Part I

College Credit, Here I Come!

In this part...

Part I is designed to put a determined smile on your

face when you open that exam book and pick up your pencil. Before you play a game, you’ve got to check out the rules, so in this part, you scope out the Grand Inquisitor itself, the College Board. This fine institution may influence your college fate; here’s where you discover how it works. Before you get into the kinds of questions you’ll encounter on the AP U.S. History exam, Part I gives you the lowdown on who creates the questions and how college admissions personnel use the test results. You also get a handle on the PES secret to test success: political, economic, and social information.

To get the highest score you can, you need to understand the kind of answers the AP U.S. History exam likes to see. When you have an overview of the test territory you’ll be navigating, take a deep breath and use a little psychology to make your studying (and test-taking) as effective as possible.

Chapter 1

Acing the Test for a College Credit Payday

In This Chapter

● Checking out the College Board

● Putting together a game plan for success

● Decoding your score (and what it can do for you)

U.S. History may be a grand pageant of determination and growth, but chances are good that right now you just want to make sure you score some college credit for that long year you spent busting your butt in AP History. You’re not alone; some 350,000 AP students have this same U.S. History exam looming over them right now.

Of all the AP exams, U.S. History is the most often taken Advanced Placement test in the entire fiendish College Board repertoire. You could call it the most popular, if popular is the right word for a national test that makes you sweat for three hours to try to earn college credit for something you’ve already been tested on too many times in high school. It’s tough, but if you don’t pass the AP, you don’t get paid that college credit. This book is designed to give you the tools you need to ace the AP U.S. History exam. In this chapter, I give you an overview of the test and what to expect so you can prepare yourself for what lies ahead.

School Learning Versus Test Prep

This book isn’t just about U.S. History, fun as that is. This book is about the Ultimate U.S. History Test and how you’re going to score well on that test. As you read, you’re going to be practicing Challenge Question and PES responses until they become second nature.

The difference between school and Challenge Question test prep is simple: In test prep, you turn a fact into a question and then answer the question the whole time you’re reading history. Mixing in questions with history is what the Challenge Question technique is all about. Your history review in Parts III and IV will be full of questions, but you’ll go even farther if you get into the habit of asking and answering questions on your own. And, this AP U.S. History For Dummies guide works even better when you combine it with your school AP text. You can pick up some more tips on using outside books in Chapter 2.

The Power of the College Board: What It Is and What It Does

So just who is this College Board, and why does it have such control over your future? Ever notice how the power structure (also known as the Man) seems to be all connected? The College Board (which I’ll call CB) is the connection between your present (high school) and your future (college). The CB is a well-meaning, not-for-profit membership association whose official mission is to “connect students to college success and opportunity.” Okay so far, but like all connections, it only works if you reach out and grab it.

Founded in 1900, the CB consists of thousands of schools, colleges, universities, and other educational organizations. Each year, the College Board works with some 7 million students and their parents, 23,000 high schools, and 3,500 colleges in college admissions, guidance, assessment, financial aid, and enrollment. Among its best-known and feared tests are the SAT, the PSAT/NMSQT, and your current favorite, the Advanced Placement program (AP). All of these tests are registered trademarks of the College Board; when it comes to using tests for college placement, the CB is the Man. This can be a good thing.

With what it garners from grading all those tests, the CB gives schools feedback to improve teaching. You may not like the power that CB tests hold over your future, but without them, colleges could just pick the people who are richest or tallest or cutest or something. College Board tests give you the chance to prove what you can do; the AP U.S. History test pays you for what you know with college credit.

Counting the Currency of College Credit

Getting college credit through the AP exam is like finding a rich uncle you didn’t know you had. Thousands of universities and colleges in the United States and many other countries are standing by to offer you college credit for the AP U.S. History work you’ve done in high school. All you have to do is get at least a 3 on the AP U.S. History Exam. (See the section “Score! What does it mean?” later in the chapter.)

When it comes to actually granting college credit, your future university holds all the cards. Neither your high school nor even the benevolent College Board can grant you credit; that has to come from your future school. Be very careful to see your prospective alma mater’s policy on awarding credit for high school AP work in print before you enlist in its intellectual army. Either get the written policy from the school or go to to download it from the College Board site. More about college policy on AP credit is in Chapter 2.

