Like any Advanced Placement course, AP World History is intense, requiring students to absorb lots of sophisticated, detail-laden information in a relatively short amount of time: usually, a single year of high school. Yet AP World, as it is colloquially called, is a special breed of intense. The time span that the course’s curriculum covers is as expansive as its geographic focus: The material includes history starting around 8,000 B.C. and ends in the present—more than 10,000 revolutions around the sun later. This content, which the curriculum divides into six periods, is typically covered over the course of two sequential college classes.
Now the College Board, the nonprofit testing company that runs (and earns close to half its annual revenue from) the AP program, has decided that the course as it stands is, in fact, too intense. As of the 2019–20 school year, the organization will administer an AP World exam that’s significantly narrower in scope, assessing content only from 1450 A.D. on. The organization plans to funnel the remaining 9,000-plus years of history into its brand-new Pre–AP World History and Geography curriculum, part of a suite of pre-AP classes that are designed to prepare all students for college and will be launched this fall. In rationalizing the AP World changes, the College Board spokesman Zachary Goldberg cited survey and performance data suggesting that too many students and teachers drown in the information overload and ultimately fail to gain value from the course. What’s more, Goldberg said, most colleges reward the small minority of students who score well enough on the exam with credit for a single semester-long course—typically one that covers post-1450-A.D. history.