AP Lit Essay Examples, Test Format, and Guide In Writing

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AP Lit Essay Examples, Test Format, and Guide In Writing

If you are about writing your AP world history essay, then this article is what you will need. This article gives you a complete guide to writing your essay as well as providing you with AP lit essay example.

AP Litterature Essay

Advanced Placement English Literature and Composition (or AP English Literature and Composition, AP Lit and Comp, Senior AP English, AP Lit, or AP English IV) is a course and examination offered by the College Board as part of the Advanced Placement Program.

When AP exams were first implemented, English Language and English Literature were initially combined. The course advances this understanding through a combination of selective factual knowledge and appropriate analytical skills. Students used to study all prehistory and history, especially from 8000 BC to the present day.

However, it was announced in July 2018 that the test would be changed to an AP World History: Modern exam that only contains content since 1200 AD, starting in the 2022-2022 school year, with plans for a new course with the time before that called AP World History: Ancient.

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The AP World History exam was first administered in 2002. Students in the United States usually take the course in their second year of high school, although they are not generally required to do so.

Test Format

Section Number of Questions Time allotted Exam Weighting
Section I, Part A: Multiple Choice Questions 55 questions 55 minutes 40%
Section I, Part B: Short-Answer Questions 3 questions (2 required questions + 1 chosen from 2 others) 40 minutes 20%
Section II Part A: Document-Based Question 1 question recommended 60 minutes (includes 15-minute reading period) 25%
Section II, Part B: Long Essay Question 1 question (3 options) recommended 40 minutes 15%

The first section of the AP World History exam consists of 55 multiple choice questions with a 55-minute time limit. The questions are not divided up evenly between the 9 units.

Unit Chronological Period Exam Weighting
Unit 1: The Global Tapestry c. 1200 to c. 1450 8-10%
Unit 2: Networks of Exchange 8-10%
Unit 3: Land-Based Empires c. 1450 to c. 1750 12-15%
Unit 4: Transoceanic Interconnections 12-15%
Unit 5: Revolutions c. 1750 to c. 1900 12-15%
Unit 6: Consequences of Industrialization 12-15%
Unit 7: Global Conflict c. 1900 to the present 8-10%
Unit 8: Cold War and Decolonization 8-10%
Unit 9: Globalization 8-10%

Guide to Writing AP Literature Essay

below are some necessary steps you need to follow if you are to complete the AP world essay.

Step 1: Analyze the Prompt

First, read the prompt itself. You’ll need to develop an argument using the skill of causation: how did empire-building processes affect political structures in the years from 1500 to 1900? The prompt uses the verb to evaluate, so you will need to make a claim about the effects on political structures.

Spend the 15-minute reading period analyzing the documents themselves, thinking for each document about its authorship/historical situation, the main idea, and why it was written.

Begin grouping the documents into categories that you can use to help organize your essay. A sample high-scoring writer’s notes on the documents appear below:

  1. King of Kongo asks the king of Portugal for help because Portuguese trade is upsetting the vassal system
  2. Cortes uses weapons and allies to kill Mexican
  3. Puerto Rico population trends: native population ↓, European ↑, mixed ↑
  4. French letter describes Mughal use of rajah system in India
  5. British governor in India’s letter to East India Company says British policies better for economy
  6. Churchill describes the effectiveness of guns in Sudan
  7. Japanese cartoon describes Russian expansion as “black octopus” during the time of Russo-Japanese War over territory

Groups of empire-building processes:

  • Military: 2, 6, 7
  • Colonization: 3
  • Economic: 1, 4, 5

Step 2: Plan Your Response

Next, take time to plan your response. Focus on formulating a strong thesis, and check your plan against the six DBQ requirements. See the sample plan that a high-scoring writer might make.

Scoring requirements are written in bold for reference; note that the writer includes six of the seven documents and plans to meet the requirement for describing at least three documents’ sourcing by noting the viewpoints of two documents and the purpose of one document.

Since the prompt asks for how empire-building affected political structures, the writer will organize the essay by explaining multiple causes (processes) that impacted political structures.


  • Context: Native American governments (villages and empires)
  • Thesis: causes of empire building: military, colonization, & economics
    • military and colonization destroyed political structures in the Americas where disease played a role
    • combination of processes allowed infiltration of political structures in Asia and Africa
    • (complex understanding: multiple causes)

Cause 1: military conquest → destruction

  • Evidence: Doc. 2: the defeat of Mexican
    • Spanish advantages: horses, guns, local support
    • Sourcing 1: viewpoint: Cortes justifies actions by attributing the victory to God
  • Additional evidence: Pizarro defeat of Inca; Spanish set up viceroys and social hierarchy
  • Evidence: Doc. 6: British defeat of Sudanese
    • Sourcing 2: viewpoint: perhaps exaggerated, but shows British expect weapons will win

Cause 2: colonization → replace native populations’ governments

  • Evidence: Doc. 3: PR population
    • Stats of native peoples, Europeans
    • An additional factor of disease

Cause 3: military + colonization + economic influence → gradual political power

  • Evidence: Doc. 4: French letter about India
    • Describes the political system of rajahs, hints at instability
    • British merchants would gain power
  • Evidence: Doc. 5: British E. India Company Gov.
    • Br. didn’t have “fixed plan,” but “destroyed” native populations’ economic policies
    • Br. Gov. made India a colony
  • Evidence: Doc. 1: King Afonso I letter
    • Port. merchants undermining the king’s power
    • Sourcing 3: purpose: submission may not be genuine

Step 3: Action! Write Your Response

Use your plan to write out your response—if you’ve taken the time to plan effectively, everything
you write should support your thesis.

