AP U.S. History exam: know the test content, format, and pacing

Students planning ahead for AP success need to know not only what's tested on the exams but also how the tests are structured.

Here's an overview of the AP United States History exam.

What's on the AP U.S. History test?

The AP U.S. History exam is designed to measure your understanding of U.S. history from 1491 to the present.

The course involves 9 major units of study:

  1. Period 1: 1491–1607
  2. Period 2: 1607–1754
  3. Period 3: 1754–1800
  4. Period 4: 1800–1848
  5. Period 5: 1844–1877
  6. Period 6: 1865–1898
  7. Period 7: 1890–1945
  8. Period 8: 1945–1980
  9. Period 9: 1980–Present

Need help mastering the content? Consider scheduling a few sessions with a tutor, who can work with you one-on-one to reinforce the material you're learning in school. To get started with an expert AP tutor, reach out to us here.

How is the AP U.S. History test structured?

The AP U.S. History exam is a four-part test consisting of a multiple-choice section, short-answer section, document-based question, and long essay.

Because the AP U.S. History exam is a timed test, you will have to carefully pace yourself. This includes making determinations about whether you should skip and guess on any questions. In order to achieve the best possible score, you need to answer as many questions correctly as possible.

As you prepare for test day, you may come up with a personalized pacing plan, but as a starting point, here are rough guidelines based on the timing of each section:

  • Multiple choice:
    • 55 minutes to answer 55 questions
    • 1 minute per question
  • Short answer:
    • 40 minutes to answer 3 questions
    • ~13 minutes per question
  • DBQ:
    • 60 minutes to answer 1 question
    • 15-minute reading period
    • 45-minute writing period
  • Long essay:
    • 40 minutes to answer 1 question
    • 40-minute writing period


Need more individualized advice?

The recommendations above are general suggestions. If you have specific questions, reach out to our experts here. We’re happy to help in any way we can.


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About Erin Ohsie-Frauenhofer

As one of the highest-performing tutors in ArborBridge’s history, Erin coaches tutors and develops tools and trainings to disrupt old habits and empower new strengths. With a Master of Arts in Teaching from Brown University, Erin worked as a classroom teacher and student services director prior to joining ArborBridge in 2017. Her decade of success as an educator has prepared her to ensure that programs are tailored to individual students’ needs.

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