How To Succeed On The AP US History Test

How to Succeed In AP US History

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Hello! There are few exams that will be as challenging in high school as the AP US History Exam. Add in the fact that the curriculum has changed and the exam is brand new, the course can seem very overwhelming. Don’t worry, will walk you through everything in order to prepare for the exam. Here’s How To Succeed On The AP US History Exam!

Part I: What to Study

The Content

In addition to your textbook, review videos, and class notes, study the released curriculum by the College Board. (You can download the curriculum here).Within each time period, several historical events, people, terms, and concepts are listed. PLEASE BE AN EXPERT ON THESE TOPICS AS YOU ARE EXPECTED TO KNOW THEM IN DETAIL. 

Here are some examples of what you should know for each time period. (Note, this is by no means an all inclusive list, but if you can explain these items, you will be that much closer to success). **If a term is underlined, clicking on it will take you to a video describing the term.**

Period 1: 1491 – 1607 (5% of the Curriculum)

  • Maize
  • Geography of the Great Plains and Great Basin – nomadic lifestyle for Natives
  • Columbian Exchange
  • Encomienda System
  • Reasons for European exploration
  • Impacts of contact on Europeans, Africans, and Native Americans

Period 2: 1607 – 1754 (10% of the Curriculum)

  • Characteristics of Spanish, French and Dutch, and English Colonization
  • Emergence of the Atlantic Slave Trade
  • Characteristics of New England Colonies, Middle Colonies, and Southern Colonies
  • Native American Warfare (becoming more destructive due to guns and horses)
  • Anglicization of British Colonies
  • Pueblo Revolt
  • The Enlightenment
  • Mercantilism

Period 3: 1754 – 1800 (12% of the Curriculum)

Period 4: 1800 – 1848 (10% of the Curriculum)

Period 5: 1844 – 1877 (13% of the Curriculum)

Period 6: 1865 – 1898 (13% of the Curriculum)

Period 7: 1890 – 1945 (17% of the Curriculum)

Period 8: 1945 – 1980 (15% of the Curriculum)

Period 9: 1980 – Present (5% of the Curriculum)

  • Foreign Policy “failures”
  • Taxation and deregulation victories for Conservatives
  • Denouncing “Big Government”
  • Reagan Administration
  • Mikhail Gorbachev
  • Bellicose rhetoric (speaking in hostile language/being aggressive) by Reagan initially towards the Soviet Union
  • September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon
  • Conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq
  • War on terrorism
  • Free Trade Agreements (Especially NAFTA – North American Free Trade Agreement)
  • Concerns over climate change

What to Study


Although it is impossible to predict what documents will be on the exam (including political cartoons, diary entries, letters, laws, charts, graphs, etc.), these documents will be based on information found in the curriculum.

Here are a couple of examples you could see:

  • A letter from someone that moved West during the 1860s as a result of the Homestead Act. Note: The Homestead Act is NOT mentioned in the curriculum, but is an example of the federal government encouraging westward expansion
    • Answers could include the US supporting westward expansion, this helped contribute to the perception that the frontier was “closed”
  • A graph showing immigration from 1890 – 1920.
    • This time period is known as “New” immigration. Answers could focus on reasons for immigration (economic opportunities), where immigrants tended to settle (cities), tensions between native born Americans and immigrants, immigration quotas of the 1920s, and even the Red Scare of 1919 – 1920
  • A poster of “Rosie the Riveter”
    • Answers could include this is an example of the US mobilizing its economy during WWII and contrasting the role of women during the war with other time periods

Part II: The Exam:

Multiple Choice Questions

The multiple-choice question format for the exam is brand new, and likely vastly different from questions you have encountered before. Gone are the 80 multiple-choice questions that test your knowledge with five answer choices. The new questions are based on a document (an excerpt from a reading, chart, political cartoon, etc.) and one must answer a series of questions based on that document. Although this can seem overwhelming, there are tips you can use to successfully navigate these new questions. This accounts for 40% of your score on the APUSH exam.

Tip #1: Read the new curriculum! 

