AP® U.S. History Study Guide

Preparing for the AP® U.S. History course and exam can be a confusing process. You might be asking yourself several questions. When should I start studying? What materials and resources do I need? How can I improve my score or even achieve a perfect 5? Not to worry, UWorld Social Sciences has compiled answers to the questions that APUSH students frequently ask.

Below are strategies for establishing and adhering to an action plan that will get you results. Our study guide includes tips, strategies, and resources to help you succeed in your AP U.S. History journey.

How to Study for the AP U.S. History (APUSH) Exam?

Preparing and studying for the AP U.S. History exam can be daunting. Preparing for the test is time-consuming and laborious. Don't be alarmed. It is a marathon, not a sprint.

To succeed in APUSH, you must prepare as early as the summer before your class begins. This is a good time to learn about the course content. You’ll also need to understand the rigor and expectations of AP U.S. History. Explore the AP Central website to download the course exam description, watch content-related videos, and purchase study materials.

Determining the combination of materials that will help your journey to a 5 is critical. The APUSH course is fast-paced and your teacher will not be able to cover all the material in class. To do well in the class and on the exam, you will need a self-directed study program.

The best way to ensure a passing grade (a score of 3 or higher) is to adhere to a detailed study schedule in the weeks leading up to the exam. You must work through questions, do readings, learn the rubric for free response questions, and practice timed writing.

Using digital question banks (Qbanks) to learn and review content is an active learning strategy. UWorld Qbanks provides more than 500 AP U.S. History practice questions. The questions are highly aligned to the College Board’s standards and have the same form and function as those on the exam. The UWorld Qbanks contain thorough and concise explanations reinforced by informative visuals. Using Uworld, you can identify and fill knowledge gaps while studying for the exam.

With a little preparation and planning, you will perform well in class and on the exam.

Here are some answers to frequently asked questions regarding best practices and strategies for achieving a high exam score.

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How do I prepare for the AP U.S. History class?

For many students, AP U.S. History is their first AP experience. The course’s rigor and workload might be unlike any you have ever taken. Given the difficulty of the course, summer preparation and establishing good habits throughout the school year will give you an advantage in the course. With a little preparation and planning, you can do well in class and on the exam.

  • Begin preparing in the summer before by understanding what the course covers.
    • Most test preparation books will have short summaries of the material covered by the test
    • Download the AP U.S. History course exam and description (CED) from the AP Central website.  It is what your teacher will be using to guide your lectures and assignments. It contains information on every "fair game" topic for the exam.
    • Start by introducing yourself gradually to the content. Search YouTube for short, educational video lessons from AP Teachers. Some lessons are face paced and funny, while others are slower and more comprehensive. Use the summer to experiment with different videos to see what you like. It will provide you with a go-to resource throughout the school year. 
  • If possible, talk to your APUSH teacher about expectations for the class.
    • It is also a good idea to discuss the class’s rigor with your guidance counselor.
  • During the school year:
    • First, get into a rhythm. Determine your best learning strategy: how do you absorb information the most effectively? Reading? Taking notes while reading? Videos? Or maybe a combination.
    • Make time daily to read the textbook or review class notes.
    • Focus on understanding the big picture since memorizing every piece of content in APUSH will not suffice to master the course. You must understand how events reflect historical themes and major patterns and connect with other historical developments.
    • Become familiar with essay rubrics in the CED and practice timed writing.
  • Use Qbanks, like UWorld, for extra practice on MCQs.
  • Do online tutoring sessions specifically targeting topics you have yet to master.
  • Don't hesitate to ask your teacher or a classmate for help.

How do I study for APUSH unit tests?

Your teacher will probably give unit tests to gauge your understanding of the big ideas you have learned about during the unit. All of the topics and subtopics listed in the CED could potentially be covered in the unit tests. Due to time constraints, the unit test will likely be mostly multiple-choice questions (MCQs) that look like AP U.S. History Exam questions. Here are some tips for success on unit tests:

  • Create flashcards of significant events and developments and organize them according to the CED unit subtopics. To save time, you can create and annotate content-based flashcards on digital learning platforms like UWorld.
  • Read relevant chapter summaries for the unit from your textbooks.
  • Take practice questions from the unit to find the topics you have yet to master. UWorld has a digital question bank of MCQs identical to those found on the AP U.S. History Exams. They include explanations that will provide important background information on the topics.
  • Watch YouTube videos created by teachers that break down each topic in the unit.

How do I pass AP U.S. History?

A score of 3 or higher is generally considered passing. However, some universities only accept 4s or 5s for credits. Students can typically achieve excellent scores on Section 1 of the exam: multiple-choice questions and short answer questions (SAQ), and moderate scores for the free response questions (FRQs). However, even 3s will require considerable preparation. In 2022, only 48.20% of test-takers scored a 3 or higher. You must perform well on each MCQ, SAQ, and FRQ to be given full credit at the school of your choice. Here are some tips to ensure you pass.

