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If you want to learn more about how the Romans conquered Europe, why the Normans build castles, or what caused the Reformation, then this is the course for you!

This exam is made up of approximately 120 questions and has been designed to be like the first semester of a freshman course. It’s a basic rundown of beliefs, philosophy, and history of Western Civilization from the Ancient Near East to the Early Modern Period in 1648. This course will try an answer some of the big questions about Western Civilization by starting with the basics and seeing how they have grown and changed over time.

Western Civilization I
Study Guide

Western Civ CLEP

The course has been developed so it will give you a broad overview of Western Civilization and to get you thinking about what has influenced Western Civilization over the millennia. A lot of the course content will feel very familiar even if you’ve never studied history before. Don’t be intimidated by some of the vocabulary, you’ll pick it in no time!

The exam content is divided into these 6 main sections:

  • (8%–10%) ANCIENT NEAR EAST

    This first section of the course will look at what exactly is politics in the first place, why is Western politics unique, and how politics and government developed from the very first cities in the Ancient Near East. The Ancient Near East is the technical term for the eastern section of the Mediterranean and the western part of the Middle East. It’s also known as the Fertile Crescent (you guessed it, it’s a roughly crescent-shaped area) and it’s the area where the first cities, religions, and writings were developed. It’s even where the wheel was invented!


    Next you’ll be looking at the Ancient Greeks. The Ancient Greeks are hugely influential in Western Civilization, influencing everything from architecture, to history, to education, to politics, to philosophy. You examine the world’s first democracy in Athens and the war-loving Spartans. You’ll also study hugely influential works of literature like the Odyssey and the Iliad which still go on to influence our culture in amazing ways. Did you know that the Coen brothers film ‘O Brother Where Art Thou?’ is based on the Odyssey? The religion and culture won’t be ignored, and you’ll study the many gods worshipped by the Ancient Greeks as well as the beautiful architecture they used in their buildings and temples. The basic message is that the Ancient Greeks are really important!

  • (15%–17%) ANCIENT ROME

    Even if you’ve never studied history, you’ve definitely heard of Ancient Rome. It is said that the Greeks taught the Romans and the Romans taught the world. The world would simply not be the place it is today without them. The incredible political innovations of the Roman Republic will be explored and how the Republic eventually came to an end under Julius Caesar and his grand-nephew Augustus, the first Roman Empire. The breakneck expansion of the Roman Empire will be explored as well as how Roman culture and government left a lasting impact on all the places that they conquered. You’ll also look at the violent persecution of the early Christians, and how Roman taught and culture influenced Christianity when it became the official religion of the Roman Empire under Emperor Constantine. Finally, the sad and slow decline of the Roman Empire due to the Germanic invasions will be discussed.

  • (23%–27%) MEDIEVAL HISTORY

    You might have heard that this period in history is sometimes called the ‘Dark Ages,’ but after studying Medieval history, you’ll know it’s anything but dark! This section begins looking at the Byzantine Empire and the influence of Islam on European thought, especially regarding the way the Muslim scholars preserved Ancient Greek and Roman texts. Emperor Charlemagne and the feudal system will be explored as will the all-powerful medieval Roman Catholic Church. Medieval culture ranging from art to politics to feudal monarchies will all be discussed as well as the importance of medieval guilds, some of which can still be found in Europe. Art and architecture are an essential part of this period in history and won’t be left out.


    The Renaissance was a hugely important time in European history and saw great leaps in how people thought about art, science, and education. Did you know that the words ‘renaissance’ means rebirth or reawakening? This section of the course will start with the Italian Renaissance with famous artists like Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael. Of course, the Renaissance didn’t just happen in Italy, it spread all over Europe from Britain, to Germany, and even to Russia. This period also saw the great Protestant Reformation under Martin Luther which split the unity of Christianity in Europe forever and later splintered into countless Protestant denominations.

