AP World Practice SAQ: State Formation, 1200 - 1450 CE

21 min readjanuary 1, 2021

Melissa Longnecker


SAQ practice is one of the best ways to prepare for the AP exam! Review student writing practice samples and corresponding feedback from AP World Teacher Melissa Longnecker!

The Short Answer Question Practice Prompt

Use your understanding of World History to answer the following questions with evidence from the period c. 1200 - c. 1450 CE:
  1. Identify a factor that fostered the development of a larger state(s) (context)
  2. Describe ONE similarity between the development of political entities in two different regions
  3. Explain ONE difference between the development of the political entities you compared in #2 above.

Writing Samples and Feedback

SAQ Practice Submission 1

  1. One factor that fostered the development of states during the period from 1200-1450 was the growth of interregional trade. Interregional connections between states via the Silk Roads and Indian Ocean Trade Networks allowed states to establish and accumulate wealth.
  2. Two of the largest empires during this period were the Mali Empire in West Africa and the Song Dynasty in East Asia, both of which accumulated wealth by controlling trade and taxing other peoples in their respective regions. The Song Dynasty used used the tribute system, which demanded periodic taxes and displays of reverence from surrounding states such as Korea, Japan, and Vietnam. In a similar fashion, the Mali Empire taxed all trade that occurred within western Africa. Both of these systems, which had very similar natures and purposes, allowed these states to collect wealth and assert authority over surrounding states.
  3. One of the largest differences between the Mali Empire and Song China were the religions that they used to legitimize their rule. In the case of the Mali Empire, leaders such as Mansu Musa promoted Islam in order to establish a nation-wide religion and gain access to trading relationships with Arab merchants. This religion emphasized belief in one diety, Allah. On the other hand, Song China utilized the ideologies of Confucianism in order to legitimize their rule. This religion emphasized respect between different members of society rather than unification under one diety. While both religions allowed rulers to legitimize their rule, they did so using very different ideological and religious concepts.

Teacher Feedback

1. This is a really thoughtful, yet concise, answer. Way to go!
2. This is another good answer, and it includes a specific and clear comparison. Nice work. There’s just enough detail here to make this a great answer.
3. This answer works. Honestly, when reading it, at first I thought you’d accidentally written another similarity rather than a difference. You brought it back around by the end, so it works. In general, I usually encourage students to choose a difference that can be clearly shown with contrasting examples, rather than one like this (i.e. both used religion, but different ones). If that’s what came to mind though, you’ve got enough detail to make it work here!

SAQ Practice Submission 2

  1. One factor that fostered the development of larger states was trade. This can be seen in the states of Mali, Ghana, and Songhai because they used the gold and salt trade to become more wealthy and therefore gain more power in the region.
  2. The development of England and Ethiopia is similar in that both used Christianity as a means to unite their empire.
  3. The development of England and Ethiopia is different in that England was practicing feudalism for much of the time period while Ethiopia was united under one powerful ruler who centralized power.

Teacher Feedback

1. This answer works, and I especially like how you’ve included specific examples. Talking about context is usually the broadest kind of analysis the AP Exam asks for, so it’s also ok to take it a bit broader.
2. This is a really creative (and effective) comparison! Because the verb in this prompt is “describe,” we’re not looking for a lengthy response. If you wanted to give just a bit more detail, I’d love an example from each state of how they used Christianity to unite the empire.
3. Another answer with some good detail. This prompt was an “explain” verb, so we’re looking for just a bit more. What did feudalism look like in England? What did centralized rule look like in Ethiopia? And why, briefly, did they develop differently in this era?

