Why Take AP® U.S. History?

When faced with the choice of whether or not to take AP® U.S. History, the benefits often outweigh the costs for most students.

Many colleges require students to fulfill a history or social science course before they can graduate. However, if you take the AP® U.S. History Exam and attain a high score while you are in high school, you may be able to qualify for credit toward that requirement and not have to take another history exam in college.

A more recent argument for taking AP® Exams, is that more colleges are going test-optional. This means that SAT® and ACT® scores are potentially holding less weight when it comes to college applications, and a good AP® score could help tip the scale in your favor when it comes to college admissions.

Besides creating the opportunity to earn college credit for the work you do, APUSH courses also develop crucial skills, challenge you academically, and help round out your knowledge in ways you wouldn’t otherwise be able to. In addition to that, preparing for and taking the AP® U.S. History Exam provides excellent practice for college-level exams you may take in the future. Still unsure? This article goes into more detail about the benefits of taking AP® U.S. History.

How to sign up for the AP® U.S. History Exam

To register for the APUSH exam, you need to contact your school’s AP® coordinator, who can help facilitate your courses and exams.

Bear in mind you’ll likely need to complete requirements to be eligible to enroll in an AP® course. In order to register for the AP® U.S. History Exam, you have to join your class section online, on College Board’s My AP portal. Some schools will automatically register you for the exam if you’re enrolled in an AP® U.S. History class, but others won’t and you will have to register online through the portal. If you are unsure whether or not you are registered for the AP® U.S. History Exam, check wIth your AP® Coordinator.

There is also a deadline for exam registration, so make sure you register through your AP® Coordinator by then to avoid paying any late fees. The deadline to register for exams is in the fall, but specific deadlines may vary by the school—be sure to check with your teacher or AP® Coordinator.

How much does the AP® Exam cost?

Each AP® Exam costs a total of $95—if you’re in the mainland United States and its territories and commonwealths, Canada, or a U.S. Department of Defense Dependents School.

If you’re outside of those areas, the AP® Exam will cost $125 per exam.

The College Board has a financial aid program that offers a $33 fee reduction in the exam. Read more about exam fees here.

You cannot use the My AP® portal to pay fees – they will be collected by your AP® coordinator.

When you take into account the cost of a college course versus the cost of the exam, though, you’ll see that the AP® Exam is actually a bargain. With a passing score, you may be able to earn college credit and save hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

When can I take the AP® U.S. History Exam?

The AP® U.S. History Exam date in 2021 is Thursday, May 6th. You can find more information about dates and late-testing schedules for the 2021 AP® U.S. History Exam Exam in our 2021 AP® Exam Dates article.

What’s on the AP® U.S. History Exam?

The AP® U.S. History Exam will cover students’ knowledge of history in America from pre-Columbian times to the present day.To begin, let’s break down the topics that the AP® U.S. History Exam will cover.

The course and exam focus on SEVEN broad themes of U.S. history. Let’s take a look at each theme now and give a brief overview of what to expect from them—and what you should be studying:

American and National Identity. The fundamental concepts of American democracy, the Constitution, and liberty. You are expected to demonstrate a grasp of these ideas and how they’ve evolved since the American Revolution.

Politics and Power. The history of American government and party systems. You should be able to discuss the various political parties throughout U.S. history as well as the government’s impact on social institutions.

Work, Exchange, and Technology. The way labor and economic forces have impacted the American market. You should understand the history of America’s economic landscape as well as how new technological developments have influenced it.

Culture and Society. How the role of religion, arts, and culture have impacted American society. You should be able to outline how different cultural groups have evolved and impacted within American history.

Migration and Settlement. The history of colonialism and immigration in America. You should be able to analyze the causes of external and internal migration, as well as detail how migration has impacted American history.

Geography and the Environment. The way the environment has impacted American communities. You should be able to detail how geographic and environmental factors affected human settlement of the country.

America in the World. The way America impacts other nations. You should be able to illustrate the impact U.S. military and diplomatic efforts have had on the world at large.

