Students should expect to write free-response essays on the AP® U.S. History exam. During this section students will answer two questions that require an essay:

  • A document-based question
  • A long essay question

Let’s take a look at each section now and breakdown how long it will take, how much of the score it accounts for, and how you can best study for it. With all things related to history, though, context is key. That’s why we want to take a look at what’s on the AP® U.S. History Exam before diving into the essay questions.

What’s on the AP® U.S. History Exam?

The AP® U.S. History Exam covers all of U.S. history from pre-Columbian America (1491 and before) to modern-day (2000 to the present). The exam itself focuses on seven broad themes of U.S. history covered in the AP® U.S. History coursework.

Those themes are:

  1. American and National Identity
  2. Politics and Power
  3. Work, Exchange, and Technology
  4. Culture and Society
  5. Migration and Settlement
  6. Geography and the Environment
  7. America in the World

Students have 3 hours and 15 minutes to complete the exam from the time they start. The structure of the test itself is made up of a 95-minute section of multiple-choice and short answer questions, and a 100-minute writing section where students will answer two essay prompts.

Here is what the format of the AP® U.S. History Exam looks like—along with how much of the exam score is dependent on each section:


Part A: Multiple-choice (55 minutes)

  • 55 questions
  • 40% of total exam score

Part A: Document analysis (60 minutes, including 15 minutes for reading)

  • One question
  • 25% of total exam score

Part B: Short answer (40 minutes)

  • Three questions
  • 20% of total exam score

Part B: Long essay (40 minutes)

  • One question
  • 15% of total exam score

Want to learn more? Check out our article, “What’s on the AP® U.S. History Exam?”

Now that we know how the exam is broken down, let’s take a deeper look into the free-response essays on the AP® U.S. History exam.

Breakdown: Free-response essays on the AP® U.S. History exam

Students are expected to write two essays. One is based on document analysis. One is a long essay based on an essay prompt.

Here’s an overview of the two questions students will face:

Document-Based Question (DBQ)

Length: 60 minutes

Worth: 25% of score

This section includes a 15-minute reading period. During this time, students are given seven documents covering different perspectives on a history process between the years 1754 and 1980.

Students must then craft an argument and support it based on the documents they just read—as well as evidence they might have from their own knowledge.

Long Essay Question (LEQ)

Length: 40 minutes

Worth: 15% of score

In this section, students have a choice of three different questions or essay prompts. They must pick one of them to answer.

The questions will “focus on historical developments and processes from different time periods,” according to the College Board. Those time periods are:

  • 1491 to 1800
  • 1800 to 1898
  • 1890 to 2001

Students are expected to create an argument and support it throughout their essay response.

How to study for the free-response essays on the AP® U.S. History Exam

The single best way you can get good at something is by doing it a lot. Ask any professional basketball player how many free throws they’ve practiced shooting, they’ll probably tell you they’ve practiced until it felt like their arms would fall off.

That’s why it’s important that you take practice tests to help you get better at the AP® U.S. History Exam. Only then can you expect to get a good score and improve at it.

That’s why we want to help.  Marco Learning has created a host of resources to help you prepare for AP® exams, including video lessons, study guides, drills, and, most importantly, practice tests.

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