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

The AP® U.S. History Exam tests students’ knowledge of American history dating back to pre-Columbian America to the present day. While the subjects covered by the AP® U.S. History course and exam are straightforward, how it’s scored is a lot less clear. In fact, scoring for the exam can be very confusing for students hoping for a good score.

We are going to walk you through the format of the AP® U.S. History Exam, how each section is scored, and even how you can estimate your score after the test.

Breaking down the AP® US History Exam

Many colleges require students to fulfill a history or social science course before they graduate. Luckily, high school students can often fulfill that credit before they even step foot on campus by taking the AP® U.S. History Exam and getting a “passing” score of 3 or higher.

The exam covers all U.S. History from 1491 to the present and focuses on seven broad themes:

  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

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.

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:

  • Section I
    • Part A: Multiple-choice
      • 40% of total Exam score
      • 55 questions
      • 55 minutes
    • Part B: Short-answer
      • 20% of total Exam score
      • 3 questions
      • 40 minutes
  • Section II
    • Part A: Document-based question
      • 25% of total Exam score
      • One question
      • 60 minutes including 15-minute reading time
    • Part B: Long-essay
      • 15% of total Exam score
      • One question
      • 40 minutes

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 analysis 25%
Long-essay 15%

Now that you know the structure of the AP® U.S. History Exam, let’s jump into the AP® scoring rubric—and how you can roughly estimate your score.

How the Advanced Placement Exam scoring rubric works

All AP® Exams use the same scoring rubric. The system is on a scale from 1 to 5—with 5 being the best score you can attain and 1 being the worst.

The following table 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® World 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.

The 1–5 number you can get for your score is also known as a “scaled score.” It is converted from a “composite score” that is determined by the amount of raw points you get for answering each question correctly (more on this later).

Many colleges and universities will give you college credit if you attain a 3 or higher. But don’t forget, all schools are different. Some might require you to score a 4 or a 5 to get credit. Make sure you research this to avoid disappointment.

So, if you want to find out the score a specific school will accept in exchange for credit, you’ll need to check with the school’s registrar’s office to find out information about AP® credit for U.S. History. Often, you can find this information on the school’s website.

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.

How the AP® US History Exam is scored

Remember how the AP® U.S. History Exam is broken up into a multiple-choice section and a free-response section? Well, they’re both scored differently.

A computer scores the multiple-choice section—and it does not deduct scores for incorrect or blank answers on the exam. The raw score you can attain comes from the total number of questions you answer correctly. This means you should never leave any questions blank.

The free-response section, on the other hand, is a bit trickier, as someone actually has to read your answer to determine your score. This section is scored during the AP® Reading—an annual convention in June during which thousands of college professors and AP® teachers nationwide convene to help judge and score AP® essays.

And if the scoring wasn’t confusing enough, the free-response section is scored on a scale of 1–9 with 1 at the lowest and 9 at the highest. We know it’s confusing. But stick with us here; we promise it’ll be clearer once we break down how you can get your scaled score of 1–5—which brings us to…

How to get your scaled AP® U.S. History score

To calculate a final, scaled AP® U.S. History score for any exam, you have to follow a four-step process.

NOTE: This process only gives you an ESTIMATE of what your final score is. That’s because the tests change every year, and no practice test is the same as an official result. However, it’s worthwhile to calculate your practice test scores.

Step 1: Calculate your correct multiple-choice answers

There are 55 total questions in the multiple-choice section of the AP® U.S. History Exam. Each one represents a potential raw point you can get if you answer it correctly. Let’s say you got 45 questions correct. That means you would have 45 raw points from this one section—which is great! Next, you need to figure out your score for the essays.

Step 2: Estimate your scores for your essays

There are three essays you can take in the AP® U.S. History Exam. Each one represents a potential 9 raw points for a total of 27 points for the entire section.

Since this section is much more subjective, you’re going to have to do some heavy guesswork for what you got. Let’s say, though, you end up with the scores 5, 6, and 7. That means you got a total of 18 raw points on the essay section.

Now it’s time to take both numbers you got (45 and 18) and figure out your composite score.

Step 3: Find your composite score

Here comes the hard part. You’re going to now take the two numbers we got above and turn them into a composite score between 0 and 150.

To do that, you’re going to use the following formula:

(Raw multiple-choice score x 1.23) + (Raw free-response score x 3.05) = Composite score

The highest converted score you can get on the multiple-choice section is 82.5, and the highest converted multiple-choice score you can get is 67.5. Both represent 55% and 45% of 150, respectively.

Using the formula above, plug in the numbers from steps one and two to get the composite score:

(45 x 1.23) + (18 x 3.05)

Which becomes:

55.35 + 54.9

Which equals:

110.25

Your total composite score then would be 110, since scores are rounded down.

That’s not all though. You now need to take your composite score and estimate the scaled score—which brings us to our final step:

Step 4: Estimate the scaled score

Your composite score is going to fall in one of five different sections to get your scaled score. The higher your composite score is, the better.

Here’s a very handy chart to help you figure out what your composite score is when it’s converted into the scaled score:

COMPOSITE SCORE SCALED SCORE
104–150 5
92–103 4
76–91 3
50–75 2
0–49 1

So using the number above, you can estimate that your composite score yields a five on the AP U.S. History Exam—awesome!!

REMEMBER: This system will only give you a rough estimate. At the end of the day, you really won’t know what score you’ll get until you receive your results back. We highly suggest not worrying about trying to calculate your score and just wait for the results.

Easier said than done, we know. But trust us. The only results you can trust are the ones you’ll get back from the test.