Content of APUSH Exam
This section will give you a brief overview of the exam’s content. The APUSH
HISTORY Exam expects that the student will have some knowledge of the entirety of
US history, beginning with the Age of Discovery and almost to present day, however the
majority of the test will assess your knowledge of the 19 th and 20th centuries. The
multiple choice section and essays cover the major areas of historical study.
Multiple Choice Section
The College Board reports the following breakdown of multiple choice questions:
Approximately 1/6 of the questions are from Columbus to 1789
Approximately ½ of the questions are from 1790-1914
Approximately 1/3 of the questions are from 1915 to the present
Usually a few questions from after 1980 will be included (Reagan questions have
appeared the last couple of years)
The multiple choice section has political, economic, social and cultural questions. The
multiple choice section is weighted like this:
35% social change
35% political institutions and public policy
15% diplomatic and international
5% cultural and intellectual
Below are sample questions for each of the above categories of the questions. Of
course some questions will pertain to more than one category, but this will give you
some idea of what will be emphasized on the test.
New immigration included all of the following except:
In the Gilded Age, all of the following were Republican presidents except:
All of the following dealt with the building of a canal except which one:
a. Hay/Herran Treaty
b. Hay/Pauncefote Treaty
c. Hay/Bunau/Varrilla Treaty
d. Hay/Open Door Policy
e. Clayton Bullwer Treaty
All of the following were Acts passed during the first hundred days of Roosevelt’s
a. Emergency Banking Act
b. Glass/Steagall Act
c. The CCC
d. The AAA
e. Social Security
All of the following were authors of the Progressive Era except which one:
a. Frank Norris
b. Upton Sinclair
c. Lincoln Steffans
d. Ernest Hemingway
e. Ida Tarbell
Strategies for Multiple Choice Questions
1. Go with your first feeling. Studies have shown that your initial response is likely to
have a better chance of being correct than if you go back and change your answer.
However, of you reexamine the response and note you have made a mistake in reading
the question, certainly do change your answer.
2. Guess if you can eliminate one of the five answer choices. Remember you are only
penalized one quarter of one point for an incorrect answer. So the odds are that you
will not lose points by being aggressive in your answering of the multiple choice
questions. If you have no clear idea about you’re the question, don’t answer it. Leave it
blank, but be very careful. You must make sure you are filling in the correct blank on
the scantron sheet for the next question.
3. Watch for the “except” and the “all but the following” types of questions. These
appear often on the exam. If the answer seems really easy, look at the question again.
It may be that many of the possible answer choices are true and you missed the
“except” in the question.
Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency was considered a success in the following
areas except one:
b. trust busting
c. diplomatic successes
d. pro-labor policies
e. good relationships with his Latin American neighbors
4. Focus on the entire test. The test gets more difficult as it goes on. Don’t allow
yourself to fade as you get to the latter part of the test. Studies show that the
percentage of correct answers lowers dramatically after question 60. Concentrate on
5. Note that in the past the multiple choice questions have been ordered chronologically
in groups of about ten. The section may start with a question on colonial America and
continue chronologically with several questions until it gets to a more recent event such
as Reagan’s economic policy. The next question will go back to early American history
and the following questions will proceed chronologically as before. Thus, if question 4 is
on the Articles of Confederation and question 6 is on the War of 1812, you can surmise
that question 5 is from the time period from 1780 to 1812. Knowing this will help you
answer your questions.
The Essay Section
The three essays that you must write will come from these time periods as well. It is not
likely that the essays will come from the post 1980’s. The 1980s might be included as
only part of a question. Here is an example: “The scandals of the various presidential
administrations have greatly affected the success of those administrations. Assess the
validity of this statement using three of the following presidents: Grant, Harding, Nixon
and Reagan.” Note that Reagan is from the 1980s but he is just part of this question.
Strategies for Document Based Questions
You are likely to write more pages for your DBQ than for your two free response
questions. You will write more because you have the documents to respond to and
incorporate into your answer. When you open up your green test booklet, you are
required to read and plan the essay for a period of 15 minutes. You are not allowed to
write in the pink answer booklet until after the 15 minutes are up. It is the pink booklet
that is sent to be graded by readers.
1. When looking at the question for the DBQ, do not look at the documents yet. Write
down as many names, events and concrete details that you can think of pertaining to
the question. Only after doing this, look at the documents and prepare your response.
This will help you avoid becoming so focused on the documents themselves that you
forget that you must have outside factual evidence as well. The successful DBQ
balances outside evidence with analysis of the documents.
2. Don’t quote from the documents. Put the information from them in your own words.
3. Use at least two-thirds of the documents in your essay. If there are 8 documents
make sure you have used at least six documents. Underline the documents you use in
your essay so the readers will be able to note the number used with ease.
