How to Write Good Essays in AP World History

Three Methods:Writing a Document-Based EssayPenning a Change-Over-Time EssayMastering a Comparative Essay

AP World History is an exciting course to take. You can learn about how civilizations have grown and interacted with one another from the time of 600 B.C.E. to the present day. For your course and AP exam, you will need to write three kinds of essays: document-based, continuity and change-over-time, and comparative.[1] Each has a slightly different format so be aware of the differences.

Method 1
Writing a Document-Based Essay

  1. Image titled Write Good Essays in AP World History Step 1
    Understand the format. The point of this essay is to show that you can see a historical document, whether a ship’s register or a written historical account, and make correct observations from it. You will receive four to ten documents and should demonstrate mastery of the wider context of world history. During the exam, you have fifty minutes to complete this essay. Ten minutes are for reading and looking at the document, forty minutes are for writing. Underline key terms when reading the prompt. This question aims to test your knowledge of the following historical analytical skills:
    • Making historical arguments from evidence and practicing historical argumentation
    • Chronological reasoning, determining causation, continuity, and change-over-time
    • Comparison and contextualization
    • Historical interpretation and synthesis[2]
  2. Image titled Write Good Essays in AP World History Step 2
    Group your documents appropriately. You can choose to analyze your documents based on chronology, cultural issues, or any other themes.[3] Picking a theme for analysis will help you create a clearer narrative. Do not try to undertake too much in one essay. Instead, pick one or two themes that can act as the common threads through the documents.
    • Look for commonalities or contrasts in the documents’ tone, authorship, purpose or intent, and dating.[4]
    • Draw a table that lists your group headings, e.g. "gender" or "trade pacts." List the numbers of the documents that fit in each group. For each group, make sure you have minimally two documents.[5]
    • Themes might include a particular time period like World War II, technological movements like the Industrial Revolution, or social movements like civil rights.
  3. Image titled Write Good Essays in AP World History Step 3
    Create a historical argument. First, read and analyze the documents individually. Use the documents’ contents to create your thesis statement. Decide what you want to prove based on the facts in front of you. See how you can relate the content to its context or to other events in that historical moment. Work to synthesize your findings into a clear, cohesive essay.[6]
    • You must use all or all but one of the documents.[7] For this essay, rely on the evidence in front of you first. Then, if you have any examples that will help your point, you can incorporate them into your argument.
    • You might be asked what other documents could be beneficial to your grouping or argument. Think about what could make your arguments stronger. Try to mention an additional needed document at the end of every body paragraph.[8]
    • For tips on writing an essay, see Write an Essay.
    • For advice on developing your thesis statement, see Focus an Essay. Your thesis statement should mention evidence you gathered from the documents. It should clearly and concisely answer the prompt. Do not take on a thesis that you cannot prove in the allotted time. A framework for a thesis could be: "Docs. 1-3 demonstrate how due to the invention of the water mill, landowners with water rights were able to extract income from a basic natural resource. This widened the income gap between landowners and farmers."
  4. Image titled Write Good Essays in AP World History Step 4
    Understand scoring. Your grader will look at several factors when grading your essay. For example, the clarity and strength of your thesis matters. Understanding the documents, supporting your thesis with evidence, and examining the point of view of two documents are also crucial. Grouping your documents into different categories also shows that you can connect the dots between artifacts. Lastly, your explanation of what sources could add to your argument also impacts your score.[9]

