Top Tips for Passing the AP US History Exam

The AP US History exam is one of the most popular Advanced Placement exams administered by the College Board. It is 3 hours and 15 minutes long and consists of two sections: Multiple Choice/Short Answer and Free Response. There are 55 multiple choice questions which count for 40% of the test. In addition, there are 4 short answer questions which account for 20% of the grade. The other 40% is made up of two types of essays: standard and document-based (DBQ). Students answer one standard essays (25% of the overall grade) and one DBQ (15%). Here are my top ten tips for doing well on the challenging AP US History exam.

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Multiple Choice: Time and the Test Booklet

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You have 55 minutes to answer 55 multiple choice questions which gives you one minute per question. Therefore, you need to use your time wisely answering the questions you know best first and eliminating obvious wrong answers as you go through. Don't be afraid to write on your test booklet to keep track. Mark through the answers you know are wrong. Clearly mark when you skip a question so you can return to it quickly before the end of the test.

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Multiple Choice: Guessing Allowed

Unlike in the past when points were deducted for guessing, the College Board no longer takes points off. So your first step is to eliminate as many options as possible. After this, guess away. However, remember when guessing that many times your first answer is correct. Also, there is a tendency for longer answers to be correct. 

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Multiple Choice: Reading the Questions and Answers

Look for key words in questions such as EXCEPT, NOT, or ALWAYS. The wording of answers is important too. In the AP US History exam, you are choosing the best answer which may mean that several answers could appear to be correct.

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Short Answer: Time and Strategies

The short answer portion of the AP exam consists of 4 questions which have to be answered in 50 minutes. This accounts for 20% of the exam score. You will be given some sort of prompt which might be a quote or a map or other primary or secondary source document. Then you will be asked to answer a multi-part question. Your first step should be to quickly think of your answer to each part of the question and write this directly in your test booklet. That will insure that you have answered the questions. Once this is done, write a topic sentence that brings all the parts of the question into focus. Finally, support your answers with general details and major highlights of the topic. However, avoid data dumping. 

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General Essay Writing: Voice and Thesis

Be sure to write with "voice" in your essay. In other words, pretend that you have some authority on the subject. Make sure to take a stand in your answer and not be wishy-washy. This stand should be stated immediately through your thesis which is one or two sentences that directly answer the question. The rest of the essay should then support your thesis. Make sure that to use specific facts and information in your supporting paragraphs

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General Essay Writing: Data Dumping

Be sure that your essay includes historical facts to prove your thesis. However, "data dumping" by including every possible fact you remember will not gain you any extra points and can result in a lowering of your score. It also runs the risk of you including incorrect data which would hurt your overall score.

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Standard Essay: Question Choice

Avoid broad survey questions. They appear easy because you know a lot of information about them. However, they are often the most challenging because of the breadth required to answer them effectively. Writing a provable thesis can pose real problems for these types of questions.

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DBQ: Reading the Question

Make sure to answer all parts of the question. It is important to spend some time going over each part and it may even help to reword the question.

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DBQ: Examining the Documents

Carefully examine each document. Make a judgment concerning point of view and the possible origin of each document. Don’t be afraid to underline key points and make relevant historical notes in the margin.

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DBQ: Using the Documents

DBQ: Do not try to use all of the documents in your DBQ answer. In fact, it is better to effectively use less than to ineffectively use more. A good rule of thumb is to use at least 6 documents well to prove your thesis. In addition, make sure to use at least one piece of evidence to support your thesis that is not directly from the documents. 

General AP Exam Tip: Eating and Sleeping

Eat a healthy dinner the night before before, get a good night’s sleep, and eat breakfast the morning of the exam.