How to Prepare for AP US History

Team Member
Published on
October 3, 2022

AP United States History is commonly recognized as one of the most difficult history APs. The course covers nine periods from 1491 to the present. You will study cultural, economic, political, and social factors that have played a role in the shaping of the United States. No worries though,This article will break down some of the basics to the class and helpful skills you should refine to use throughout the year.

  1. Units

Like most APs, the AP US History Exam tests you on all of the course content, but some units are more relevant than others. It is very important to know what periods you should pay close attention to when reviewing for the exam. Like many other APs, the AP US History exam weighs different units varyingly. Below is a breakdown of exam weighting:

Unit 1: Period 1: 1491-1607 4-6%

Unit 2: Period 2: 1607-1754 6-8%

Unit 3: Period 3: 1754-1800 10-17%

Unit 4: Period 4: 1800-1848 10-17%

Unit 5: Period 5: 1844-1877 10-17%

Unit 6: Period 6: 1865-1898 10-17%

Unit 7: Period 7: 1890-1945 10-17%

Unit 8: Period 8: 1945-1980 10-17%

Unit 9: Period 9: 1980-Present 4-6%


There are six main themes that make up each period of history:

S: Social: Expectations for women, class, laborers…

eg. Flappers

P: Political: Parties, military…

eg. The Farmers Alliance

R: Religious:

eg. Quakers

I: Intellectual: Ideologies…

eg. The Great Awakening

T: Technological: Inventions, resource discoveries…

eg. Telegraph

E: Economic:

eg. The Gilded Age

  1. Historical Thinking

Build and refine your historical thinking skills! History is all about connecting ideas, events, people, and places. It is key to learn various approaches to making these connections. Having these skills makes learning history much more approachable and allows you to review material efficiently.


Understanding a historical event means looking at the context. It’s important to view a period with SPRITE - the factors that had influence over an era. Put the events together in a broader context.

Cause & Effect:

Historical events can happen in chains, each as a result - direct or indirect - of another. Either the event/development occurred as a result or not depends on the interpreter. One key takeaway from APUSH is that everything is an argument.

eg. cause(s)/events that led up to the Great Depression

Change & Continuity:

History has enduring movements and new developments. Understanding the changes and continuations (of SPRITE) allows us to understand the zeitgeist of the period.

eg. rules and regulations, people, ideology, politics, territory…

Similarities & Differences:

This type of historical thinking can be applied to concepts occurring at the same or different time.

eg. similarity and differences between the British colonies in the Chesapeake region and the New England region

eg. technological uses and advancements between WWI and WWII

  1. Writing Skills: APUSH Writing Types

There will be three types of writing questions on the AP US History Exam:

Short-Answer Questions (SAQ):

As the name suggests, SAQs are short, direct answers. Oftentimes, you will be tested on your understanding of main ideas in each period of time. You will either be given a primary source or just a question to answer. I recommend the structure A.C.E. to answer these problem types (each letter being a sentence or so):

A: Answer

C: Cite

E: Explain

SAQ Rubric

Document-Based Question (DBQ):

The DBQ typically gives you a set of five to seven documents that may consist of speeches, political cartoons, statistics, quotes, letters, maps, photos, etc. You will be expected to analyze the overarching connections between these documents and formulate your argument for or against the prompt.

Long-Essay Question (LEQ):

The LEQ is an essay you will write by selecting one of two given prompts and sourcing your information completely by memory. This essay will allow you to display your ability to explain and analyze a historical period.

  1. The Exam

The 2023 AP US History Exam will be administered Friday, May 5 at 8am local time. It is estimated to take about 3 hours and 15 minutes, but will likely take around 4 hours in total. There are two sections with a short break in between.

Section 1:

Part A: Multiple-Choice questions | 55 questions | 55 minutes | 40% of exam grade

Part B: Short-Answer questions | 3 | 40 minutes | 20% of exam grade

Question 1: Secondary source

Question 2: Primary source

Question 3: Choice between 2, both contain no stimulus

Section 2 (Free Response Questions):

Question 1: DBQ | 60 minutes (including a 15 minute reading period) | 25% of exam grade

Question 2: LEQ | 40 minutes | 15% of exam grade

  1. Advice

AP US History is a very rigorous but rewarding course. Make sure to take breaks from reading long, monotonous passages. If you need clarification in simplified form, I recommend that you watch Heimler’s History on Youtube! Keep SPRITE in mind as you read everything - How are they changing? How are they continuous? And make a summary of each period in cause/effect form, allow your notes to sprawl out, similar to that of a mind map.

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