AP US History

AP US History Course Overview

AP U.S. History is designed to be the equivalent of a two-semester introductory college or university U.S. history course. In AP U.S. History students investigate significant events, individuals, developments, and processes in nine historical periods from approximately 1491 to the present. Students develop and use the same skills, practices, and methods employed by historians: analyzing primary and secondary sources; developing historical arguments; making historical comparisons; and utilizing reasoning about contextualization, causation, and continuity and change over time. The course also provides seven themes that students explore throughout the course in order to make connections among historical developments in different times and places: American and national identity; migration and settlement; politics and power; work, exchange, and technology; America in the world; geography and the environment; and culture and society.

AP US History Course Content

The AP U.S. History course is structured around themes and concepts in nine different chronological periods from approximately 1491 to the present:

• Period 1: 1491–1607

• Period 2: 1607–1754

• Period 3: 1754–1800

• Period 4: 1800–1848

• Period 5: 1844–1877

• Period 6: 1865–1898

• Period 7: 1890–1945

• Period 8: 1945–1980

• Period 9: 1980–Present

Within each period, key concepts organize and prioritize historical developments. Themes allow students to make connections and identify patterns and trends over time.

Inquiry-Based Investigations

Twenty-five percent of instructional time is devoted to hands-on laboratory work with an emphasis on inquiry-based investigations. Investigations require students to ask questions, make observations and predictions, design experiments, analyze data, and construct arguments in a collaborative setting, where they direct and monitor their progress.

AP History Disciplinary Practices and Reasoning Skills

The AP history courses seek to apprentice students to the practice of history by emphasizing the development of disciplinary practices and reasoning skills while learning historical content. The practices and skills that students should develop in all AP history courses are listed below, along with a condensed description of what students should be able to do with each. Every AP Exam question will assess one or more of these practices and skills.


Practice 1: Analyzing Historical Evidence

Primary Sources

• Explain the relative historical significance of a source’s point of view, purpose, historical situation, and/or audience.

• Evaluate a source’s credibility and/or limitations.

Secondary Sources

• Explain how a historian’s claim or argument is supported with evidence.

• Analyze patterns and trends in quantitative data in non-textbased sources.

• Evaluate the effectiveness of a historical claim or argument.

Practice 2: Argument Development

• Make a historically defensible claim in the form of an evaluative thesis.

• Support an argument using specific and relevant evidence.

• Use historical reasoning to explain relationships among pieces of historical evidence.

• Consider ways that diverse or alternative evidence could be used to qualify or modify an argument.


Skill 1: Contextualization

• Use context to explain the relative historical significance of a specific historical development or process.

Skill 2: Comparison

• Explain the relative historical significance of similarities and/ or differences between different historical developments or processes.

Skill 3: Causation

• Explain the difference between primary and secondary causes and between short- and long-term effects.

• Explain the relative historical significance of different causes and/or effects.

Skill 4: Continuity and Change Over Time

• Explain the relative historical significance of specific historical developments in relation to a larger pattern of continuity and/ or change.

AP US History Exam Structure


Assessment Overview

The AP Exam questions measure students’ knowledge of U.S. history and their ability to think historically. Questions are based on learning objectives, key concepts, course themes, and AP history disciplinary practices and reasoning skills.

Format of Assessment

Section I, Part A: Multiple Choice | 55 Questions | 55 Minutes | 40% of Exam Score

• Questions appear in sets of 2–5.

• Students analyze primary and secondary texts, images, graphs, and maps.

• Questions cover all course periods.

Section I, Part B: Short Answer | 3 Questions | 40 Minutes | 20% of Exam Score

• Students respond to 2 required questions and choose between 2 options for a third question.

• Questions 1 and 2 cover periods 3–8 of the course; students choose between answering either question 3 (covering periods 1–5) or question 4 (periods 6–9).

• Students analyze historians’ interpretations, historical sources, and propositions about history.

Section II, Part A: Document Based | 1 Question | 60 Minutes | 25% of Exam Score

• Students assess written, visual, and quantitative sources as historical evidence.

• Students develop an argument supported by an analysis of historical evidence.

• Question covers periods 3–8 of the course.

Section II, Part B: Long Essay | 1 Question | 40 Minutes | 15% of Exam Score

• Students select one question among three different periods (1–3, 4–6, 7–9) of the course.

• Students explain and analyze significant issues in U.S. history.

• Students develop an argument supported by an analysis of historical evidence.