Tips for Preparing for the AP US History Exam

ap us history exam

Tips for Preparing for the AP US History exam 

Yes, it’s only February, so perhaps the AP US History exam is not at the top of your mind. However, now is the time to think about putting together a study plan, as May will be here before you know it!

Exam Date:

Friday May 5, 2023, 8 AM Local

Exam Format: 

Section IA: Multiple Choice

  • This section contains 55 questions to be completed in 55 minutes.
  • 40% of score
  • The questions are presented in sets of 3-4 based on the same stimulus such as a primary source document, a chart, a cartoon, or graph.

Section IB: Short Answer

  • This section has four questions, but students pick three to complete in 40 minutes.
  • 20% of score
  • Question 1 is required.  It includes 1-2 secondary sources covering the years 1754-1980
  • Question 2 is required. It includes 1 primary source focusing on the years 1754-1980.
  • Students choose between questions 3 and 4.  Question 3 focuses on years 1491-1877 and Question 4 focuses on years 1865-2001. No sources are provided for either question 3 or 4.

Section II: Free Response

  • 2 Questions to be completed in 1 hour 40 minutes
  1. Document Based Question (DBQ)
    • 60 minutes (includes 15 minutes reading time)
    • 25% of exam score
    • Students are provided with seven documents giving various perspectives on a historical topic or process. In an essay, they must develop an argument using evidence from the documents.
    • The topic of the DBQ will focus on the years 1754-1980
  2. Long Essay Question
    • 40 minutes
    • 15 % of exam score
    • Students can choose from 3 options, each focusing on historical developments and processes from a different range of time periods—either 1491–1800 (option 1), 1800–1898 (option 2), or 1890–2001 (option 3)

Tips for Preparing:

Begin prepping 6-8 weeks before the AP US History exam. Students should create a study calendar and begin prepping in early March. The course is divided into 9 units, so if you start prepping 6 weeks before the exam, you could review 1-2 units per week. Make sure to incorporate free response questions and multiple-choice practice questions as you review content.

There is no need to take a baseline unless you get started late. For many standardized tests, students like to take a baseline test before prepping to see where their strengths and challenges lie. A baseline isn’t recommended for APUSH, because it’s possible students won’t have covered all the content in their class when they start studying, and they may have forgotten some of the content from earlier in the year. The exception to this “no-baseline” advice would be if a student left studying until the last minute (like 1-2 weeks before the exam) and wanted to see which areas were their weakest and in most need of review.

Study actively. There is a lot of content covered in an APUSH course, but passively reading over notes or highlighted portions of the textbook won’t ensure that you know the material.  You need to do something with the content as you review it! 

    • Consider making timelines for each unit.  Notice the dates at the beginning and end of the Unit – they are carefully chosen.  Think about why these dates were chosen to bookend the unit.
    • Create a PERSIA chart for each unit, noting Political, Economic, Religious, Social, Intellectual/Industrial and Artistic developments.
    • Turn the headings and subheadings in your textbook into questions and then answer them
    • Have a parent or study buddy quiz you on those questions to ensure that you can recall the information and repeat it back to them.
    • Practice both multiple choice and FRQs

Focus on content from Units 3-8 (1754-1980) which accounts for 80% of exam questions, so if you can’t cover all content, focus on these time periods.

Remember that you’re trying to gauge how well you know the material.  Forcing yourself to answer questions about the content will help you know how well you’ve got the information down.

What do I study?

Use the reading notes you have taken throughout the year in which you have distilled the important information from your textbook. There is no need to re-read your entire textbook, which would take months to do. If you highlighted your textbook, review the highlighted portions, and consider writing down paraphrased versions of what you highlighted into a study document for yourself.

Review your class notes because your teacher will have emphasized certain points or helped make thematic connections that the College Board will emphasize on the exam.

Practice Free Response Questions: Access APUSH free response questions as well as scoring guidelines from past years here. Start with tests from 2015 when the test changed to its current format.

  • Make sure you really understand the rubrics for both the DBQ and the FRQ available in the College Board’s AP Course and Exam description on page 261. Write your essays with the rubric in mind. The readers are grading tons of essays, so make it easy for the readers to identify the required points!
  • Practice annotating documents from past DBQs – note speaker, date, historical context, point of view.
  • You don’t necessarily have to write full essays for all the past essay questions as you review. Instead, draft thesis statements and create outlines for a particular prompt, consider how you would contextualize the topic, and think about what outside knowledge you have on the topic.

Practice multiple choice questions. A full College Board APUSH exam is available here.

Work with a tutor.  If you’d like additional tips and practice, reach out to Marks Education to work with one of our great tutors to prepare for the test. A tutor can help you assess how well you know the content as well as provide feedback on practice FRQs and Multiple choice questions.

Other Useful Resources:

AP Course and Exam Description provided by the College Board – includes sample multiple choice questions, short answer questions and FRQs at the end of the document.

AP Classroom: Access daily videos and practice questions.

Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History: has short videos and primary sources for every APUSH unit.

Crash course videos available on Youtube: Don’t rely on videos as your sole means of studying. Use them as a supplemental resource, particularly if you feel you got started studying late or your class didn’t cover required content.





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