AP® U.S. History Exam Format

Are you preparing for the AP® U.S. History (APUSH) exam? The first step to good exam preparation is to familiarize yourself with the test's format. This overview will help you know what to expect on the exam and boost your confidence. It will also reduce test-day anxieties!

In this article, we've simplified the AP U.S. History exam format to make it easier for students to understand. We'll explain the different types of questions and answer some FAQs to prepare you for what you can expect on the AP U.S. History test day.

What Is the Exam Format for AP U.S. History?

The AP U.S. History exam is 3 hours and 15 minutes long and is administered in paper-and-pencil and digital formats. The test evaluates your historical reasoning skills and understanding of the course objectives. The APUSH exam consists of two sections: multiple-choice (MCQ) and free-response questions (FRQ). Check out the table below to get a detailed understanding of the APUSH exam structure:

Sections Parts Question Types Time Allocated Weight
Section I Part A 55 MCQs 55 minutes 40%
Part B 3 SAQs 40 minutes 20%
Section II Part A 1 DBQ 60 minutes 25%
Part B 1 LEQ 40 minutes 15%

Section I consists of both MCQs and FRQs and is divided into two parts. Part A has 55 multiple-choice questions (MCQs), and students are given 55 minutes to answer them. Part B comprises three short-answer questions (SAQs), and you'll have 40 minutes to answer those. You must note that the SAQs in Part B come in a set of two to three parts, and you’ll have to write your responses as precisely as possible within the least number of words.

Spending 1 minute per MCQ and 10 - 12 minutes on each SAQ is ideal. This method gives you ample time to go over your answers and see if there are any that you missed.

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Section II of the APUSH exam consists of two types of free-response questions. Part A consists of one document-based question (DBQ), and Part B consists of one long essay question (LEQ). For the DBQ, students have 60 minutes to answer, including 15 minutes for reading, whereas for the LEQ, students get just 40 minutes to complete it.

You should take at least one AP U.S. History practice test with a format that mimics the real exam to prepare for it adequately. Doing so will help by testing you with questions that closely resemble those on the actual exam.

The AP U.S. History course comprises nine units, each carrying a specific weight on the exam. Check out the table below to learn about the units, their importance, and the chronological period each unit covers.

Units Topics Chronological Period Weight on the Exam
Unit 1 Period 1 1491 to 1607 4%–6%
Unit 2 Period 2 1607 to 1754 6%–8%
Unit 3 Period 3 1754 to 1800 10%–17%
Unit 4 Period 4 1800 to 1848 10%–17%
Unit 5 Period 5 1844 to 1877 10%–17%
Unit 6 Period 6 1865 to 1898 10%–17%
Unit 7 Period 7 1890 to 1945 10%–17%
Unit 8 Period 8 1945 to 1980 10%–17%
Unit 9 Period 9 1980 to the present 4%–6%

Types of Questions on the AP U.S. History Exam

There are four main types of questions on the AP U.S. History exam. These questions test your historical reasoning and familiarity with the course's 8 "big ideas". But knowing the question types and course content does not guarantee a high score. It is crucial to understand how to respond to these questions. To help you prepare better, let’s review each question type and its format.

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AP U.S. History Exam - Paper or Digital Format?

The AP U.S. History Exam is available in both paper and digital formats. Both exams are 3 hours and 15 minutes in length, and the content is the same for both.

Exam format for both digital and paper modes

Section Question Type No. of Questions Time Allocated Weight
Section I Multiple Choice 55 55 minutes 40%
Short Answer 3 40 minutes 20%
Section II Document-based 1 60 minutes 25%
Long Essay 1 40 minutes 15%

What Do I Study To Ace the AP U.S. History Exam?

The curriculum for AP U.S. history is based on two pillars: historical reasoning skills and the 8 Big Ideas. Exam success is equally dependent on knowing what and how to study. Therefore, it is vital to comprehend the topics and concepts included in the AP United States History exam.

The AP U.S. History exam tests historical thinking skills. Check the table below for the skills tested:

Historical Thinking Skills Description
Developments and Processes Understanding historical procedures and occurrences
Sourcing and Situations Source and context analysis
Claims and Evidence in Sources Check primary and secondary sources for support of your argument
Contextualization Knowing what to expect on the exam will give you confidence and eliminate test-day surprises
Making Connections Examine historical patterns and connections (comparison, causation, continuity, and change).
Argumentation Develop an argument

The exam also tests knowledge of the course's six "Big Ideas"

  1. Big Idea 1: American and National Identity
  2. Big Idea 2: Work, Exchange, and Technology
  3. Big Idea 3: Geography and the Environment
  4. Big Idea 4: Migration and Settlement
  5. Big Idea 5: Politics and Power
  6. Big Idea 6: America in the World
  7. Big Idea 7: American and Regional Culture
  8. Big Idea 8: Social Structures

Key Takeaways

We hope this APUSH exam format breakdown was helpful. Here are three key takeaways as you prepare for the upcoming AP U.S. History exam.

  1. Exam Structure: The AP® U.S. History Exam is divided into two main sections. In Section 1, you will encounter multiple-choice questions, allowing 55 minutes to answer, and 3 short-answer questions, allowing 40 minutes to respond. Section 2 consists of 2 free-response questions, allowing 100 minutes to respond.
  2. Time Management: Managing your time during the exam is crucial. Remember to allocate your time wisely between the multiple-choice questions, short-answer questions, and free-response questions to ensure you complete all sections within the allotted time.
  3. Historical Periods: The exam covers different historical periods, from colonization to contemporary America. Be sure to allocate your study time effectively to cover all periods comprehensively.
  4. Skills Assessment: The exam assesses historical thinking skills, including document analysis, argumentation, and contextualization. Developing these skills is essential for earning a high score.
  5. Scoring: The exam is scored on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest. Earning a top score can earn you college credit and enhance your academic journey.

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Read More About the AP U.S. History Exam

Don’t have time to review the complete College Board®’s CED pdf? You can easily get an overview of all the units, topics, and key concepts of the APUSH course here in no time.
Wondering how APUSH scores are calculated? Click here for complete information on the grading system, score distribution, and average score required for college credit on the exam.
This useful study guide will help you prepare for your AP U.S. History exam well in advance. Exam tips, customized study plans, a list of study resources—it’s all here for you.
Considering APUSH? Check out our exam guide for a complete picture of the AP U.S. History Exam: See what’s on the exam, why you should take it, and the FAQs about the test.
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