You’ll be happy to know that the College Board is concerned with your bank account as well as your brains. Its recent study of college costs shows that a year at a public or state university costs an average of almost $13,000 in tuition, fees, room, and board (and that’s just for in-state students). Add some books, pizzas, transportation, phone, toothpaste, and occasional fun — before you know it, your inexpensive public education is running $20,000 a year.

If you’re planning to seek knowledge within the ivy-covered walls of a private college, get ready for an even bigger sticker shock: Average costs are more than $30,000 for basic tuition, fees, room, and board. By the time you count all those extras, a private college education can easily run $40,000 a year.

Working now and playing later

What if Mom and Dad are paying? In that happy circumstance, do you even care about costs? Yes, you do (or at least should). You'll probably be racking up some student loans during those long years that, unlike the ten bucks you once borrowed from Uncle Milt, the college loan sharks will definitely make you pay back with interest. Also, you probably won't be making much money while you're going to school. The average college graduate earns almost $14,000 more per year than folks her age who don't send their brains for a higher-education tune-up. You want to get to the big money as soon as possible.

If you score high enough on the AP exam to earn six juicy college credits for AP U.S. History, you can subtract that from the time you'll have to spend in college classes. (See "Score! What does it mean?" later in this chapter for more information.) Or you can use the extra time to study sand castle architecture in Hawaii. Pass enough AP exams and you can save half a year or more of undergraduate tuition-paying time — what you do with that time is up to you.

But if you skate past the Intro to U.S. History course in college, will you be able to keep up with the poor suckers who had to take the sit-down version of Intro in college? Yes. The always-researching College Board found that students who tested out of introductory courses actually did better in upper-division subjects than the people who took the intro classes. This number includes AP students who just squeaked by with a 3 on the AP exam. So it's worth some effort to earn a Get-Out-of-Intro-Jail-Free card.

But, you hope, you’ll be paying that for only four years before you earn your prestigious diploma, right? Not so fast. The average public university student takes 6.2 years to earn a degree; the average private school undergraduate clocks in at 5.3 years. (See the sidebar “Working now and playing later” for info on how AP tests can help you shave time off that period.) The total average college expense is $124,000 for a public university and $212,000 for a private college. Maybe you should just skip college and use the money for a luxury car to impress people during your long fast-food career.

Putting Together Your AP Game Plan

A little concerned about what you know (or don’t know) about U.S. history? Don’t worry. If I didn’t start you at the beginning and work you gently to the end, this wouldn’t be a For Dummies guide. Although I can’t promise to turn you into a Pulitzer-prize winning history guru overnight, you don’t need that anyway. You just need a decent score on the AP U.S. History exam.

Taking in the test basics

To help make that happen, I start you out in Part I with some inside tips on how to maximize your score when the big test day is finally upon you.

In Part II, you get tuned up with a few sample questions before you dive into the actual U.S. history in Parts III and IV. That way, you can be thinking about how to extract potential questions from the condensed history in the middle sections of this book.

Moving on to actual history

In Parts III and IV, I give you the basics of U.S. history from American Indians to the Internet. This review covers key topics the Test Inquisitors like to keep in their secret libraries to surprise and shock you. College Board tests aren’t actually written by mad professors in a castle torture lab but by nice, tweedy historians who just want to be sure you know some true stories. The College Board U.S. History Development Committee has standards, and before you get to exam day, it’s in your best interest to know about them.

Think like the test writers to survive their clever question schemes. They’re not going to feel right asking you something obscure (like the color of Abe Lincoln’s dog), but they’d feel really smug by tripping you up with something like “Who issued the Monroe Doctrine?”

(Hint: It wasn’t Marilyn Monroe.) The Grand Inquisitors are going to ask about concepts they consider key to American history — the important issues highlighted in your school text (but not literally highlighted — it’s only a rental, you know). When you see a highlighted topic, make up questions about it while you’re reading. These are Challenge Questions, and when you make them up, you’re thinking like the test writers do.

Testing, testing, 1-2-3!

In Part V, I show you the AP test. No, not the very test you’ll see on the big day. If I did that, the only teaching I’d be doing would be in the prison cafeteria. You’ll get as close as I can honestly take you to the test you’re going to conquer. I give you two sample tests with questions that have appeared before and will eventually appear again on the AP. After you take the practice tests, I go over the answers with you, including some warning about places you could go wrong. By the time you’re done, you’ll be in U.S. History shape, ready to run, dodge, and score with the best of them.

