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Well, this year I experienced the Hell and torture of the AP US History exam. It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. Really, you'll study so much during the year, you'll find so many small things to fixate yourself on (Credit Mobilier, Marshall Plan, Platt Amendment), you'll dedicate yourself to memorizing all the legislature that took place under the New Deal, you'll remember all 27 amendments of the Constitution, and then they won't ask you about any of the small stuff, they won't ask you anything about the New Deal, and they won't even mention the Constitution unless they're talking about tbe Continental Congress.

Some tips:

1, Study big on colonial America when it's exam time. You'll need the reminder.

2. Study Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, and Franklin Roosevelt. The multiple choice section will have an endless number of questions on these guys regardless of what version of the test you're taking.

3. Look at old DBQs in your given time frame to figure out what's not going to be the DBQ topic. I took it today (May 11th, 2001) and my entire class was right on the money by doing this. We boned up on the Cold War and we got the Cold War.

4. If you don't know anything about the topic of a DBQ, try to use information in the documents to make it sound well synthesized. Don't say anything that you don't know for certain.

5. If you're doing a free response question and you can't remember the name of something you're using for an example, just say something like, "A specific law in (foo year) said yadda yadda yadda." For example, I couldn't remember the name of the Wabash Case so I said, "A Supreme Court case during this time period ruled that an individual state..."

6. Don't spend too much time on one free-response question. The best idea is to write your thesis down and a couple of opening sentences down in your planning time on the booklet to get ahead.

Some tips on taking the class:

1. Take notes and keep them in a safe place. You'll need these eventually.

2. Try to actually learn the material instead of regurgitating it on tests. When it comes to writing essays, you're going to be expected to be analytical and you can't do that if you just memorized what the Compromise of 1850 did.

3. Participate in class. Speak out. You'll learn more.

4. Don't cram for tests. You'll forget everything.

5. Do your reading. If you don't, you won't understand the notes you're taking. Added July 6th, 2001, 4 days after receiving my test score of a 3: Make sure you address ALL questions in a free-response essay or else you will get a low score on the individual essay, dropping your overall grade dramatically. Well at least I got college credit.

Some specifics about the AP US History exam:

The test comprises three sections: the multiple choice section, the document-based question (DBQ), and the free-response essays.

1. Multiple-choice. You will have 55 minutes to complete 80 multiple-choice questions with five answer choices each. The questions are ordered in ascending order of difficulty; the first third are fairly easy, the middle third are intermediate, and the last third is difficult. Also, the questions are in chronological groups of eight; that is, there will be eight or nine questions moving from early American history to late American history, and then the next one will jump backwards in time. When you move from a question on Reaganomics to a question on the Intolerable Acts, you've hit a new section.

About guessing on multiple-choice: You probably should. Yes, there is a -1/4 point penalty for an incorrect answer, but you will almost always be able to eliminate at least one, and usually two or three incorrect answers. Only leave the question blank if you have absolutely no idea.

What they won't be about: Military history will never be the subject of a multiple-choice question. (Caveat scholasticus: On the 2002 AP exam, one of the questions asked which Revolutionary War battle convinced the French that the rebels were deserving of French aid. This is military history, but it's military history in a greater context, so they thought it was fine. You have been warned.) Also, there will be no so-called "Trivial Pursuit" questions—questions which ask you to recall only the name of a treaty or tariff, without any kind of context.

Sample multiple-choice question (check the pipe linked periods for the answers):

Which of the following most accurately describes the attitude of seventeenth-century Puritans toward religious liberty?

  1. Having suffered persecution in England, they extended toleration to everyone.
  2. They tolerated no one whose expressed religious views varied from their own views.
  3. They tolerated all Protestant sects, but not Catholics.
  4. They tolerated Catholics, but not Quakers.
  5. They had no coherent views on religious liberty.

