Allena Berry

What is on the APUSH Exam?

apush exam

So you’ve decided to take the AP U.S. History (APUSH) exam. Congrats!

As the College Board makes clear, “[t]he AP Exam questions measure students’ knowledge of U.S. history and their ability to think historically. Questions are based on key and supporting concepts, course themes, and historical thinking skills.” Sounds simple enough.

But wait!

What are “key concepts,” “course themes,” and “historical thinking skills”? So glad you asked – let me explain.

What does the APUSH exam want me to do?

In simpler terms, the APUSH exam is designed to assess your historical thinking skills and content knowledge of U.S. History. You are taking the test to potentially get college credit, and the AP U.S. History exam will assess if you demonstrate the knowledge, skills, and understanding of a college student taking a similar U.S. History survey course.

So what are the types of knowledge, skills, and understandings AP wants you to demonstrate?
Let’s go over that briefly.

Historical thinking is just that: thinking as a historian would think. Historians have a knack for finding evidence in the form of primary sources, artifacts, or other pieces of history, and then using that evidence to make a claim.

When historians talk to each other, they do so in the form of secondary sources, and are usually supporting, complicating, or contradicting each other’s claims. And that’s a really key point for you to remember here: historians use evidence to make claims. Therefore, AP wants you to use evidence to make claims. Whether you are looking at multiple choice questions, analyzing documents, or preparing an outline for your essay, keep that simple truth in mind: I am using evidence to make a claim.

What’s on the APUSH Exam?

When taking the AP U.S. History exam, it’s important to remember that the test creators have certain themes they prioritize in understanding and organizing US History.

Those themes are:

  • American and National Identity
  • Politics and Power
  • Work, Exchange, and Technology
  • Migration and Settlement
  • Geography and the Environment
  • America in the World.
  • These are not the only important themes for organizing US History – remember, the historians that made this test used evidence and came up with an argument for those seven themes – but they are the most important themes for this exam.

    How will I be assessed?

    You will answer questions about the history of the United States in the following formats:

    1. Multiple choice questions
    2. Short answer questions
    3. Free response questions
    4. Document based questions

    This blog will have updates on how to prepare for each type of question.

    This, in a nutshell, is the test. Keep checking into this blog for more specifics about how you can prepare to demonstrate your historical thinking ability.

    And happy studying!


    • Allena Berry

      Allena Berry loves history; that should be known upfront. She loves it so much that she not only taught high school history and psychology after receiving her Master’s degree at Stanford University, she is now studying how students learn history at Northwestern. That being said, she does not have a favorite historical time period (so don’t bother asking). In addition to history, she enjoys writing, practicing yoga, and scouring Craigslist for her next DIY project or midcentury modern piece of furniture.

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