AP United States History

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Advanced Placement United States History (also known as AP U.S. History or APUSH) is a course and examination offered by College Board as part of the Advanced Placement Program.


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.

Commonly used textbooks that meet the curriculum requirements[1] include:


The AP U.S. History exam lasts 3 hours and 5 minutes and consists of two parts. Part I includes 80 multiple choice questions with each question containing five choices. Students have 55 minutes to complete this part of the exam. The questions cover American History from the colonial era to modern times. In addition to traditional-style questions, there are often a few political cartoons, maps, and charts to interpret. The questions in this part are not in chronological order.

Part II of the exam is the free-response section, composed of a document-based question (DBQs) and two thematic essays, commonly called free-response questions (FRQs). Part II begins with the DBQ, which provides an essay prompt and 8-10 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. The remainder of Part II consists of four essay prompts — two are from the pre-Civil War period and two are from the post-Civil War period. Students must write two essays: one from each set. There is a mandatory fifteen-minute reading period for students to read the prompts and the documents, take notes, and brainstorm; they may not begin writing the essay until this period has ended. They then have 115 minutes to write the three essays. It is recommended that students spend 45 minutes on the DBQ and 35 minutes on each essay, since the DBQ counts for more points than either essay, but the only timing enforced is the full 115 minute period.[2]

In May 2011, the AP U.S. History Test was taken by 402,947 students worldwide,[3] no longer making it the most-taken AP test; it has been superseded by the AP English Language and Composition exam.[4]

CollegeBoard has announced that beginning with the 2014-2015 school year and with the 2015 exam administrations, the AP United States History course and exam will be completely redesigned to accurately mimic a college level American History curriculum. The concepts learned will be more critical-thinking based. The new exam, scheduled to be administered for the first time in the Spring of 2015, will undergo a makeover as well. The exam will be divided into four parts. Part I will consist of 55 multiple choice questions under a time limit of 55 minutes, weighted at 40%. Part II of the exam will consist of four short answer questions. This part differs from the essay portion previously as a full essay will not be necessary to receive full credit. This portion of the exam will take 45 minutes and is weighted at 20%. Part III will consist of just the Document Based Question, which is mostly unchanged. Students will have 60 minutes to write it and will be weighted at 25%. The final part, Part IV, will consist of one long essay, similar to the essays student wrote after the DBQ on the previous exam, only students will have to only write one instead of two. Students will have 35 minutes to write this essay and it will be weighted at 15%.[5]


The multiple-choice section and the free-response section each account for 50% of the final score. For the former, each correct multiple choice earns 1.125 points. As of the 2011 exam, a wrong answer does not deduct from the overall test score. A perfect score on the multiple-choice section is 90. For the free-response, the DBQ is worth 45% of the section's total value, while the two thematic essays are each worth 27.5% (55% combined).[2]

Grade distribution[edit]

The grade distributions for 2007 - 2014 were:

Score 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
5 11.1% 8.5% 11.0% 11.0% 11.0% 11.8% 10.6% 11.0%
4 19.9% 18.2% 19.3% 18.8% 20.8% 21.4% 21.5% 21.3%
3 22.2% 21.4% 22.1% 22.9% 21.0% 21.7% 21.8% 20.2%
2 26.2% 25.4% 25.2% 25.9% 26.7% 26.5% 27.2% 27.9%
1 20.6% 26.5% 22.2% 21.4% 20.5% 18.6% 18.9% 19.6%
Mean 2.75 2.57 2.72 2.72 2.75 2.81 2.77

Note: 2014 score distribution may shift slightly as late exams are scored.

Composite score range[edit]

The College Board has released information on the composite score range (out of 180) required to obtain each grade:[6][7]

Final Score Range (1996) Range (2001) Range (2002) Range (2006)
5 117-180 114-180 115-180 106-180
4 96-116 92-113 94-114 85-105
3 79-95 74-91 76-93 68-84
2 42-73 46-75 47-67 47-67
1 0-50 0-41 0-45 0-46

Note: The above composite score cut points reflect the pre-2011 grading formula which deducted 0.25 points for every incorrect multiple choice answer.

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