The AP US History Exam: Planning for Test Day

ap us history exam planning

AP US History exam planning can feel overwhelming. You need to know a lot of material – and you need to know it well. Not to worry! Be ready for AP US History test day by following our tips, strategies and guidelines.

At least 1 month prior to AP US History exam day

Determine your AP US History exam date

This may seem like a no brainer, but knowing exactly when the exam takes place gives you a clear guide as to just how long you have to study. AP exams are typically the first two weeks of May. The order of exams changes, as does the morning or afternoon session. Check the testing schedule at AP College Board for up-to-date listings. Your APUSH teacher or school coordinator registers you for the exam, so make sure you contact them prior to testing.

Review Overview

Even though you are currently enrolled in an APUSH class, that doesn’t mean you remember everything taught in the months prior. Or that you know the information well. Before you even begin studying, ask yourself:

    Are there any concepts I forgot?
    Is there material I never knew to begin with?
    Which areas do I know well?

Review your class tests and notes, highlighting any topics, events or time periods that you struggle with. As you develop a study plan, know that those concepts need particular focus and review. Areas you feel strong in do not need as much study time. You can then adjust your study plan accordingly.

Start studying

Studying is an inevitable part of being prepared. And also an indicator of success. Most students who diligently study do well on exams. AP US History is no exception. Prior to testing, establish a plan of action; determine what you need to study, for how long and which method you are going to use to help you study.

  • Set a study schedule. Obviously, the amount of time you have until testing day determines the length of your study calendar. Instead of making your own, consider using the monthly or quarterly calendars from Kaplan or the one-month study guide from As your studies progress, modify your plan as needed. Just remember to keep your study time consistent.
  • Take a practice test. Although no one gets excited by the prospect of taking a 3-hour long test just for practice, research shows that using this form of study method is one of the most effective ways to study. Even more important than the study aspects, taking a full-length practice test is a great indicator of how you will perform when it comes to the real exam. Use your results to give direction to your studies; low scores signify more work in that area.
  • Practice writing. Don’t neglect the writing portions of the AP US History exam. APUSH is done all by hand – no typing your responses. Many students find that their hands tire from writing short answers, DBQ and long essay reponses. Putting practice time in now will not only improve your writing, but will also get your handwriting as neat as it was in grade school.
  • Review testing expectations. In addition to reviewing content, take a look at how and what each section of the AP US History exam is asking for. Although each area tests your APUSH skills and measures overall historical content knowledge, they ask you to demonstrate in different ways. It is extremely beneficial to know how to write for short-answer, DBQ and long essay exam responses.

1 week prior to AP US History exam day

You are almost there! The last week of AP US History exam preparation can be a key factor to success. If you have been studying for a month or more, bravo! Your review of APUSH content is solid and you are most likely ready to test!
If you are just beginning your exam prep, read more specific examples of how and what to study with only one week left.
Take this week to overview each of the 7 historical themes for every time period. The AP US History study sheet from Khan Academy is a nice way to look at the entire scope of APUSH. Note any areas that you may still be struggling with.
Devote your study time this week to any time periods, events, or areas that you just can’t seem to get. Find online quizzes, flashcard sets or review games that specifically address these areas.

Night before AP US History exam day

This is it! Most often, teachers recommend laying out testing materials the night before a test so things are ready to go the next morning. AP is pretty easy – all you need are number 2 pencils (bring more than one) and black or blue ink pens for the writing portions of the exam.
With all AP exams, the list of what not to bring is longer. No electronics of any kind – phones, tablets or anything that can connect to the internet. Nothing that takes pictures or makes noise (that includes watches that beep). And of course, no food or water.
For a complete list of what you can and cannot bring, visit AP College Board.
Make sure you get a good night’s rest so you will be ready to go in the morning!

Day of AP US History exam

Eat breakfast. Even if you aren’t hungry. Think granola bar, oatmeal, or a piece of fruit and cheese stick. It doesn’t have to be a massive all-out meal, a small, healthy snack will help give you the energy you need to test.
Although you may be nervous, think positive thoughts! You are ready to take the AP US History exam and pass it! Go into your exam room confident in your skills and determined to show the AP board just how knowledgeable you are. Good luck!

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  • 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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