What Is AP Art History? An Overview of the Course and Exam

June 26, 2023
By AdmissionSight
A man looking at a work of art in a exhibit

What Is AP Art History? An Overview of the Course and Exam

If you are an art buff or love exploring the intricacies of art, then the AP Art History course is perfect for you. This course not only teaches you about the history of art but also explores it in detail and provides an in-depth understanding of the subject. In the following sections, we’ll provide an overview of the AP Art History course, its history, and the exam that you need to take upon completion of the course.

Why Should You Take AP Art History?

For starters, if you are planning to pursue a career in arts or art-related studies, taking the AP Art History course can give you a competitive edge. This course not only provides an in-depth understanding of various art forms and movements, but it also teaches vital critical thinking, analytical, and writing skills – all of which are essential in any career in the arts.

Moreover, AP Art History is not just limited to the study of Western art. The course covers art from all over the world, including Asia, Africa, and the Americas. This provides students with a global perspective on art and its evolution throughout history. By studying art from different cultures, students can gain a deeper understanding of the world and its diverse cultures.

The History and Evolution of AP Art History

The AP Art History course was launched in 1972 as a pilot project. The College Board, which oversees the course, initially appointed a small group of experts to develop the curriculum and test. Over the years, the course has undergone multiple changes, and the curriculum has expanded to cover a broader range of artworks and movements.


One of the major changes to the AP Art History course occurred in 2004 when the College Board introduced a new exam format. The new format included multiple-choice questions, short answer questions, and long essay questions. This change was made to better assess students’ understanding of the course material and their ability to analyze and interpret artworks.

Another significant development in the history of AP Art History was the inclusion of non-Western art in the curriculum. In the early years of the course, the focus was primarily on Western art movements and artists. However, in response to feedback from educators and students, the College Board began to incorporate more diverse perspectives and artworks from around the world. Today, the AP Art History curriculum includes a wide range of art from different cultures and time periods.

Understanding the AP Art History Exam Format

The AP Art History Exam is divided into two sections: the Multiple-Choice and Free-Response questions. The multiple-choice section comprises 80 questions and lasts for 1 hour and 40 minutes. On the other hand, the free-response section lasts for 2 hours and 25 minutes, and you will need to answer six essay questions (two long essays and four short essays).

It is important to note that the AP Art History Exam covers a wide range of art historical periods and styles, including ancient art, medieval art, Renaissance art, and contemporary art. Therefore, it is essential to have a comprehensive understanding of the different art movements and their characteristics to perform well on the exam.

Additionally, the AP Art History Exam requires students to analyze and interpret works of art critically. Therefore, it is crucial to develop strong analytical skills and be able to identify the formal elements of art, such as line, color, texture, and composition, and how they contribute to the meaning of the artwork.

How to Prepare for the AP Art History Exam

Preparation for the AP Art History Exam requires time and dedication. Enrolling in a reputable AP Art History course and attending all classes is crucial. You should also obtain study materials, textbooks, and practice exams to supplement your learning. Practice makes perfect, so it’s advisable to answer as many practice questions as possible and even take some timed tests to prepare well for the exam.

Group of students studying on a table.

Another important aspect of preparing for the AP Art History Exam is to familiarize yourself with the format of the exam. The exam consists of two sections: multiple-choice and free-response. The multiple-choice section includes 80 questions, and you have 1 hour and 40 minutes to complete it. The free-response section includes six questions, and you have 2 hours and 25 minutes to complete it. Understanding the format of the exam will help you manage your time effectively and ensure that you are able to answer all the questions within the given time frame.

Tips to Score High on the AP Art History Exam

Scoring high on the AP Art History Exam requires a comprehensive grasp of the subject that goes beyond memorizing art movements, artists, and artworks. You need to understand various art styles, techniques, and mediums and their historical and geographical contexts. You also need to develop excellent critical thinking and writing skills. Remember to read the exam instructions carefully, manage your time effectively, and answer all the questions, even when unsure.

Another important tip to score high on the AP Art History Exam is to practice analyzing and interpreting artworks. Look at different artworks and try to identify their style, technique, and medium. Try to understand the historical and cultural context in which the artwork was created. Analyze the composition, color, and form of the artwork and try to interpret its meaning. You can also practice writing short essays analyzing artworks to improve your critical thinking and writing skills.

A Comprehensive Guide to AP Art History Syllabus and Curriculum

The AP Art History syllabus covers art movements, styles, and trends from prehistory to the present. The course is divided into ten themes that are further sub-divided into various sections. The ten themes are: Global Prehistory, Ancient Mediterranean, Early Europe and Colonial Americas, Later Europe and Americas, Indigenous Americas, Africa, West and Central Asia, South, East, and Southeast Asia, The Pacific, and Global Contemporary.

Each theme in the AP Art History syllabus is designed to provide students with a comprehensive understanding of the art and culture of different regions and time periods. For example, the Ancient Mediterranean theme covers the art and architecture of ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome, while the Indigenous Americas theme explores the art and culture of Native American tribes.