Some AP® teachers might opt out of teaching via the “thematic” format and instead teach American history chronologically. The years are then broken down like this:

1607–1754 (Colonialism)

1754–1800 (The Revolutionary War)

1800–1848 (Early America)

1844–1877 (The Civil War and Reconstruction)

1865–1898 (The Gilded Age)

1890–1945 (The Great Depression and World Wars)

1945–1980 (The Cold War)

1980–Present (Modern Times)

What is the test format for the AP® U.S. History Exam?

The test format for the Advanced Placement® U.S. History Exam is somewhat complicated. There are two sections, each of which contains two distinct parts.

Put it all together, it looks like this:

SECTION I SECTION II
Part A: Multiple-Choice (55 minutes) Part A: Document-Based Question [DBQ] (60 minutes, including 15 minutes for reading)
  • 55 questions
  • 40% of total exam score
  • One question
  • 25% of total exam score
Part B: Short-Answer Questions (40 minutes) Part B: Long Essay Question [LEQ] (40 minutes)
  • Three questions
  • 20% of total exam score
  • One question
  • 15% of total exam score

Each section of the test is unique. To help you fully understand what to expect when you go into the AP® U.S. History Exam, let’s take a closer look at what’s involved each step of the way.

You have 3 hours and 15 minutes to complete the exam. 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 you will answer two essay prompts.

This is a nice, readable table of the scoring percentage for each section:

SECTION I 60%
Multiple-choice 40%
Short answer 20%
SECTION II 40%
Document-Based Question 25%
Long Essay Question 15%

Both sections are scored differently. For example, the multiple-choice section is scored by a computer. It also doesn’t deduct scores for incorrect or blank answers on the exam. That means you should never leave any multiple-choice questions blank! The raw score for this section comes from the total number of questions you answer correctly.

The free-response section, on the other hand, is more complicated because someone (a real human) actually has to read your answer to determine your score by assigning individual points. It is important to study real AP® U.S. History exams from previous years and also to study the specific strategies you need to earn each point on the free-response essays. This section is scored during the AP® Reading—an annual convention in June, during which thousands of college professors and AP® teachers nationwide gather to help judge and score AP® essays.

What is a DBQ?

If you’ve come across the term ‘DBQ’, but don’t know what it means, don’t worry-the world of AP® tends to come with quite a few of its own acronyms. AP® U.S. History, for example, is often referred to as ‘APUSH’, for short.

DBQ simply stands for Document-Based Question. This is the first of the two essay questions you will have to answer in Section II of your AP® U.S. History Exam.

For the DBQ, you will have one hour, including 15 minutes of reading time, to analyze a set of historical documents (usually 6 or 7), which you should use to help you answer the essay prompt.

The documents provided could either be in text or image format. Past examples of DBQ documents include, but are not limited to:

  • Constitutional texts
  • Diary excerpts
  • Political cartoons
  • Speech transcripts
  • Maps

You will be expected to use information from as many of the documents as you can to answer the question to the best of your ability.

How is the AP® U.S. History Exam Scored?

The AP® Exam’s scoring system is on a scale of one to five—with five being the best and one being the worst.

Here’s a good table that breaks down the score you could get and what it means.

AP® Score

What it means

5

Best. The highest score you can get on your AP® U.S. History Exam. This score typically guarantees college credit or placement out of a required course at colleges that accept AP® Exams.

4

Good. While not the highest, this is still a very good score. You’ll usually get college credit with it.

3

Okay. Not the worst, but plenty of room for improvement. This is the usual threshold for colleges to give you credit, though not at the most competitive colleges.

2

Bad. Not a good score at all. If you can, you’ll want to retake the exam, as schools will rarely ever give credit for it.

1

Worst. If you really want to perform well on this exam, you would probably need to do a lot of studying before taking the exam a year later.

When it comes to AP® U.S. History, you’ll want to aim for a score of 3 or higher. Most colleges will give you college credit if you score within that range.

