2021 AP World History: Modern Exam Guide

13 min readfebruary 25, 2021


We know that studying for your AP exams can be stressful, but Fiveable has your back! We have created a study plan that will help you crush your AP World History: Modern exam. We will continue to update this guide with more information about the 2021 exams, as well as helpful resources to help you score that 5. Create a Fiveable account and join our Discord to stay involved in all things AP exams! 😁

Format of the 2021 AP World History: Modern exam

This year, all AP exams will cover all units and essay types. The 2021 AP World History: Modern exam will follow two formats, depending on when you take the exam.

Early May Paper Exam

Section IA: Multiple Choice
55 Questions | 55 Minutes | 40% of Exam Score
  • Questions usually appear in sets of 3–4 questions with primary and secondary sources, images, graphs, and maps.
  • Students analyze historical texts, interpretations, and evidence.
Section IB: Short Answer
3 Questions | 40 Minutes | 20% of Exam Score 
  • Question 1 is required, includes 1 secondary source, and focuses on the years 1200-2001.
  • Question 2 is required, includes 1 primary source, and focuses on the years 1200-2001.
  • Students choose between Question 3 (which focuses on the years 1200-1750) and Question 4 (which focuses on the years 1750-2001). No sources are included for either Question 3 or Question 4.
Section IIA: Document-Based Question
1 Question | 1 Hour (includes 15-minute reading period) | 25% of Exam Score
  • Standard DBQ question with 7 documents that offer various perspectives on a historical development or process.
  • The document-based question focuses on topics from 1450 to 2001.
Section IIB: Long Essay
1 Question | 40 Minutes | 15% of Exam Score 
  • Students develop an argument supported by an analysis of historical evidence.
  • 3 prompts will be presented focusing primarily on historical developments and processes in different time periods—students will choose to write.

Late May Exam and Early June Exams (Digital)

Section IA: Multiple Choice
55 Questions | 55 Minutes | 40% of Exam Score
  • Questions usually appear in sets of 3–4 questions with primary and secondary sources, images, graphs, and maps.
  • Students analyze historical texts, interpretations, and evidence.
Section IB: Short Answer
3 Questions | 40 Minutes | 20% of Exam Score
  • Students answer all 3 presented questions focused on the years 1200-2001.
    • Question 1 includes 1 primary source text.
    • Question 2 includes 1 map source.
    • Question 3 includes 1 primary source image.
Section IIA: Document-Based Question
1 Question | 1 Hour (includes 15-minute reading period) | 25% of Exam Score
  • Standard DBQ question with 7 documents that offer various perspectives on a historical development or process.
  • The document-based question focuses on topics from 1450 to 2001.
Section IIB: Short Answer Questions
2 Questions | 40 Minutes | 15% of Exam Score
  • There is no LEQ on the digital examination this year. Instead, there will be a second SAQ section with two required questions.
  • Question 5 is required, includes a source with a data set (such as a chart, table, or graph), and focuses on historical developments or processes between the years 1200 and 2001.
  • Question 6 is required, includes secondary source text, and focuses on historical developments or processes between the years 1200 and 2001.

Scoring Rubric for the 2021 Exam

Check out our study plan below to find resources and tools to prepare for your AP World History: Modern exam.

When is the 2021 AP World exam and how do I take it?

According to the College Board, the 2021 exam schedule provides 3 testing dates for each subject between early May and mid-June. Paper and digital exams are offered, depending on the exam date. The tests will be taken in person at your school unless your AP Coordinator has indicated otherwise.
  • Administration 1 of the AP World History: Modern exam is on May 10, 2021, at 8 am your local time—this will be a paper test at your school. 
  • Administration 2 of the AP World History: Modern exam is on May 20, 2021, at 12 pm EDT—this will be digital, in school, or at home. 
  • Administration 3 of the AP World History: Modern exam is on June 3, at 12 pm EDT—this will be digital, in school, or at home. 
You will have 3 hours and 15 minutes to take the exam. Create a Fiveable account to get updates on the latest 2021 exam news. 

How should I prepare for the exam?