  • (10%–15%) EARLY MODERN EUROPE, 1560–1648

    The Early Modern period is when we can see the beginnings of our modern political, philosophical, and economic systems. The opening up of the Atlantic when Columbus discovered the Americas will be looked at, as well as the other voyages of discovery. It’s easy to remember when Columbus discovered the Americas with this rhyme ‘In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue’! The massive changes to European economies that started during this period will be examined as will the beginning of the slave trade and how it impacted upon Africa. Early Modern Europe was a place of great change, but also of turmoil, and the centuries of what seemed to be never-ending war over land and religion that nearly destroyed Europe will be discussed.

Western Civilization: Ancient Near East To 1648
Practice Quiz

Are you ready to give the practice quiz a try? Here are 10 sample questions based on the course material. It’s quite a familiar set-up because it will be multiple-choice with only one correct answer. When you write your answer make sure to tap (or hover over) the question to give you the answer and an explanation.

All test questions are in a multiple-choice format, with one correct answer and three incorrect options. The following are samples of the types of questions that may appear on the exam.

Please do keep in mind that we can’t guarantee the accuracy of this quiz, so we do recommend you also run through a full-length practice exam.  The CollegeBoard offers a good one that we’ll share in the resources section below.

Question 1: Which of these rivers did not play an important role in the development of the first civilizations?

a) The Nile
b) The Euphrates
c) The Tigris
d) The Volga

Answer: d)

The River Volga is in present-day Russia! The Nile gave birth to the Ancient Egyptian Civilization that lasted for thousands of years, but the river valley of the Tigris and Euphrates is considered the cradle of civilization. It’s where we find the first urban settlements, as well as agriculture and law.

Question 2: Which two Greek city-states fought against each other in the Peloponnesian War?

a) The Spartans and the Athenians
b) The Athenians and the Persians
c) The Thebans and the Spartans
d) The Dorians and the Teneans

Answer: a)

The Spartans and the Athenians fought against one another during the highly destructive Peloponnesian War. Although Athens was the strongest city-state at the beginning of the war with a vibrant economy and navy, by the end of the war they were completely devastated, and ultimately they lost to their old rivals the Spartans in 404 BCE.

Question 3: When did the Hellenistic Period begin?

a) After Alexander the Great conquered the Persians and took control of their territories
b) When the Greek philosophers Socrates and Plato began teaching
c) When there was an improvement in navigation technology which allowed for safer and faster travel by ship
d) When the first Koine Greek speaking Christians travelled throughout the Near East and Europe

Answer: a)

The Hellenistic period began with the huge empire of Alexander the Great. Hellenistic comes from the Greek word for Greece, Ellás. The Greek language quickly became the language of business and trade and spread rapidly among the trade routes in the Eastern Mediterranean. Hellenistic culture and religions also spread throughout the region, becoming very influential. Did you know that Alexander the Great never considered himself Greek, but rather he thought of himself as being Macedonian, which is a region found in the very north of present-day Greece.

Question 4: What marked the change in Roman law from ancient traditions to legal code?

a) The teachings of Aristotle
b) The speeches of Cicero
c) The Declaration of Pax Romana
d) The Twelve Tables of Rome

Answer: d)

The creation of the Twelve Tables of Rome was a hugely important turning point in Roman history and Western Civilization. They decided as a people to no longer rely on ancient oral traditions, but to write down their laws and make sure that every Roman would have to be subject to the same laws. The Twelve Tables were inspired by the legislative writings of Greek city-states (remember, the Greeks taught the Romans and the Romans taught the world), and the Twelve Tables would go on to be very influential in Western Europe centuries later.

Question 5: Which group lost power due to the Magna Carta?

a) The Roman Catholic Church
b) The Monarchy
c) The Barons
d) The Peasants

Answer: b)

The Magna Carta was designed by the Barons of England to reduce the power of King John and the English monarchy. The document meant that not even the king was above the law, everyone had a right to a fair trial, and that people who are taxed should have some kind of representation. Sound familiar? This document has been hugely influential in Western Civilization, but especially in the English speaking world. You can still see copies of the Magna Carta in museums today.

