How to Self-Study for AP Euro: The Basics

Published on Jul 31, 2019

At first, the idea of self-studying for an Advanced Placement exam, such AP European History, can seem daunting at first.

But you’re not alone.

In fact, thousands of students self-study every year and many of them end up earning college credit. But is it worth it?

I would argue yes, especially if you have already taken or are currently in AP US History or AP World History. With this in mind, here are five tips you can use to self-study AP Euro and ace that exam. 

Live Stream Replay: 2020 DBQ Review & Q&A Study Session

1. Set a study schedule based on your abilities and the College Board’s content expectations.

Whether you are 6 months or 6 weeks away from the AP Euro exam, choosing what material to review is a difficult decision. You should base your choice of material on a few things.

First, there’s the obvious: College Board’s Course and Exam Description.

The life of Henry VIII’s second wife, Anne Boleyn, makes for an interesting study. Unfortunately, it isn’t pertinent to the AP exam. But, his eventual break from Catholicism is relevant, even if it wasn’t for the same reasons as Martin Luther. This brings me to an important point: read wisely and base all heavy studying off the College Board’s Key Concepts. If you have the time, skim the guide. If not, a prep book or period review lecture should do the trick.

Once you’ve figured out what to study, it’s time to look into your review options. 

Live Stream Replay: Game of 5s AP Euro

2. Select a prep book that is right for you.

When I decided to self-study AP Euro, I began looking for review books immediately, but I had no idea of where to start. After all, it can be overwhelming trying to choose a prep book from the numerous options you have. Nonetheless, despite what anybody tells you, there is no one book that is superior to all others. What you end up with should match your personal preferences and schedule.

I’ll give my advice on the following books: 

  • Barron’s AP European History
  • Kaplan’s AP European History Prep Plus
  • AMSCO AP European History
  • Princeton Review’s Cracking the AP European History Exam
  • AP Acheiver Exam Prep Guide: European History
  • REA’s Crash Course for the AP European History Exam

If you’ve got the time and the patience for the lofty, academic writing of Barron’s- go for it! If you stick with it, there likely won’t be anything on the AP exam you haven’t encountered before. On the flip side, Barron’s is a lot of work with a bunch of details, so be careful not to get bogged down.

I would put the Kaplan Review and AMSCO somewhere between Barron’s and Princeton’s when it comes to content. The language in both is reader-friendly, though they aren’t considered to be the top review guides by most students taking the AP Euro exam. AP Achiever is around the same length and is a manageable read. However, it does have one perk that sets it above the other two: an AP teacher wrote it. The Princeton Review isn’t a bad choice either. Most students can attest to its humor and reasonable workload. REA’s Crash Course also has its merits if you pair it with another study guide. 

Keeping this in mind, please try to remind yourself that more does not mean better when you are reviewing.

At most, stick to two prep books- you don’t want to stress yourself out too much! Keep in mind that the test recently underwent major revisions, so triple-check that your book is up to date. A good way to do this is to look at the edition. However, do not buy it without also looking at the Table of Contents. Your exam now has nine units, not four, and, given the recent nature of changes, not all books will be current.

Study Guide: Ultimate Guide to the DBQ

Supplement your studying material with video lectures.

Double up your reading material with video lectures. If you are looking for a brief review, check out Tom Richey, Paul Sargent, or Crash Course European History on YouTube. But, since you are self-studying, I suggest you focus on period review lectures. Fiveable is an excellent place to start with this and is an affordable alternative to hiring a tutor.

In the end, I went with a combination of Princeton Review + Fiveable + Tom Richey.

Live Stream Replay: English and French Revolution

3. Practice your historical thinking skills!

The design of AP History exams necessitates strong analytical abilities. Likewise, multiple-choice questions are set up to integrate your knowledge with examination of primary and secondary source materials. This feature makes the questions difficult to do fast, so practice is necessary if you aim to do well.

If you run out of College Board questions, switch to a prep book. Generally speaking, the College Board practice exam will be easier than review materials. This is because your prep book will try to provide you with difficult testing material in hopes of guaranteeing you a better score. Even more important than the MC is the writing section. When taken together, the SAQs, DBQ, and LEQ make up a whopping 60% of your final score!

Most AP classrooms emphasize the A.C.E. method (Answer, Cite, Expand) for the SAQ. Unfortunately, there isn’t an equal option for the DBQ and LEQ as they need more explanation. Nonetheless, memorize the rubrics for both essays and practice writing them at least once a month.

Live Stream Replay: How to SAQ

For the DBQ, SOAPSTONE is a sound basis for learning skills, especially if you haven’t taken an AP History before. Another good idea is to seek out examples online to get a feel for the writing style. If you still can’t comprehend the College Board’s explanations, do further research. Once you think you have the style down, ask a friend or teacher with AP experience to give you feedback. Fiveable may also be able to help with this.

Furthermore, keep in mind that the more time you spend in practicing will result in better pacing on the AP exam!

Live Stream Replay: How to do the DBQ

4. Find other students and teachers to work with!

This piece of advice sounds almost ironic. After all, the very term self-studying implies working alone. However, don’t devalue the potential of collective knowledge.

Try to find a teacher or peer at your school to check in with. They can give you pointers and hold you accountable if you fall behind. I understand this is not always possible. Check out Fiveable’s streams to connect with AP students and teachers! Ask questions often! Chances are, somebody else is wondering the same thing, but didn’t feel comfortable asking. Short on time? Send a message on the Discord app that the Fiveable community utilizes!

You might also try your luck on College Confidential and Reddit’s r/APStudents. Both of these sites offer you the chance to chat with others and ask questions. 

Live Stream Replay: AP Euro Student Study Session & Q&A

5. Have confidence in yourself!

I mean it! The fact that you have read this far already says something about your motivation and determination to ace the AP European History test.  Study hard, but also take the time to rest. Believe in yourself and you have the potential to do great. Good luck self-studying for AP Euro! 


🇪🇺 2020 ap euro study guide

Prepare for the new 2020 AP European History exam format with weekly lesson plans, study materials, and FRQ practice!

I am Bella, a sophomore at Michigan State University. I study Social Studies and English education and hope to someday teach ninth and tenth grade. In my spare time, I work at my college's Writing Center and volunteer with local community organizations.

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1 Comment

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    Bella, congratulations on an excellent resource article for AP European History! The resources listed here are top-notch! If students have access to it at school, also is quite helpful.


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