Best AP World History Books – May 2020 Exam

The AP World History exam can be a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be.

Many people have gotten 5s and 4s on this exam – which covers anything from the life of Alexander the Great to the different World Wars, up until major cities in Africa – and while it can sometimes seem like too much information, having the right books can make things a whole lot easier. Not only do these provide all the information needed, but also solid direction for all those late night study sessions.

As such, here’s a list of the best books on the market, where to find them, and how much each one costs. 

The Ultimate AP World History Prep List

There are tons of great AP World books on the market, but there are also some that come highly recommended because of the seemingly "well-explained" content. Those books might make studying easy, but they make the exam hard.

Use the books listed below and study hard so the exam will be easy. 

Barron’s is known around the globe as the go-to resource for test preparation.

One of the biggest reasons for this is their books are incredibly informative, concise, and easy on the eyes. This means users can adsorb information quicker, regardless of how long they’ve been reading through the pages.

Besides that, the Barron’s AP World History Book also comes with two full-length practice tests, which aim to simulate the actual testing environment. Learning how the questions in the test are asked should train the human brain to think in a similar manner, while also allowing it to process information faster.

Adding a time limit when going through the test is also a great way of feeling how the actual exam goes.

Furthermore, this particular book also comes with strategies on how to answer different problems. As you may already know, exams like this have a psychological component too. Being able to process everything can help relax the nerves and focus more easily. 


  • Very comprehensive and thorough in discussing information
  • Offers essay questions that help stimulate analysis
  • Works well for individuals who want to be challenged


  • The layout is quite boring; very much like a textbook
  • Amount of information can be overwhelming

Another possible book to look into – both literally and figuratively – is the World History: Preparing for the Advanced Placement Examination. I know we’ve always been told never to judge a book by its cover, but even its title page screams clear and well-summarized information.

One of the best reasons why this volume is so highly recommended by experts is because of how insightful its sub-text is. While it’s important to know dates, places, and personnel, learning about the reasons behind each action is equally essential. 

This style of presenting information allows the reader to better appreciate history and even develop a deeper love for it. Studies have even shown that students who are engaged with a subject can retain information for a longer period of time.

The only other downside I can say about it is its practice tests don’t come with an answer key. Therefore, if you want to run through the actual AP exam and know where you went wrong, you might need to go for a different option. Otherwise, this is an easy-to-understand book about the important events in World History.


  • Presents information in a clear and easy-to-understand manner
  • A great resource for analyzing essays
  • Layout keeps users engaged


  • Does not offer great practice tests
  • Slightly more expensive than other options

There are people who absorb information faster through experience – meaning they work best when actually answering test questions – and this is an important consideration to make. As such, this book is your best option.

Unlike other selections, this book comes with 4 full-length practice exams and over a hundred other questions complete with comprehensive explanations. You will be able to go through each problem first on your own, just like in an actual test, but also have the luxury of processing each one after. This way, mistakes are easily identified so the appropriate changes can be made.

The 5 Steps to a 5 also has a careful balance of multiple choice and essay questions, which is especially helpful because it guides you to scrupulously study the subject matter from different angles. Therefore, study sessions aren’t just limited to facts, but also more in-depth analytical learning.

Finally, there are likewise some valuable strategies discussed towards the end of this book when taking standardized tests. 


  • Very visual; several charts and diagrams are included in each section
  • Offers a wide variety of tips and testing styles
  • A solid choice for those taking a crash course


  • Does not offer as much information as other options

For those that have taken the Advanced Placement exam before, you’ll know that it not only tests your brain but your heart and nerves as well. So having a book with a complete summary after each chapter is an ideal way of recapping information, highly improving overall preparation for the test.

This book is built to provide more pertinent information that should come in handy during the test. It even provides access to an online website with amazing supplementary data.

Another good thing about this selection is that its layout consists of several diagrams, charts, and timelines. Keywords are also highlighted to provide extra emphasis, which means visual learners will benefit greatly from how this book presents information. Juggling several other priorities is a common problem for test takers so this aesthetic quality is truly a saving grace.

Sadly, though, this volume would have been the perfect review material for the AP World History exam, if not for its less than ideal practice tests. Many students and teachers have noticed that this focuses too much on multiple-choice questions than that essay part. So, those thinking of self-studying may need to look elsewhere.


