How to Handle APUSH Short Answer Questions

How to Handle APUSH Short Answer Questions

Each of your writing responses are a chance to demonstrate the depth of your APUSH content knowledge and historical thinking skills. Comprising 20% of your exam score, APUSH short answer responses are an important factor to overall exam success. Use our guidelines to help you handle each APUSH short answer question that comes your way!

What are APUSH short answer questions?

Think of short answer questions as mini-writing prompts. Although you aren’t composing a full essay on this part of the APUSH exam – your writing does have to fully answer all three parts (a, b, c) of each question. Write at least 2-3 sentences for each, making sure you label each part in your answer.

About APUSH short answer questions

APUSH short answer questions appear in Section I, Part B of the exam. With 40 minutes total, you must make the most of your time in order to answer three different questions successfully. The short answer section is worth 20% of your total exam score, so definitely put some practice into answering these type of questions.
Like other sections of the exam, APUSH short answer questions require you to analyze historical sources in order to compose a proper response. In addition to traditional historical documents, some APUSH short answer questions also include texts, images, graphs or maps.
Unlike most sections of APUSH, there are some options involved when selecting which APUSH short answer question you wish to answer. The first two questions both focus on periods 3-8 and are required that you answer. However, you can choose between Question 3 (periods 1-5) and Question 4 (periods 6-9)! Each question measures the same type of skills, so pick the one that you feel you can answer the strongest.

How to Handle APUSH Short Answer Questions

Every APUSH short answer question begins with some kind of prompt – image, quote, statement – usually followed by a 3-part answer. Many APUSH short answer questions focus on opposing viewpoints, asking you to provide support for both or either side.
An example from AP College Board is as follows: for the entire prompt with answer key, read here.

    a) Briefly describe ONE significant difference between Adams’ understanding and Rush’s understanding of the American Revolution.
    b) Briefly explain how ONE specific historical event or development from the period between 1760 and 1800 could be used to support Adams’ interpretation.
    c) Briefly explain how ONE specific historical event or development from the period between 1760 and 1800 could be used to support Rush’s’ interpretation.

Notice how APUSH is asking you to BRIEFLY explain? This is not the time for a full-length essay! Write a complete paragraph explaining your answer, just don’t need to go into great detail or length setting up your opinion. (Although be sure to include specific examples supporting your ideas.)

APUSH short answer guidelines

Other than making sure you answer the prompt completely, there are no set “rules” for short answer questions. However, the following tips and strategies may be helpful for guiding your writing experience.

  • Make sure you answer the prompt completely. APUSH short answer questions are scored up to three points; one point for each task set by the question. If your response accomplishes each of the tasks, you receive full points for your answer.
  • Brainstorm for a few minutes before writing. Get as many ideas down as you can at the beginning, then narrow your list to select only the best few. Remember to focus your responses to specifically address the prompt.
  • Think about how to write clearly and concisely. You want your ideas to flow together into a smooth essay that communicates your ideas well. Although you do not have to have a structured format, you still want to make sure APUSH graders can follow your explanations and evidence.
  • Review and revise. Take the time to re-read your APUSH short answer, making corrections as necessary. Ensure that your writing explicitly responds to each part of the prompt.

As always, practice makes perfect! If you have time, practice responding to as many APUSH short answer questions as possible. Visit us at for even more APUSH tips and exam strategies!

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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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