2 & 3. DBQ and Free-Response Essays. You will have 2 hours to write these three essays. Note: There are two test booklets for this part. The first contains only the essay questions and documents, and the second is the one that you write the essays in. For the first fifteen minutes, you can't write anything in the actual essay booklet; you can only read the essay questions and documents and write outlines in the margins of the question booklet. The remaining time is yours to divvy up as you see fit amongst the three essays, althought your proctor will tell you the suggested intervals at which you should move on to the next essay (45 minutes of writing for the DBQ, and 30 for both planning and writing each of the free-response essays).

The DBQ: You will be given a "big-picture" question and 9 short primary source documents to cite as evidence in your response. The documents could be political cartoons, or speeches from Presidents and other politicians, or diary excerpts... you get the idea. You'll be given the documents in chronological order—Document A will have been written the earliest, while Document I will be the latest. Citing most (or better yet, all) of the documents is important, but it is critical that you also bring in your own knowledge about the time period. (Didn't used to be this way—up until 1982, DBQs didn't need to have outside evidence...but they did have 20 documents.)

Making sure you have outside knowledge before the test isn't that hard, though, since you'll know from the beginning of the year what the time period of the DBQ will be, and you can easily focus on the five or six big themes from that era. UPDATE! As of the 2003 test, the DBQ time period will no longer be revealed before the test. Time will tell as to how this will affect the DBQ, in terms of both how responses are scored and what kind of questions are presented.

Also, be sure to define your terms—anything subjective, like "progressive" or "liberal" or "isolationist". Five paragraphs is the suggested length of a DBQ: an introductory paragraph, in which you state your thesis; three evidence paragraphs, and a conclusion, in which you state your thesis again, and (for bonus points!) tie the essay topic into some modern-day issue.

Sample DBQ topic:

"Reform movements in the United States sought to expand democratic ideals." Assess the validity of this statement with specific reference to the years 1825-1850.

The free-response essays: These are arguably the hardest part of the exam: unlike the multiple-choice (where you have process of elimination on your side) and the DBQ (where you have lots of documents to jump-start your recollection of a possibly obscure topic), everything you write about has to be from your memory alone. Fortunately, these essays will be relatively straightforward; the analysis need not be nearly as in-depth as in the DBQ. You'll be given four essay questions in total, in two groups of two; you must pick one from each group. The first group will be from the pre-Civil War era, and the second will be from the Civil War to the 1970s, although you are virtually guaranteed not to get an essay from your DBQ period. Four or five paragraphs each should suffice for these essays.

Sample free-response group:

Choose ONE of the following:

  1. Compare and contrast United States foreign policy after the First World War and after the Second World War. Consider the periods 1919-1928 and 1945-1950.
  2. How did the African American Civil Rights movement of the 1950's and 1960's address the failures of the Reconstruction?

This writeup is nowhere close to being comprehensive, of course. You should invest in a test-prep book; the Princeton Review's Cracking the AP U.S. History is the one I used, and I highly recommend it, though there are myriad others available. Above all, don't panic, and remember that yes, they are trying to trick you. Good luck!

Often abbreviated: APUSH (pronounced ay-push). While class format at various schools may vary, the Advanced Placement United States History test is often pointed out as one of the hardest AP tests. The test covers United States history from the founding of the first English colonies through the Great Depression and WWII. This, as might be imagined, is an immense amount of material.

Usually, the test will focus around a couple of major historical periods, so as to be able to test on them in depth, while skimping on other periods in US History. For instance, one test might concentrate on the founding of the United States and the Industrial Revolution while another might concentrate on the first 100 years of the British colonies and the New Deal.

On the two essays, the test taker is given a choice of three possible essay topics for each of the essays (six possible choices). Though this can make it easier to write the essay, it is seen as imperative that the test taker make the right choice. One should not always choose the "easy" topic because that often results in an airy, unfocused essay. Often, the APUSH class has a large emphasis on essay writing in preparation for the two essays and the DBQ.