The Political, Economic, and Social (PES) Answer Secret

What I, the test makers, and hopefully you have come to appreciate is that history isn’t just facts; the meaning behind those facts is just as important. These meanings are trends or themes. When you’ve got the themes, you have a framework on which to remember the facts. Plus, the AP is really big on themes. The main themes are PES: political events and decisions, economic realities and incentives, and social trends and conditions. Connect these themes, and you’ll connect to success on exam day.

Don’t make exam essays all about you. Just because graders recognize social trends and economics as an important part of history doesn’t mean you’ll get a good grade for an emotional reaction to the Compromise of 1850. History is still about what happened, not your feelings about it. Save that for drama class.

Applying politics

The old school of white-men-go-to-meetings-and-fight-battles history that your parents had to learn began to open up when a new generation of historians noticed that the past has always been influenced by the beliefs and actions of ordinary people, not just by leaders. Now people

also concentrate on economic and social factors when they study history. Political events do serve as landmarks in history, so it’s still important to have a general chronological sense of these landmarks.

In this context, political events include presidents and other important leaders, laws, legal decisions of the Supreme Court, civil conflicts, international relations, and wars. As you’re studying your way through U.S. History, ask yourself:

● How did the government react to events?

● How and when did the leadership change?

● How were U.S. relationships with foreign governments affected?

You need to be armed with a reasonable idea of events and people in Congress and the Supreme Court. I give you a list of the ten most important Supreme Court decisions in Chapter 27.

Understanding the impact of economy

So, if big-dog leaders weren’t the historical be-all and end-all, what did shape the past? Ever go to work even when you didn’t want to, just to make money? Ever run after a sale to save some bucks or pass up something you wanted because it cost too much? Thinking about economics helps explain human behavior.

Economics led to the settlement of most of the United States. The settlers didn’t move inland from the Atlantic coast just so they could watch the birdies in the country. They needed rich land to farm so that they could make money and support their families. Many of them had left Europe because they were starving back home.

Before that, Britain’s annoying economic taxes pushed the colonists toward revolution. In the decades before the Civil War, the South hung on to slaves because each slave was worth as much as $50,000 in modern money, and slaves picked cotton, which was the basis of the Southern economy. In the 1930s, the Great Depression changed the politics of the country.

Economics includes prosperity, recessions, depressions (sometimes called panics in the past), taxes, tariffs on imported goods, inflation, corporate expansion, and profit incentives. Questions to ask as you read include

● How did economic fear or greed influence national politics?

● How did the nation’s economic health determine or shape historical events?

● How did sectional economic interests influence national decisions?

Social history

Social understanding has been the big winner in the new vision that influences modern history writing and (most important for us AP U.S. History fans) test design. The announced goal of the College Board is to make the big exam multiple-choice questions be

35 percent on political institutions and policy

40 percent on social history, including cultural developments

25 percent on economic and international relationships

This breakdown means that social history has taken over as the new focus of the AP U.S. History exam. Social history includes beliefs about religion, race, national origin, and the roles of men, women, and families. Social developments also include the influence of literature, science, art, and philosophy on events.

Questions to ask while you’re reading include

● How did the social structure change during this era?

● How did the choices people made demonstrate their cultural beliefs?

● What specific examples can you cite to show social beliefs?

● What role did religion play in the development of government and society during this era?

● Who were the major religious leaders and trends?

● How did the literature and art of this period reflect what was going on and shape what was about to happen?

Here are a few examples of the strong social currents in American life:

● The first permanent settlements in Massachusetts consisted of Pilgrims and Puritans, groups who made the dangerous voyage to the unknown New World for presumably religious, not economic, reasons. In fact, the Pilgrims’ original decision to leave Europe was as much social as religious: They had religious freedom in Holland, but they couldn’t stand the idea that their children were growing up Dutch. (See Chapter 8.)

● Perhaps the greatest example of the power of literature and social thought was the best-selling novel of the 1800s: Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The depictions of the evils of slavery in this book helped send hundreds of thousands of men off to fight and die in the Civil War. (See Chapter 13.)

