From the College Board's website, here is a summary of this year's exam:
Put your exploration of U.S. History to the test—and possibly gain college credit in the process—with the AP U.S. History Exam. The exam tests knowledge of U.S. History from the first European explorations of the Americas up through modern times. Exam topics include political institutions and behavior, public policy, social and economic change, diplomacy and international relations, and cultural and intellectual developments.
About the Exam
The three-hour-and-five-minute exam has two sections: a 55-minute multiple-choice and a 130-minute free-response section. The multiple-choice questions are designed to test your factual knowledge, breadth of preparation, and knowledge-based analytical skills. The essay questions give you the chance to demonstrate your mastery of historical interpretation and your ability to express your views and knowledge in writing.
Section I: Multiple-Choice
There are 80 multiple-choice questions on the AP U.S. History Exam. To score a grade of 3 or above, you need to answer about 60 percent of the multiple-choice questions correctly—and write acceptable essays in the free-response section.
Approximately 20 percent of the questions deal with the period through 1789, 45 percent cover 1790 through 1914, and 35 percent cover 1915 to the present including questions on events since 1980.
Within those time periods, 35 percent of the questions are on political institutions, behavior, and public policy; 40 percent are about social and cultural developments; approximately 15 percent of the remaining questions cover diplomacy and international relations; and 10 percent cover economic developments. A substantial number of the social and economic history questions deal with such traditional topics as the impact of legislation on social groups and the economy, or the pressures brought to bear on the political process by social and economic developments. As you've learned, historical inquiry is not neatly divided into categories so many questions pertain to more than one area.
The bulk of the questions focuses on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The questions in the multiple-choice section are designed to test students' factual knowledge, breadth of preparation, and knowledge-based analytical skills.
Students often ask whether they should guess on the multiple-choice questions. Haphazard or random guessing is unlikely to improve scores because one-fourth of a point is subtracted from the score for each incorrect answer. (No points are deducted for a blank answer.) But if you have some knowledge of the question and can eliminate one or more answers, it's usually to your advantage to choose what you believe is the best answer from the remaining choices.
Section II: Free-Response
The free-response section covers the period from the first European explorations of the Americas to 1980. The section has three parts. Part A has one document-based essay question (DBQ). Parts B and C each offer a choice of two standard essay questions.
There is a mandatory 15-minute reading period at the beginning of the free-response section. Spend most of that time analyzing the documents and planning your answer to the DBQ in Part A. It's recommended that you spend 45 minutes writing the DBQ essay.
Although confined to no single format, the documents contained in the DBQ rarely features familiar classics like the Emancipation Proclamation or Declaration of Independence, though the documents' authors may be major historical figures. The documents vary in length and format, and are chosen to illustrate interactions and complexities within the material. In addition to calling upon a broad spectrum of historical skills, the diversity of materials will allow students to assess the value of different sorts of documents.
When appropriate, the DBQ will include charts, graphs, cartoons, and pictures, as well as written materials. This gives you the chance to showcase your ability to assess the value of a variety of documents. The DBQ usually requires that you relate the documents to a historical period or theme and show your knowledge of major periods and issues. For this reason, outside knowledge is very important and must be incorporated into the student's essay if the highest scores are to be earned. To earn a high score it's also very important that you incorporate the information you learned in your AP U.S. History class. The emphasis of the DBQ will be on analysis and synthesis, not historical narrative.
Your DBQ essay will be judged on thesis, argument, and supporting evidence. The DBQ tests your ability to analyze and synthesize historical data, and assess verbal, quantitative, or pictorial materials as historical evidence.
Standard Essay Questions
You'll have a total of 70 minutes for the standard essay questions. It's recommended that you spend 35 minutes on each essay: five minutes planning and 30 minutes writing.
The standard essay questions may require that you relate developments in different areas (e.g., the political implications of an economic issue); analyze common themes in different time periods (e.g., the concept of national interest in United States foreign policy); or compare individual or group experiences that reflect socioeconomic, ethnic, racial, or gender differences (e.g., social mobility and cultural pluralism).
Although historiography is not emphasized in the examination, you are expected to have a general understanding of key interpretations of major historical events. Some questions are based on literary materials but the emphasis will be on the relationship between the material and politics, social and economic life, or related cultural and intellectual movements, not on literature as art.
Standard essays will be judged on the strength of the thesis developed, the quality of the historical argument, and the evidence offered in support of the argument, rather than on the factual information per se. Unless a question asks otherwise, you will not be penalized for omitting specific illustrations.
Scoring the Exam
The multiple-choice and free-response sections each account for one-half of your final Exam grade. Within the free-response section, the document-based essay question counts for 45 percent and the two standard essays count for 55 percent.