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HOW TO APPROACH THE COMPARATIVE QUESTIONEdit
By the last essay of this exam, most students are exhausted. At best, their hands are tired. At worst, they have not managed their time well and have only a few minutes to complete a task that counts for one-sixth of their grade.
As a result, the third essay is often the weakest of the group. It does not need to be this way. The Comparative question (the COMP) asks what is the same and what is different. It requires a task familiar to historians and non-historians alike: analyzing similarities and differences. As a student, you should be used to making comparisons—whether it is comparing teachers, to comparing Coke and Pepsi. The COMP focuses on similarities and differences between regions.
By the time you reach the COMP, take a deep breath, stretch out your arms, wiggle your fingers, and dive into it with the best that you have. Your handwriting may be messier than it was on the DBQ, but fortunately, AP readers are accustomed to reading all sorts of handwriting. Consequently, don’t take time to rewrite an essay to make it look more presentable—an essay cannot earn points for neatness, and cannot lose points for sloppiness.
Even so, try to make your essay as neat as possible: If you have sloppy handwriting, don’t abbreviate words. If you are a poor speller, do not disguise the problem by writing difficult words with a few letters at the beginning and then scribble. Moreover, don’t include too many arrows that point to inserted sentences elsewhere in the essay—they just make reading the whole essay less readable.
Organizing Your Essay in 5 MinutesEdit
The COMP asks you to analyze a broad historical issue or issues in at least two regions of the world. Several regions are listed.
So once you read the question, you will be faced with a choice: Which regions to compare? Pick those regions you know the most facts about that relate to the question.
As always, underlining and note taking are important. Even a few words jotted down in the green booklet can make your essay more focused. Let’s look at an example:
- Compare and contrast the use of technology and the dynamics of trade in TWO of the following regions for the periods mentioned:
- · China during the Qin and Han Dynasties
- · The Mediterranean during the Roman Empire
- · Mesoamerica during the Maya Empires
- · South America during the Inca Empire
This is a complex question. You are being asked for similarities and differences between two regions in the areas of technology and trade. Not all COMP questions are this complex. Some might just ask you to compare one aspect. Others might just present one region.
Yet other questions might not provide categories of comparison as this one does with trade and technology. In those cases, you will need to create your own categories of comparison. Think broadly and brainstorm about 3 aspects for comparison. Good categories for analysis might include political, economic, social, technological, cultural, intellectual and artistic aspects.