About AP African American Studies

AP African American Studies Course and Exam Description

About the Course 

AP African American Studies is an interdisciplinary course that examines the diversity of African American experiences through direct encounters with rich and varied sources. Students explore key topics that extend from early African kingdoms to the ongoing challenges and achievements of the contemporary moment.

AP African American Studies Course Framework 

The course framework in the AP African American Studies Course and Exam Description (CED) (.pdf) is organized by four thematic units that follow a chronological flow across the course. Throughout each unit, students build interdisciplinary analytical skills through deep encounters with a wide range of texts and sources.

  • Unit 1: Origins of the African Diaspora (~900 BCE–16th century) 
  • Unit 2: Freedom, Enslavement, and Resistance (16th century–1865) 
  • Unit 3: The Practice of Freedom (1865–1940s) 
  • Unit 4: Movements and Debates (1940s–2000s) 

Course Skills 

Skill Category 1:
Applying Disciplinary Knowledge 
Skill Category 2:
Source Analysis 
Skill Category 3:
Explain course concepts, developments, patterns, and processes (e.g., cultural, historical, political, social). Evaluate written and visual sources, and data (including historical documents, literary texts, music lyrics, works of art, material culture, maps, tables, charts, graphs, and surveys).Develop an argument using a line of reasoning to connect claims and evidence. 
1A. Identify and explain course concepts, developments, and processes. 2A. Identify and explain a source’s claim(s), evidence, and reasoning. 3A. Formulate a defensible claim.  
1B. Identify and explain the context of a specific event, development, or process.  2B. Describe a source’s perspective, purpose, context, and audience.  3B. Support a claim or argument using specific and relevant evidence.  
1C. Identify and explain patterns, connections, or other relationships (causation, changes, continuities, comparison).  2C. Explain the significance of a source’s perspective, purpose, context, and audience. 3C. Strategically select sources—evaluating the credibility of the evidence they present—to effectively support a claim. 
1D. Explain how course concepts, developments, and processes relate to the discipline of African American Studies. 2D. Describe and draw conclusions from patterns, trends, and limitations in data, making connections to relevant course content. 3D. Select and consistently apply an appropriate citation style. 
  3E. Use a line of reasoning to develop a well-supported argument. 

What Will Students Experience in AP African American Studies? 

Given the interdisciplinary character of AP African American Studies, students in the course will develop skills across multiple fields, with an emphasis on developing historical, literary, visual, and data analysis skills. Students will encounter primary sources on a daily basis; here are some examples. Students will:  

  • Review and discuss artifacts from the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. 
  • Study and analyze African artworks held by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, gaining a deeper understanding of African culture and society. 
  • Review sketches of the Amistad trial from Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. 
  • Read and discuss the writings of Frederick Douglass, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Maya Angelou. 
  • Read original newspaper and magazine articles from the antebellum period, including debates in the pages of Freedom’s Journal
  • Read and analyze the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. 
  • Read excerpts from Carter G. Woodson’s The Mis-Education of the Negro
  • Read Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Nonviolence and Racial Justice” from 1957, gaining a deeper understanding of the Civil Rights Movement. 
  • Analyze artworks such as Negro es Bello II (Black is Beautiful II) by Elizabeth Catlett and I Go To Prepare A Place For You by Bisa Butler.

How We Developed AP African American Studies 

Every AP course is designed—and regularly updated—to include current data, evidence, and findings in each discipline. AP courses are designed to include the content and skills most frequently taught in introductory college courses, so that students who demonstrate mastery on the AP Exam can be placed into upper-division college courses with a strong foundation for success. Accordingly, the AP Program engages college faculty and high school educators to evaluate the research, recommend scope and sequence, review and approve the exam questions, and score the exams.   

For the AP African American Studies course, the AP Program completed a rigorous research and design phase in 2021, examining over 100 college syllabi from a national sampling of courses from African American Studies programs, with representation across public and private institutions, including a wide range of historically Black colleges and universities and all eight Ivy League institutions. Nearly 300 college faculty offered feedback on course learning outcomes, content topics, and skills. Next, an advisory panel and writing team of nationally recognized college faculty and experienced teachers informed the design of the course framework and exam components. Then subject matter experts in the AP Program assembled an inaugural course development committee, including 16 college faculty and high school teachers representing the fields of history, literature, education, political science, music, art history, and sociology. The development committee was charged with: 

  • developing the assessment and instructional resources 
  • defining the professional learning content for teachers 
  • responding to student and teacher feedback gathered through 2 years of piloting the course 

Additionally, the AP Program continues to build close partnerships with hundreds of stakeholders in the African American community, including civil rights leaders, community advocates, and academic and cultural institutions, at the local and national levels. These partnerships are strengthened by ongoing collaboration with educators, college faculty, students, academic and cultural institutions, and community advocates. 

Credit and Placement 

The AP Program has engaged faculty from hundreds of colleges and universities to ensure that AP African American Studies reflects the academic rigor of introductory college courses in the field. Qualifying exam scores in AP African American Studies may earn credit or placement in required or elective courses at a diverse range of colleges and universities. The course is designed to be the equivalent of an introductory college or university course in African American Studies and related courses, including Africana Studies, African Diaspora Studies, and Black Studies.

Colleges and Universities

More than 350 colleges and universities nationally have initially signed on to provide college credit, advanced placement, or both to students who have satisfactory performance on the AP African American Studies Exam. Early credit support for the pilot course has surpassed expectations, and it’s our strong expectation that many more colleges will finalize and publish their credit policies as academic catalogs get posted later this summer.

Supporting Teachers 

Course Framework 

The AP African American Studies course framework in the CED includes primary text, visual, and data sources for each topic that help teachers introduce students to the diverse contributions, experiences, and perspectives of African American communities. The AP Program has secured copyright permission for AP teachers and students to use each of these sources, so added costs will not be a barrier for schools interested in providing this AP subject.  

Professional Development 

Teachers can participate in a range of professional learning programs for AP African American Studies, such as AP Summer Institutes (APSI), AP Workshops, and AP Mentoring. Visit Professional Learning Opportunities for more information.

The Smithsonian Institution and Advanced Placement 

In collaboration with the Smithsonian Institution, the AP Program has developed the AP African American Studies: Teaching with Objects Smithsonian Learning Lab, an interactive site that offers students and teachers access to a digital collection of Smithsonian resources listed in the course framework. The Learning Lab includes a host of objects, artworks, photographs, texts, and other primary sources organized by unit and topic. These curated resources create opportunities for deep analysis, exploration, and discussion. 

The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History 

The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History offers an in-depth collection of videos, timelines, primary sources, and sample essays to help guide your journey through AP African American Studies. 

AP African American Studies Online Community 

The AP African American Studies Online Community will be a space for AP teachers and coordinators to connect with colleagues, participate in lively discussions with experts, and share classroom-ready materials. The community will also offer optional email updates to help make the most of your AP African American Studies classroom.