What is APUSH?
The AP US History Exam (or APUSH) covers the rich American story from the Native Americans to the present day. The exam contains a multiple-choice section, short and long essay questions, and one document-based question. Students must be able to recall specific historical facts, as well as form arguments about significant developments in the nation’s history. You have made it to May, so you know the course to be intense. But, there is good news! You can nail the AP US History exam by following a few basic study habits that are fun, low stress, and interactive.
What is on the AP US History exam?
The AP US History course consists of 9 units, each covering a different time period of American history. Here they are, courtesy of the college board:
- Unit 1: 1491-1607
You’ll learn about Native American societies as well as how and why Europeans first explored, and then began to colonize, the Americas.
- Unit 2: 1607-1754
You'll study the colonies established in the New World by the Spanish, French, Dutch, and British.
- Unit 3: 1754-1800
You'll explore the events that led to the American Revolution and the formation of the United States and examine the early years of the republic.
- Unit 4: 1800-1848
You’ll examine how the young nation developed politically, culturally, and economically in this period.
- Unit 5: 1844-1877
You’ll learn how the nation expanded and you’ll explore the events that led to the secession of Southern states and the Civil War.
- Unit 6: 1865-1898
You’ll examine the nation’s economic and demographic shifts in this period and their links to cultural and political changes.
- Unit 7: 1890-1945
You’ll examine America’s changing society and culture and the causes and effects of the global wars and economic meltdown of this period.
- Unit 8: 1945-1980
You’ll learn about the rivalry between the Soviet Union and the United States, the growth of various civil rights movements, and the economic, cultural, and political transformations of this period.
- Unit 9: 1980-Present
You’ll learn about the advance of political conservatism, developments in science and technology, and demographic shifts that had major cultural and political consequences in this period.
But just as important as the content are the analytical thinking and writing skills required by the exam. According to the college board, these are the skills students need to learn in the course and apply on the exam.
- Evaluating primary and secondary sources
- Analyzing the claims, evidence, and reasoning you find in sources
- Putting historical developments in context and making connections between them
- Coming up with a claim or thesis and explaining and supporting it in writing
How many questions are on the AP US History exam?
There are 55 questions on the multiple choice section of the AP US History exam, 3 short answer questions, and 2 longer free response questions, one of which is a document based question (DBQ).
How long is the AP US History exam?
The duration of the AP US History exam is 3 hours and 15 minutes. Students are allotted 55 minutes for the multiple choice, 40 for the short response, and 1 hour 40 minutes for the free responses.
Is it hard to get a 5 on the AP US History exam?
Yes, the AP US History exam is actually considered one of the harder AP exams due to the amount of memorization and writing skills required. It has a lower pass and 5 rate compared to most other AP exams.
What is the average score for AP US History?
The average score for AP US History is somewhere between a 2 and 3, approximately 2.71.
What percent of students earn a 5 on APUSH?
In 2021, only 11% of students earned a 5 on APUSH.
How to study for the APUSH exam
Tip 1: Find a Friend and Teach Them APUSH!
Teaching others actually helps you learn better. “Students who spend time teaching what they’ve learned go on to show better understanding and knowledge retention than students who simply spend the same time re-studying” according to the British Psychological Society.
First, I want you to select the topic you have avoided. You know, the one that is “boring” or “hard” and conquer it by teaching yourself well enough to teach a friend! Preferably, find a friend who is unfamiliar with APUSH like a parent or a younger sibling. Speak and write thematically for your student and use the visuals from class that are meant to trigger your memory.
Here’s an example: Manifest Destiny.
First, define the concept: White America was divinely ordained to expand to the West and conquer the entire North American continent. Next, break it down: divine means G-d wanted the people to do it. Westward Expansion encompassed the push and pull factors--economic development, agricultural machinery, growing population, the Homestead Act, to name a few--which collectively motivated folks to go westward. Finally, offer a visual as an easy way for your friend to remember the concept. American Progress is the perfect painting to show how folks were guided west by a heavenly woman.
Tip 2: Divide & Conquer Terms into Facts & Concepts
Step 1: Divide
Open a new spreadsheet on your computer. Type out 50 terms you need to learn in your review for the exam. Then label one column “Facts” and label the second column “Concepts”. Facts are pieces of information. Concepts are abstract ideas. Why make the columns? I’ll tell you!
The amount of information needed for the exam can be overwhelming. Yet, labeling your terms helps organize them more effectively in your brain. It’s also easy to tell yourself to simply memorize a fact as opposed to understanding a concept. For example, for the sake of reference, it is helpful to know the date that the framers signed the Declaration of Independence. 1776. That date is a fact. No need to overthink it.
A concept, however, requires a bit more brain power. For example, Manifest Destiny is a concept. Yes, it is helpful to commit the definition to memory as we demonstrated above.
However, the concept of Manifest Destiny requires more of a deeper understanding including Divine Intervention, Western Expansion, and the push and pull factors driving movement on the North American continent.
Step 2: Conquer
Now that you have divided the terms into two separate columns, it is time to conquer the terms. The facts should be written on index cards or punched into Quizlet and then committed to memory. If you find that the fact requires deeper thought, context, or understanding, it could be a concept. Slide the term over to the concept column. The concept you should teach to a friend like we demonstrated in Tip 1.
Tip 3: Write, Write, Write, Write, and Write Some More!
You should be practicing your writing for the Short Answer, Long Essay, and DBQ portions of the exam by finding as many old exams and practice essays as you can. Practice writing your thesis. Practice outlining the bodies. Practice keeping your transition sentences clear and crisp. And, practice a strong conclusion. You can do so by using resources provided by the College Board like the Free Response Questions of years past. A plan of action I would suggest would be: start with Short Answers then complete the Long Essay and outline the DBQ. Then the next day flip. Complete all the Short Answers, but complete the DBQ and outline the Long Essay. This practice will keep you sharp and confident for test day.
Not sure you can commit to writing every day before exam day? Pay very close attention to how you’re writing in APUSH essays and in other classes, doing your best to write all your essays in a way that gets straight to the point.
Knowing American history helps to shape our understanding of our present and future, which is an important education to have nowadays. Essay writing is also a lifelong skill, and above all, a college requirement. As long as you work hard to define the terms, explain the concepts, and keep your writing short and sweet, the APUSH exam won’t be as scary as you think! Of course, If you feel you need support, Ivy Tutors Network is more than happy to help. Our AP US History tutors have helped countless students score 5’s and 4's on their APUSH exams, excel in their AP courses, and earn college credit along the way!