About AP® U.S. History Exam

The AP® U.S. History exam, also known as APUSH, is a college-level exam taken in May after completing the AP U.S. History course. If you are enrolled in AP U.S. History or considering it, taking the exam at the end of the course can be helpful. A high APUSH score can earn you college credit and placement.

There are many benefits to passing the APUSH exam, but you must prepare in advance and use the right study tools to do well. In this AP U.S. History exam guide, you will find answers to important questions that will help you decide whether APUSH could be a good fit for you and what to expect on exam day should you decide to take it.

What Is AP U.S. History Equivalent to, and Who Can Take It?

The AP U.S. History course is equivalent to a two-semester introductory U.S. history course in college. Although the course has no prerequisites, most students wait until 11th or 12th grade to take it. The College Board® indicates that any student enrolled in the APUSH course should be able to read a college-level textbook and compose complete, grammatically correct sentences.

The AP U.S. History course teaches high school students about individuals, events, and changes throughout U.S. history across nine distinct historical periods from 1491 to the present day. Students will analyze primary and secondary sources, make historical connections, and use comparison, causation, continuity, and change reasoning to develop historical arguments.

You should know that APUSH is a challenging course, so any prior AP experience is helpful. Due to the difficulty of this course, students should take practice exams through a premium test-prep resource to prepare for the end-of-course AP exam.

Why Should I Take the AP U.S. History Course and Exam?

In 2022, AP U.S. History was the second most popular AP course, with 456,520 students taking the exam. However, each student is unique, and your decision to enroll in AP U.S. History should be based on factors other than it’s popularity. Consider the following three factors when deciding whether to go for AP United States History.

  1. APUSH will help you develop the analytical reasoning and critical thinking skills necessary for success in advanced high school and college courses.
  2. Taking an AP course such as APUSH will make your transcript stand out to college admissions committees. Having AP classes on your transcript demonstrates to colleges that you are committed to learning and well-prepared for college-level coursework.
  3. If you earn a score of 3 or higher on the AP US History exam, you can earn around 3- 6 hours of college credit. This will save you time and money during your first year of college.
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APUSH is considered one of the most valuable AP courses you can choose in high school, despite its challenging nature. The course demands extensive reading, writing, and memorization to succeed. Although achieving an A demands significant dedication, the rewards of improving your overall GPA and strengthening your college applications are worthwhile. Additionally, taking APUSH develops your critical thinking skills and makes you more adept at engaging in political and historical debates. Although it can be time-consuming, the benefits of taking this course are well worth it. Let's explore a few advantages of enrolling in AP History:

  1. College Readiness: Enrolling in challenging AP courses such as APUSH demonstrates to college admissions committees that you are prepared for college-level coursework. AP students are more prepared for college coursework than others.
  2. College Credits: Many colleges will grant credit if you score 3 or higher on the APUSH exam. This means you can potentially complete your degrees more quickly, reduce your overall course load each semester, and access advanced coursework earlier in your college journey.
  3. Save on College Tuition: While the initial cost of taking AP exams may seem significant, it's usually much lower than the cost of college tuition for the equivalent courses. By paying for AP exams and performing well, you can potentially save thousands of dollars in college tuition over the course of your education. The minimum credit requirement varies by school. So, remember to research your target colleges' AP credit and placement policies beforehand.
  4. In-depth subject knowledge: AP U.S. History prepares you for college-level history courses and more. Your AP classes' rigor and challenges will build your confidence and skills for harder classes.
  5. Reading and Writing Mastery: APUSH involves an extensive amount of content. It necessitates substantial reading and writing, which can enhance your reading and writing abilities compared to a non-AP course.

Do I Need an AP U.S. History Course to Take the APUSH Exam?

Students with a solid background in the subject or those who have self-studied the course can take the exam without enrolling in the APUSH class. Students enrolled in the APUSH course can take the exam in the spring but are not required to do so. Nonetheless, due to the benefits of taking the exam, most students who enroll in the course also take the exam at the end of the academic year.

