The AP US History curriculum covers the rich American story from the Native Americans to the present day. You have made it to May, so you know the course to be intense. But, there is good news! I know, good news during the pandemic can be hard to come by, but I mean it: you can nail the AP US History exam by following a few basic study habits that are fun, low stress, and interactive.
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!