● Sensationalized newspaper stories and pictures helped launch the U.S. into war with Spain in 1898. (See Chapter 15.)

● The Democratic Party’s increasing support of civil rights helped lead both to the loss of its traditional political hold on the South and to the fact that the Democrats managed to elect only one two-term president in the last half of the 1900s. (See Chapter 20.)

PES-ing your Way through multiple-choice and essays

Half the credit on the AP U.S. History test comes from 80 multiple-choice questions. Your score on this section depends on preparation and reasoning skill. You get preparation in Parts III and IV of this guide to back up the preparation you already have from your AP U.S. History course and/or study. You can beef up on your reasoning skills in Chapter 4.

The other half of the credit on the big test comes from just three essay questions. This section is where the CB separates the Jedi Masters from the guys who don’t know where to plug in their light sabers. Anybody can memorize facts; leaders are the people who can use those facts successfully. That’s where PES comes in.

No, PES isn’t a cute hard-candy dispenser, as fun as that may be. PES is the way of combining political, economic, and social information on an essay question to make test graders dispense high grades. Every essay needs to contain each of the three magic PES ingredients.

The good news is the same set of ideas that prepares you for multiple-choice glory can, if used wisely, set you up for essay success. You can find more about PES in Chapters 5 and 6.

How it all applies to the AP

Here’s a rundown of what you need to know about the Ultimate History Exam. After you understand what’s on the big test, you can use the Challenge Question and PES techniques to amp up your study sessions.

So, what can you find out about the test ahead of time? Every essay question the CB has ever asked is public knowledge, so your review can be informed by that comforting I-know-what-was-on-the-test-last-year feeling. You can find some of the questions that have been asked on multiple-choice sections over the years, but the CB has mostly kept that part of the test officially secret. No matter how you try to crack the big test, the College Board is a moving target — it changes questions every year. The best preparation is to set up in the direction the test is going and be prepared for a few surprise turns.

As you can see in the earlier section “Social history,” the breakdown of the multiple-choice questions are about 35 percent on political institutions and events, 40 percent on social developments, and the remaining 25 percent on economics and international relationships. You can count on the fact that the three essay questions you answer will contain all of the PES ingredients.

The time periods covered by the multiple-choice questions include

● 20 percent from the period between the American Indians and the ratification of the Constitution in 1789

● 45 percent from the period between Washington’s first government in 1790 and the outbreak of World War I in Europe in 1914

● 35 percent from the period between 1915 and the present.

Because the AP test writers know that most teachers don’t get through the whole history book by May, they usually go easy on asking questions about events that happened after 1980.

How the Exam Is Graded

Reality check time. You’re going to be taking the biggest single-subject test in the history of the CB in the not-so-distant future. The number of students taking AP tests increases every year; this year, about a third of a million students will take the AP U.S. History test.

Machines score the multiple-choice questions. No problem there; machines never make mistakes, unless of course the machine is your computer, crashing when you really need it. The essay questions, on the other hand, are hand-graded by History Readers. Each test contains three essays; 3 essays times 1/3 million test takers equals 1 million essays. Even if the CB manages to draft every teacher between here and Rattlesnake Junction as a History Reader, that still doesn’t leave enough time in the few weeks between test day and grades day to slowly savor each essay.

Your essays are going to be scanned by a very busy teacher, who will very quickly decide your grade fate. To make grading work for you, you have to figure out how to write essays that show key political, economic, and social (PES) points so clearly that a grader couldn’t miss them from a speeding train.

Plan from the beginning to make your essays look grader-friendly. Practice writing short

papers of about five paragraphs by using easily spotted key terms. Never guess at dates. You won’t lose points for using an approximate time period, but you’ll be marked down for trying to nail an exact year and getting it wrong. Your AP History teacher in school may help give — you feedback on your work. Study the examples in this book. Remember — less fluff and more key terms equals higher grades.

Score! What Does Your Grade Mean ?

It’d be great if you became an Oxford Pro History Guru, dropping in for lunch at the White House and giving the Nobel prize committee a laugh with your droll history wit. Failing that,

I want you to at least pass this darn test with a high enough score to get some college credit. AP U.S. History test results break down on the 5 point scale shown in Table 1-1.

