Exam preparation materials


The AP U.S. History Examination gives you the opportunity to demonstrate how well you’ve mastered the content of a college-level course. There’s no way around it — you’re expected to know dates, names, and places. But the exam does go beyond memorizing historical facts. On both the multiple-choice and free-response sections, you’re called on to think historically — to identify cause-and-effect relationships, understand the chronological context, determine major turning points, and evaluate documents and draw conclusions from them.

The exam is not intentionally tricky. There are, however, certain types of questions on the multiple-choice section and ways the essays are phrased in the free-response section that are important to understand. Part II first goes over the more interesting multiple-choice questions, including explanations of the correct answers and then treats the different question formats used in the free-response section. The formats are examined along with a review of documents in the DBQ and sample essays.

Multiple-Choice Question Types

Just as the exam format has undergone slight modifications, so too the types of multiple-choice questions asked may vary from year to year. In recent years, the “multiple” multiple-choice questions and questions based on a variety of graphic presentations — maps, tables, charts, graphs, political cartoons, photographs, and artwork — have not been as common as in the past. We have included them because the pendulum does swing back and forth, and, if they don't appear in the multiple-choice section, they will show up as documents in the DBQ.

"What” Questions

The multiple-choice questions are framed as a question or sentence stem where one of five possible answers correctly completes the statement. Many are straightforward and require you to remember facts about events, personalities, and significant developments in Unites States history. Students usually score quite well on this type of question.

Example 1

1. The Great Awakening was associated with

A. Thomas Jefferson

B. Henry David Thoreau

C. Jonathan Edwards

D. Lyndon Johnson

E. William Bradford

The correct answer is C. This question asks you to identify an important cultural movement with its main representative. If you know that the Great Awakening was an early eighteenth- century religious revival, all the choices except Jonathan Edwards can be eliminated. None of the other individuals were known as religious thinkers and came before (William Bradford) or after (Thoreau) the eighteenth century. Lyndon Johnson is included to make sure you don’t confuse the Great Society, his domestic economic program of the 1960s, with the Great Awakening. There’s another way to ask the same question:

1. Jonathan Edwards was a key figure in the

A. abolitionist movement

B. Sons of Liberty

C. Great Awakening

D. Progressive party

E. Populist party

Example 2

Factual multiple-choice questions often ask what something is about. Let’s use the Great Awakening again as an example.

2. Which of the following best describes the Great Awakening?

A. An attempt by nineteenth-century writers to create an American literature

B. The movement among black Americans to discover their African heritage

C. The increased emphasis on science and education after the Soviet Union launched the first satellite in 1957

D. An eighteenth-century revival that was characterized by “fire and brimstone” sermons

E. Lyndon Johnson’s domestic program that included the “War on Poverty”

The correct answer is D. This question is easy if you know what the Great Awakening was. If not, you might still get the correct answer if you can place it in time — the eighteenth century.

Example 3

Here’s another example of a “what” question presented as a sentence stem:

3. The Know-Nothing party

A. wanted to limit the rights of freed slaves in the South

B. advocated prohibiting the teaching of evolution in the public schools

C. backed the early efforts of unskilled workers to form unions

D. supported the claims of farmers against the railroads

E. demanded an end to immigration into the United States

The correct answer is E. Established in 1854, the Know-Nothing party had strong local support in New York and New England based on an anti-immigration and anti-Catholic platform.

Example 4

“What” questions sometimes look for the definition of a term. The question may state the definition, and you select the correct term from the five choices, or it may supply the term, and you identify the appropriate definition. You’re expected to know the historical context in which the term was used.

4. A company that buys up other businesses in the same industry is an example of

A. horizontal integration

B. vertical integration

C. a corporation

D. a joint-stock company

E. a conglomerate

The correct answer is A. Examples of horizontal integration are the railroads and oil industry in the late nineteenth century. Vertical integration refers to controlling production from the raw- material stage through distribution to the consumer — for example, the steel industry under Andrew Carnegie, who owned coal mines, railroads, and steam ships as well as steel mills. Although a corporation or a conglomerate might provide valid examples, the question is asking for a more specific form of business organization.

Example 5

Here’s an example where the term is given:

5. Which of the following most accurately describes carpetbaggers?

A. They were former slaves who migrated to the North after the Civil War.

B. They were black officeholders in the South during Reconstruction.

C. They were Northerners who sought economic opportunity in the South after the Civil War.

D. They were displaced farmers who moved to California during the Depression.

E. They were recent immigrants who settled in the West in the late nineteenth century.

The correct answer is C. You should be able to associate carpetbaggers with the post-Civil War period. This eliminates answers D and E. You should also know from your reading and class lectures that carpetbaggers were Northerners.

There are literally hundreds of terms that may come up in a multiple-choice question. Your AP teacher will probably hand out a list for each unit you study, and important terms are defined beginning on page 97 of this book. As you read your text, take notes on any terms or concepts that are explained in detail. Some may be highlighted by italics or bold print.

In addition to the examples given so far, the AP exam uses multiple-choice questions that contain special markers or have a unique format. Here they are called the “reverse” multiple-choice question, the “when” question, and the “multiple” multiple-choice question.

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