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The APUSH exam is coming off a redesign, so here’s how to rock it!

Test Format

The redesigned AP United States History exam, which will be administered on Friday, May 8, 2015 at 8:00 a.m., lasts 3 hours and 15 minutes, with both a 105-minute multiple-choice and short answer section and a 90 minute free-response section.

Section I is divided into Part A, 55 multiple choice questions in 55 minutes; and Part B, 4 short-answer questions in 50 minutes. They are each worth 40% and 20% of the total exam score, respectively.

In Section II, you will answer a document-based question (DBQ) in 55 minutes and a long essay question, chosen from a pair, in 35 minutes. No document-based question or long essay question will exclusively ask about events prior to 1607 (Period 1) or after 1980 (Period 9). You will always write at least one essay, either the document-based question or long essay, which focuses on developments that span over various historical time periods. These two components respectively comprise 25% and 15% of one’s total exam score.

According to the College Board, you will be assessed on their understanding of major themes, particularly that of all nine periods of U.S. history.

1491-1607: A New World

  • Before Europeans arrived, native North American people developed social, political and economic structures based on interactions with one another and their surrounding environment.
  • The Columbian Exchange, resulting from European expansion, was a series of interactions and adaptations in societies across the Atlantic.
  • Contact between American Indians, Europeans and Africans challenged each group’s views of the world.

1607-1754: Asserting Control Over North America

  • Europeans and American Indians struggled to dominate and achieve security in North America; as a result, distinctive colonial and native societies developed.
  • Europeans developed diverse patterns of colonization, cultivated by distinct imperial goals and cultures, along with the environments that they settled in.
  • In their efforts to colonize, Europeans engaged in intercultural contact that lead to rising conflict between them and native peoples.
  • These increasing political, economic and cultural exchanges deeply impacted the development of colonial societies in North America.

1754-1800: The Creation of a New Republic

  • The British initiated efforts to reassert control over its colonies.
  • Winning over France, Britain faced new conflicts among its government, the North American colonists and American Indians. This lead to the birth of the United States.
  • In the late 18th century, democratic ideas and republican forms of government, along with new religious, economic and cultural ideas, were experimented with. This challenged traditional imperial systems.
  • Boundaries and policies began to be questioned, as migration within North America, cooperative interaction and competition for resources increased. A multiethnic, multiracial national identity began to take root.

1800-1848: Rapid Changes and Democratic Ideals

  • The United States became the world’s first modern mass democracy. Americans looked to define their nation’s democratic ideals and to reform its institutions to fall in line with them.
  • Developments in technology, agriculture and commerce led to drastic changes in U.S. settlement patterns, regional identities, political power, consumer goods distribution, family relations and gender.
  • The interest in increasing foreign trade, expanding national borders and becoming isolated from European conflicts shaped the U.S’s foreign policy agenda.

1844-1877: From Slavery to Rebirth

  • Racial tensions, particularly over slavery, led to a civil war that transformed American history.
  • The U.S. began pursuing an expansionist foreign policy in the Western Hemisphere. It became an increasingly desired destination for migrants of other nations.
  • Debates over slavery and other economic, cultural and political institutions and issues, intensified by expansion and regional divisions, led the nation into civil war.
  • The Union victory in the War, along with Reconstruction efforts in the South, settled the issues of slavery and secession. Still, many questions about the power of federal government and citizenship rights remained.

1865-1898: Sweeping Industrialization

  • The rise of big business encouraged massive migrations and urbanization. This sparked popular and government efforts to reshape the economy and environment.
  • Greater opportunities for, and restrictions on, immigrants, minorities and women emerged.
  • The “Gilded Age” marks a time of new cultural and intellectual movements, along with political debates over economic and social policies.