Throughout the course, students will also learn about the different art movements and styles that emerged during each time period. From the realism of the Renaissance to the abstract expressionism of the 20th century, students will gain a deep appreciation for the evolution of art over time.

An In-depth Look at the Major Movements in Art History Covered in AP Art History

The AP Art History course covers various art movements, including Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, Romanticism, Realism, Impressionism, Expressionism, Cubism, Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, and Pop Art, among others. The course explores the techniques, styles, and mediums used in these movements and provides a thorough analysis of their works, historical context, and cultural significance.

Gallery in the school

One of the most significant movements covered in AP Art History is the Renaissance, which emerged in Italy in the 14th century and spread throughout Europe. This period marked a significant shift in art, as artists began to focus on realism, perspective, and human anatomy. The Renaissance also saw the rise of famous artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael, who created some of the most iconic works of art in history. The course delves into the various techniques and styles used by these artists and explores the cultural and historical context that influenced their work.

Famous Artists and Their Work You Need to Know for the AP Art History Exam

The AP Art History Exam covers various artists and their artworks, and it’s essential to familiarize yourself with as many as possible. Some of the most prominent artists and their works include Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel Ceiling, Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, Van Gogh’s Starry Night, Monet’s Water Lilies, Goya’s Third of May, Picasso’s Guernica, and Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe, among others.

Another artist that is important to know for the AP Art History Exam is Frida Kahlo. Kahlo was a Mexican painter known for her self-portraits that often depicted her physical and emotional pain. Her most famous work is “The Two Fridas,” which shows two versions of herself sitting side by side, holding hands, and connected by a blood vessel. This painting is a representation of Kahlo’s struggle with her identity and her Mexican heritage.

In addition to Kahlo, it’s also important to be familiar with the works of Jackson Pollock. Pollock was an American painter known for his unique style of drip painting. His most famous work is “Number 1, 1950 (Lavender Mist),” which is a large canvas covered in drips and splatters of paint. This painting is an example of abstract expressionism, a movement that emphasized the spontaneous and automatic creation of art.

The Role of Museums and Galleries in AP Art History Education

Museums and galleries play a critical role in AP Art History education. Visiting museums and galleries provides an opportunity to see artworks in their original form, making it easier to analyze them. These visits can also spark further exploration and interest in various art forms. It’s essential to keep a notebook and sketchbook while visiting museums to take notes and make visuals of the artworks you see.

Group of students studying in a room.

Furthermore, museums and galleries often offer educational programs and guided tours that can enhance the learning experience. These programs provide valuable insights into the historical and cultural context of the artworks, as well as the techniques and materials used by the artists. Additionally, museums and galleries may have special exhibitions that focus on specific art movements or artists, allowing students to deepen their understanding of a particular topic. Overall, museums and galleries are invaluable resources for AP Art History students, providing a unique and immersive learning experience that cannot be replicated in a classroom setting.

How to Use Technology to Enhance Your AP Art History Learning Experience

Technology can provide a fantastic platform for enhancing your AP Art History learning experience. You can watch documentaries, visit virtual museums and galleries online, access web-based study materials and podcasts that provide additional insights and perspectives not covered in class. You can also use various apps and tools to organize your notes and track your progress throughout the course.

Another way to use technology to enhance your AP Art History learning experience is to participate in online discussion forums and communities. These platforms allow you to connect with other students and art enthusiasts from around the world, share your thoughts and ideas, and learn from each other. You can also follow art-related social media accounts and blogs to stay up-to-date with the latest news and trends in the art world.

Finally, technology can also help you to create your own art and explore different techniques and styles. There are many online tutorials and courses available that can teach you how to use digital tools and software to create your own art. You can also use apps and tools to experiment with different mediums and techniques, and share your creations with others online.

The Future of AP Art History: Trends and Developments to Watch Out For

AP Art History is continuously evolving, and there are various trends and developments that you should watch out for. One of the most significant trends is incorporating more diverse artworks and narratives of artists from various regions worldwide. There are also ongoing debates on the value of traditional art history class examinations and the inclusion of practical and experiential learning activities in the course.

American Fine Arts Festival

AP Art History is an exciting course that combines the study of art, history, and culture. It requires dedication, hard work, and an in-depth understanding of various art forms, styles, and movements. By following our guide and utilizing all available resources, you can be well on your way to acing the AP Art History Exam and pursuing a successful career in the arts.

Another trend to watch out for in AP Art History is the integration of technology in the course. With the rise of digital media, there is a growing need to incorporate technology in the study and analysis of artworks. This includes the use of virtual reality, augmented reality, and other digital tools to enhance the learning experience and provide a more immersive understanding of art.

Furthermore, there is a growing emphasis on the intersection of art and social justice issues. Many art historians are exploring how art can be used as a tool for activism and social change. This includes the study of artworks that address issues such as race, gender, sexuality, and environmentalism. As the world becomes more socially conscious, it is essential for AP Art History to reflect these changes and provide students with a comprehensive understanding of the role of art in society.

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