Table 1-1

Average AP U.S. History Exam Scores



% Earning this Grade


Extremely well-qualified









Possibly qualified



No recommendation


So what grade do you need to get college credit? The answer is usually a 3 (qualified), unless you want to go to a selective school; then the answer is a 4 (well-qualified). A 5 gets you credit and a pat on the back anywhere in the galaxy and won’t hurt your chances of admission to a good school, either. Go to policy/index.jsp to find out what the magic score is at the college you crave.

Gee, look — just over half of the people who take this test are eligible for college credit at most schools. Of course they are; the CB curves the test every year to make it come out that way. So ask yourself, do you feel lucky? How many really smart kids are already into their sixth month of cramming for AP U.S. History, with Wilson’s 14 Points pinned to their lapel? How many dumb kids are hanging around the parking lot planning to wait for the last minute to study so it can be fresh in their well-ventilated minds? Can you be sure you’re above the middle of those packs?

How Much Time Do You Have to Prepare ?

Okay, so the test is in May. That gives you several months to prepare, right? Oops — your time is a little shorter than that? No problem. Every day, after you finish your high-school courses, extracurricular activities, jobs, chores, exercise, and attempts to have a social life, just devote three hours to a rigorous review of everything that ever happened in North America. Oops, again. Not going to happen, is it?

You think you've got it hard?

Students working toward a college education in medieval Europe were called bajanand had to have the top of their head shaved. After studying for a whole year (with no guarantee of admission), they gave a speech to the college. If the speech was good enough to get them in, they were washed clean from head to foot and paraded through town on a donkey.

Figure out your optimal study strategy by dividing the material in this AP U.S. History For Dummies book by the number of days you have to study before the test. If the answer comes out to one chapter a day over about a month left before the big test, make do with that. The secret is that you’re going beyond reading; you’re going to Challenge Question your way through U.S. history. (See Chapter 2 for more on the Challenge Question technique.) The following list gives you some more suggestions on how to proceed based on how much time you have:

● If you have more than a month, spend extra time with your high-school AP U.S. History teacher. Ask him for copies of past AP U.S. History exams and practice taking them. Use the Challenge Question study technique on your own high-school textbook. Check out some other AP History texts from the school library and Challenge Question your way through them.

● If you have less than a month before the killer exam, do a sample test from Part V. After you pick up the kinds of questions that will be on the test, apply them to the history information in Part III and Part IV, using the Challenge Question method described in Chapter 2. Mark the sections you’re weak on and go back and do the problems from those weak sections three times.

● If you have less than a week before the test, read the Cheat Sheet and pray. Concentrate the little time you have on reading about the most heavily tested period — 1800 to 1970. You’ll have to skip studying the 20 percent of the questions that don’t cover that period, but you may get lucky. You’re doing emergency salvage studying, and sacrifices are inevitable.

● If you’re first reading this book on the way to the exam, don’t make any marks in it; you may be able to give it as a gift. Practice breathing steadily through panic, which I discuss in Chapter 3, and trust that the time you spent watching the History Channel will pull you through.

Chapter 2

Wringing the Highest Score out of What You Know

In This Chapter

● Knowing what it takes to get to your college of choice

● Focusing on the most important historical topics

● Preparing for your test day

Of course you want to pass the AP U.S. History exam. To do that, you’re going to take a look inside the AP’s head. After you understand how the test makers think, you can begin to prepare for success on your big day with AP U.S. History. To set yourself up for success, first you have to get a clear shot at what a good grade on the AP looks like.

Grading the Way the AP Grades You

If the College Board (CB) got a grade from students on how well it runs its Advanced Placement tests, it would probably get an A-(see Chapter 1 for more on AP basics). The big exams are well-organized and contain interesting original thought, and you certainly have to give the CB props for grading 1 million U.S. History essays by hand in six weeks. But if you said A-, the CB wouldn’t know what you were talking about, because the AP deals in numbers rather than letters. The following sections explain what this scoring means, how it affects your college credit, and what impact certain scores have.

Converting letters to numbers

The CB talks in numbers. Most people know the famous range from flunky 200 to perfect 800 on the College Board’s SAT tests. For you nervous takers of the AP U.S. History exam, you can count the important numbers on one hand: The CB gives grades from 1 to 5.

