Sample Free-Response Questions

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Sample Free-Response Questions

In the free-response section of the AP World History Exam, all students

are asked to answer three constructed-response questions: Part A — a

document-based question; Part B — an essay question that deals specifically

with continuity and change over time (covering at least one of the periods

in the concept outline) and that is focused on large global issues such as

technology, trade, culture, migrations, and environmental developments;

and Part C — an essay that analyzes similarities and differences in at least

two societies.

Effective answers to essay questions depend in part upon the student’s

successful demonstration of a clear understanding (and application) of the

meanings of important directive words. These are the words that indicate

the way in which the material is to be presented. For example, if students

only describe when they are asked to analyze or compare, or if they merely

list causes when they have been asked to evaluate them, their responses will

be less than satisfactory. An essay must directly answer the question that

is asked. Classroom teachers should provide help with the meanings and

applications of terms like these:

1. Analyze: determine various factors or component parts and examine

their nature and relationship

2. Assess/Evaluate: judge the value or character of something; appraise;

weigh the positive and negative points; give an opinion regarding the value

of; discuss the advantages and disadvantages of

3. Compare: examine for the purpose of noting similarities and differences

4. Describe: give an account of; tell about; give a word picture of

5. Discuss: write about; consider or examine by argument or from various

points of view; debate; present the different sides of

6. Explain: make clear or plain; make clear the causes or reasons for; make

known in detail; tell the meaning of

Part C: Comparative Essay

The comparative essay focuses on developments across at least two regions

or societies. It relates to one of the five major themes in the course, such

as state building, interactions between or among cultures, or economic

systems. Comparative questions always require an analysis of the reasons

for the identified similarities and differences. As in the previous continuity

and change over time essay, students may have the opportunity to choose

different cases for comparisons from among several options. And, also

as in both of the previous essays, a variety of the historical thinking skills

(such as argumentation, causation, and synthesis) are evaluated along with


The generic scoring guide for the comparative essay is below; following

that, on the next two pages, are a sample comparative essay question, the

directions that appear in the AP Exam booklet, and a discussion of “What

Good Responses Should Include.”
Generic Core-Scoring Guide for AP World History

Comparative Essay

Basic Core: Competence Points Historical Thinking Skills Assessed

1. Has acceptable thesis.

(Addresses comparison of the issues or

themes specified.)

1 → Argumentation

→ Comparison

2. Addresses all parts of the question,

though not necessarily evenly or


[Addresses most parts of the question; for

example, deals with differences but not




→ Argumentation

3. Substantiates thesis with appropriate

historical evidence.

[Partially substantiates thesis with

appropriate historical evidence.]



→ Argumentation

4. Makes at least one relevant, direct

comparison between/among societies.

1 → Comparison

5. Analyzes at least one reason for a

similarity or difference identified in a

direct comparison.

1 → Comparison

→ Causation

Subtotal 7 Essay as a whole:


Expanded Core: Excellence Points Historical Thinking Skills Assessed

Expands beyond basic core of 1–7 points.

The basic score of 7 must be achieved

before a student can earn expanded core



→ Has a clear, analytical, and

comprehensive thesis.

→ Analyzes all parts of the question

thoroughly (as relevant): comparisons,

chronology, causation, connections, themes,

interactions, content.

→ Provides ample historical evidence to

substantiate thesis.

→ Relates comparisons to larger global


→ Makes several direct comparisons

consistently between or among societies.

→ Consistently analyzes the causes

and effects of relevant similarities and


0–2 → Same skills as noted in basic core

→ Other historical thinking skills may be

demonstrated depending on the question

Subtotal 2


Note that the sample comparative essay below is slightly modified from the

comparative essay on the 2010 AP World History Exam to make the topic

of the question more closely align with the AP World History Curriculum


The time allotted for this essay is 40 minutes, 5 minutes of which should be

spent planning and/or outlining the answer.

Directions: You are to answer the following question. You should spend 5

minutes organizing or outlining your essay. Write an essay that:

• Has a relevant thesis and supports that thesis with appropriate

historical evidence.

• Addresses all parts of the question.

• Makes direct, relevant comparisons.

• Analyzes relevant reasons for similarities and differences.