Overall, this test, while hard, is very doable. With proper preparation from the APUSH class and a certain amount of independent review (depending mainly on the confidence of the test taker) a score of 3 or 4 can usually be achieved. Just remember not to get flustered. The number one rule of test taking is: If it seems harder than usual to you, it is the same for everyone else.

Update: July 18th, 2002: Grade, 5

Let me put your fears at ease, young jedi.

Many people do poorly on the ap us history exam who are probably capable of getting a 5 because they piss themselves several days before the exam, or worse, when they open up one of the packets, (usually the essay packet.)

Having a little information in your pocket is like having an adult diaper in such circumstances.


The essays are graded out of 9. The lowest score is a - (No response was given to the question) and the highest being a 9 (excellent thesis, signifigant facts, no major errors. Minor errors, for instance saying William McKinley was a democrat, or mispelling someones name, i.e. saying Harry S. Truman instead of the correct Harry S Truman, if it doesn't affect your thesis, are generally ignored.) The essays are rather logrythmic in their grading. That is to say, if we turned a - through a 9 into points you would recieve in a class for your essay, a - would be a zero, 1 would be like 5/50, 2 would be 14/50 3 would be 22/50, but then a large jump at 5 to around 35/50, another jump at 6 to 42/50, 7 and 8 filling up the gap between 9, 50/50. Keep in mind that all perfect "9"'s are not created equal. The DBQ use to be graded out of 15, but this was abolished because 15's were very rare and it was simply too hard as a grading system. (For the readers!)

Things they will NOT ask you to do on the essay:

Evaluate military strategies.

Anything from the past 25 years is unlikely to be on the essay except as an option in a compare/contrast question, i.e. Compare and contrast the leadership styles of two of the following, Nixon, FDR, Wilson, McKinley. Eventually, a question about Carter or Nixon might pop up. If this should happen, just answer the other question. You recieve NO extra points for answering a harder question, since the 'harder question' is different for every person. (i.e., some people will be better suited to talking about foreign policy after wwi and wwii than talking about the factors which fostered womans suffrage in the 1920's, where as some people may have written papers on it and love the college board now.)

Just about everything else is fair game.

Your MC grade will get your essays re-read Perhaps the strangest part of the grading is the event of re-reading. In the event that someone does very well on the multiple choice, and does poorly on the essay's, the 'table leader' of a table reading an essay will generally tell the person who graded the essay that someone did poorly on, "You're undergrading!" at which point the reader will be compelled to make sure he didn't do so. After he goes back through the essay, the table leader then reads it and decides if the grade was fair. If there is one aspect of the grading the readers do not like, it's this.

Multiple choice

You will need to know about the 60's and 70's. Sorry. There might be one or two military history questions, but they'll be fairly obvious, asking you to explain why Washington won the war (He kept his army intact) or what we did during Vietnam. If you can eliminate two answers, guess. If you can eliminate three, guess. If you can elminate four, you have the answer. If you can eliminate 5, don't guess, you crossed out the right answer!

Grading Made Simple:

In the last quantitative scale I know of, which was 1988, the highest grade you could achieve was 180. 110 was a five! You needed under 66% to five the exam! The reason for this is that even sixes on the essay are relatively rare. A grade many people recieve in their classes and feel that they've done poorly, because they're crazy. During the essay, remember my super easy grading scale:

You get 3/9 for having a thesis. You get the next 3/9 for supporting your thesis with signifigant facts, you get the last 3/9 for having a lot of facts and correctly answering the question!

If you've done very well in the class, and you don't piss yourself on exam day, you will five the exam.
A note on test prep books: They're mostly worthless, in my humble opinion. For whatever reason, The Princeton Review writes MC questions which are /nothing/ like the actual exam. Your best source for all things review should be your teacher. Remember, your grade is the closest thing he or she has to a quantitative evaluation of his teaching skills!

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