Best AP Art History Books- May 2021 Exam

The history of art can be a complicated subject to tackle because it’s not really common knowledge. As such, students who take part in this exam are either extremely passionate or plan on pursuing a similar field in college (or you just want to boost your total number of APs ;). Either way, few students take this exam. 

Still, despite its low popularity, one cannot simply question – or even undermine – the value that Art History contributes to the APs. This topic has the distinct ability to teach students how to appreciate traditions in art, analyze various works, and ultimately foster a deeper admiration for design aspects in our midst.

The Ultimate AP Art History Prep List

There's not a ton of books out there because of the low popularity of the exam, but the good news is that most of the books that do exist are reasonable. 

Barron's review book is one of the most complete options out there. It not only gives students all the knowledge they need but also helps them prepare mentally for what to expect.

Firstly, this selection is updated according to the most recent course overview and framework, which provides a clear direction when studying for the exam. Barron’s also holds a strong reputation for being well aligned with the actual assessment in terms of scope, kind of questioning, and just overall wavelength.

Again, students will greatly benefit from this as it gives them a nice simulation of the test itself.

Aside from its robust and highly thorough text information, this edition also comes with two full-length practice tests, including several multiple choice and essay questions after each chapter. 


  • Includes artwork flash cards, which are a great supplementary resource for learning
  • Great for long-term preparation
  • Modestly priced


  • Not ideal as a crash course textbook
  • There are a few factual errors

Not everyone has the luxury of spending several months preparing for the AP exam– though that is the ideal scenario. Still, if you're someone who performs better in crunch time this is the perfect book for you.

This book is exactly as the name suggests – a textbook designed to aid in short-term studying, while being an acceptable way of refreshing existing knowledge. A good chunk of the topics discussed in this book are the most popular topics of the exam, so it will help you save time and energy.

They also provide outlines, so absorbing knowledge becomes much easier. Users will be able to leaf through the pages with full confidence that all major topics have been covered. 

Moreover, this book also comes with a list of key terms often used several detailed test-taking tips and a free practice test. All these are incredibly helpful for students who are in need of maximizing their time.

One big disadvantage of this book is the lack of artwork inside the actual book. They have an online supplement, but if you frequently study without internet access then this isn't the option for you.


  • Perfect for summarizing areas that will come out in the test
  • Covers a lot of ground in a short amount of time
  • Provides all kinds of strategies for taking the test
  • Affordable


  • Information on each topic is a bit shallow
  • Not ideal for visual learners

Nothing quite says Art History much like seeing the most iconic painting in the world, right?

The Annotated Mona Lisa is an ideal choice for students looking to deepen their overall understanding of the subject, as it covers over 25,000 years of art divided into five distinct sections.

Each one provides valuable overarching insights on this field and helps turn complicated terms and concepts into more simplified ones.

However, this book is in no way connected to the AP, which means that it does not come with practice tests or reviewers (although the topics discussed are part of the actual exam). Therefore, this is more suited as a secondary source of information, and a really good one at that.


  • Individuals passionate about art will sincerely enjoy reading through this
  • Filled with highly accurate information
  • Over 300 images help enhance learning


  • Not a reviewer and is better suited as a supplementing resource
  • Amount of information can be overwhelming

Test Structure

This upcoming AP Art History exam will take approximately 180-minutes to accomplish and is fairly standard. Just like other assessments, it’s divided into two main sections: multiple-choice and free-range.

The first part will consist of 80 questions – 35 standard and eight sets of color imagery – which all participants should answer within 60-minutes. As for the essay part, there will be six problems to answer, which often includes images of paintings that need further explanation.

Each portion makes up 50% of the total score so it’s crucial for every test taker to study well for both.

Last Time The AP Art History Exam Was Changed

It seems that every year since 2016, the AP Art History exam implements a few minor changes beginning with the scope.

In an effort to reduce bias and be more culturally sound, the examples in tests now are more worldly, rather than being Eurocentric. Students, therefore, will encounter wider examples of art – spanning across different ages, cultures, and regions – when taking the test.

As such, those planning to take the test will need to search for review materials that incorporate these changes, preferably the most recent editions. At first glance, it may indeed feel like more work; but ultimately, it challenges students to think more deeply about this subject.

Additional Tips & Resources For Studying

The traditional way of burning through books and answering countless practice tests may work for some, but still others may turn to these innovative techniques as auxiliary sources of learning.

Varsity Tutors – They have some useful practice tests and general info pertaining to the exam.

AP Art History Flashcards – Since the test has become even more visual than before, familiarizing oneself with different kinds of artwork is undeniably crucial. These flashcards are a fun, and truly effective method, of preparing. Who says studying can’t be enjoyable, right?

Self Study Tips

As for those who are planning on studying by themselves, here are a few tips that should make the process a lot more effective.

Spend Time Looking at Images – Acquainting yourself with how different artworks look like will go a long way in this journey. Seeing them, analyzing their various components, and embracing the history behind each one will intensify your understanding of them. As such, focus on resources that produce very vibrant images.

Understand the Concepts – This may be quite vague, but it’s all about scrutinizing every aspect of this topic. Don’t just memorize the artists and titles; listen and feel how they speak to you.

Constantly Do Tests – As the old saying goes, practice makes perfect. So taking part in all forms of examinations is an effectual way learning and correcting past misconceptions. 


Studying for the AP Art History Exam is easier said than done, so preparation is most certainly key. Therefore, being accustomed to the different types of artwork is a big step in the right direction.

Then, upon dissecting each one and truly opening themselves up to what they have to say, participants would find that absorbing crucial information will come much easier.