Op-Ed: Don’t change AP World History

By: Emily Yao ’20


Since its inception in 2002, the AP World History course has covered thousands of years of world history—from the Neolithic Revolution, c. 8000 BCE, to the present. However, in May 2018 College Board announced that they will only test from 1450 to the present on the May 2020 exam. They also announced a Pre-AP world history course that would give “teachers the flexibility to sample topics across the full sweep of world history.” For this course, schools would choose to teach three of the six periods in world history along with one universal unit called Geography and World Regions.

Battling serious criticism from educators and students across America, College Board agreed to “compromise” moving the date to 1200 instead. Then, to further complicate things, College Board has decided to split the AP World History course into two separate courses: AP World History: Modern and AP World History: Ancient starting in the 2019-2020 school year.

There are a number of problems with these dramatic new changes. To start, many schools don’t have the money: it’s an immense financial burden on these schools to pay for Pre-AP and AP courses, and, with our society’s emphasis on STEM education, history courses are not the top priority for schools running on a tight budget.

College Board argues that there is simply too much content to be covered in too little time, and I agree to an extent. As a former AP World student, I understand that what we had covered—more than 10,000 years of world history in less than 180 days—was a lot, and I had put in double—maybe even triple—the blood, sweat, and tears for that course than any class I had ever taken in my life.

However, I think there will always be too much content to cover, regardless of the course in question. David M. Perry, in his article Can We Save AP World History?, notes that this problem is universal among all AP courses and suggests focusing more on thematic understandings—identifying continuities and changes, causes and effects, and big ideas—rather than content because we know that we can’t memorize all of world history. Moreover, AP World is not intended to examine specific regions deeply; it is supposed to provide a basis for college-level skills, such as analyzing, synthesizing, and contextualizing. The original course accomplished this goal, so why change something that’s fine the way it is?

These reforms, although they may seem advantageous for students and teachers, will surely curtail our efforts to create a safer, more perceptive world and fail to better prepare our students for the rigor of a college education.

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