4. If you don’t understand a document, don’t use it. If you find a document that doesn’t
seem to prove your thesis, and you think you can refute the document’s validity, then
certainly do that. The readers love students who go beyond the usual answers.
5. Don’t forget to reference documents so that the reader knows which one you are
using. This can be done in two ways. Either describe the document used, “The Seneca
Falls Convention was an important beginning to the women’s rights movement” or
reference it as a document, “The Seneca Falls Convention, (doc E) was an important
beginning to the women’s rights movement.”
6. Be organized in your writing. Start with a strong thesis statement that answers the
question. Tie your outside facts and documents to your thesis statement. Use
transitional phrases to move from one paragraph to the next. Thus, if the question asks
about economic, social and political issues, beginning one paragraph with “In the area
of economics…” and in the next with “Social issues were…” lets the reader know where
you are going.
7. Analysis goes a long way in enhancing your score. Answer the question “Why?” as
your write your essay. Many students merely list a multitude of facts without any depth.
Those kinds of responses will be scored lower than the essay that uses far fewer facts
but, explains them well with analysis.
8. Watch the time, Stop after one hour. That means after the 15 minute forced reading
and prewriting section and 45 minutes of writing the essay. You can always come back
after you have finished your free response questions.
9. Make your handwriting as legible as you can. Practice this during the year. Although
the readers will try to read a messy essay, they can not give you credit for ideas they
can not read.
10. Make your essay reader friendly. The reader of your essay may have read over a
thousand essays by the time they get to yours. Make it easy for them by writing neatly,
having a careful thesis, organize well and tie everything back to the thesis statement.
Last of all and most importantly underline your thesis statement. This way you are sure
you have a thesis statement and the reader has an easy time of identifying the thesis
Strategies for the Free Response Question
The free response question will be shorter than the DBQ. They do not require the
formulaic five paragraph essay. They can be four or three or six paragraphs, it depends
on your answer. However, you do need to write using paragraphs, it will show your
organization more clearly and make the essay easier to understand.
1. The key to success with these essays is organization. Start with a good thesis,
provide concrete details and make them easy to understand.
2. Remember you are an objective observer of a historical event. Do not use slang or
personal pronouns and don’t get emotional about the answer. Try to understand the
historical figure and his decisions by understanding the time in which they took place.
3. Give yourself an hour to do the first free response question. Then go on to the
second one. You need to write all three essays to get a successful score.
4. The readers understand when a student knows little or nothing about a topic. Many
students throw out information that has no value and can be quickly rejected by the
reader. The best preparation for this exam is reading and rereading your textbook.
Then when you go in to take the test, you will have confidence that you won’t embarrass
Scoring the Exam
Section One – Multiple Choice
The multiple choice section is worth 50% of the exam total. Your multiple choice score
is calculated by taking the number of correct answers and subtracting one-fourth of the
points, multiplying it by the number of wrong answers and rounding up. Then that
number is multiplied by 1.250.
Section Two – Essays
All three essays will be scored on a rubric from 1 to 9, one being the lowest and nine
being the highest.
The DBQ score (1 to 9) is multiplied by 4.5
The FRQ score for 2 or 3 is multiplied by 2.75
The FRQ score for 4 or 5 is multiplied by 2.75
Sections one and two are added together to get a composite score. The composite
score determines whether you get a 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 on the AP exam. What the
composite score means depends on the year you take the exam. Example scores are
below, using the scoring worksheet provided by ETS for the 2001 AP US History exam.
AP Exam Score Composite Score
5 – Extremely Well Qualified 114-180 points
4 – Well Qualified 92-113 points
3 – Qualified 74-91 points
2 – Possibly Qualified 42-73 points
1 – No Recommendation 0-41 points
A student answers 70 multiple choice questions. She leaves 10 blank and misses 25
questions. She has 45 correct answers. ¼ of a point times 25 missed questions equals
6.25. This is rounded down to 6 points. Subtract 6 points from 45 (=39) and multiple by
1.25 for a score of 49 points on the multiple choice section.
On the DBQ essay, the student receives a score of 5 out of 9 possible. This is
multiplied by 4.5 which equal 22.5. This is rounded up for a score of 23.
On her two FRQ essays, she receives a 4s for both out of 9 possible. The first 4 is
multiplied by 2.75 which equals 11. The second 4 is multiplied by 2.75 which equals 11
also. Add the two FRQ scores for a total of 22.
Add the DBQ and FRQ scores for a total of 45. Then add the multiple choice score (49)
and the essay score (45) together for a composite of 94. Our candidate has scored a 4
on the APUSH exam!