If your high school Spanish class was anything like mine, it is inevitable that you watched Stand and Deliver on a roll out TV on a rainy day. Do not let Edward James Olmos’ introduction to AP exams intimidate you. Advanced Placement United States History is a college-level history course offered to high school students, and unlike Stand and Deliver, you will not be required to show up on Saturdays with crazy 80s hairdos. The Advanced Placement Exam (AP Test) is a wonderful option for any student who worries the SAT will not convey their true college potential, for students who are unsure how they can finance college, and those unable to register for expensive test prep classes. In short, if you are a history buff who struggles with cal-cu-luuus, AP US will be beneficial.

The AP US History exam is advantageous for many reasons:

1) You have control over what to study. Unlike the SAT, which can ask you the definition of any word in the English language, the AP Exam in US History is limited to information on one country—the United States—between 1492 and 1990. As the major events in this 500-year span are unchanging, you are in control of what to study. Knowing the limits of what to study radically increases the probability that you can master the material and ace the exam.

2) You can take an AP Exam without enrolling in a class. Although you are more likely to achieve a passing score if you enroll in AP US History, unlike the IB program, any student can sign up for an AP Exam without being in honors classes.

3) Achieving a score of 3 or higher on an AP exam will help you get into college. Even if your SAT score is lower than desired, being able to excel in AP subject tests will assist you in the college admissions process. In fact, many universities favor AP Exam scores, as they show you can perform successfully in a college level course, think analytically, write, and put together information logically. Passing an AP Exam will inevitably help you, but if you are able to pass three exams with a score of 3 or higher, you will be named an AP Scholar. If you are a history lover, you can achieve this hat-trick by concentrating on 3 of the 4 historyexamsCollege Board offers: AP US History, AP World History, AP European History, and AP Art History.

4) You will save an enormous amount of money on college tuition. The true blessing of the AP Exam is that if you score a 3, 4, or 5 you will save money. With a score of 3 or higher, most accredited universities will allow you to either skip lower division classes, subject requirements, or waive requirements all together. This means that you could graduate a year early from a state school if you pass multiple AP Exams, saving thousands of dollars. Passing just one test and opting out of an introductory course can easily save your family an average of $5,000 on tuition, fees, and books at a school that charges by course units. If you have no desire to graduate early, AP credits help students take a more relaxed course schedule so you can study abroad, double major, or experience an internship. If you plan on attending a community college and transferring to a university later, AP Exams help you to graduate with your AA quicker. In short, if you are able to pass this three-hour test, you can get out of a semester’s worth of classes and thousands of dollars of loan debt.

Possible Scores:

5  = Extremely Well Qualified to receive college credit. This is the highest score possible and is considered equivalent to an A in a college level course.
4 = Well Qualified.  This is equivalent to a grade of A-, B+, or B in a college course.
3 = Qualified.  This is equivalent to grades of B-, C+, or C  in college.
2 = Possibly Qualified.
1 = No Recommendation.

Format of the test:

The exam is a total of three hours and five minutes. It is broken into two sections with a brief break in the middle.

1)      Multiple Choice Questions –80 questions—55 minutes.
The first half is a multiple-choice exam. Each question will provide 5 possible answers (answers A-E) from which you select an answer. The College Board estimates that:

  • 45% of the multiple-choice exam’s questions cover historical topics from 1790 to 1914.
  • 35% covers 1915 (World War I) to Present.
  • 20% is derived from material between 1600 and 1789.

2)      Document Based Question (DBQ) Essay –1 essay – 60 minutes
Free Response Essay Questions –2 Essays –70 minutes

The second half of the exam is comprised of three essays:

  • The first essay is the Document Based Question (DBQ) in which you are provided with brief excerpts from primary sources and will be asked to construct an argument using these documents. You have fifteen minutes to analyze the documents and outline your essay before you begin writing.
  • The last two essays will be free response. A question is posed to you and you will be required to create a historical argument with evidence to support your claim.

Tips for taking the multiple-choice test:

Remember the acronym ”READ” while taking the multiple-choice portion of your exam.

R: Read all the questions. These exams are written in a way that will easily trick you. The answers in the multiple-choice options often have two answers that are very similar with slightly different variations.

E: Eliminate answers. As there are two options that are very similar, actively read by physically crossing off incorrect answers with your pencil as you answer the questions. This way you won’t get overwhelmed by the options and can focus on making the correct decision between the best two options.

A: Answer all of the questions. AP Exams used to penalize students by deducting from your score incorrect answers, but this is no longer the case. There are no penalties for guessing, therefore it is only to your benefit to try and answer every single question on the exam in order to increase your score.

D: Definitions are crucial. Before you take your exam, look up the definitions of words such as: evaluate, describe, compare, assess, seldom, and so forth, that you have come across in old exams and practice tests. Although this might seem very redundant and obvious, you can very easily ruin your score in the writing portions by misinterpreting the definitions of some of these key words.

Below are links to PDF documents of previous exams uploaded by CollegeBoard.com for teachers to use in the classroom for exam preparation.

What to bring:

• Sharpened #2 Pencils (notice that this is plural, which means more than one pencil!)
• Extra erasers
• Your photo ID
• Your Social Security Number
• Your School ID Number / Code from College Board
• Water
• A sweater (dress in layers so you feel comfortable in extra warm or cool rooms)

Preparing for the exam

 provided by the College Board for AP Instructors stipulates 28 major historical eras students should master for the AP Exam and that teachers should use while structuring their syllabus. Using these historical eras as a guideline can help you keep track of your progress. As you approach your test date, look at these eras and try to name the major events and people. If you are unable to do so, focus on your weaker subject areas.

1. Pre-Columbian Societies
2. Transatlantic Encounters and Colonial Beginnings, 1492-1690
3. Colonial North America, 1690-1754
4. The American Revolutionary Era, 1754-1789
5. The Early Republic, 1789-1815
6. Transformation of the Economy (Industrialization) and Antebellum America
7. Transformation of Politics in Antebellum America
8. Religion, Reform, and Renaissance in Antebellum America
9. Territorial Expansion and Manifest Destiny
10. The Crisis of the Union
11. Civil War
12. Reconstruction
13. Origins of the New South
14. Development of the West in the Late Ninteenth Century
15. Industrial America in the Late Ninteenth Century
16. Urban Society in the Late Ninteenth Century
17. Populism and Progressivism
18. Emergence ofAmericaas a World Power
19. The New Era: 1920s
20. The Great Depression and the New Deal
21. The Second World War
22. The Home Front During the War
23. The United States and the Early Cold War
24. The 1950s
25. The Turbulent 1960s
26. Politics and Economics at the End of the 20th Century
27. Society and Culture at the End of the 20th Century
28. The United States in the Post-Cold War World

Rhae Lynn Barnes is an Assistant Professor of American Cultural History at Princeton University (2018-) and President of the Andrew W. Mellon Society of Fellows in Critical Bibliography. She is the co-founder and C.E.O. of U.S. History Scene and an Executive Advisor to the documentary series "Reconstruction: America After the Civil War" (now streaming PBS, 2019).

Leave a Reply