I can’t stress how important this is. Many multiple-choice answers will be stated in the new curriculum. For example: Key Concept 3.1, II, C states “Despite considerable loyalist opposition, as well as Great Britain’s apparently overwhelmingly military and financial advantages, the patriot cause succeeded because of the colonists’ greater familiarity with the land, their resilient military and political leadership, their ideological commitment, and their support from European Allies” (page 43 of the framework, which can be found HERE.) A potential multiple-choice question could state:

All of the following were reasons for the patriot victory in the Revolutionary War except:

  1. Greater familiarity with the land
  2. Ideological commitment
  3. Superior military and financial advantages
  4. Support from European allies

Notice that all of the answer choices are straight from the curriculum framework, (as most answers are). The correct answer is c) since that was NOT a reason for the patriot victory, but an advantage by Great Britain

Tip #2: If a document is in the new curriculum, read at least a portion of it and be able to explain its message. 

For example, Thomas Paine’s Common Sense is specifically mentioned in the new curriculum. You do NOT need to memorize the entire writing to do understand its importance. Be familiar with a couple passages and be able to recognize the main argument. Chances are the readings will either be the items mentioned in the new curriculum, or other authors writing about them. Perhaps you could encounter a secondary source that analyzes the impact of Common Sense. You may not encounter the parts of the Missouri Compromise passed by Congress, but you could encounter a politician from that time period writing about the Compromise.

Tip#3: Familiarize yourself with question stems.

There question stems that you could encounter regardless of the document you will be expected to understand. Some of these questions include:

  • The sentiments described most contributed to….. (In other words, the ideas represented in the document led, or contributed to…..)
  • The sentiments described most directly resulted from…… (In other words, what influenced the ideas represented in the document)
  • The ideas expressed in the above cartoon/excerpt most directly reflect which of the following continuities in US history? (In other words, the message of the document is most similar to what theme in history?)
  • Based on the excerpt, the author would most likely support? (This requires you to connect the authors beliefs to a similar topic. For example, a supporter of the New Deal would most likely support Progressive Reforms)
  • A person who agreed with (the person in the excerpt’s views) would most likely have advocated….. (In other words, if you were a supporter of the views in the document, what would you favor. For example, if you agreed with William Lloyd Garrison’s The Liberator, you would favor the immediate end to slavery)
  • Opponents of (the person that authored the excerpt) would most likely have argued that…. (In other words, how would someone counteract the argument or message of the author?)

Tip #4: You Must Know Certain Vocabulary Terms

Please don’t let certain words in question stems trip you up. Knowing the definitions of the following terms will greatly help you. Plus, if you can incorporate them into Short Answer Questions or Essays, they will strengthen your writing!

  • Abridge – to shorten, or curtail
    • Example of Abridge in a Sentence – The rights of African Americans were abridged in many areas of Antebellum America
  • Autonomy – self government, independent.
    • Example of Autonomy in a Sentence – Native Americans and Africans sought to preserve their autonomy after contact with Europeans
  • Advocate – to favor, or to support
    • Example of Advocate in a Sentence – William Lloyd Garrison advocated the immediate and uncompensated end to slavery
  • Ambivalent – to have mixed feelings about an issue
    • Example of Ambivalent in a Sentence – Mexicans immigrants faced ambivalent United States government policies during the Great Depression
  • Sedentary – Inactive, not mobile
    • Example of Sedentary in a Sentence – Some Native American societies developed permanent, sedentary lifestyles
  • Sentiments – idea, opinion, or view.
    • Example of Sentiments in a Sentence – Thomas Jefferson’s sentiments regarding the Missouri Compromise warned of danger for the United States
  • Subjugation – to gain control of, or to conquer
    • Example of Subjugation in a Sentence – Native Americans and Africans were often subjugated by Europeans in the 16th – 19th centuries
  • Waning – to decrease, or become weaker (Note, the word waning is specifically mentioned in the curriculum)
    • Example of Waning in a Sentence – The North’s resolve towards Reconstruction began to wane in the 1970s
  • Watershed – a turning point
    • Example of Watershed in a Sentence – The Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education was a watershed moment in Civil Rights History

Short Answer Questions

Short Answer questions are a new part of the exam and count for 20% of your total score. Every Short Answer question will have three parts to answer. Each part (a, b, and c) should be answered in 2-3 sentences with specific historical evidence. Do not write too much info or you could run out of time and space. Furthermore, make sure you label your answers a, b, and c.

Short Answer Type #1: No documents

This type of Short Answer will have three different tasks related to a similar theme. This could include: briefly explaining a cause of an event (a), briefly explaining a short-term event of the event (b), and briefly explaining a long-term cause of an event (c).