It varies from college to college though. So, if you want to know the score that a specific college will accept in exchange for credit, you’ll need to check with the college’s registrar’s office to find out information about AP® credit for the AP® U.S. History Exam. Often, you can find this information on the school’s website. You can also check out the College Board’s search tool for AP® credit policies.

NOTE: Colleges sometimes change their requirements for awarding college credit or offering placement out of required courses. So always check in with the college to make sure you have the most relevant and recent information.

Bottom line: You’re going to want to score as high as you possibly can. Sure your dream school only requires a 3—but you should always be aiming for the highest possible score regardless.

When you get that credit, you will effectively be walking into college with part of the requirements already completed. It means you could skip a history requirement and take whatever class you wanted to. Or, you could even save money on college tuition by spending less time getting credits. Either way, getting that college credit before college is a great way to set yourself up for the next four years. Read more about how AP® exams helped Marco Learning’s tutors earn college credits.

What can I bring to the AP® U.S. History Exam?

Below is a list of all the things you can bring with you into the exam room. Note: It’s possible that not all of the items will apply to you (e.g., the Student Accommodations Letter).

  • Two No. 2 pencils with erasers. These will be used on the multiple-choice portion of the exam.
  • Two black or dark blue ink pens. These will be used for the free-response questions. Be sure to bring black or dark blue ink pens only. Leave your gold glitter pens at home.
  • A watch. This is a simple analog or digital watch with no internet access or alarms. Don’t even try to bring your smart watch in the room.
  • The AP® Student Pack. This is given to you just before you take your exam and contains a label that you need to place on your exam. Follow the labeling instructions carefully.
  • Government- or school-issued ID. If you don’t attend the school where you’re taking the AP®S. History Exam, you must also bring a government- or school-issued ID.
  • College Board SSD Student Accommodation Letter. If you require accommodations beyond the regular exam, you’ll receive a letter that verifies this (e.g., you need a braille or large-type exam).
  • Remember, you won’t have to bring all these things—but it’s in your best interest to be as prepared as you can for the exam.

Take a look at our Test Day Checklist to make sure you are 100% prepared to take your AP® U.S. History Exam when the time comes!

How do I study for AP® U.S. History?

Here are the best study tips for APUSH:

#1: Connect the themes

One thing that the AP® U.S. History course wants you to do is be able to connect historical events to the broader themes covered in the course. Not only that, but you need to be able to show that you know how the themes impact each other. That means connecting the broad themes together and showcasing how they relate to one another using specific examples.

#2: Take practice tests

There’s a saying, “Don’t shoot your first free throw in the NBA.” You also don’t want to take your first AP® U.S. History Exam on test day. To that end, take as many practice tests as you can before the big day. Take note of the areas you performed the weakest in and dedicate extra study time to those areas. Only by practicing over and over again can you expect to be better at any skill—including test-taking. If you don’t have much experience taking practice tests, check out John Moscatiello’s Step-by-Step Guide to taking a practice test like a pro.

#3: Write as much as you can

The free-response section of the AP® U.S. History Exam is the most difficult part of the entire test. To prepare, you should be writing and practicing for the document-based question (DBQ) and long-essay question (LEQ) in the weeks leading up to the exam. College Board’s website has a page dedicated to past exam questions. Read them and start to craft essays around them. You can have your AP® teacher read them and provide feedback as to which areas you can improve.

#4: Find resources that work

When it comes to studying for your exam, there is no “one size fits all”. Just because your older sister studied best with flashcards doesn’t necessarily mean that flashcards are right for you. We encourage you to take some time to figure out what study methods you are most comfortable with; it could be a mixture of everything!

We know it can be overwhelming starting from scratch. If you feel stuck, we suggest downloading our free AP® U.S. History study guide as a jumping off point and going from there.

If you’re looking for live video reviews before the AP® Exams, we will host live AP® review sessions on our YouTube channel. As well as live sessions, you can review content for the AP® U.S. History Exam here:  APUSH Content Review.