The College Board Advanced Placement Examination in United States History is composed of multiple-choice, short-answer, and free-response questions arranged in four parts. The total time allotted for the exam is approximately three hours. Students are typically granted a short break between sections.

Section 1 Multiple-Choice & Short-Answer

Part A.  The multiple-choice section is an assembly of 55 total questions divided into several small sets containing between two and five questions. The multiple-choice items require students to respond to various stimulus material (primary or secondary sources such as texts, images, charts, graphs, maps, and so forth). The stimulus material parallels evidence types used by historians to research the past. Students are allowed 55 minutes to complete all 55 questions. The multiple-choice section accounts for 40% of the total exam score.

Part B.  Short-answer questions directly address one or more of the thematic learning objectives for the course, and are intended to provide students with opportunities to demonstrate what they know best. Students have 40 minutes to answer three questions. The first two questions (both required) focus on United States history between 1754 and 1980. The third short-answer item presents a period choice—students may choose to respond to a question offering a topic in United States history between 1491 and 1877 or a question requiring knowledge of United States history from 1865 through 2000+. Some questions may include texts, images, graphs, or maps. The short-answer portion comprises 20% of the total exam score.

Section 2 DBQ & Standard Essay

Part A.  The document-based question (DBQ) measures students' ability to analyze and synthesize historical data and to assess verbal, quantitative, or visual materials as historical evidence. Students are expected to relate several documents to a historical epoch or theme, thus focusing on major periods and issues. For this reason, acquired knowledge is crucial and must be incorporated within the students' essays. Importantly, the emphasis of the DBQ is analysis and synthesis, not historical narrative. As with the standard essay, responses to the document-based question are judged on students' ability to formulate a thesis and support it with relevant evidence. The exam contains one document-based question (no choice) focusing on United States history between 1754 and 1980. Students are permitted 60 minutes to answer. Performance on the DBQ is 25% of the total exam score.

Although limited to no single format, the items contained in the DBQ are unlikely to be familiar classics (e.g., Declaration of Independence, Monroe Doctrine, Emancipation Proclamation), but authors of the test documents may very well be major historical figures (e.g., George Washington, Jeannette Rankin, Martin Luther King, Jr.). The documents fluctuate in length and are selected to illustrate numerous interactions and complexities within the general topic of the DBQ.

The DBQ material likely includes pictorials such as charts, graphs, posters, political cartoons, and works of art, as well as written items such as excerpts from speeches, magazine and newspaper articles, books, legislation, Supreme Court decisions, and so forth. In addition to calling upon a broad spectrum of historical skills, the diversity of materials allows students to assess the value of different sorts of documents.

Part B.  To provide opportunities for students to demonstrate what they know best, the exam offers a choice between three comparable standard essay options which focus on three time periods—1491 through 1800, 1800 through 1898, and 1890 through 2000+. The standard essay questions measure the use of historical thinking skills to explain and analyze significant issues in United States history as defined by the thematic learning objectives. Students are allotted 40 minutes to address the single essay question which makes up 15% of the total exam score.

The standard essay question may require students to analyze common themes from various time periods (e.g., the concept of national interest in American foreign policy), relate developments in different areas (e.g., the political implications of a particular economic issue), or compare individual or group experiences that reflect social, economic, ethnic, religious, racial, or gender differences (e.g., social mobility and cultural pluralism). Although historiography is not emphasized in the exam, students are nevertheless expected to possess a general understanding of key interpretations of major events. When questions based on literary materials are included, the attention will not be on literature as art but rather on its relation to economics, politics, society, or related cultural and intellectual movements.

As with the DBQ, answers to the standard essay question are judged on strength of thesis development, quality of historical argument, and evidence offered as argument support, rather than on factual information alone. However, only the DBQ is additionally evaluated on the students' abilities to analyze and synthesize historical data and assess verbal, quantitative, or pictorial materials as historical evidence.

Exams are graded on a scale of 1 (worst) to 5 (best). A score of 3 is considered passing; scores of 4 and 5 reflect outstanding academic achievement while scores of 2 and 1 are not desirable. Tests are read and evaluated during June. It may be late July before students are notified of their exam scores.

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It is somewhat expected that all students will take the College Board APUSH Exam at the conclusion of the course. Thus, success on the exam is a primary goal of this class. Stevens High School has a record of performing well on the test; overall results exceed the national norm. Since the course was introduced in Rapid City, Stevens High School students, as a direct result of enrollment in APUSH and performance on the year-end National Exam, have received credit at numerous colleges and universities around the nation. The following list is partial.

  • Arizona
  • Arizona State
  • Augustana (SD)
  • Baylor
  • Black Hills State (SD)
  • Boise State
  • Brigham Young
  • Brown
  • Carleton (MN)
  • Colorado
  • Colorado State
  • Columbia
  • Cornell
  • Creighton
  • Dartmouth
  • Duke
  • George Washington
  • Georgetown
  • Gonzaga
  • Harvard
  • Iowa
  • Iowa State
  • Indiana
  • Kansas
  • Michigan
  • Michigan State
  • Minnesota
  • Missouri
  • MIT
  • Montana
  • Montana State
  • Nebraska
  • New Mexico
  • North Dakota
  • Northeastern
  • Northern Arizona
  • Northern Colorado
  • Northern State (SD)
  • Oregon
  • Oregon State
  • Pennsylvania
  • Pomona (CA)
  • Princeton
  • Purdue
  • Seton Hall
  • South Dakota
  • South Dakota Mines
  • South Dakota State
  • Stanford
  • Texas A&M
  • Texas Tech
  • Trinity (TX)
  • UCLA
  • USC
  • Utah
  • Vanderbilt
  • Vassar (NY)
  • Virginia
  • Wake Forest
  • Washington
  • Western Washington
  • William & Mary
  • Wisconsin
  • Wooster (OH)
  • Wyoming
  • Yale

There exists a pronounced correlation between Stevens High School APUSH final course grades and APUSH National Exam scores—since inception of APUSH at Stevens High School, nearly 90% of students earning a course grade of "A" or "B" have passed the National Exam, whereas students finishing the class with grades other than "A" or "B" have experienced mixed results on the test. Students are strongly advised to consider this in their decision to attempt the exam. Your instructor has experience scoring the APUSH National Exam.

The course assignments and exams reflect heavy emphasis on the four types of questions contained in the National Exam. By May, students will have faced over 500 multiple-choice questions, answered at least one short-answer question from each major topic, been provided focused attention on DBQ strategy, and responded to numerous long-essay questions.

At least one Mock Exam is scheduled for a non-school morning (usually Saturday) as the actual National Exam date approaches (often two, sometimes three such Mock Exams are offered by the instructor). Importantly, the scoring process of Practice Exams is genuine. Four sources participate—Mock Exams are self- and peer-evaluated; course instructor and college professors (all with experience reading/scoring National Exams) take part, as well.

Multiple-Choice Review Questions | Practice Short-Answer Questions