Here’s an example of this type of question:

Answer all 3 parts:

  1. Briefly explain one reason for European exploration in the 15th – 17th centuries
  2. Briefly explain one impact of European contact on the Americas
  3. Briefly explain one impact of European contact on Europe

Short Answer Type #2: No documents, but three events from which to choose

This type of Short Answer will provide 3 bulleted events/terms/people to choose from that relate to a similar theme. This could have you: explain why one of the choices is the most significant event related to the theme (a), providing historical evidence to back up your assertion (b), and contrasting your choice against another one, explaining why the other is not as good of a choice (c).

Here’s an example of this type of question:

a) Briefly explain why one of the following could be seen as a major reason for calls for significant revisions to the Articles of Confederation:

  • Difficulties over trade
  • Difficulties over finacnes
  • Internal Unrest

b) Support your choice with at lest one piece of historical evidence

c) Contrast your choice against another and briefly explain why it is not as good of a choice

Short Answer Type #3: 1 document, most likely a political cartoon/illustration

This type of Short Answer will provide a visual related to a historical theme. After briefly examining the theme you could be asked to: explain the point of view of the author – potentially the view on different themes (a), how the visual expressed that point of view (b), and one piece of historical evidence that either supports or opposes the view (c).

Short Answer Type #4: 2 documents, most likely opposing views of an event/time period

This type of Short Answer will provide two different readings about a similar event/time period/topic. After reading both documents, you could be asked to: summarize the differences between the points of view of the authors (a) – please make sure you specifically state how the authors views are DIFFERENT, provide one piece of historical evidence that supports one author (b), and provide one piece of historical evidence that supports the other author (c).

With all Short Answer Questions, please pay special attention to the dates. Figure out what time period it relates to and include information from THOSE YEARS ONLY!

Part III: The Document Based Question (DBQ)

The DBQ has been revamped with the new curriculum as well. This accounts for 25% of your score on the APUSH Exam. Every DBQ will have 6-7 documents and will not only test your content knowledge, but also your understanding of historical skills and themes.

There are 7 total points available for the DBQ and you want to get as MANY AS POSSIBLE. Here’s how the points break down:

  • 1 point is awarded for a thesis statement that is more than a restatement of the question. Make sure your thesis directly answers the prompt, but is in your own words and not a restatement
  • 1 point is awarded for analyzing a majority of the documents and using this analysis to support the thesis
  • 1 additional point is awarded for completing ONE (You DO NOT need to address more than one per document) of the following for a majority of the documents: providing historical context (background of what is going on at the time); discussing the intended audience of the document; discussing the author’s purpose in creating the document (why did the author create the document); or discussing the author’s point of view (for example, are they supporting the New Deal? Are the criticizing the New Deal?). Again, you ONLY NEED TO CHOOSE ONE OF THOSE FOR EACH DOCUMENT. If you want, you could do the intended audience for each document
  • 1 additional point is awarded for including the historical context, intended audience, purpose, or point of view for ALL of the documents, or ALL BUT ONE. If one of the documents is giving you a hard time, skip it! But you cannot skip more than one to be eligible to earn full credit.
  • 1 point is awarded for outside information. As you examine a document, is there information that is NOT mentioned in the documents that could support your argument? Include it! There’s your point
  • 1 point is awarded for contextualization. Connect the historical ideas to broader historical events or processes. For example, connect the Missouri Compromise to the broader idea of debates over slavery during Antebellum America
  • The last point could be awarded based on one of the following: Extending or modifying the thesis or argument;  Accounting for contradictory evidence (for example, do two of the documents contradict each other? Explain it away!); Connecting the topic to another time period (Do debates over expansion during Manifest Destiny remind you of Debates about overseas expansion in the late 19th/early 20th centuries? Make that connection and there’s your final point)

Part IV: The Long Essay

Once you have made it here, you have completed 85% of your APUSH exam. The Long Essay is 15% of your exam score. You are almost done, make sure you finish strong. This could be the difference between passing and not passing.