SAQ Practice Submission 3

  1. One of the factors of state formation in 1200-1450 was the active participation in trade routes such as the Silk Road trade, Trans-Saharan trade network, and the Indian Ocean trade network. For example, the Malian empire was able to build as a state from their trade of gold and natural resources through the Trans-Saharan trade network and their trading with Middle Eastern states in the 14th century. Therefore, their participation in interregional trade routes led to the building of their empire because they were able to accumulate a vast amount of wealth from trade.
  2. A similarity that the Malian and Mongol Empires shared with the formation of political entities is that their armies conquered lands to form empires. The Mongols conquered the Song empire, much of central Asia, and the Middle East. The Malian empire conquered lands to expand their influence. The development of their political standing as an empire could not have happened if they did not conquer lands to build their empires.
  3. A difference between the formation in political entities that the Malian empire and the Mongol empire is how they were ruled. While the Mongol empire was broken down into multiple khanates to maintain their rule, one king ruled the Malian empire. This shows an important difference in how they ruled because the division of power was much more prevalent in Mongol politics than Malian Politics.

Teacher Feedback

1. This is a really thorough answer. You’ve done a great job of giving specific examples that tie your initial idea about trade to state expansion. This “identify” style of prompt doesn’t require a lot of explanation, so it’s good to keep these responses brief.
2. This is a really interesting comparison! I’m loving the way students are really pulling together examples from different regions of the world. Here, you’ve identified regions that the Mongols conquered with their militaries. What specific lands did the armies of Mali conquer?
3. This is another good comparison. It shows a clear difference and it is the same type of response (you describe the style of rule for both empires) - this is actually quite challenging to do, so I’m glad to see it in your writing! One way to continue to strengthen your answers is to answer the implied “why” for any kind of “evaluate” or “explain” prompt. In this case - why do you think the style of rule differed in this way in Mali and the Mongol khanates?

SAQ Practice Submission 4

  1. One factor that fostered the development of a larger states was the furthering of trade. Cross-culture exchanges was a result of trade. For example, champa rice was brought to China from Vietnam. This helped the Song Dynasty feed their growing population. This fostered the development of larger states because it helped sustain the population.
  2. One similarity between the development of political entities in two different regions is religion. For example The Song Dynasty and Japan both used a form of Confucianism to run a powerful and long lasting dynasty.
  3. One difference between the development of The Song Dynasty and Japan was the type of government. While both empires has a powerful government, The Song Dynasty was ruled by an omnipotent emperor and Japan had a weak emperor who was controlled by the daimyo.

Teacher Feedback

1. This is a good answer. I especially like how you developed it with specific examples to demonstrate how trade helped states expand!
2. This is another good answer. The last sentence in your response is a good comparative statement - you’ve chosen a clear similarity between two relevant regions.
3. Since this prompt is phrased as an “explain” prompt, it would be a good idea to expand your answer here. (Just like you’ll need to expand in your DBQ.) You’ve given the good comparison of Song China and Japan, and to strengthen it, think about adding a sentence about why they were different in these specific ways.

SAQ Practice Submission 5

  1. One factor that fostered the growth of larger state’s was the facilitation of trade. Specifically the trade of paper manufacturing that spread from China to Eurasia led to growth of states. Through the trade of paper, literacy increased in Europe which also increased intellectual thought and education leading to advancements in mathematics and medicine which resulted to overall better quality of life. This contributed to the development of larger states as these intellectuals put their ideas to use in growing society,
  2. There are similarities between the Song Dynasty and the Mali Empire in terms of opportunities for education. The Song Dynasty in China used the advancement of the Civil Service exam to provide educational opportunities to people. In Africa, the Mali Empire developed centers of Islamic learning where individuals studied Islamic subjects. In both of these regions, new opportunities of learning were created.
  3. The differences between the Song Dynasty and the Mali Empire laid in their government and authority over the peoples. In the Song Dynasty in China, they relied on their imperial bureaucracy to be able to have a structured society with offials who successfully carried out the emporers orders. Contrasting this, the Mali Empires form of government lay in the responsibility of one Emperor, Mansa. The mansa had absolute power and authority. Through there differences in governments, these two regions differed.