What Is on the AP U.S. History Exam?

The AP US History exam tests your critical thinking and analytical skills in six categories:

  1. Developments and Processes: Identify and describe historical developments and processes.
  2. Sourcing and Situations: Analyze the origin and context of primary and secondary sources.
  3. Claims and Evidence in Sources: Analyze claims and evidence in primary and secondary sources.
  4. Contextualization: Analyze the historical contexts of events, developments, or processes.
  5. Making Connections: Analyze patterns and links using historical reasoning (comparison, causality, continuity, and change).
  6. Argumentation: Construct an argument.

As an APUSH student, you must be able to read and analyze historical sources, considering the author, historical context, the author's point of view, and the intended audience. You’ll also need to apply the following reasoning processes: Comparison, Causation, Continuity, and Change.

In addition to these skills, the exam will test your knowledge of the eight “Big Ideas” that form the core themes of the course. Let’s learn a bit about those below:

  1. American and National Identity (NAT): This theme focuses on how American and national identities and values have developed among North America's diverse and changing population. You’ll also learn how these values have contributed to citizenship, constitutionalism, foreign policy, assimilation, and American exceptionalism.
  2. Work, Exchange, and Technology (WXT): You’ll learn about technology, economic markets, and government in economic exchange systems.
  3. Geography and the Environment (GEO): The third big idea examines geography and natural and human-made environments in the context of U.S. social and political development.
  4. Migration and Settlement (MIG): You’ll learn how and why immigrants adapt to new social and physical environments.
  5. Politics and Power (PCE): Under this theme, you’ll learn how social and political groups have influenced U.S. society and government and how political beliefs and institutions have changed over time.
  6. America in the World (WOR): This big idea focuses on colonial-era interactions between nations and U.S. global influence.
  7. American and Regional Culture (ARC): You’ll learn how national, regional, and group cultures evolved and influenced government policy and the economy.
  8. Social Structures (SOC): The final big idea examines how social organizational systems evolve and impact society.

These themes or big ideas are taught across nine different units throughout the school year, and each of these units is tested on the exam. The following table details the units tested and their relative importance in the examination.

Units Tested 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%

AP U.S. History Exam Format for 2024

The duration of the AP US History exam is 3 hours and 15 minutes, and it is administered both in paper-and-pencil and digital formats. Each section of the AP U.S. History exam consists of two parts. The table below shows the duration of each section and part, as well as the number of questions and their types:

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%

Let us explore these question types one by one.

Section I, Part A: Multiple-Choice (MCQ)

Part A of Section I has 55 MCQs, and you have 55 minutes to complete them. These three- to four-question sets require historical text, interpretation, and evidence analysis. There are graphs, maps, and images, as well as primary and secondary sources, included.

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Section I, Part B: Short Answers (SAQ)

Section I, Part B, has 3 SAQs and takes 40 minutes to complete.

  1. Question 1 is mandatory. It includes 1-2 secondary sources and focuses on historical events from 1754 to 1980.
  2. Question 2 is also mandatory. It includes one primary source and focuses on historical events from 1754 to 1980.
  3. Question 3 will give you two choices. One choice will be based on historical events between 1491 and 1877, while the other will cover events from 1865 to 2001. You are required to choose one and answer it.

Section II, Part A: Document-Based Questions (DBQ)

For the DBQ, you will be given seven documents that offer distinct perspectives on a historical event or process. You must evaluate the perspectives and construct an argument based on a proper analysis of historical evidence. This question focuses on the time span from 1754 to 1980.

Section II, Part B: Long Essay

You will be asked to write a convincing argument based on historical evidence from one of three different time periods in U.S. history for the long essay: 1491–1800, 1800–1898, or 1890–2001.

Both sections of the exam have strict time constraints, so prepare thoroughly with a reliable online resource before sitting for your APUSH exam.