The Long Essay grading is similar to the DBQ. Here’s how you will earn your points:

  • 1 point is awarded for the thesis. Just like the DBQ, MAKE SURE IT IS NOT SIMPLY A RESTATEMENT OF THE QUESTION. Sorry to yell like that, I just can’t stress it enough
  • 2 points are awarded by using specific evidence that supports your thesis AND stating how the evidence supports the thesis
  • 1 point is awarded based on which skill the essay is targeting. For example:
    • Change and Continuity – Describe how circumstances changed AND remained the same during a time period. For example – how did the treatment of Africans Americans change AND remain the same between 1850 and 1870
    • Comparing and Contrasting two different events. For example compare and contrast government under the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution. Make sure you don’t just state how they are different, explain how they are similar.
    • Causation – Explain, in detail, the causes AND effects of a historical development. For example, explain the causes and consequences of British imperial changes after the 7 Years’ War. Make sure to explain what led up to the changes, and the impact of the changes.
    • Periodization – Describe how the topic was different OR similar to events prior to and after the event. For example, Evaluate the extent to which the Progressive Era (1890 – 1920) was a turning point in American History
  • 1 additional point is awarded for each skill by providing detailed, specific historical evidence
  • Finally, 1 synthesis point is awarded the same way as the DBQ. Extending or modifying the thesis or argument;  Accounting for contradictory evidence (for example, do two of the documents contradict each other? Explain it away!); Connecting the topic to another time period (Do debates over expansion during Manifest Destiny remind you of Debates about overseas expansion in the late 19th/early 20th centuries? Make that connection and there’s your final point)

That’s how the exam is set up. Please spend time familiarizing yourself with the curriculum. Review your textbook, notes, old tests, essays, and review videos to help you prepare. Although this can seem overwhelming, it is very possible to do well. You are taking APUSH for a reason, and that is because you are smart. DON’T FORGET THAT! Good luck! Thanks for your support and I hope the resources at has been helpful.

48 thoughts on “How To Succeed On The AP US History Test”

  1. thank you for all your help!! this website is the reason i am not failing!!! very much apprriciate what your’e doing.

  2. Where is this guys nobel prize for generosity? Everytime I come here, I get an amazing new resource to help me out. THANK YOU SO MUCH

  3. Thank you for all of the work you put into these videos and test tips!! This website has helped me feel more prepared for all of my tests and the new exam! Your effort is much appreciated.

  4. Thank you soooo much for this and for all of the time and effort you put into to your videos. I’m stuck with a first time APUSH teacher and we have never written an FRQ or DBQ in class. Plus we still have 9 chapters to do before May 8. Thank you for being my teacher all year

  5. This website is SO helpful! I’m currently preparing for the exam on Friday and your videos are so good! Thank you!

  6. Thank you so much for all you do! I am very nervous for the AP test Friday, but I’m confident that I will succeed with your help!

  7. Thank you so much for the effort, charisma, and heart you put into all of your videos/content!

    I had a quick question about the “outside information” portion of the DBQ rubric – how much information is considered “enough” for the points? Thanks again!

  8. It’s been so hard to find resources that can accurately explain to me what will be on this test. It wasn’t until now (the Monday before the test, oops) that I finally found this! I’m now able to fully understand how to finalize my studying. Thank you for all of your time and effort you’ve put into all of this!! Much appreciated!

  9. Hi there,
    My APUSH exam is this Friday, May 8th, as I am sure you are aware. My teacher this year has not been great. His syllabus was denied by the college board three times when he was asked to update it to match the new curriculum. It was finally accepted. However, halfway through the school year, he decided to revert to his old teaching styles, which are all aimed towards learning the old curriculum. I believe our class should have been broken up into the nine periods that the new curriculum is broken into. He did not mention anything about periods this year. He never actually showed us the curriculum framework or even looked at it himself. He based the entire year off a textbook that was written many years ago and, at least in the opinion of my fellow students and I, does not fall inline with the new curriculum. I, and many of my fellow classmates, want to thank you for your youtube channel and website. We knew nothing about the structure of this exam until we learned about it from you. I am currently skimming and annotating the entire curriculum frame work trying, desperately, to prepare for this exam. Your videos are truly educational and have been the only formal schooling I have had on the new curriculum
    Thank you.

    1. Hi, I’m really sorry to hear that this year has been tough for you. I hope that the videos will help you on Friday. I would suggest watching my 10 minute review videos of each time period. Best of luck!

  10. I have a very similar situation to Adrianna. I live on an island so many teachers are able to get away with slacking off to an extent that wouldn’t be possible in other places. My teacher is retiring after this year, and has made very clear that she has “given up.” She never mentioned anything about the new curriculum, and said that she hasn’t found a time to read it herself. (She has also had a sub for about every other class for the past 2 months) I discovered your chapter review videos about halfway through the year and they have been a LIFESAVER for me!! I was ready to take the apush exam just for kicks to see how badly I fail, but I have done some major cramming this last week and have watched all of your new curriculum review videos. (phew!) I’m feeling more confident and pretty excited for this test now. (Except I have never done a DBQ oops) THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!! This past week of US History has reminded me about why I took this class in the first place. I have been telling everyone about this website. Anyways, my point is THANK YOU, and rock on!