  • First, download the AP World History Cram Chart PDF - a single sheet that covers everything you need to know at a high level. Take note of your strengths and weaknesses! 
  • Review every unit and question type, and focus on the areas that need the most improvement and practice. We’ve put together this plan to help you study between now and May. This will cover all of the units and essay types to prepare you for your exam
  • Join our Discord channel to talk to real students just like you studying for this exam! We have TAs in each subject channel to support you this Spring. 
  • Finally, check out our live Cram events so that you can review for the AP World exam with a rockstar teacher and study socially among other students!  

Pre-work: set up your study environment

There are thousands of students all over the world who are preparing for their AP exams just like you! Join our Discord channel to chat, ask questions, and meet other students who are also studying for the spring exams. You can even build study groups and review material together!
Before we begin, take some time to get organized. Remote learning can be great, but it also means you’ll need to hold yourself accountable more than usual. 
🖥 Create a study space.
Make sure you have a designated place at home to study. Somewhere you can keep all of your materials, where you can focus on learning, and where you are comfortable. Spend some time prepping the space with everything you need and you can even let others in the family know that this is your study space. 
📚 Organize your study materials.
Get your notebook, textbook, prep books, or whatever other physical materials you have. Also create a space for you to keep track of review. Start a new section in your notebook to take notes or start a Google Doc to keep track of your notes. Get yourself set up!
📅 Plan designated times for studying.
The hardest part about studying from home is sticking to a routine. Decide on one hour every day that you can dedicate to studying. This can be any time of the day, whatever works best for you. Set a timer on your phone for that time and really try to stick to it. The routine will help you stay on track.
🏆 Decide on an accountability plan.
How will you hold yourself accountable to this study plan? You may or may not have a teacher or rules set up to help you stay on track, so you need to set some for yourself. First set your goal. This could be studying for x number of hours or getting through a unit. Then, create a reward for yourself. If you reach your goal, then x. This will help stay focused!
🤝 Get support from your peers. 
There are thousands of students all over the world who are preparing for their AP exams just like you! Join our Discord channel to chat, ask questions, and meet other students who are also studying for the spring exams. You can even build study groups and review material together! 

AP World History: Modern 2021 study plan

🐎Unit 1: The Global Tapestry, c. 1200 - c. 145

Big Takeaways

Before 500 CE, many classical powers like Rome, Han China, and Gupta India dominated. However, between 500-1200, these powers fell and their regions became decentralized. By 1200, these regions are once again unifying. Europe, China, South Asia, and regional powers in Africa and the Americas are both buildings on their paths by infusing traditional religions and philosophies into their societies while also advancing economically and technologically. 

Definitely do this:

📚 Read these study guides:
If you have more time or want to dig deeper:

🐫 Unit 2: Networks of Exchange

Big Takeaways

Before 1200, trade networks were largely local, usually between civilizations bordering each other. However, with more technological inventions allowing merchants to travel farther more efficiently, and the growing demand for goods in growing empires, trade routes began to rapidly expand.
As the routes (such as the Silk Roads) began to spread, they carried new goods and ideas with them, such as Buddhism and the development of diasporic communities where merchants settled down in different states other than their own. Knowledge began to travel faster than ever before.

Definitely do this:

📚 Read these study guides:

If you have more time or want to dig deeper:
  • 💎 Check out this interactive website on the history of humans in the Indian Ocean
  • 🗺 Can you identify the countries of the world? Play this game!
    • You won’t be asked to label maps on the exam, but it’s useful to know where countries are located so you can draw conclusions from their region.

🕌 Unit 3: Land-Based Empires, c. 1450 - c. 1750 CE

Big Takeaways

While the Columbian Exchange and Columbus’s Voyages captured most of the attention between 1450-1750, at the same time, around the world a number of land empires centralized. These Land Empires are meant to be a topic to compare and contrast with each other and with the Maritime Empires of Unit 4. 
Gunpowder technology was getting better, making it easier to use guns en masse. Intensification of trade routes also occurred on land, meaning that the new empires would have access to a larger pool of resources than their predecessors. 
These empires were different, but a few continuities remained. Religion and cultural ideas continued to play a role, and even spread within empires. Empires continued to be absolute, with most maintaining strict political and economic control over their domains.

