We’ve already written about the kinds of American history questions you’ll find on the APUSH exam (multiple choice, free response essays, and so on). So today, let’s talk about the five historical themes that show up on the exam year after year.
Which themes should I study for AP American history questions?
The following historical themes appear on almost all of the APUSH exams from the last three years. American history questions on these themes appear in both the multiple-choice section and throughout the free response essays. Although you can’t know for sure whether you’ll have to respond to a multiple-choice question or essay, you can prepare yourself by studying that particular topic.
As you study, remember that AP American history questions demand more than just memorized facts. Ensure your working knowledge of each subject includes the causes leading up to historical events, the consequences of those events, and how those pieces fit together in the overall APUSH puzzle.
Theme #1: Women’s role in history
Women play an important role in history and in your upcoming American history exam. In the last three years, more than six free response essays have featured a prompt regarding women. Make sure you understand the roles of women throughout history and how those roles have shaped society.
- Rise of women’s rights, especially the right to vote
- Women and the Civil Rights Movement
- Betty Friedan
- Title IX
- Seneca Falls Convention
- Women’s roles during 1970s-90s
- Women’s suffrage
Theme #2: American independence
Make sure to study more than just the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. The struggle for American independence covers decades of information. Review content on the colonies all the way to the Civil War. Also note the few names associated with this question theme—multiple questions have been asked regarding the role each of these gentlemen played in the quest for American Independence.
- British colonies
- Samuel Adams
- Rights of the colonists
- Thomas Jefferson
- Benjamin Franklin, The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
- Constitution, as ratified in 1788
- Civil War, Battle of Antietam
Theme #3: Historical Figures
There are a few names listed under specific themes, but the following historical figures get their own category. This means they came up more than a few times throughout the past three APUSH exams. Our Most Valuable APUSH Players: Alexander Hamilton and Andrew Jackson. Questions regarding these two men are in every. Single. Exam.
- Alexander Hamilton, as Secretary of Treasury financial plans
- George Washington, Farewell Address of 1796
- Woodrow Wilson, foreign policy
- John Marshall, Marbury v. Madison
- Theodore Roosevelt
- Andrew Jackson, nullification crisis, bank war, removal of Native Americans
- Jacob Riis
- Senator Joseph McCarthy, rise and fall of McCarthyism
Theme #4: Civil Rights
The struggle for Civil Rights covers a broad range of events. It might be helpful to reference a chronological timeline that includes the beginning of the antislavery movement all the way up to the present day. Two main Supreme Court cases, Brown v. Board and Plessy v. Ferguson, are extremely common themes in the most recent APUSH exams. Multiple questions reference these cases.
- Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka
- Plessy v. Ferguson
- Emancipation Proclamation
- Antislavery movement
- 13th Amendment
- The Birth of a Nation
- Laws that protected civil liberties and voting rights
Theme #5: Immigration & Migration
APUSH keeps these two topics separate in some questions, and overlaps them in others. Focus on understanding the major catalysts for both migration and immigration trends across the APUSH timeline. Also, think about how both migration and immigration patterns helped shape society.
- Migration trends from 1843-1854
- Immigration Act of 1924
- Great Migration of African Americans
What are the best resources for studying AP American history questions?
The sites below can help focus and concentrate your efforts on the five common American history question themes. Although there is no way to know for sure which questions will appear on your exam, it is always a great idea to study from as many resources as possible to increase your chances of success.
McGraw-Hill’s 500 AP US History Test Questions to know by test day was originally published in 2010, but still contains content relevant to current APUSH exams. Each of the 500 questions comes with a full explanation for every answer (both right and wrong), so you can brush up on what you really need to know in order to score that 5. Pay close attention to the language of each question: some are potentially misleading in their phrasing.
Always a favorite! Quizlet has two different quizzes: Frequently Asked Questions for APUSH and 250 things every AP Student should know about US History. Like all Quizlet sets, you can choose to review this information through flashcards, a test, matching practice or an online game. You can also search for individual sets that focus on specific information such as amendments, Presidents or Civil Rights leaders.
AP College Board
Your best bet for official APUSH materials. Find the released exam from 2017, as well as free response prompts dating all the way back to 2001. College Board is one of the few places that offers a full-length practice test, so take advantage of it if you have the time. Nothing prepares you as well for the real test! Time yourself (especially the free response essays) for the most accurate testing experience.
Need even more practice?
If you are looking for even more APUSH questions to practice, visit some of our great resources at Magoosh! Our favorite practice tests, online resources, course notes and study tips are only a quick click away!
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About Beth Gonzales
Beth is an educator and freelance creative designer who devises innovative and fun-loving solutions for clients. She works with families, students, teachers and small businesses to create and implement programs, campaigns and experiences that help support and maximize efforts to grow communities who critically think, engage and continue to learn.
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