  11. Thank you SO much for taking the time to create this valuable resource! Your videos have been an amazing study tool throughout the entire year and have really helped me grasp the main ideas and how things connect to one another. I feel condident I will succeed on the test thanks to your help!!

  12. Thank you so much for all the effort you put into your videos! I’ve never been very good at history in the past, but this year I have an A all thanks to you 🙂

  13. Thank you so very much for creating these videos. I cannot begin to express how helpful these have been for me throughout this entire school year. These videos truly help me to gain a better understanding of APUSH, and I am so grateful! I am still nervous about the AP test, but I know I will feel more confident walking into the exam, knowing that I have watched all of your videos. Thank you so, so, so much!

  14. Thank you for what you do. I’m doing some last-minute cramming (probably not my best idea) but because of you and my teacher, I think I’m going to get a 5.

    And there are some people at my school who are just short of praising you as a god, you are that good.

  15. Thank you so much for all of the material on this website! Your review of the new curriculum has helped me so much for the exam tomorrow. I am beyond grateful! My whole APUSH class loves your videos too! Thank you!

  16. Thank you so much for all of this! I got the test tomorrow morning, and you’ve helped me a lot throughout the year. Wish me luck 🙂

  17. Thank you so much for this wonderful website! Unfortunately i will not be taking this test on the 8th, my school failed to order my form, so i have to wait two weeks :(. Anyways this website has been PHENOMENAL!!! Good luck to all on their test! As for me, i will study even harder now!!!

  18. I have my AP tomorrow, and both the resources on this website AND your videos served as an amazing refresher for the test, and a HUGE confidence booster. Thank you so much for all the time and effort you dedicated to help out kids like us!!

  19. I just took the APUSH exam, and I feel so confident about it! Your videos helped me so much, thank you so so so much!!!!!

  20. Your videos were incredibly helpful! We had a switch in teachers with the new semester, and the fast pace of the 2nd semester contrasted badly with the lax 1st semester. Our history teacher is pretty good, but rigorous. Unfortunately, because of our weak 1st semester, many struggled. He helped out a bunch though, and all of your content, key concepts, period reviews, flash cards, and big review, as well as test-taking tips proved invaluable alongside his instruction. Shoutout to Mr. Talley’s APUSH class in North Hills (TX). I took the test, and I don’t want to jinx it, but I feel confident in a 5 or 4 (hoping for the former). On behalf of all the kids from North Hills, thank you Adam Norris, A.K.A APUSH God! (As an aside, many students ship you and Henry Clay… just saying haha)

  21. I cannot thank you enough for your help this year. I found out about your videos before midterms, and I never stopped since then! Your review videos were so helpful, especially to break down the chapter with only the information that is most important. I honestly can say everyone taking the class at my school has used your videos, and I will definitely tell incoming sophomores taking the class to watch them. We took the exam yesterday, and I even recalled information based on the evidence planner key concepts. (thank you for those videos too!)

    Thanks for getting me through this class! I really appreciate your time devoted to this.

  22. Thank you so much for your help with APUSH material this year! The scores just came out and I’m very happy with my performance. I could not have done as well without your videos and the fill-in-the-blank guides. The time and effort you put into this website is very much appreciated!

  23. Thank You Adam Norris!!!
    You taught me all I need for the APUSH exam in literaly the two weeks before the exam! I ended up getting a 5 and only because of your great videos and amazing manner of teaching the proper topics needed. I had a terrible teacher and lost all my hope at even getting a 3 on the exam. And only due to your amazing website I was able to learn everything I needed in the two weeks before the exam. I will definitely be looking at your Government videos next year. Thank you once again! I hope you are having a great summer!

  24. Hi! I am a first year APUSH teacher but have previously flipped several courses, so I appreciate all of the work that you have put into these resources. Would you mind if I linked some of your information to the web site I am in the process of creating? Will you be updating some of your Key Concept Videos based on the revisions from last week?

    1. Hi Tracy, please feel free to use anything on the website. I appreciate your support. I am not updating the key concept videos since the content is pretty much the same. I will, however, clarify the wording with my students and make sure to use the updated version in future videos. Good luck this year!

  25. Thank you so much for all you do and all the effort you put in to help students across the nation. We all greatly appreciate it. We love you and your love for Henry Clay.

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