APUSH: the Greatest Rags-to-Riches Tale

Material Type(s)- Memorization, Theme Analyses, Concepts
Textbook Recommendation(s)- The American Pageant by Thomas Bailey, David Kennedy, and Lizabeth Cohen
Review Book Recommendation(s)- United States History: Preparing for the Advanced
Placement Examination by AMSCO, REA’s Crash Course to the AP US History Exam
Similar/Relevant Courses: AP US Government & Politics

     If you know anyone that’s taken an AP course/exam, chances are they took AP US History. Year after year, APUSH’s been the most widely taken AP exam, with nearly 300,000 exam takers in recent years. APUSH covers US history and the development of American political institutions from the very arrival of colonists to the New World. Many APUSH students are sophomores/juniors fulfilling a state/school policy of at least 1 or 2 years of American history. Despite its popularity, it remains to be one of the CollegeBoard’s difficult APs.


     AP US History is going to require plenty of studying of facts, themes, and analyses of those facts and themes. For just a year long course, APUSH attempts to cover all of American history as detailed as possible. A lot of AP questions will require a combination of many different themes and facts. But studying’s going to come down to reading your textbook/notes repeatedly. We suggest AMSCO’s APUSH guide as an awesome review book for its depth and detailedness.

     Despite its popularity, the AP US History exam is very difficult. Half is multiple choice, and the other half consists of a data based question and two free response questions. Contrary to most other AP histories, the APUSH DBQ is no walk-in-the-park for you to fluff up- it’s going to require an analyses of the given documents using background information. This isn’t something to wing, we really suggest doing a few practice DBQs and using REA’s guide to get an idea of what to expect regarding necessary background info. The other two free response questions consist of one analyses essay and one compare-and-contrast essay. As with AP Euro, it’s the details that’ll give you that 4/5.

     Don’t underestimate any part of this exam, especially the essay portions.

     Really study for this one, and don’t procrastinate (although we’ll say that about every AP exam). In 2010, an astonishingly low 29.8% of exam takers scored a 4 or 5 (compared to around 33% for AP Euro). We would really recommend the use of REA’s Crash Course when cramming, as it boils down one of the most detailed curriculums into a 200 page outline with a plethora of tips and strategies to maximize studying efficiency for that test. Study using your textbook/AMSCO all year long, just AMSCO 4-6 weeks prior to the exam, and Crash Course 1-2 weeks prior the exam. While Crash Course contains just want you need to know, it’s no excuse not to build a strong foundation all through the year.

     Although certainly a difficult and detailed course, it’s not impossible.

     Despite what statistics would suggest, just do your work and study, and success is easily within your grasp. AP US Gov’t & Politics also talks a lot about American history specifically relating to politics and political institutions (obviously), and many have found the overlap to be enough to self-study AP US Gov’t concurrently while taking APUSH. With most of us AP students being Americans, we have no excuse not to learn our history and what made America what it is today. While easily at the helm of the world, even as Americans, we ought to remember- “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (George Santayana).

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