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Advanced Placement (AP)


The AP US History exam involves critical reading, writing, and in-depth analysis. It's not just about memorizing names and dates, but rather interpreting historical evidence quickly and accurately, recalling outside information on a topic, and synthesizing your ideas into a coherent argument.

In this guide, we'll give you a rundown of the format and structure of the AP US History test along with a brief content outline, sample questions, and some tips for a great score .

How Is the AP US History Exam Structured?

The next AP US History test will be administered on Friday, May 5, 2023, at 8 AM . This AP exam is three hours and 15 minutes long and consists of two main sections, each of which is divided into a Part A and a Part B.

Before we get into the details of each part, here's an overview of the US History test as a whole:

Section 1, Part A: Multiple Choice

The first section on the test is the multiple-choice section, which is worth 40% of your score and lasts for 55 minutes. You'll get 55 questions, each with four possible answer choices (labeled A-D); this means that you'll have about a minute per question on this part of the exam.

Most US History multiple-choice questions come in sets of three to four questions that require you to respond to certain stimuli, or sources, such as historical texts, graphs, and maps.

Section 1, Part B: Short Answer

Part B of Section 1 on the US History test requires you to answer three short-answer questions in 40 minutes , giving you about 13 minutes per question. It's worth 20% of your overall score.

The first two questions are required, but you get to choose between question 3 and question 4 for your third short answer . Here's what you can expect with each question:

Section 2, Part A: Document-Based Question

The Document-Based Question, or DBQ , is worth 25% of your final score and requires you to write an essay based on a prompt that's accompanied by seven historical documents . You'll get a 15-minute reading period followed by 45 minutes to write your response.

The DBQ will focus on a historical development in the years 1754-1980.

Section 2, Part B: Long Essay

The final part of the AP US History test is the Long Essay, for which you must choose one of three possible prompts and write an essay on the topic. You'll have 40 minutes to write your response, which will count for 15% of your overall AP score.

To earn full credit here, you must develop a clear and logical argument and support it with relevant historical evidence (which won't be directly provided to you as it will be on the DBQ).

Each of the three essay prompts revolves around a different time period in US history:

Content Background for the AP US History Exam

There are eight themes addressed in the AP US History course , and all of them show up in one form or another on the exam across the nine units, or time periods . Each represents a subset of learning objectives that students are expected to master. You can read more about these learning objectives in the AP US History Course and Exam Description .

Before I give you a broad overview of the eight themes, let's take a look at how the major units are weighted on the AP US History exam :

Below, we give you the definition of each course theme as described in the AP US History Course Description.

Theme 1: American and National Identity

Focuses on how and why definitions of American and national identity and values have developed among the diverse and changing population of North America as well as on related topics, such as citizenship, constitutionalism, foreign policy, assimilation, and American exceptionalism.

Theme 2: Work, Exchange, and Technology

Focuses on the factors behind the development of systems of economic exchange, particularly the role of technology, economic markets, and government.

Theme 3: Geography and the Environment

Focuses on the role of geography and both the natural and human-made environments in the social and political developments in what would become the United States.

Theme 4: Migration and Settlement

Focuses on why and how the various people who moved to and within the United States both adapted to and transformed their new social and physical environments.

Theme 5: Politics and Power

Focuses on how different social and political groups have influenced society and government in the United States as well as how political beliefs and institutions have changed over time.

Theme 6: America in the World

Focuses on the interactions between nations that affected North American history in the colonial period and on the influence of the United States on world affairs.

Theme 7: American and Regional Culture

Focuses on how and why national, regional, and group cultures developed and changed as well as how culture has shaped government policy and the economy.

Theme 8: Social Structures

Focuses on how and why systems of social organization develop and change as well as the impact that these systems have on the broader society.


Sample AP US History Questions

Now that you have a sense of the test content, I'll present you with sample questions to give you a better idea of what the AP US History exam actually looks like. All sample questions come from the official US History Course and Exam Description .

Sample Multiple-Choice Question

For multiple choice, you're given one or two pieces of historical evidence followed by a set of questions that ask you to do some analysis . The US History exam is less about knowing specific dates and names and more about being able to draw conclusions and connect themes based on materials provided by the test.


To answer this question, you don't even really need to know much about US history, as long as you pay attention to exactly what's written in the passage, or the secondary source you've been given. The passage here is mainly focused on the increase in commerce in New York as a result of the opening of the Erie Canal.

Answer choice A mentions commerce—that's a good sign—but specifically commerce with Native Americans, who are not mentioned at all in the passage, so this is unlikely to be the right answer.

Answer choice B discusses increased access to markets in the United States, which seems to echo what the passage says about commerce in New York. We'll hold onto this as a potential answer.

Answer choice C is all about the internal slave trade, which isn't mentioned at all in the secondary source, so we can assume this is wrong.

Answer choice D talks about agricultural production, which, again, isn't the focus of the passage—that's commerce. As a result, we can cross this off our list.

This means that the only logical answer to choose is answer choice B .