How do those relate to the working alphabet world of most students: A, B, C, D, and F? And, while I’m on the subject, how come nobody ever gets an E? By sneakily checking the grades past AP U.S. History exam takers actually get in college, the CB sets AP Exam grade boundaries so that exams earning an AP grade of 5 are roughly equivalent to the average AP exam score of students who go on to earn college As. They get to peek, those crafty CBers! They then make sure the exam receiving an AP grade of 4 equals the average scores of those college students receiving Bs, and the lowest score corresponding to an AP grade of 3 equates to the average score of college students receiving Cs. About half of the students who take AP U.S. History exam get a grade of 3 or better.

So there you have it:

5 = college A 4 = B

3 = C 2 = D 1 = F

In general, you can never be too rich, too thin, or have too high an AP score. Besides actual college credit, an AP U.S. History score of 5 looks great on your college application. In most institutions, though, you can get college credit simply by doing as well on the AP exam as college students who get Cs in Intro U.S. History. And you won’t have a C on your college record; just a nice, satisfying notation that college credit is in the bank.

Nailing down a college's credit policy

Colleges are big institutions with impressive buildings and really smart people. You may be surprised, therefore, to hear that identifying the Advanced Placement credit policies of your favorite prospective colleges can be a little. . .well, slippery. The CB has wisely thrown up its hands at the prospect of keeping the shifting AP policies of America’s more than 4,000 colleges and universities all on one page. Although the CB stays out of the middle, it does help you look for the information yourself.

Go to to search for your school(s) of choice. Because links can get broken, you can also use a general search engine (such as Google), using terms like College Board and AP credit policy. When you’re on an AP Credit Policy search page, search by the names of the colleges you may attend. If you don’t see your college on the list the site returns, click “Next” in the lower right hand side of the college listing box. When you see the school you want, click on it. The College Board search engine will attempt to send you to the very page on the institution’s Web site that deals with AP credit.

The word “attempt” is appropriate because despite the valiant efforts of the good people at CB, some colleges have a hard time keeping links pointed to their AP credit policies. Some sites provide PDF files, which you must comb through to look for the AP needle in a regulation haystack. Some sites let you click around the bush, forcing you to guess which links they may be hiding AP information under. In one search I conducted, even Harvard greeted surfers with a hearty welcome to the incoming freshmen, without a word about the fate of these fine freshmen with AP Credit. (Here’s a tip: Don’t plan to major in Computer Science at any institution whose Web jump greets you with a “Page Expired” message!)

Perusing AP policies nationwide

Here are some college AP policies determined as of press time. Remember, these policies can change — your credit mileage may vary! The State University of New York (SUNY) gives credit for an AP Exam score of 3 Yale requires a 4, minimum. Although Notre Dame has subjects that require anywhere from 3 to 5 for credit, AP U.S. History requires a 4. Most state schools require a 3 — even the famous University of California at Berkeley. Stanford doesn't give AP credit for every subject, and one

of the subjects it disses is U.S. History. At Cornell, Syracuse, and the University of Arizona, U.S. History requires a 4. Brigham Young calls for a 3. U.S.C (3 minimum) and Washington University (4 minimum) have a special deal: Add one more point (to a 4 for U.S.C and a 5 for Wash U), and you get specific course credit. The University of Nevada at Las Vegas has a high-roller deal: You get three credits for a 3 and six credits for a 5

Advanced Placement in the year 0

Standardized testing for advancement in China started with the Han Dynasty, around the year 0. And, like an Oriental College Board, Chinese placement exams kept cranking out the grades for almost 2,000 years. Over the years, the tests included military strategy, civil law, revenue and taxation, agriculture and geography, and plenty of confusing Confucian religious classics. If you think the AP U.S. History test is hard, try taking it in Chinese characters!

Students studied for a year in tiny cells that contained two boards that they moved around to make either a bed or a desk. The actual tests took two days, but the 5 percent who passed each got great government jobs. Later, the Chinese standardized tests inspired Western nations, including the United States, to have civil service exams. One day in the 1900s, an education guy said, "Hey, we could invent the College Board and head whip students with Advance Placement tests!" Just be glad you don't have to move around boards to make a bed.

