AP® World History: Modern
Units, Topics, and Key Concepts

The AP® World History: Modern (APWH) is both a difficult and rewarding course to take. World History is a popular AP Social Studies course with 317,000 students taking the exam in 2022, and 61.8% scored 3 or higher. APWH has benefits worth considering. You can earn college credits while still in high school if you do well on the end-of-course exam. Although AP World History course is designed to cover a two-semester introductory college world history course, few colleges offer credit for both semesters.

The AP World History: Modern curriculum covers historical events from c.1200 to the present. You will learn about important events, people, developments, and processes in this course. The AP World History: Modern exam will test your historical thinking skills as well as your comprehension of the “six themes" that run through the course themes. It is critical to gain a better understanding of these key concepts. The exam covers all the course material. You can use AP World History practice tests to help you study for the end-of-course exam. Students who prepare for exams by practicing beforehand are more confident and prepared.

In this article, we will give you an overview of the AP World History units, topics, and concepts you need to know. This will help you prepare for the exam.

What Skills Will I Develop in AP World History: Modern?

When you take your AP World History exam, you will need to be able to analyze information, understand opinions, make arguments, and present your point of view in a clear and convincing way. If that scares you, don't worry — you will learn the following two skills in class.

  1. Historical Thinking Skills
  2. Reasoning Processes

Historical Thinking Skills

Throughout your AP World History course, you will acquire the following historical thinking skills:

  1. Developments and Processes

    To perform historical analysis and argumentation, students must know historical events, processes, people, and their actions. This skill gives students empirical knowledge that they can apply using more advanced skills.

    Skills you will learn:

    1. Recognize a historical concept, development, or process.
    2. Describe a historical concept, development, or process.
  2. Sourcing and Situations

    Sources must be carefully evaluated to support, refute, or modify an argument to create a historical argument. Students can use these skills to analyze sources and develop historical arguments.

    Skills you will learn:

    1. Determine a source's viewpoint, purpose, historical context, and/or audience.
    2. Explain a source's purpose, audience, and/or historical context.
    3. Explain how a source's point of view, purpose, historical context, or audience may limit its use(s).
  3. Claims and Evidence in Sources:

    Students will learn to analyze primary and secondary sources to support their claims. This analysis determines a source's argument and evidence.

    Skills you will learn:

    1. Identify a claim or argument in a text or non-textual source.
    2. Identify the source's supporting evidence.
    3. Two sources' arguments, or main ideas, are compared.
    4. Explain how arguments are supported, modified, or refuted by evidence.
  4. Contextualization

    History is not static and it is incomprehensible without context. Historical context is important for comparison, causality, continuity, and change over time. This skill helps students analyze a historical context and enables them to develop thoughtful arguments.

    Skills you will learn:

    1. Describe the historical context of a historic event or process.
    2. Explain how a historical development or process fits into a larger context.
  5. Making Connections

    Historical thinking involves analyzing patterns and making connections. This skill teaches you to find patterns between historical events and processes and explain historical connections.

    Skills you will learn:

    1. Identify historical patterns and connections.
    2. Compare two historical events or processes.
  6. Argumentation

    Students should be able to evaluate a proposition or scenario and must know historical evidence. As in the long essay question, students can practice writing claims with evidence. Writing claims with documents will help students with document-based questions.

    Skills you will learn:

    1. Make a historical argument.
    2. Evidence should be specific and relevant.
    3. Explain historical evidence using historical reasoning.
    4. Develop a complex argument using diverse and alternative evidence.

Reasoning Processes

History is based on reasoning processes. These reasoning processes define the cognitive abilities that students must use for historical thinking. It is important for students to align their line of reasoning with the question prompts. This improves their understanding of the events and helps them establish a claim using solid reasoning processes.

There are three reasoning processes in the AP World History: Modern course. They are:

  • Comparison
  • Causation
  • Continuity and Change
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Diagram of the Feudal system
Images of Maritime technologies introduced by the 14th century
Image and description of Five Pillars of Islam

AP World History - Six Themes

The APWH course consists of six overarching themes that help students make connections between concepts. These themes are designed to develop historical thinking and analyzing skills that are required to ace the APWH exam. The College Board® defines these six themes as follows:

  • Theme 1: Humans and the Environment (ENV)

    Human societies are shaped by the environment, and as populations grow and change, so do their environments. The first theme of Humans and the Environment focuses on the relationship between human societies and the environment.

  • Theme 2: Cultural Developments and Interactions (CDI)

    The evolution of ideas, beliefs, and religions reveals how groups in a society perceive themselves, and how the interactions between societies and their beliefs frequently have political, social, and cultural consequences. The second theme helps you understand how interactions among human societies shape cultural and political belief systems.

  • Theme 3: Governance (GOV)

    Multiple internal and external factors contribute to the formation, growth, and decline of states. Governments maintain order through a variety of administrative institutions, policies, and procedures. They also acquire, retain, and exercise power in a variety of ways and for various reasons. Under the theme of Governance, students will explore the factors that determine the formation of political structures and governments.

  • Theme 4: Economic Systems (ECN)

    As societies develop, they influence and are influenced by the production, exchange, and consumption of goods and services. The fourth theme explores economic systems and describes how human societies shaped these systems as they evolved.

  • Theme 5: Social Interactions and Organization (SIO)

    The fifth theme shows that political, economic, and cultural organizations are influenced by the process of forming groups in societies and the norms that govern the interactions between these groups and individuals.

  • Theme 6: Technology and Innovation (TEC)

    Human adaptation and innovation have increased efficiency, comfort, and security, and technological advancements have shaped human development and interactions. Theme 6 explores the concepts of intellectual innovation and helps students understand how scientific advancements have shaped our lifestyles.

These six themes spiral through the nine units of the AP World History course. Let us now explore these units in detail.

AP World History - Nine Units and Topics

The course is organized into units of study that represent a sequence of historical developments and processes that have influenced human evolution. Colleges and universities expect students to master these units for credit and/or placement.

Get the most out of studying by working through exam-like questions with detailed explanations.
Image and diagram of a World War I German U-boat

Frequently Asked Questions

The AP World History course is equivalent to an introductory world history course in college.

No, there are no prerequisites for AP World History.

In the 2019–2020 school year, the AP World History: Modern course introduced historical events from 1200 CE to the present as an addition to the previous course content that covered historical events from 1450 CE.

Because of the amount of content covered throughout the course, the AP World History exam is challenging. In 2022, only 12.9% of the test takers scored a 5, and 61.8% scored a 3 or above.

Follow these five steps to build confidence, increase knowledge, and prepare for the AP World History exam.

  • Take an AP World History practice test to determine your level of knowledge.
  • Build a study plan (and stick to it) in advance of your exam date.
  • Use an online learning tool with exam-like practice questions and detailed explanations.
  • Track your progress to see where you are doing well and where you can improve.
  • Practice is key. Taking multiple practice tests allows you to compare your answers to previously scored ones, allowing you to track your progress.

Read more about the AP World History Exam

A comprehensive study guide with tips and advice on how to study for and ace the AP World History exam using the appropriate course materials and schedules.

This article clearly explains how the AP World History: Modern exam is scored, the score distribution, and the minimum score required to earn college credit.

Considering APWH? Learn from our AP World History Exam guide the prerequisites, difficulty levels, and reasons why taking the exam may be advantageous.

You will have a leg up on the competition if you are familiar with the test format. We’ve created a guide that explains the format, question types, etc.

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