Method 2
Penning a Change-Over-Time Essay

  1. Image titled Write Good Essays in AP World History Step 5
    Understand the type of essay. A change-over-time essay asks you to analyze how over a specific time period, a culture or civilization has changed. Factors you could examine include: trade, migrations, cultural elements, the role of technology, or environmental change. You might be able to focus on the areas in which you are strongest. You have forty minutes to complete this question on the AP exam. Take a few minutes to map out your plan before starting to write.[10]
  2. Image titled Write Good Essays in AP World History Step 6
    Use analysis skills. When answering this question, be sure to follow directive words. If the prompt asks you to look at migration and environmental factors during colonialism, be sure to talk about both factors. Make sure that you ground your essay in the historical context of the prompt. Show your mastery and understanding of the social or political climates during that time.
    • How did environmental conditions shift, for example, during the Industrial Revolution? What were the connections to technological development? Look for changes over time and things that remained the same or were continuous.
    • Include dates when relevant.[11]
    • When forming your thesis statement, make sure it answers the prompt and mentions both change and continuity. For example, "Although Christianity spread through colonialism, its impact in China was relatively small in comparison to other countries (e.g. X, Y, Z). In China, Buddhism remained as a mainstay because of missionaries' inability to connect with the local people in (location M, N, etc.)."
  3. Image titled Write Good Essays in AP World History Step 7
    Pick good evidence. Use examples you have learned from class and your studies to support your point. Choose stories that demonstrate change and continuity and the forces driving those processes. Aim to be relevant.
    • For example, if you are writing about the Crusades, drawing parallels to the Mongols and spirituality's influence on their wars is an interesting side-point. Unless you were asked to compare the role of religion in war, however, the point is probably not necessary to mention!
  4. Image titled Write Good Essays in AP World History Step 8
    Keep grading factors in mind. Graders will look at the strength of your thesis and that you discuss appropriate global issues. You also must answer every part of the question. Use relevant evidence that you have learned in class or studying to back up your claims. Make sure to convey the continuity or change elements of this essay. While your last essay (comparative) focuses heavily on making comparisons, you should seek to have a linear argument for the continuity and change essay.
    • Good essays tie change and continuity together. For example, an important agricultural change could lead to a technological innovation that becomes a continuity.

Method 3
Mastering a Comparative Essay

  1. Image titled Write Good Essays in AP World History Step 9
    Understand the goal. Students demonstrate via comparative essays that they can look at two civilizations or regions and recognize how they are similar or different. You should examine why there are similarities or differences. What are the reasons behind them? You have forty minutes to write this essay. Spend the first five minutes outlining your argument.[12]
    • You might be able to choose from a number of examples for analysis.[13]
  2. Image titled Write Good Essays in AP World History Step 10
    Follow the directions. Students must show that they can follow the prompt. For example, if it says “compare and contrast,” do both of these things. Be sure to understand the meaning of these words. Common “directive” words that will appear on your exam are:
    • Analyze
    • Compare
    • Assess or evaluate
    • Explain
    • Discuss
    • Describe[14]
  3. Image titled Write Good Essays in AP World History Step 11
    Craft your argument. Before you start writing your essay, jot down an outline with your key points. Decide what will go into each paragraph. By having a map of your plan, you will be able to write more efficiently and quickly. When making your thesis statement, key in mind the directive words. If the prompt says you must compare, then make sure you offer a comparison in your thesis statement.
  4. Image titled Write Good Essays in AP World History Step 12
    Find good examples. When drawing comparisons, think about two topics you know a lot about. Of course, some prompts will lead you to analyze specific groups but if you are allowed to choose your examples, lean on your strengths.
    • For example, if the prompt asks you to compare the role of religion in war between two societies, you could pick the Ancient Hebrews and early Muslims. If, however, you know more about the Christian Crusaders and the spiritualist Mongols, go for that comparison. As long as you can support your points with thorough examples and your examples answer the question at hand, use what you know best.
  5. Image titled Write Good Essays in AP World History Step 13
    Learn about scoring. Like with the change-over-time essay, graders will look to see that you can argue well, explain the reason for changes, and synthesize your arguments. Because comparison is the focus of this essay, particular attention will be given to how you compare and contrast the regions. What details do you provide? How do you explain the different historical, social, or contexts that result in differences? Particularly you must show that you:
    • Can develop a solid thesis
    • Answer every part of the question
    • Provide evidence to back up your thesis
    • Make minimally one (preferably more) direct comparisons between regions or societies
    • Examine one reason for the difference between regions


  • If you have time, always review your essay after you’ve written it.
  • To ensure good essay writing, be sure to study enough beforehand.
  • Craft a good essay structure. Try having an introduction, body, and conclusion.
  • Avoid unnecessarily flowery language.
  • Stay on topic.
  • Don't add irrelevant facts.
  • Be unbiased unless the question asks for your opinion.
  • Keep your sentences short.
  • Use an active voice (versus passive) and simple past verbs.[15]

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Categories: Essays | Advanced Placement Courses and Exams