  • Ideal for people who learn best through visual means
  • Helps users to zero-in on only the essential information
  • Comes with several supplementary resources
  • The book provides important tips when getting through the test


  • Focuses too much on multiple-choice questions; not many essays
  • Questions have a tendency to be repeated

AP World Books To Avoid

While many of the study materials available are helpful, there are still some that should be avoided. Here is a quick description of each.

Any Edition Before 2016 – As mentioned above, there was a major modification to the testing structure during this year, which means these editions may still be using the outdated format. As such, relying on this for practice tests could be a waste of time and may end up just being a source of confusion.

Test Structure

The Advanced Placement Exam for World History is administered through two main parts: multiple choice/short answer or free-response/essay

In total, the time allotted for this test will be 195-minutes. 95-minutes are dedicated for the first part, while the remaining time will be allotted for the second portion. All these are meant to assess a participant’s total knowledge of world history. This means it isn’t just limited to facts and names, but analysis as well.

As such, be sure to understand whatever fact you are reading about and how it connects to the bigger picture. History is a lot like storytelling and this exam will definitely gauge everything you know.

Last Time The AP World Exam Was Changed

Prior to the 2016-2017 school year, the coverage for the AP World History Exam was reduced slightly to help students and teacher prepare better. The exclusion of less important topics, while simultaneously incorporating objectives within the framework, has helped make this assessment more streamlined and beneficial for everyone involved.

Besides the subject matter, the board had also implemented a new testing format. Instead of several essay questions, the test now utilizes other forms of questioning – short answer questions, a document-based problem, and a long-form essay – to properly gauge test takers on the different topics.

As for this upcoming test, there are numerous reports stating that the coverage will be simplified further. Rather than begin the exam around the year 1200, it will now start from the year 1450. However, as of this writing, it does not appear that this change would be implemented next year.

Additional Tips & Resources For Studying

Besides the book mentioned above, there are several other study materials to utilize. These include, but are not limited to, online textbooks, YouTube channels, and websites that help make study sessions more thorough.

Adam Norris YouTube Channel – It’s a compilation of all the pertinent information on World History but in video form. Convert these to audio files and listen to them while on the way to school, at the gym, or just relaxing at home. – This website includes several summarize videos, practice tests, and even an app specifically designed to track a student’s study progress.

Kaplan Test Prep – It includes an extensive collection of practice tests, outlines, and reviewers. Just download it on a laptop or tablet and study anytime, anywhere!

Self Study Tips

While review centers and refresher courses are both good ways to prepare for the AP World History Exam, self-studying (especially when done correctly) can be just as effective. Here are some tips on how to make these lone study sessions as effective as possible.

Allow Enough Time to Study – Among all the different topics, World History is arguably the one with the most to cover, which means students often experience an overload of information. Providing two to three months of studying should be a reasonable amount of time to go through each area thoroughly, while also able to absorb all the pertinent data.

Analyze, Don’t Memorize – Many individuals fall into the trap of simply memorizing dates, places, and important personalities, without answering that ever-elusive why. As a result, they often don’t do well, especially in the short and long form parts of the exam.

In place of that, scrutinize the material carefully and treat it like a story. This change in perspective, as many experts have shared, can help retain data longer and more easily. 

Rely on Practice Tests – Answering sample examples, especially if they’re based on past assessments, is a great strategy to calm down and get into the right perspective. Do this task over a period of several weeks and see the wonders it brings.

Take Breaks in Between – When studying for numerous hours, it can some sometimes reach a point where retaining knowledge is plateauing. This just means that it’s time for a break. Take a nap in between reviews, have a snack, or walk around the house. These simple actions should help the brain re-stimulate, re-charge, and be ready for another bout with World History.


Passing the AP World History exam is no walk in the park, but it’s not impossible either. 

Out of everything that’s been discussed today, still, the most essential piece of advice given by those who got a 5 is to reorganize all the strategies used according to your personality. At the end of the day, there’s no single way to pass this exam, just one that’s effective for who you are.

If practice tests seem to work, then go for it! Otherwise, it would be wise to focus on watching summarized YouTube videos or reading through course materials. Just do what feels right and things should fall into place.