Teacher Feedback

1. This is a really interesting answer! You’ve correctly identified trade as a development that was context in which the expansion of states occurred. The example here is really interesting too - I haven’t seen anyone write about paper yet.
2. This is a good example of comparison - you’ve identified the similarity in the first sentence and then expand it through your examples. One way to strengthen this answer would be to connect more specifically to the prompt (in this case: how does education relate to a political entity in those states?)
3. This answer does a really good job of connecting to the prompt (politics) and giving a clear comparison with relevant examples. Nice work!

SAQ Practice Submission 6

  1. 1 factor that led to the development of large states during the period of 1200-1450 is trade. This is seen in the Mali Empire and the Delhi Sultanate by using their surplus of natural products(gold mainly for Mali people and spices for the Delhi Sultanate) to acquire more wealth and becoming a bigger contender on the world stage by being known for trading these luxuries
  2. One similarity between the development of the Mali Empire and The Delhi Sultanate is that they both used certain religious events/practices from Islam to spread their empires. This is seen in Mansa Musa’s pilgrimage to Mecca who is known for giving gold and inflating economies and the Delhi Sultanate using the jizya tax to cause conversions(mostly forced) to spread their religion through numbers and to also caused attempted wars called jihads(holy wars) and sometimes were just an excuse for an attempt to conquest.
  3. One difference between the development of the Delhi Sultanate and the Mali Empire is that the spread of Islam influence had different levels of commitment. In the Mali Empire there was more commitment due to the fact that it came to Mali through trade and by choice and that there was also educational centers based on Islam mainly to create more of an Islamic influence on the people. On the other hand, in the Delhi Sultanate, people weren’t very committed to Islam since it came to them by force and not choice and that other religions weren’t respected as much as Islam and they were deprived of many things(left a bad impression on Indians). This is mainly seen as high positions in jobs were only for Muslims and non-Muslims had to pay a tax(jizya) to practice religion. And many people usually converted for better jobs, no jizya, and an improvement in lifestyle.

Teacher Feedback

1. This is a really solid answer. You’ve clearly identified a context for state expansion, given specific examples, and connected it to the prompt!
2. This answer works pretty well. It’s a good comparison - clearly stated in the first sentence and explained in the examples. One thing to pay attention to is making sure that your answer really connects to the topic of the prompt (in this case, political entities.)
3. It looks like you may have interpreted this prompt really narrowly for this one. It’s a good example of comparison (difference), stated and developed with examples. It’s not very political though. The prompt asked you to use the same two empires from part B, but you didn’t necessarily have to discuss the same theme or topic (religion) for this prompt. Feel free to give yourself freedom to choose examples that fit the prompt best!

SAQ Practice Submission 7

  1. One factor that fostered the development of larger states from c. 1200 - c. 1450 was inter regional trade. Trade routes such as the Silk roads and the Indian Ocean trade helped spread ideas that helped foster the development of states, as well as allow states to accumulate wealth. An example of this is shown in the Song Dynasty with the Grand Canal, which enabled them to become the most populous trading area in the world.
  2. Two of the most powerful entities in their region at the time, Mali and the Song Dynasty, were able to expand upon the ideas that made past dynasties powerful. Mali arose from the Ghanaian state, and cultivated a thriving gold trade, the same thing Ghana was able to do to rise in power. In the Song Dynasty, rulers were able to improve the imperial bureaucracy, which had been a feature of the Chinese government since the Qin dynasty, by allowing those in lower classes to take it. The Song dynasty was also able to build upon trade that the former Tang dynasty had encouraged, and they prospered because of it, becoming one of the most populous trading areas in the world
  3. A difference between the development of the Song Dynasty and Mali was that the Song were able to develop a strong manufacturing capability. The Chinese were able to manufacture steel, which strengthened the agricultural equipment that they used, which helped grow more food. Artisans were able to produce porcelain and silk, which were able to be traded. Meanwhile in Mali, the thriving gold trade between them and Muslim merchants was the factor which made them powerful.