Question 6: Which architectural style is associated with the Medieval Period?

a) Gothic
b) Neoclassicism
c) Romanticism
d) Baroque

Answer: a)

Gothic architecture is most commonly associated with the Medieval period. If you’ve ever seen or visited an old stone cathedral, the chances are that you’ve seen examples of Gothic art architecture before. Gothic buildings usually have lots of high arches and stained glass windows. Notre Dame in Paris, France is probably the most famous example of a Gothic cathedral.

Question 7: The sale of what prompted Martin Luther to write his 95 theses about the condition of Christianity?

a) Remittances
b) Indulgences
c) Relics
d) Papal bulls

Answer: b)

Martin Luther was disgusted about the sale of indulgences by Johann Tetzel. Usually indulgences were only granted to people who did some sort of penance like going on a pilgrimage, or saying a lot of prayers. But the Roman Catholic Church needed money so they allowed indulgences to be bought. Luther believed that it was only faith in God, not doing any special works that saved people.

Question 8: Which Renaissance figure wrote “In Praise of Folly” in an attempt to reform the Roman Catholic Church from within?

a) Ulrich Zwingli
b) Pope Paul III
c) Niccolò Machiavelli
d) Erasmus of Rotterdam

Answer: d)

Erasmus of Rotterdam (can you guess where he was from?) was a humanist scholar and philosopher, but also a Roman Catholic priest. He knew that the Roman Catholic Church needed to be reformed, but he believed that forming a whole new denomination like Martin Luther was wrong. He believed that the Church could be reformed from within.

Question 9: Which French king helped end the wars of religion in France but converted to Catholicism?

a) Francis II
b) Louis VI
c) Charles IX
d) Henry IV

Answer: d)

Henry IV helped to end the devastating Wars of Religion in France. Although Henry was baptised Roman Catholic, he was brought up Protestant and many of his family died in anti-Protestant persecutions. When he was able to claim the throne of France for himself, he converted to Catholicism because he believed it would give him the most support and strongest position.

Question 10: The Peace of Westphalia is best remembered for…

a) The formal end of the Wars of Religion in Europe
b) The creation of formal military alliances between European nations
c) The Division of American and Asian colonies among European nations
d) The end of religious toleration for Protestants in Europe.

Answer (b) Client-server.

Client-server architecture is a computing model in which one central computer with a high amount resources serves multiple requests from other connected computers with fewer resources. An excellent example of such a scenario is a web server. A web server hosts a website or web application that gets requests for different resources from multiple clients. Other examples of setups that adopt this model include print servers, file servers, and proxy servers.

More CLEP Study Resources

Looking for a study guide to fill a couple gaps, or just want a full length practice exam? You can find a few of my favorite resources below.  Note that some of the links are affiliate – meaning I’ll make a few dollars if you purchase, but I’m only sharing those resources that were genuinely helpful during my own CLEP journey.

Official CLEP Study Guide: It’s quite short on the study side of things, but this is the go-to practice test bank.  I don’t think I’ve done a single CLEP test without taking the practice test in this book first.

REA CLEP Western Civ I: I’m not huge on reading, but this book series is fantastic if you’re into that kind of thing. It also includes some nifty online practice tests, though I always found the official practice tests (above) more reassuring.

InstantCert Academy: The website looks like it was made before the internet, but it’s legitimately the single most useful study guide I’ve found. Basically it’s a series of flashcards that help you learn about Western Civilization I in a fast paced and fun way.

Plenty of other resources exist – just do a quick internet search – but these are the three that I’ve personally found the most helpful back when I did CLEP.

Congrats on starting your CLEP study journey! Study hard, earn credit, and most of all remember to have fun.