The AP U.S. History course is designed to provide the same level of content and instruction that students would face in a freshman-level college survey class. AP U.S. History classes generally use a college-level textbook as the foundation for the course.
The AP U.S. History exam lasts 3 hours and 15 minutes and consists of two sections; additionally, each section is divided into two parts. Section I, part A includes 55 multiple choice questions with each question containing four choices. The multiple choice questions cover American History from just before European contact with Native Americans to the present day. Moreover, section I, part B includes four short-answer questions. The first two questions are required, but students choose between the third and fourth questions. In total, students are given 95 minutes (55 for the multiple choice section and 40 for three short-answer questions) to complete section I.
Section II of the exam is the free-response section, in which examinees write two essays. Section II, part A, is a document-based question (DBQ), which provides an essay prompt and seven short primary sources or excerpts related to the prompt. Students are expected to write an essay responding to the prompt in which they utilize the sources in addition to outside information. Section II, part B, provides two thematic essay prompts. Students must respond to only one of the two essay prompts.
Each thematic essay question on the AP exam may address any one of four possible historical thinking skills: patterns of continuity and change over time, comparison, causation, or periodization. Both of the essay questions will address the same historical thinking skill. In addition, neither essay’s time frame will be exclusively before 1607 (the founding of Jamestown) or after 1980 (President Reagan’s election). There is a mandatory fifteen-minute reading period for students to read the essay prompts, take notes, and brainstorm; they may not begin to write the essays until this period has ended. Students will then have 85 minutes to write the two essays; 45 minutes are recommended for the DBQ and 40 minutes for the thematic essay, but students are free to work on the two essays as they see fit.