Teacher Feedback

1. This is a good response. It clearly identifies a relevant context for state expansion, and you develop and connect that idea through your examples. Good work!
2. This is some effective comparison! The similarity between the Mali and Song China is clearly established in the first sentence, and your examples and explanation expand to connect that idea back to the prompt.
3. This answer is a good difference, though the connection to “political entities” is a little less clear. Be sure that your answer is connected back to the prompt for maximum success!

SAQ Practice Submission 8

  1. One factor that fostered the development of larger states was the Silk Roads and Indian Ocean trade routes. Empires like the Srivijava Empire and Majapahit empire prospered because of the ongoing maritime trade in Southeast Asia. Their strategic location near the Strait of Malacca allowed them to tax cargo ships and prosper economically.
  2. One similarity between the development of political entities in two different regions was the use of feudalism in both Western Europe and Japan. Both Europe and Japan was divided into many different territories that were governed by local leaders instead of being entirely centralized.
  3. One difference between the development of the political identities in Feudal Japan and Western Europe was that the daimyo (equivalent to the European lords) had more power in Japan. The lords in Western Europe generally had to listen to their king supervisor whereas the daimyo acted more independently.

Teacher Feedback

1. This is a good answer. You’re right to see the connection between trade and state expansion.
2. This is a well-written comparison. The similarity is clearly stated and the examples that follow give just enough detail to strengthen the answer. Nice work!
3. This is another good comparison. Differences can be difficult to write, and you’ve struck a good balance here with showing specific difference and staying on topic for the prompt. To strengthen any comparative statement, think about adding a sentence that addresses why the similarity or difference exists. That added analysis will improve an “explain”-style SAQ and will definitely help with a DBQ!

SAQ Practice Submission 9

  1. One factor that fosters the development of a larger state during the period of 1200 to 1450 CE was the growth of trade. This can be seen through connections in Asia by the Silk Roads as well as in Africa via the Trans-Saharan routes. One clear example of this is in the African kingdom of Mali which grew wealthy by taxing gold trade.
  2. One similarity between the development of political entities in two different regions is that of using religious principles to unite empires in West Africa and in China. The Mali Empire in Africa under Mansa Musa used Islamic virtues to foster prosperity and unification. During the Song Dynasty in China, the reintroduction of Confucian principles such as the Civil Service exam led to a more successful China.
  3. One difference of the developments of the political entities of the Mali Kingdom and Song Dynasty is how each kingdom grew financially stable. The Mali Kingdom taxed merchants looking to participate in the gold trade. The Song Dynasty participated in the tribute system and collected different goods such as rice from Vietnam and Korea.

Teacher Feedback

1. This is a good answer. It gives a clear context for state expansion, and then follows up with examples that connect back to the prompt. Nice work!
2. This is a good example of how to write a similarity comparison. It clearly states the similarity in the first sentence, and then gives just enough detail to demonstrate that similarity with specifics.
3. I think that differences are really challenging to write, and you’ve done a great job here. It’s clear what the difference is, and again, good details that show it in practice in each state. One way to strengthen a comparison (in an “explain”-style SAQ or a DBQ like you’ll write for this year’s exam) is to include analysis that gives a reason why the similarity or difference occurred. Doing that analytical work would strengthen both of your comparative responses here.

SAQ Practice Submission 10

  1. One factor that fostered the development of larger states was the rise of trade. The Grand Canal increased trade and made China the most populous trading area. Champa rice and porcelain were two important trading items that increased China’s wealth and trade.
  2. One similarity between the Song Dynasty and Great Zimbabwe is that they both taxed other regions and kingdoms. Great Zimbabwe put a tax on the transport of their products such as gold, which made their kingdom wealthy. The Song Dynasty use the tribute system on Japan, Korea, and Vietnam, which gave them more power over these countries and increased their respect and wealth.
  3. One difference between the Song Dynasty and Great Zimbabwe is their religion. The Song Dynasty mainly supported Confucianism because they saw it as a binding social force. They even incorporated Confucianism into their education. Great Zimbabwe’s religion did not consist of Confucianism, but they believed in the Shona religion instead. The Song Dynasty and Great Zimbabwe were both powerful kingdoms, but they believed in different religions which contributed to their development.

