What to Know About the AP Art History Exam

May 10, 2022
By AdmissionSight

What to Know About the AP Art History Exam?

For high school students who are determined to make the most out of their four years at high school, learn the most, and fill their college applications with fantastic details for college admissions officers to fawn over, enrolling in numerous AP courses per year is one of the best ways to achieve all of those goals. One of the most exciting and eye-opening courses that students can take through the AP program is the AP Art History Exam.

AP, which stands for Advanced Placement, courses is a program that is offered in both the United States and Canada, which is aimed at offering children the chance to take part in college-level curricula and exams at the high school level. For students who perform amongst the best in the country, they are able to earn college credits and placement at many schools throughout the country.

This placement is ultimately decided by an end-of-course exam, which students all over the country will take in order to test the knowledge that they have gained as well as their ability to understand and explain related material at a critical and analytical level.

When it comes to the AP Art History Exam, it is one of the rarer classes that are taken amongst high school students. In fact, in 2019, just under 25,000 high school students took the AP Art History Exam. More than 5 million students took AP exams last year. Just because it is rare, however, does not mean that it is not an incredibly worthwhile course for students to take, especially if they are interested in pursuing a college degree and/or professional career in the arts, history, or the humanities.

If you are amongst those students who plan on taking the AP Art History course and studying for the AP Art History Exam, we at AdmissionSight want to help you prepare by giving you a quick breakdown of everything you will face on the exam. On top of that, we will also go over the most effective way to study and prepare for this kind of exam.

What you will learn in the AP Art History course?

Overall, the AP Art History course is aimed at giving high school students an opportunity to dive deeply into the nature of art and artistic creation. Throughout the course, students will be encouraged to consider the uses, meanings, and production of art throughout the history of human civilization.

Beyond that, students will also be expected to learn and be able to explain the societal responses and impact that art has garnered and created throughout human history. In all, the class is aimed at immersing students into the wonderful world of an artistic tradition that spans across time, culture, and more. It is also aimed at fostering an immense and educated appreciation of art and the history of art.

Artistic analysis

One of the major things that students can expect to gain out of taking the AP Art History Exam is the ability to learn visual, contextual, and comparative analysis that is applied to the many different forms of art. Beyond that, students will also gain a distinct understanding of some of the great individual works. They will also learn about the evolution of processes and products that were used throughout history to help some of the man’s greatest artists create some of the man’s greatest works of art.

While there is no official prerequisite for the AP Art History Exam, students are most likely to excel and love this course if they have shown a distinct interest in and passion for courses such as literature, studio art classes, history, and other similar focuses.

One important thing to keep in mind

Before we at AdmissionSight start breaking down the many exciting ins and outs of the AP Art History Exam itself, there is one thing that we should go over in regard to the class and the exam.

The course itself was dramatically overhauled during the 2015-16 school year and is now presented and taught specifically with the AP Art History Exam in mind. That is not to say that the majority of the information itself is not the same, it certainly is! However, the course itself is now presented with a more direct objective of teaching students to prepare for the exam. This means that the scope of the course overall has been changed to focus on teaching students how to understand art from a more conceptual standpoint, as well as encourage deep critical thinking in regard to art as well as analytical skills.

With the emphasis being put on these skills that certainly go far beyond just helping in the study of art history, less emphasis has subsequently been put on memorizing knowledge and facts regarding specific works of art. With that being said, the course itself will still require students to gain familiarity with specific works of art, but the number of specific works has been downsized from approximately 500 pieces of work to just about half of that since the redesign back in 2015-16.

Typically, the course itself is broken down into 10 unique units. Here at AdmissionSight, we think preparation is one of the best ways to increase the chances of success. With that in mind, we have made it a priority to allow you to take a look at those 10 units below:Subject units in a table Throughout the exploration of these topics, you will also be encouraged to think conceptually about the content of the course by using the three big ideas of the course. These are the overarching concepts of the course itself and are specifically inclined to try to help a student learn how to think critically and analyze and appreciate art regardless of when or where the art was from. The three big ideas are blow:

  1. Artists manipulate materials and ideas to create an aesthetic object or event. Essential question: What is art and how is it made?
  2. Art making is shaped by tradition and change. Essential question: Why and how does art change?
  3. Interpretations of art are variable. Essential question: How do we describe our thinking about art?

Throughout studying the material of the course through these three big ideas related to the course, students are expected to develop foundational knowledge and thinking skills related to understanding art and art critique. There are eight different art history skills that students will be asked to develop in the course itself. Below is a breakdown of how much each skill will be tested on the AP Art History Exam:

List of skills needed for the AP Art History Exam

List of skills in a table

The fundamentals of the AP Art History Exam

Before you sign up for the AP Art History course, it is important to know a lot of fundamental facts about the AP Art History Exam itself. First off, it is important to know that the exam itself is one of the longest exams within the AP curriculum. In total, it clocks in at three hours and – much like most of the other available AP courses – is broken up into two halves; a multiple-choice section of questions as well as a free-response section of questions.