3. Analyze similarities and differences in techniques of imperial

administration in TWO of the following empires.

• Han China (206 B.C.E.–220 C.E.)

• Mauryan/Gupta India (320 B.C.E.–550 C.E.)

• Imperial Rome (31 B.C.E.–476 C.E.)

Alignment with Curriculum Framework

What Good Responses Should Include

A good response would analyze both similarities and differences in

techniques of imperial administration in two of the stipulated empires

[Han China (206 B.C.E. to 220 C.E.); Mauryan/Gupta India (320 B.C.E. to

550 C.E.), Imperial Rome (31 B.C.E. to 476 C.E.)].

Because the central task in this question is comparative and asks for

both similarities and differences, acceptable thesis statements also

need to be comparative, stating at least one similarity and at least one

difference. Acceptable thesis statements also need to be explicit, not simply

restatements of the question or vague statements such as “there were more

similarities than differences.” They also need to be relevant to the time


A good response provides valid similarities and differences, substantiated

by specific pieces of evidence from within the time period. Important

similarities include centralized governments, elaborate legal systems,

administrative bureaucracies, the promotion of trade and food production,

road-building, larger armies, and expanded systems of taxation. Important

distinctions include: For Han China: a bureaucracy selected through a

civil service examination; Confucian ideology about hierarchies; the idea

of the Mandate of Heaven; regular diplomacy with peoples beyond their

borders. For Rome: a uniform legal code; the promotion of a ruler cult, and

later of Christianity; great concern with control of ocean-borne trade that

brought in food. For India: the Mauryan emperor Ashoka’s acceptance of

Buddhism, which enhanced his position; public welfare projects paid for

by the emperor; the more decentralized government of the Guptas. Good

essays do not include evidence that is outside the time period or any of the

stipulated empires, for example, discussion of the Roman Republic, Qin

dynasty, Genghis Khan, Mansa Musa, or Akbar.

A good response could include information on technology, military

history, religion, gender, disease, or other topics, but then needs to tie these

to techniques of imperial administration, not simply discuss everything

the student knows about the empires. For example, a good essay would say,

“Both the Maurya/Gupta and the Romans used their armies to maintain

control within their borders and to attack neighboring states.” The

statement “Both the Maurya/Gupta and the Romans had large armies and

expanded their borders,” while true, does not relate these developments to

the topic of the question, techniques of imperial administration. Students

should be told to make their connections clear, because readers will not

infer that a particular essay demonstrates content knowledge that is not

present in the plain language of the student response.

Students should be discouraged from constructing comparison questions

by discussing one region as a block and then the other region as a block,

loosely linked by a transitional sentence. That sentence might be the only

comparison in the student’s response, and if it is incorrect, the student

is unable to earn any points for comparison, analysis, or addressing the

question. Students should be discouraged from writing to a pre-existing

format such as political, economic, social/cultural or PERSIA (Political,

Economic, Religious, Social, Intellectual, Artistic). Students need to

respond to the question asked — which, in this case, is political.

A good response provides analysis and uses this analysis as an explanation

of a reason for a similarity or difference between techniques of imperial

administration for the two empires. It thus links the historical thinking

skills of comparison and causation, and does not simply provide a

discussion of causation that involves only one of the empires. For example,

a discussion of why the Roman Empire fell that does not link or compare

this to why the other chosen empire fell is not appropriate analysis for

this question.

A strong essay would go beyond the minimum on any of the core points.

It could relate the techniques of imperial administration to larger global

processes or apply relevant knowledge of other world regions, such as

noting the ways in which invasions by pastoral nomads from central

Asia put pressure on the administration of each of the three empires. It

could consistently analyze cause and effect for the noted similarities and

differences, such as pointing out that the religious toleration of both the

Gupta emperors and (most of) the Roman emperors promoted loyalty to

the empire and with it more regular payment of taxes. It could recognize

nuance within empires, for example by pointing out that the techniques

of Roman imperial administration were different in the city of Rome from

those in the outlying provinces. It could discuss change over time, for

example by discussing changing methods of imperial administration as

the empires began to decline because of epidemic diseases, environmental

damage, and external problems.

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