Teacher Feedback

1. This is a good answer. You’ve clearly identified some context, and you’ve connected that to a specific state that expanded during this era. Nice work.
2. This is a good similarity. The civilizations you chose are specific and relevant, and your examples connect the idea of taxes to the state (politics), which is really important for this prompt!
3. Writing differences can be more challenging than similarities, because you need to have specific examples of what each state did, which you have here. Good work. I’m not sure the connection between religion and the state (politics) is fully developed here, so be sure that your answer addresses the entire prompt given for maximum success.

SAQ Practice Submission 11

  1. In the period 1200-1450 CE, the growth of trade routes was able to foster the development of larger states. For example, the demand for luxury goods such as Chinese porcelain on the Silk Road was able to make Song China very wealthy and powerful.
  2. A similarity between the development of the Incan and Khmer Empires was the method that they used to legitimize their rulers, by connecting them to religious gods. There was an Incan belief that their leader was a representative of the Sun God, and in Khmer, images of their leader were fused into statues of gods.
  3. A difference between the Inca and Khmer empires was the method they used to govern over their territory. The Incas had a more decentralized state, and was broken up into four provinces with their own government and bureaucracy. In contrast, the temple network in Khmer made it more centralized because it connected all the local temples to the king and the central temple in his capital.

Teacher Feedback

1. This is a good answer. You’ve correctly identified trade as context for state expansion, and your example clearly shows the link between them. Nice work!
2. This is a good start to a similarity answer. You’ve identified a really interesting comparison between the Khmer and Inca states, and you’ve connected the idea of religion to the legitimacy of rulers. That’s really good work! If this were a DBQ or a “explain”- style SAQ prompt, you might want a little more detail about how these states used their beliefs to strengthen the rulers’ power.
3. This answer is really well connected to the prompt - we’re looking for a difference in the same two states that relates to political development. Because this prompt is the “explain”-style, you may want to expand more on your examples. One way to strengthen any comparison is to include some analysis of why a specific difference existed between two states.

SAQ Practice Submission 12

  1. One factor that fostered the development of larger states would be trade. Trade along routes like the Silk Roads created an interconnected world in which countries could benefit from each other. For example, crops like champa rice, bananas and potatoes spread and led to population growth.
  2. One similarity between the development of political entities in different regions was the use of religion to unite. For example, in Europe the Catholic Church was used as a device to connect the hundreds of divided states. This is very similar to Ethiopia where they separated from the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches to unite and create their own distinct form of faith.
  3. One difference between the two regions compared above is the influence and lack of influence of Islam. Ethiopia created their own faith with traditions most likely taken from Islam and Christianity while the European states were trying to convert other religions, including those practicing Islam.

Teacher Feedback

1. This is a really good version of this answer! Most folks have been writing about trade for part 1, and I like that your answer addresses the link between trade, population, and the expansion of state power.
2. Your choice of examples for the part and the next are really interesting. I love seeing Ethiopia getting some attention in APWH answers! You’ve done a good job here at establishing a similarity at the beginning of your answer and then following up with specific examples.
3. This answer struggles to fully address the prompt. For this part, we wanted you to focus on differences in state development (politics) specifically, and that’s a little bit lost in this response. I like the way you’ve noticed the influence of Islam in these regions, and I wonder if you could tie that back in to state development or if there’s another difference between Europe and Ethiopia that might be more directly relevant to politics.

SAQ Practice Submission 13

  1. One factor that fostered the development of large states in the period 1200-1450 is wealth from trade. Great Zimbabwe became wealthy by transporting gold on the Indian Ocean Trade route. This wealth and trade helped become a powerful East African kingdom and led to the development of things like the swahali language.
  2. One similarity between the development of political entities in the Song Dynasty and the Aztecs civilization is the influence of religion in the government. Both the Song Dynasty and Aztecs were ruled by religious/scholarly officials.
  3. One difference between the development of the political entities in the Song Dynasty and the Aztec civilization is how they legitimize their rule and keep their subjects in line. The Song Dynasty used the religion Confucianism and its system of ethics to keep people obedient to their superiors. The Aztecs used their tribute system to instill fear in their subjects and insure their dominance.