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Sample Short-Answer Question

The short-answer questions are technically considered part of the multiple-choice section because they're less involved than the essay questions. Alt hough they do have multiple parts, you don't have to come up with a thesis—one-sentence answers are OK. These questions are about succinctly connecting themes and reference materials to specific events or trends.

Here's an example:


This short-answer question is an example of question 1, which comes with two secondary sources. As you can see, you'll have to answer three separate parts (A, B, and C), each of which is worth 1 point ; this means you can earn up to 3 points for each short-answer question.

Here's how you could earn full credit for this sample question, per the official scoring guidelines .

(A) Sample Answers

(B) Sample Answers

(C) Sample Answers


Sample Document-Based Question

With the DBQ , you'll have seven different historical documents to examine . To earn full credit, you must use at least six documents as evidence in your answer. These documents range from transcripts of folk songs, to excerpts from letters and newspapers, to demographic maps.

Here's an example of a DBQ (with one document shown):


There are several components of a solid response to this question. The DBQ is worth a total of 7 raw points . Here's how you could earn full credit, according to the scoring guidelines .

Sample Long Essay Question

For the Long Essay, you must choose between three prompts . Here's an example of a potential prompt:


Your essay should include many of the same elements as your answer to the DBQ, but there are no documents to analyze and reference , so you'll have less time to write. The essay is worth 6 raw points .

Here's how you could earn full credit for the sample question above, per the scoring guidelines .


How Is the AP US History Exam Scored?

Here, we'll go over how each section on the AP US History exam is scored, scaled, and combined to give you your final AP score on the 1-5 scale .

On the multiple-choice section, you earn 1 raw point for each question you answer correctly; this means that the max score you can earn here is 55 points. No points are taken off for incorrect answers.

Each of the three short-answer questions is worth 3 points, so there are 9 points possible in this section.

The DBQ is scored out of 7 points and is based on the following criteria, per the scoring guide :

Lastly, the Long Essay is out of 6 raw points and is scored using the following criteria:

On essay questions, points are taken off for errors only if they detract from the quality of the argument being made (in other words, don't go making up historical facts to support your argument). Grammatical and other technical errors aren't a big deal as long as they don't inhibit the grader's ability to understand what your essay is saying.

The total number of raw points you can earn on the AP US History test is 77:

Raw scores can be converted to scaled scores out of 150 . Here's how to do that for each section:

Finally, add all the scores together to get your final scaled AP score for US History! Here is a chart to show you approximately how these scaled scores translate to final AP scores:

Source: The College Board

I made my best estimates based on other AP score conversion charts because there was no official scaled-to-AP-score conversion chart online for US History. Your AP teacher or review book might have a more accurate score conversion system you can use for official practice tests.

4 Essential Tips for Acing the AP US History Exam

AP US History is a grueling test that requires intense critical thinking and analytical skills. Here are some helpful tips to remember if you hope to do well on test day.

#1: Don't Confuse Accurate Facts for Correct Answers

Many multiple-choice questions will list answers that are accurate representations of historical events or trends but that don't directly respond to the question being asked . Be wary of these answers on the test so you don't accidentally choose them over more relevant responses.

In the multiple-choice question I gave above as an example, one incorrect choice was "The growth in the internal slave trade." At the time referenced in the question, this was a real trend that occurred, but because it doesn't relate directly to the passage given, it's still the wrong answer .

Don't let these types of answer choices confuse you; adhere to the particulars of the question and the evidence presented to you!

#2: Pay Attention to Details—Read Excerpts Carefully

Most of this AP exam is based on historical reference materials, meaning that you won't be able to answer questions correctly without reading carefully. Even if you know everything there is to know about US History, that knowledge will mostly just serve to contextualize the evidence presented on the test. The specific details found in the writings and images will ultimately reveal the best answer choice.

#3: Plan Before You Write

It's critical to write well-organized, focused essays on the AP US History test. A clear thesis is the first thing on the agenda. You then need to make sure that the rest of your essay ties back into your thesis and provides relevant evidence throughout. If you jump into writing an essay without taking the time to organize your thoughts, you're more likely to ramble or get off-topic from the main focus of the question.

For the DBQ, you should spend 15 of the 60 minutes planning how to organize your thoughts and how to use the different documents as evidence. While you will have less time for the Long Essay, you should still spend five minutes or so writing a brief outline before starting your final draft.

#4: Use Outside Evidence Wisely

It's a smart idea to incorporate additional background knowledge into your DBQ and Long Essay responses on the AP US History test. It shows that you've mastered the material and can connect themes to what you learned in class and not just what was presented to you in the question.

That said, don't include outside knowledge unless it really bolsters your argument . If you're just sticking it in there to prove how much you know, your essay will lack focus and you might lose points.

This is why it's so important to plan ahead. In the planning stage, you can think of examples that tie into your thesis and strategically place them throughout your essay in ways that contribute to your point.


Conclusion: Getting a Great Score on the AP US History Exam

The AP US History exam is one of the longer AP tests, and it has four different types of questions: Multiple Choice, Short Answer, Document-Based Question (DBQ), and Long Essay.