  • Keep up with your coursework and readings. In addition to what you learn in class, you must study independently for the exam. Remember that good grades in the course do not guarantee passing the exam, but falling behind on material can jeopardize your chances of passing. Remember, this is not a test you can pass by cramming.
  • Start studying at least a month before the exam. There is simply too much material to review to wait until the weeks and days preceding the exam.
  • Intensively practice MCQs and SAQs. A high score on Section 1 will contribute to an overall high score, but working on these questions for each unit will also prepare you for the FRQs.
  • Study the rubrics for the FRQS. Students who understand the scoring rubric perform better on the FRQS, which is sometimes the deciding factor between passing and failing. For these questions, it is crucial to know how to present the material you have learned properly. Practice writing and scoring your essays with the rubrics.
  • For FRQs, outline your thoughts on paper before writing.
  • Timed practice. Observe the time allotted for each section when practicing. For MCQs, you have about a minute for each question.
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How can one improve their score from 3 to 4 on the AP U.S. History exam?

The difference between a score of 3 and 4 will likely come down to content knowledge, preparation, and an understanding of the scoring rubrics. Here are some suggestions for improving your scoring performance from 3 to 4.

  • Increase daily study time by 45 minutes, day by day.
  • Maintain a steady pace of reading.
  • Continue to use online test preparation tools, such as UWorld's AP U.S. History exam QBank.
  • Introduce timed writing to enhance your writing skills. Increase daily study time to 1.5 hours a day one month before the exam.
  • Ask the teacher for help and suggestions on improving; they will be happy to help.
  • View relevant review videos and documentaries. Sometimes, despite having a lot of information in your head, it may not always be connected. Or, your teacher may not have covered all the material in the course. The difference between a 3 and a 4 may come down to a fuller understanding of the historical context; watching videos is a simple way to increase your understanding.

How to do well on the AP U.S. History

On the AP U.S. History Exam, a score of 4 or 5 is considered good. You must begin studying at least six weeks before the exam to get these scores. Here are some pointers to get you there:

  • Study the rubrics for the FRQS. Students who understand the scoring rubric perform better on the FRQS, which is sometimes the deciding factor between passing or not. For these questions, knowing how to present the material you have learned properly is crucial. Practice writing and scoring your essays using the rubrics.
  • Timed practice. When practicing, stick to the time allotted for each section. For MCQs, you spend about a minute on each question.
  • Work on MCQs and SAQs that resemble exam questions daily in school. This will allow you to evaluate yourself and give you time to work on areas where you struggle.
  • You should be familiar with some history. Read scholarly works by well-known historians that present contradictory perspectives on major topics.

How do I score a perfect 5 in the AP U.S. History exam?

In 2020, only 10% of test-takers achieved a perfect score on the exam. To achieve this, you will most likely need to correctly answer around 80% of the MCQs, earn all the possible points on the SAQs, and receive high scores on the FRQs. It is an ambitious goal, but these strategies will help you.

To get a perfect score:

  • Prepared to spend 60 minutes studying daily.
  • Read the textbook daily and take notes.
  • Make flashcards with the definitions of key terms and figures from the AP U.S. History curriculum.
  • Increase your time weekly by using online test preparation tools, such as UWorld's AP U.S. History QBank, and reading and studying.
  • Practice timed writing once per week.
  • Mastery FRQ rubrics.

By Spring Break:

  • Start preparing for the examination.
  • Increase study time to 1.5 hours a day.
  • Purchase a book on exam preparation (such as Kaplan or 5 Steps to a 5); incorporate it into your study plan.
  • In addition to regular reading and studying, spend more time per week using online test preparation tools and services, such as UWorld's AP U.S. History QBank.
  • Take a practice test every three weeks to gauge your progress.
  • When studying, you should focus on the areas in which you struggle.
  • Ask the teacher for help and suggestions on improving; they will be happy to help.

What units are most difficult to learn or must be focused on due to their complexity?

In APUSH, units 6, 7, and 8 are the largest and most complex. This is especially true for Unit 7, which covers imperialism, progressives, world wars, and the Great Depression.

How do I review for the AP U.S. History exam?

Start reviewing at least four weeks before the exam. You must commit to daily study time and adhere to the schedule. Here are some options for you:

  • Every day at school, you can work on MCQs and SAQs that resemble exam questions. This will evaluate you and give you time to improve.
  • Find a study partner. Working with another person increases accountability and reduces the likelihood of falling behind. In addition, you can divide readings and help one another with difficult concepts.
  • Read scholarly books. Your teacher has likely given you additional readings by renowned historians with opposing interpretations of major topics.
  • Take some time to expand your knowledge. Since the exams test understanding, you may want to seek out enrichment opportunities such as documentaries or short review videos. Your mind may be filled with information, but it may not always be connected. Or, your teacher might not have covered all the required content in class.
  • Practice with the flash cards. Making flashcards is an active method of engaging with the material, and having a stack of flashcards is ideal for quick review. Start with a large deck and subtract the cards as you master the material.
  • Find a tutor. The great thing about tutors is that it is one-on-one instruction. Since you are in a class of one, you can ask them to review your specific content. This is your time, so feel free to ask as many questions as necessary.
  • Review previous AP US History exams. Reviewing previous exams will familiarize you with the format in which College Board® asks questions. In addition, you will see what topics are typically covered on the exam.
  • Take two full-length practice tests the week before the exam.
  • Don’t cram the night before the exam. Because the exam assesses your historical reasoning skills in addition to content, cramming additional content in the late-night hours before the exam may impair your ability to reason and argue positions during the exam. Sleep well and do a quick review in the morning if time allows.
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How do I self-study for the AP U.S. History exam?

  • You must commit to a regular study schedule and stick to it every day. Here are some additional study tips.
  • Take a practice exam at the beginning of your chosen study plan to identify areas in which you need to help most so that you can spend more time studying those topics.
  • Review your notes, textbooks, videos, and the class tests you took.
  • Create flashcards for self-testing.
  • Actively reviewing your notes aloud or rewriting/typing them can improve retention and comprehension.
  • Think graphically. For your notes, create Venn diagrams and other graphic organizers.
  • To help with Document Based Questions (DBQ) preparation, review primary sources for major topics. For example, consider what primary sources could be used for a DBQ on a specific topic, such as politics during the Gilded Age.
  • Work on MCQs and SAQs that resemble exam questions on a regular basis. Ideally, questions should include explanations for correct and incorrect answer choices.
  • Read scholarly works by well-known historians with opposing interpretations of major topics.
  • Recruit others. You are not required to do this alone! Reach out and form study groups, or enlist a parent, sibling, or friend to quiz you.
  • Find an audience. Probably the best way to really learn something is to teach it to someone else. Thankfully, U.S. History is a topic in which most people have some knowledge and interest. Find someone willing to discuss history with you; a parent might find this particularly appealing.
  • Avoid cramming the night before the exam. Due to the fact that the exam also assesses your historical reasoning skills, attempting to cram additional content in the late hours before the exam may hinder your ability to reason and argue during the exam. If time permits, sleep well and conduct a brief review in the morning.

AP U.S. History Study Exam Tips

The keys to doing well on the AP U.S. History Exam are preparation and practice. However, gathering the right resources and implementing an effective study plan can be challenging. Students typically ask questions such as “How much review time is needed to get a score of 3 or higher on the APUSH exam?" or “What are good resources for review?" Below are answers to some of these frequently asked questions. You'll learn how to plan a study schedule and tips to maximize your review time.

How to plan AP U.S. History study schedule

An effective study plan is essential to scoring well on the AP U.S. History Exam. Giving yourself two months to review the information gives you enough time to absorb it.

  • Two months before the exam
    • Spend 4-5 hours a week on each unit (an hour a day)
  • One month before the exam
    • Spend 5-7 hours a week on each unit (two hours a day)
  • Two weeks before the exam
    • 2.5 hours each day should be dedicated to studying
      • Day 1: Take practice test
      • Day 2-3: Review what you missed on practice test
      • Day 4-5: Review Units 1 & 2
      • Day 6-7: Review Units 3 & 4
      • Day 8-9: Review Units 5 & 6
      • Day 10-11: Review Units 7-9
      • Day 12-13: Practice LEQ, SEQ, and DBQ, sticking to exam time limits

How much time do you need to dedicate to the AP U.S. History exam to score 3,4,5?

AP U.S. History Review/Study Materials

Study materials come in various types. Each variety can have different strengths. Most study materials fall into one of these broad categories.

  • Test prep books: These typically include a brief overview of the exam, some content summaries, important definitions, and at least one full-length practice test without explanations.
  • Internet-based lessons: These websites offer short lessons on topics covered in the course and usually have some visuals and a summary of key teaching points.
  • Video lectures: Usually found on YouTube, the best are concise summaries that align with the topics in the CED.
  • Qbanks: These active learning tools are good for monitoring progress, practicing MCQs, and expanding your knowledge of the subject.

The more versatile the Qbank platform, the better. UWorld Social Studies has a Qbank of around 500 questions and explanations for APUSH that illustrate concepts through visuals and short, easy-to-understand explanations.

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Read More About the AP U.S. History Exam

Looking for help with Document-Based Questions (DBQs) and Long Essay Questions (DBQs)? Follow the link to find strategies and resources that will help you ace APUSH FRQs.
Worried about approaching the right answer in MCQs? Get expert advice and exam-winning strategies to effectively prepare for the AP U.S. History Multiple Choice Questions here.
Answering a short-answer question can be difficult sometimes. Check out UWorld’s detailed guide to answering AP U.S. History Short Answer Questions effortlessly.
Want to know everything about the AP U.S. History Exam? We compiled all the required APUSH exam information: what’s on the exam, why take it, prerequisites, and more!
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