Want to learn more in-depth information on the exam format? Our guide to the APUSH exam format is here to help!

Is AP U.S. History Hard?

AP U.S. History is a rigorous course that covers the entirety of U.S. history in one academic year. Students will be studying historical events from 1491 CE to the present day, so there is substantial data to process and remember. Despite being the second most popular AP course, it has a lower pass rate and fewer 5-point scores than other courses. Here are the 2023 APUSH exam results.

AP U.S. History Exam Score

APUSH Exam Score Graph legends
For 2022, the mean APUSH exam score was 2.57, with over 456,000 students taking it. But only 48.2% (about 220,000 students) scored a 3 or higher. These numbers indicate that this is a challenging exam, and students are advised to review and prepare thoroughly in advance if they hope to ace it.

AP U.S. History Review Tips

You are likely curious about the best ways to prepare for the exam so you can earn a 3, 4, or 5. The most important way to start preparing is to follow a thorough learning schedule with systematic practice. It is essential to take regular practice tests with exam-like questions and familiarize yourself with the rubric for free-response questions. Below are a few pointers for a head start:

  1. Have a schedule and commit to it. The AP US history course has much to read and memorize, and your exam prep will be time-consuming. The best way to do it is to prepare a dedicated study plan and stick to it. Need help? Use our APUSH study guide to create a learning plan tailored to your needs!
  2. Practice is key. Research indicates that practicing with questions similar to those found in exams can accelerate learning and improve long-term retention. Taking regular practice tests with exam-like questions will help you learn the multiple-choice question rubric. You can also practice FRQs from past APUSH exams on the College Board website.
  3. Pick the right tools. Taking quality practice tests with a performance tracker will help you measure your test prep progress. With every practice test, you’ll be able to identify your opportunities for improvement and work on them. That way, you will have better odds of acing the exam.
  4. Know the exam format. Learning the exam format thoroughly will improve your time management skills, so you will have extra time to review your answers at the end of the exam.

Want to start preparing for the U.S. history exam but are unsure where to start? Try UWorld’s APUSH practice tests and online learning tools. You’ll get:

  • Hundreds of exam-like questions simulate the format and difficulty level of the APUSH exam
  • Answer explanations with illustrative examples that eliminate misunderstandings and bring history to life
  • A performance tracking tool to measure your progress and identify problematic areas

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

The AP U.S. History exam is three hours and fifteen minutes long.

Each year, AP exams are administered in May. The dates differ from year to year. The AP US History exam will be conducted on Friday, May 10th, 2024, at 8 a.m. local time.

You can bring the following items to the APUSH exam testing room:
  • Two No. 2 pencils with erasers
  • Two black or dark blue ink pens
  • A watch
  • The AP® Student Pack
  • Government- or school-issued ID
  • College Board SSD Student Accommodation Letter

Remember that scoring less than a 3 is not the end of the world. It’s a learning opportunity, and many students use the experience to identify areas for improvement and develop better study strategies for future exams or coursework. If you do not achieve a score that counts toward college credit, you may need to take the equivalent course in college to fulfill the requirement. In some cases, you might have the option to retake the AP U.S. History exam in a future year.

Most students take APUSH in their junior or senior year of high school.

The AP U.S. History exam costs $97 if you take it in the United States, U.S. territories, and Canada. However, you’ll have to pay a fee of $127 if you are testing at an international site.

Read More About The AP U.S. History Exam

Looking for an easy-to-read AP U.S. History exam format? Discover the exam format in this simple guide that breaks down the exam components, question types on the exam, and more!
The CED PDF from the College Board can be overwhelming. Here is a summary of all the units, topics, and key concepts you need in the AP U.S. History Course and Exam Description.
Interested in learning the APUSH grading system? Visit our article on AP US History scoring and score distribution, which provides a score calculator to help you estimate your scores.
A perfect study plan and beneficial tips can help you score 5 easily! Check out our expert-made APUSH study guide, which provides all the crucial resources for exam success.
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