The main thread running through this test is an emphasis on analyzing historical evidence and applying outside knowledge in context. In your studying, you will need to learn to connect the themes of the course to events spanning 500 years of US history.

Here are some study tips to heed as you prep for the AP US History test:

Make sure that you practice all the different types of exam questions with official materials before you sit down to take the real test . If you get used to thinking about history in an analytical, evidence-based context, you should have no problem earning a high US History score!

What's Next?

Looking for more practice materials? Check out our article on the best online quizzes you can take to prepare for the AP US History test !

Review books can be extremely helpful tools in preparing for AP exams. If you can't decide which one to get, take a look at this list of the best review books for the AP US History test .

Did you lose some of your notes? Feel free to use these links to AP US History notes for every section of the course .

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Samantha is a blog content writer for PrepScholar. Her goal is to help students adopt a less stressful view of standardized testing and other academic challenges through her articles. Samantha is also passionate about art and graduated with honors from Dartmouth College as a Studio Art major in 2014. In high school, she earned a 2400 on the SAT, 5's on all seven of her AP tests, and was named a National Merit Scholar.

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The 8-to-9 essay

The 5-to-7 essay, the 2-to-4 essay, the 0-to-1 essay.

All essays on the AP are scored by test graders on a scale from 0 (awful) to 9 (perfect). The average score on the DBQ in recent years has been a pathetic 3. With practice you can do better than that, and when you do, your final score improves dramatically.

The teachers behind the AP want you to think, not just memorize. For that reason, the highest scores on the DBQ go to students who have developed a clear thesis or way of understanding the era of their assigned documents. Here are the guidelines the test graders use for scoring the DBQ.

Only a few hundred students — about a tenth of 1 percent — get a 9. A few thousand — still less than 1 percent — get an 8. An essay that earns an 8 or 9 has these characteristics:

- Contains a well-developed thesis that may explain most of the changes within the DBQ era

- Supports the thesis with an effective analysis of economic, social, and political trends

- Effectively uses a substantial number of documents

- Supports or proves the thesis with substantial (ideally, at least 50 percent) and relevant outside information

- May contain minor errors

- Is clearly organized and well-written

Fewer than 2 percent of test takers get a score of 7; around 4 percent get a score of 6; and 10 percent score a 5. An essay that scores in the range of 5 to 7 has these characteristics:

- Contains a thesis that explains many of the changes within the era

- Has a limited analysis of the information supporting the thesis

- Effectively uses some documents

- Supports the thesis with some outside information for proof

- May have some errors that don't seriously get in the way of main essay points

- Shows acceptable organization and writing; language errors don't stop understanding

Unfortunately, scores in the 2 to 4 range are the most common. About 18 percent of test takers get a 4; around 30 percent get a 3 (3.16 is the average DBQ score); and 27 percent get only a 2. An essay within this scoring range has these characteristics:

- Contains a limited or undeveloped thesis

- Lacks analysis and deals with questions in a simplistic way

- Just parrots back a laundry list of documents

- Contains little outside information or includes information that's wrong

- May contain substantial factual errors

- Is poorly organized and/or poorly written

Seven percent of test takers get a 1; about half a percent get a 0 (and another half a percent get nothing because they apparently drifted off before they got to the DBQ). An essay earning a 0 or 1 has these characteristics:

- Lacks a thesis or just restates the question

- Shows the test taker doesn't really understand the question

- Shows the test taker has little understanding of the documents or just ignores them

- Contains no outside information

- Contains wrong information

- Is badly written

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  1. AP United States History Exam

    Document-Based Question (DBQ) Recommended Time: 1 Hour (includes 15-minute reading period) | 25% of Exam Score Students are presented with 7 documents offering various perspectives on a historical development or process. Students assess these written, quantitative, or visual materials as historical evidence.

  2. The Ultimate APUSH DBQ Guide: Rubric, Examples, and More!

    This means that the sole DBQ is, by itself, worth 25% of your total grade, making it the single most heavily-weighted question on the APUSH exam. The APUSH DBQ will consist of a single open-ended prompt. To answer it, you’ll have to create a persuasive argument that uses the documents you’ve been given on the exam itself.

  3. Reporting Category Scoring Criteria Decision Rules

    AP History Rubrics AP History Modified DBQ Rubric (10 points) 2020 Exam Administration Reporting Category. Scoring Criteria Decision Rules; A.THESIS/CLAIM (0–1 pt)

  4. The Ultimate Guide to the AP US History Exam

    The DBQ is scored out of 7 points and is based on the following criteria, per the scoring guide: Thesis/claim: 1 point Contextualization: 1 point Evidence from the documents: 2 points Evidence beyond the documents: 1 point Sourcing: 1 point Complexity: 1 point Lastly, the Long Essay is out of 6 raw points and is scored using the following criteria:

  5. The APUSH DBQ

    The APUSH DBQ It’s the Long Essay, with documents and higher expectations. Scoring: Moving from 9pt scale (from WHAP) to a 7ptscale in APUSH Designed around Historical Thinking Skills, the 7 Themes and Concept Outline This essay may have larger time periods than the long essay Periods 1 and 9 will ALWAYS be paired with another time period.