Let’s break down the chances of students actually scoring a perfect 5 out of 5 on the AP Art History Exam. When it comes to scores of AP exams, students must score a 3 out of 5 in order to pass the exam. When it comes to gaining credit and/or placement from colleges, students will typically have to score at least a 4 and sometimes only a 5 will do. Beyond that, it is important to keep in mind that the credit amount that or placement students receive is based on the college or university that they are interested in attending.

Back to the AP Art History Exam, last year, just over 10 per cent of students who took the exam scored a perfect 5 out of 5. Here is a breakdown of what percentage of students earned what score. While it may be difficult, scoring a 5 out of 5 on any AP exam is absolutely going to increase your chances of getting into the school of your dreams.

A breakdown of what percentage of students earned in the examFinally, let’s go over the two sections together so that you can start to get an idea of how you can best prepare for this exam.

Multiple choice

The very first section of the exam is the multiple-choice section and will take up the first hour of the exam. Within that hour, a student will be tasked to answer 80 total questions which account for exactly half of the total score of the exam.

Of the 80 total questions, there are about 40 of them that will be based on an image of a work of art. The remaining questions will be grouped into eight separate sets made up of three to six questions, each of which is based on a different color image. An example of such question sets is below:

Set of history questions for the examOnce students complete the first portion of the exam, they will then move on to the section of the exam, the free-response questions.

Free response

The second section of the AP Art History Exam is the free-response section and takes up the remaining two hours of the exam. Overall, this section includes six total questions and will make up the remaining half of the exam’s total score.

First, students will tackle two different essays and will get 30 minutes each to answer each question. From there, students will then be expected to answer four remaining questions and will get 15 minutes to answer each of the four questions.

For the 30-minute questions, students will be provided with three to five different works of art that share some unifying concept or idea. Students may also be expected to call upon an artwork of their choosing that they either covered in the course or learned about outside of the course.

  • The first 30-minute free response question will ask students to focus on art comparison. Here, students will have to compare specific artwork from the course while focusing on both the similarities and differences between the works.
  • The second 30-minute free response question will test the student on their visual and contextual analysis. Here, students will be choired to analyze the contextual and visual features of a work of war directly from the AP Art History and will use evidence to defend and argue their theory.
  • The third question (which is the first 15-minute question) will test a student’s ability to analyze a work of art from a visual standpoint. It will require students to examine elements of a work of art and use it to deduce things such as tradition, practice, era, style, and more.
  • The fourth short answer question will test a student’s ability to analyze a work of art from a contextual standpoint. Here, students will evaluate the contextual elements from a specific image of a work of art and use it to explain how the context of the art can influence an artists’ decision.
  • The fifth question will ask students to attribute a work of art to a specific artist and justify their attribution based on visual evidence that they break down.
  • Finally, the sixth question will ask students to focus on continuity and change within art. Here, students will have to identify relationships, such as tradition, style, practice, and more between different works of art.

Here are some samples of such questions below:

Art and Architecture sample question
How to prepare for the AP Art History Exam

As you begin preparing for the AP Art History Exam, there are some great preparation styles and tools to keep in mind throughout the process. To make sure that you get the very most out of your studying, we at AdmissionSight have broken down the very best way to study and prepare.

Analyze your knowledge and skill

The first step to preparing for the AP Art History Exam effectively is to analyze your knowledge and skill that you have already gained from the course itself. The best way to do this is to take a practice exam that you will either be able to find online or through one of the many great study guides that you can purchase in paperback. While it is useful to time yourself when you take this practice exam to familiarize yourself with the speed at which you will be expected to take this course, it is not a necessity.

There are a number of tests and practices that you can either purchase or utilize without charge.

The most important thing to remember here is that you should absolutely cross-reference the answers that you came up with along with the answers that are provided in whatever resource you are using to study. From there, you will be able to effectively manage your strengths and weaknesses to know what to do in the next step.

Study the material

Of course, what you will want to do next is take what you have learned about your mastery of the material and apply it to how you break up your studying the rest of the way. Make sure to focus on areas of weakness so that you may strengthen your overall knowledge while making sure to not forget to study and test yourself on your areas of strength as well.

The goal here is to not only familiarize yourself with the specific pieces of art that you will be expected to know for the exam but also gain a great understanding of the Big Ideas and overarching concepts of the course itself. This will give you the very best chance at success and scoring that coveted 5 out of 5.

Practice both sections of the exam

The next step is to return to sample questions and start quizzing yourself on both the multiple-choice and free-response style questions.

This will not only help you familiarize yourself with the facts and questions that you may face on the exam itself, but it will also help you gain total comfort with all different kinds of questions and formats that they may come in. Here at AdmissionSight, we believe the goal for an AP exam is to test yourself on not only for the content but the format of the exam. Going through practice sessions of multiple choice and free response questions is a great way to do just that.

Take more practice tests

When it comes to preparing your mind for the rigors of taking an AP exam, especially one that is as long as the AP Art History Exam, the best way to do it so to simply take as many practice tests as possible.

Ideally, you will be able to take many full practice exams before the date of the actual exam approaches. One thing to keep in mind is that you will absolutely want to give yourself the amount of time that is allotted during the real exam. That means one hour for the multiple-choice section and two hours for the free-response section.

That way, you will be guaranteeing that both your body and mind are prepared for answering all those fascinating questions and dealing with all those great topics when the real exam day finally arrives.


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