other AP course, AP Art History does not have a light workload. It covers artwork from prehistory to the present, which is a lot. Consider your other classes, and do not overexert yourself if you think you may have too much! If you find that you lack an interest in art and/or history, then APAH may not be worth it.

2. Instruction ๐Ÿ‘ฉ๐Ÿฟโ€๐Ÿซ

Art is a subjective topic. Trying to understand complexities is not an easy task for anyone. If possible, know if your APAH teacher will be a good fit for you in terms of learning and class structure. Having a teacher who you vibe with can make a huge difference in your APAH experience.

3. Commitment ๐Ÿค๐Ÿฟ

Are you prepared to dedicate yourself to memorizing 250 works of art? Are you confident you can handle the workload? If you answered "no" to any of these questions, APAH may not be worth it.

4. Resources ๐Ÿ“”

Access to resources such as study guides and practice questions are a necessity to succeed in any AP class, especially in AP Art History. Answering stimulus-based questions and writing comparison, argumentative, and analytical essays may take some getting used to for some students. Luckily, with Fiveable, APAH students have access to hundreds of free resources such as practice prompts, sample multiple-choice questions, and study guides to help them perfect their exam skills.
Additionally, Fiveable offers curated content such as "What Are the Best Quizlet Decks?" and "What Are the Best Textbooks and Prep Books?" to help with memorizing and learning the required image set.
https://firebasestorage.googleapis.com/v0/b/fiveable-92889.appspot.com/o/images%2F-QOImRqUWe7fQ.png?alt=media&token=b6859297-9997-4523-a58e-7c2112795ecc

Resources:

Example Quizlet flashcard with important information about the Sarcophagus of the Spouses. Flashcards like this one are an excellent tool for AP Art History studying. Image Courtesy of Quizlet

What Students are Saying ๐Ÿ—ฃ

"Not too difficult, not too easy. It depends on the teacher. There is so much to cover and learn. You learn about World religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Byzantine, Catholic); you learn about societies that had never received attention in the American education system (specifically referring to the Pacific islands); you learn about different ways of thinking. An amazing course highly recommended it."โ€”ObitoSigma, Student via College Confidential
"Memorizing the pieces isnโ€™t hard once you notice common themes around pieces (things like similarities between cultures or even the fact that memorizing one little thing about a piece can lead you to the rest of the identifiers). Overall, I highly recommend this course."โ€”Anonymous, Student via Reddit

Overall

Now that you have learned about the skills required for APAH, the exam logistics, and experiences/suggestions from students and teachers, so Is AP Art History worth it for you? Our answer: absolutely! You got this ๐ŸŽ‰
Once you get started, here are some tips on how to get a 5!

Resources:

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