Definitely do this:

📚 Read these study guides:
If you have more time or want to dig deeper:

🍕 Unit 4: Transoceanic Interconnections, c. 1450 - c. 1750 CE

Big Takeaways

Before 1450, regional trade was all the rage as the Silk Roads, Indian Ocean network, and Trans-Saharan routes exploded with more merchants and goods flowing. By 1450, Europeans were set on finding a faster route to Asia. Relying on overland trade was too slow and you couldn’t bring all that many goods with you on a camel’s back. Maritime trade would prove to be far more economically efficient.

Definitely do this:

📚 Read these study guides:

If you have more time or want to dig deeper:

✊🏽Unit 5: Revolutions, c. 1750 - c. 1900 CE

Big Takeaways

Some historians and textbooks consider this as one transformation: a dual revolution in industry and in politics. The political revolutions of this time period included many common people taking action against elites, along with competition among elites. Students should be familiar with three political revolutions--American, French, and Haitian--and the Latin American Wars of Independence. These revolutions produced new states. At the same time as these political revolutions in the Atlantic World, the Industrial Revolution began in Britain and spread to Western Europe, the United States, Japan. This change in a production led to enormous social and cultural changes.

Definitely do this:

📚 Read these Fiveable study guides:

If you have more time or want to dig deeper:

🚂 Unit 6: Consequence of Industrialization, c. 1750 - c. 1900 CE

Big Takeaways
Students will begin to learn about how Britain, France, the British and Dutch East India Companies, Portugal, and Spain all began this period with colonial possessions in the Americas, Africa, and Asia. Industrial developments allowed states to expand their power through imperialism. Native peoples in these colonies resisted imperialist expansion into their countries in a variety of ways. Unit 6 also includes global migrations.

Definitely do this:

📚 Read these Fiveable study guides:

If you have more time or want to dig deeper:

🎥 Watch these videos:
📰 Read these articles:

💣 Unit 7: Global Conflict

Big Takeaways

The Global Conflict Unit is the first time that we see alliances forming and when we see new interconnections of the globalized world! Make sure to look for causes and effects from all of the major conflicts and see if you can find other similar causations in contemporary world history!

Definitely do this:

📚 Read these Fiveable study guides:
If you have more time or want to dig deeper:

🥶 Unit 8 (1900-Present) - Cold War & Decolonization  

Big Takeaways

As you probably already know, WWI was caused by a bunch of nationalism in the warring countries, increased military power due to the Industrial revolution, imperialism, and alliances. It was largely unsuccessful in solving disputes and 21 years later there was WWII. 
Both of these wars resulted in a ton of death and destruction, and most importantly, a bunch of colonies started to think for themselves. They fought in the war, after all-- why shouldn’t they be independent? 
After the war, the Soviet Union and the United States were left largely undamaged by the war, whereas Western Europe was totally destroyed. This left both of them primed to become world powers.

Definitely do this:

📚 Read these study guides:

If you have more time or want to dig deeper:

  • 📝Read: Freemanpedia - Notes

✈️ Unit 9 (1900-Present) - Globalization 

Big Takeaways

According to the College Board, in the last unit of the course, you'll continue your study of period c. 1900–present by investigating the causes and effects of the unprecedented connectivity of the modern world.

Definitely do this:

📚 Review the following resources:

If you have more time or want to dig deeper:

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Browse Study Guides By Unit
📑
Document Based Questions (DBQ)
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Historical Thinking Skills
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Long Essay Questions (LEQ)
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Regional Guides
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Short Answer Questions (SAQ)
🚀
Thematic Guides
🐎
Unit 1: The Global Tapestry
🐫
Unit 2: Networks of Exchange
🕌
Unit 3: Land-Based Empires
🍕
Unit 4: Transoceanic Interconnections
Unit 5: Revolutions
🚂
Unit 6: Consequences of Industrialization
💣
Unit 7: Global Conflict
🥶
Unit 8: Cold War & Decolonization