Step 4: Proofread

Leave a minute in the end to complete a brisk proofread and double-check that you met each of the DBQ requirements.

AP Lit Essay Examples

Before the arrival of Europeans, Native American societies had established diverse political structures. The villages in the northeast of North America practiced a mixture of agriculture and hunter-gathering and sometimes formed alliances among tribes. The large-scale empires of the Mexica and Inca in Central and South America had centralized power in city-states and exacted tribute or labor from subjugated tribes.

However, these societies would experience political upheavals when Europeans began their quest for territory in the 1500s. Empire- building typically involved a combination of the processes of military conquest, colonization, and economic influence.

Where epidemic disease was also a factor, military and colonization strategies sometimes resulted in the total destruction of previous political structures in the Americas; a combination of the three processes permitted empire-builders to gradually infiltrate, then supersede, the political structures in Asia and Africa.

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The extremes of military conquest sometimes resulted in the destruction of the native populations’ political structures. Document 2 references the Mexica people’s violent devastation at the hands of the Spanish, with a hundred falling “at each discharge of guns.” While Cortes attributes his victory to God’s favor due to fighting for his faith and king, tangible factors gave him the practical advantage: horses (which were not native to the Americas), guns, the Mexica’s unfamiliarity with such weapons, and the support of local allies.

Cortes, perhaps seeking to impress the king, likely exaggerates in the claim that the victory was “without ourselves sustaining any injury”; still, the claim indicates both the strength of the Spanish military technology and their attitude of superiority that they used to justify their takeover of the existing Mexica government.

Also using military technology and the support of other tribes, the Spanish under Pizarro took control of the Inca empire in the Andes. In both locations, the Spanish essentially destroyed the empires and installed their own political systems, with viceroys who served under the Spanish crown and a hierarchical class system that gave preference to those of European ancestry.

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The effectiveness of military conquest for destroying political structures is also demonstrated in Document 6, an account of a battle in Sudan that demonstrates the awesome firepower of machine guns to leave the Sudanese fighters in “tangled heaps.” Although the document, written by the British Churchill, might provide a glorified account of the battle that exaggerates the British advantage, the fact that Churchill expected their weapon technology would automatically give victory is indicated in the disbelieving sentence: “ It appeared to our cavalry commander that the [Sudanese fighters] would actually succeed.”

Countries sending large numbers of settlers was another effective method of empire-building. This process enabled European nations to replace native governments in the Americas. For instance, Document 3 indicates that from 1530 to 1795, the proportion of Native Americans in the population of the colony of Puerto Rico dropped dramatically from 36.4 percent of the population to just 2.5 percent.

At the same time, Europeans as a share of the population rose from 10 percent to 51.5 percent by 1860. The increase in the proportion of Europeans and blacks corresponds with the Spanish overrunning the native populations and instituting plantations. The spread of diseases among the native populations made it easier for the Spanish to do away with long-standing native governments and establish their own political structures in the Americas.

In India and Africa, Europeans utilized the old strategies of military force and colonization, but unlike in the Americas, newly introduced diseases did not have such a devastating effect on native populations. Thus, the process of empire-building also involved longer-term economic policies that caused a more gradual build-up of political power.

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European merchants gradually expanded their power in India, aided by the decline of the Mughal empire, as explained in Document 4. A French physician describes the emperor’s practice of “nourish[ing] jealousies” among the local rajahs, many of whom commanded armies larger than those of the emperor, to distract the rajahs from ever threatening his power.

By describing this potential threat to the emperor, the document hints at the potential for outsiders to take advantage of the political instability, as indeed the British merchants extended their economic influence into political control. Indeed, in Document 5 a governor of the East India Company affirms that British control happened through “fortunate and unforeseen occurrences” rather than a “fixed plan.”

He also confirms the power of economics in gaining political control, praising the economic policies of the British and celebrating the “destroyed” economic policies of the “natives.” Eventually, the British government would take over the East India Company’s holdings and rule India as a colony.

Document 1 also affirms the potential of economics to provide inroads to political power: King Afonso I of Kongo in Africa appeals to the King of Portugal about the behavior of Portuguese merchants, who are undermining King Afonso’s power by enrich- ing his vassals, making them no longer “content and subjected under our control.”

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King Afonso’s highly submissive tone (“I kiss your hand many times”) may indicate not genuine submission to the King of Portugal, but rather an understanding of the threat that economic power has on his political power. His letter could be part of a calculated approach to get help restoring his political power by appealing to the Europeans’ attitude of superiority.

Overall, the empire-building processes of conquest, colonization, and economic influence allowed empire-builders to exert power over territories. When additional factors, such as epidemic disease, also played a role, as they did in the Americas, the empire-builders could sometimes briskly overthrow and replace the original political structures.

In locations such as India, empire-building involved a more complex interplay of economics with the pre-existing political structures, though the Europeans were still able to eventually gain control.

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