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.

The test format for the exam is simple: 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, which requires you to answer two essay prompts.

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

SECTION I SECTION II
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, though. 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 going to be involved each step of the way.

To begin, let’s break down the topics that the AP® U.S. History Exam will cover.

What’s on the AP® U.S. History Exam?

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Culture and Society. The role 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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:

  • 1491–1607 (Pre-Columbian America and Early Settlement)
  • 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)

Now that you know the themes of the course, let’s take a look at some study tips that will help you prepare for the real AP® U.S. History Exam in May.

Studying for the AP® U.S. History Exam

Here are the three best study tips for AP® U.S. History:

#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.

#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 essay 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.