APUSH: A Guide to Getting the Score You Want

APUSH good score

No matter what score you are aiming for – passing to exceeding – preparation is key to APUSH exam success. Keep reading to understand more about APUSH: exam content, scoring, timing, even the essay portion. Follow our guide to help get the score you want.

APUSH Overview

By now, you probably know the APUSH exam measures not only your knowledge of US History, but also your ability to think across time periods and make connections between historical content. Material from 9 time periods ranging from 1491-present day, plus 7 thematic learning objectives are included on the test.

What’s on the APUSH exam

APUSH is divided into 4 sections: multiple-choice, short answer, DBQ and long essay. Each section has a specific time limit and designated number of questions. New updates for 2017-18 are listed below.
Section 1: Part A – Multiple Choice; 55 questions, 55 minutes, 40% exam score

  • During this portion of the test, you analyze texts, interpretations and evidence
  • Sources such as graphs, maps and images may be included

Section 1: Part B – Short Answer; 3 questions, 40 minutes, 20% exam score

  • NEW for 2017-18: the number of required questions for this section has been reduced to 3, but don’t get too excited just yet. Your time limit has also been reduced by a few minutes.
  • During this portion of the test, you analyze historical interpretations, sources, and propositions, and then answer questions to demonstrate your APUSH knowledge
  • Sources such as texts, images, and graphs of maps may be included
  • Both Questions 1 and 2 focus on periods 3-8
  • ALSO NEW for 2017-18: for your last question, you may choose to answer either Question 3 (periods 1-5) or Question 4 (periods 6-9)

Section II: Part A – Document-Based Question (DBQ); 1 question, 60 minutes, 25% exam score

  • NEW for 2017-18: DBQ topics focus on periods 3-8
  • During this portion of the test, you develop an argument supported by historical sources provided

Section II: Part B – Long Essay; 1 question, 40 minutes, 15% exam score

  • During this portion of the test, you analyze provided historical evidence, then develop a written argument supported by that evidence
  • NEW FOR 2017-18: You can now choose between three different questions. Each question focuses on a different time period: Question 1 (periods 1-3), Question 2 (periods 4-6) or Question 3 (periods 7-9)

APUSH timing: it’s everything

Budgeting your time is essential during the APUSH exam. The entire exam takes a little over three hours to complete, but you do not have access to all three hours at once. For example, proctors collect Part A after 55 minutes, regardless of completion. Part B begins once all student responses are turned in.
During Section II, the proctor does not transition the exam from DBQ to long essay. This means you have to manage the entire Section II time on your own. AP College Board recommends dividing your time as follows: 15 minutes to read, 45 minutes to compose your DBQ essay, 40 minutes to write your long essay.
We highly suggest that you practice the entirety of Section II altogether at least 2-5 times prior to testing. Even more often if writing essays is not in your wheelhouse. Time management is so critical to this portion of APUSH. It is worth devoting a couple hours of study time to brush up on your essay expertise.

Understanding how APUSH scores work

Did you notice that some sections of the APUSH exam comprise a different portion of the test? No section of the APUSH exam carries the same weight. The multiple-choice section counts for 40% of your overall score, but the long essay is only 15%.
But that doesn’t mean you should neglect your essays! Consider aligning your study time with the weighted amount of each test instead. For example, focusing more of your study time on overall quizzing and DBQ essays can be beneficial to your overall score.
APUSH exams scoring is completed both by computer (multiple choice) and by highly-qualified educators (all the free-response questions). Both scores are weighted, then combine to result in a composite AP score ranging from 1-5.
AP exam scores are loosely equivalent to college grades. A score of 5 is an average score of a college A, while a score of 3 is closer to grades of B-, C+ or C, depending on the college. Most colleges accept a 3 for college credit, but more competitive schools may require a 4 or 5.
AP exam scores and qualification
AP does not give you college credit. Instead, they make a credit recommendation based on your score. It is up to your future college to officially recognize your APUSH course score and accept your college credit. Policies vary by college and university, so always check your school for the most current information.

Time to start studying

Your first step in figuring out a study plan is to find out where you are starting from. Your academic “APUSH baseline,” so to speak. Although many people avoid taking practice tests, if you are serious about getting the APUSH score you want, taking a practice test is an important step.
Just like the real APUSH exam, a full-length practice test takes a little over 3 hours to complete. There are many options available online, but the only official APUSH practice test is at AP College Board. It includes all sections of the APUSH exam, so you get an accurate idea of your potential score.
Use the practice test to discover content knowledge strengths and weaknesses. As you test, put a mark by each question you are unsure about. As you score your test, write down every question you marked or that was incorrect. Now you have a handy study template to follow!

Review your results

Review the results of your test by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Where do I score well?
  • Where do I score lowest?
  • What areas and which types of questions are difficult for me?
  • Why do I get questions incorrect – careless mistakes, wrong guesses or unknown content?
  • Are there any commonalities between the questions I get wrong? (For example: are questions about the same event, person or time period?)

Answering these types of questions gives you a better understanding of where you should focus your studying. Unless you identify and correct your mistakes, you risk repeating that same error each time you test.

Methods of study

Maybe you are one of the few lucky people who can stroll into a test and ace it without ever picking up a study guide or practice test. For the rest of us, studying can make the difference between a passing score and a failing one.
Find a study method that works for your individual learning style. Make your study time as effective as possible. This may mean you try out a few study strategies before you find one that works best for you.

Set a study schedule

No matter how hard you try, over 500 years of history cannot fit into a single evening of studying. Take the time to study correctly. Begin your APUSH prep weeks, or even months, prior to your test. This will give you enough time to identify and strengthen your weaknesses, review material, respond to DBQs and practice writing long essays.
If you aren’t quite sure how to start your studying, our 5 APUSH study tips or APUSH Final Review can help get you moving in the right direction. Also consider looking at some of our favorite online study guides, such as the 1-month study guide from Albert.io or the extensive guide from Gilder Lehrman.
No matter which you choose, remember that the most effective study plan is one that you tailor to fit your needs. Find something that works for you and stick with it!

More APUSH information

Although our post can help guide you through much of the APUSH exam, for the most in-depth resource, please refer to the Course and Exam Description from AP College Board. It even includes a practice APUSH exam, so you can start studying right away!
Diligent studying, consistent practice, and hard work will help you get the APUSH score you want. Good luck on your upcoming exam!

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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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