Teacher Feedback

1. This is a good answer. I especially like seeing African states getting represented in these responses, because it shows that you’re getting a good balance of regions in your studying!
2. This is a good similarity comparison. You’ve clearly identified the similarity in the first sentence, and then expanded with your example in the next. For your DBQ exam or an “explain”-style SAQ, you can strengthen an answer like this by addressing the question of why the similarity existed in two completely different states (especially these two, who had no contact.)
3. One thing that will help your comparison writing is to address the comparison directly, especially with differences. Instead of saying “they had different ways of legitimizing their rule” you might say something like “While Song China _______, the Aztecs ________ to legitimize their rule instead” (with specific ideas about each place in the blanks.) This establishes your ideas as a comparison right off the bat! (Don’t forget that China used a tribute system too, so its doubly important here to establish how these two were different!!)

SAQ Practice Submission 14

  1. One factor that fostered the development of a larger state was trade. The demand for goods such as champa rice and porcelain along the Silk Road increased trade in China. This helped make China more wealthy.
  2. One similarity between the development of political entities in two different regions was the type of teaching between the Song Dynasty and the Muslim scholars. In the Song Dynasty, they used the civil service exam which helped bring local people to the government and have better opportunities. Muslim scholars translated themselves Greek literary books and brought back mathematic texts from India.
  3. One difference between the development between the Song Dynasty and the Muslim scholars was their religion. The Song Dynasty believed in Confucianism. Confucianism helped the Song Dynasty guide them in the government and education. On the other hand, the Muslim scholars mainly believed in Islam.

Teacher Feedback

This is a good response. You’ve correctly identified trade as a relevant context for state expansion, and even connected it to a relevant state - China.
For both parts 2 and 3 there’s an important correction to make: the prompt asked for a comparison between political entities in two regions. While the Song Dynasty would definitely count for this, Muslim scholars doesn’t really work. You might choose one of the Islamic states from this period like the Delhi Sultanate or the West African kingdom of Mali to help you elaborate more on some of these ideas. Or, you could choose a completely different state in another region that you can compare politically with Song China.

SAQ Practice Submission 15

  1. A factor that fostered the development of larger states was the facilitation of trade. Trade during this time interconnected different regions through the Indian Ocean trade route, Silk Roads and the Trans-Saharan Trade Route. These major trade routes generated wealth for merchants and states because of the various trade items being sold across the routes. For example there were many luxury items sold on the Silk Roads like porcelain.
  2. One similarity between the development of political entities in two different regions could be China and Japan. During 1200-1450 Japan tried to recreate China. The Japanese even sent their nobles to see chinas government so they could base their government off china’s. Once the Japanese nobles returned, they centralized their government.
  3. One difference between the development of political entities in two different regions could be China and Japan. China was very powerful and even accepted tribute from other states. China was very powerful compared to Japan, which was one of the many reasons Japan wanted to recreate a China.

Teacher Feedback

1. This answer works. You’ve correctly identified trade as context for the expansion of states in this period. Some of your additional examples and information don’t necessarily add to our understanding of how trade helped states expand, so keep an eye on your examples in order to choose the best and most relevant ones.
2. This answer has some good analysis in it. Specifically, it answers the question of why China and Japan would have similarities. This is a really good strategy. To strengthen your comparison writing, be sure to clearly state what the comparison is from the beginning. In this case, your first sentence identifies the regions you will compare, but not what was similar about them. I had to infer that from the rest of the answer, and it would strengthen your answer overall to state that similarity up front.
3. Again, it’s really important to state your comparison directly in your answer. I think that differences are harder to write than similarities. One formula you might use would be something like, “While China _________, Japan _________ instead in its political development.” (The blanks would be filled with the specific aspects of political development that are different between these regions.)

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