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:

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


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.

Breaking down the AP® U.S. History Exam

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, you may be able to qualify for credit toward that requirement.

The exam covers all aspects of U.S. History from pre-Columbian America all the way to modern-day America (1491-present). The course and exam focus on seven broad themes of U.S. history:

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

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:

Multiple choice 40%
Short answer 20%
Document analysis 25%
Long essay 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.