1890-1945: Redefining America

  • The United States faced great domestic and global challenges. The role of government, along with the degree to which it should be involved in international affairs, became increasingly debated.
  • The effects of large-scale industrialization, along with economic uncertainty, urbanization and mass migration, became addressed by governmental, political and social organizations.
  • With new communications and transportation technology, a new mass culture helped spread values and ideas, even as cultural conflicts increased under the pressure of migration, world wars and economic distress.
  • Global conflicts over resources, territories and ideologies renewed debates over the nation’s values and its role in the world. The U.S. assumed a dominant international position.

Post WWII: 1945-1980

  • The U.S. responded to unstable postwar conditions by asserting and attempting to defend their global leadership position, with domestic and international repercussions.
  • Based on anticommunism, efficacy of governmental—particularly federal power to achieve social goals at home—liberalism peaked in the mid-1960’s and generated many political and cultural responses.
  • Postwar economic, demographic and technological changes had a far-reaching impact on American society, politics and the environment.

1980-Present: Modern Years

  • The U.S. experienced renewed ideological and cultural debates. They sought to redefine its foreign policy and adapted to economic globalization and developments in science and technology.
  • A new conservatism, which defended traditional social values, emerged. It was reinforced by a growing distrust of government, along with the rise of religious fundamentalism.
  • At the end of the Cold War, the U.S. redefined its role in global affairs.
  • The Reagan administration pursued a renewed anti-Communist sentiment, along with an interventionist approach to foreign policy.
  • Post 9/11 (September 1, 2001), U.S. foreign policy and military involvement narrowed in on a war on terrorism. This generated debates about civil rights and domestic security.

I took the AP US History exam last year, the last year before the exam was redesigned. Frankly, I didn’t start studying until two weeks before the exam. I scrambled to make flashcards on key people and events. My AP US teacher had a pretty lax teaching style, which meant that many class periods were devoted to unrelated, but interesting, discussions about the joys of eating or about the failures of a test-driven American educational system. With the exam nearing, I leaned on my exam preparation books and Google-provided review packets.

While taking the exam, nothing truly surprised me. I had focused my studying on overarching themes instead of on minute details. Not only did this help me organize my thoughts on the written portion of the exam, but it also allowed me to mentally categorize everything I needed to know to complete the multiple choice section. My advice for this year’s exam is limited, but I believe that building a broad understanding of United States history will definitely make your preparations more manageable—thus, more effective.

In addition to the nine periods described above, I’d recommend knowing key authors, court cases, women and civil rights activists. These will come up on the multiple choice sections, and will serve well as supporting evidence on the written portion of the exam. One key thing to remember about the essays—remember to use lots of outside information! It isn’t enough to analyze and group the documents that come with the document-based question—you must support your argument with facts you’ve learned in class.

While studying for the exam, I found AP Study Notes to be extremely helpful. There, you can access chapter outlines, vocabulary flashcards, practice tests, topic outlines, timelines, key Supreme Court cases and sample essays. If you’re limited on time, I’d recommend taking practice tests over other forms of studying. This will give you exposure to the types of questions on the exam and allow you to quickly assess what you know and what you need to brush up on.

I owned two test review books, REA’s AP U.S. History Crash Course and Cracking the AP U.S. History Exam. Though I can’t speak to the quality of the new additions, linked above, I’ve used REA and Princeton Review books to help me successfully prepare for the PSAT, SAT, SAT Subject Tests, ACT, AP European History and AP English Literature Exams.

While writing this article, I discovered the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History’s study guide, which outlined the nine periods of history earlier in this post. You’ll find helpful outlines, primary sources, timelines, photos and videos. On the AP Students AP United States History page, you can download the AP United States History Course and Exam Description PDF document. Khan Academy provides in-depth videos that can supplement your studying.

With a little preparation, you’ll ace this exam! Best of luck.

Originally from New York City, Angela Wong is currently a senior at Kent School in Kent, Connecticut. She is a peer writing tutor and an editor for her school newspaper. In her spare time, she enjoys running, reading and spending time with friends.

Are you a high school student or a college freshman who took an AP exam, received a 4 or a 5 on that AP, and would like to write a study guide on that AP for The Prospect? Email and write “Study Guide for AP [Subject Name] Inquiry” in the subject line!

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