Even though it’s cumbersome, the College Board policy of jumping to the colleges’ Web sites to let them tell their AP credit stories is a good idea. If the CB tried to play nanny to all those sometimes-yes-but-maybe-no policies, everybody could get hurt. The person you for sure don’t want to get hurt on the way to a higher education is you. Nail down the policies of the schools you may want to attend. If you surf patiently around the college sites, you can usually find their AP policies hiding somewhere. Many times, thankfully, a college’s AP policy comes up right away in a nice, clear chart, the way the College Board dreamed it would.

If the high tech Internet doesn’t work for you, call the admissions office of the schools you’re interested in and ask them where you can find their AP policy in writing. You can get the phone numbers of your prospective colleges from your school advisor.

When you’re in the right place on the Net, make print out policy. Beware the colleges that

have no clear AP policy. Some backward schools seem to think AP stands for Aunt Polly. Only apply to schools that give you AP credit (see Chapter 1 to find out why). If you’re in the final strokes of choosing between two colleges, double-check to make sure each college’s AP — policy covers U.S. History.

Scoping Out What’s Going to Be on the Test

The AP U.S. History exam is a comprehensive monster composed of 80 multiple-choice questions and 3 essay questions. You have to face one big Document-Based Question (DBQ), where the CB shows you a bunch of original documents and you write about the sources plus the knowledge you (hopefully) possess about the events behind the sources. The other two essay questions come in two groups of two questions each; you get to choose one question from each group to answer. The exam is graded 50/50 between multiple-choice and essays.

Author and playwright Norman Mailer once said, “If I knew what inspiration was, I certainly wouldn’t tell you.” If I knew exactly what questions will be on your AP U.S. History test, I would have to be one of the six teachers on the AP U.S. History Development Committee — and even the teachers don’t know until the last minute. Also, if I knew and told, I’d have to go to teacher jail, where they don’t give recesses. And the CB Office of Testing Integrity — sort of like a testing FBI — would catch up with you and strip you of your crooked, unearned 5 score. You can’t have that!

But I can have a look at past tests to see what subjects tend to come up again and again and give you an idea based on professional observations. I can judge the trends by seeing the direction the big test is moving. You can also look at the announced subject material and

time-period proportions to help choose which baskets to put most of your studying eggs in. In the following sections, you get a look at AP U.S. History teaching priorities as outlined by the very folks who make up the test. In Chapter 3, I show you how to study the way the Test Masters recommend. You also discover how to find previous tests to help you prepare for this year’s AP challenge.

Don’t mess with AP Test security. These guys have a sense of humor comparable to Homeland Security when someone pops a balloon. Forbidden actions include discussing multiple-choice questions from the exam with anybody — even your AP teacher. You can talk about essay questions a day after the test (to make sure that test takers in all the time zones in the world are done writing). The CB doesn’t let you talk about multiple-choice questions period because it may use the questions again.

Acing the facts that mean the most

You can get a good grade — even a 5 — without having to correctly answer all the multiple-choice questions presented to you. In fact, if you get only half the multiple-choice points and score big on the essays, you can walk away with the top grade. That said, you really need to stock up on knowledge about social trends and movements, which is particularly useful for tying together essay responses. The good news is that this information also helps you answer multiple-choice questions.

The AP U.S. History exam is center-loaded, with a bias toward post-colonial history between 1800 and 1950. That doesn’t mean you should neglect the way-back and only-just-recently events; you have plenty of points to gain from these time periods as well. But as you review, put a special polish on the time periods with the most credit attached. According to the committee that designs the test, the questions break down as follows:

20 percent: Pre-Columbian era to 1789

45 percent: 1790 to 1914

35 percent: 1915 to the present

Historians have a natural aversion to recent events; when happenings are still news, many don’t consider them history yet. Sorting out the importance of recent events is difficult. For instance, Paris Hilton gets a lot of media coverage, but does that mean she belongs in the history books? Besides, getting too near the present can step on some still-sensitive political toes. Also, the AP test occurs in early May, and school often runs into June. Your friends at the College Board are kind enough to not test you on material you haven’t covered yet. So don’t spend much time on last year’s hot topics; the AP test probably doesn’t know they exist yet.

Why do the 300 years of early American history get less coverage than the 200 plus years after the birth of the United States as a nation? Well, this is U.S. History, and the U.S. didn’t exist before 1776. More important, history is what humans choose to save to tell us about themselves. Historians believe people can learn more about their present selves from studying, for example, the rise of democratic ideas in the 1800s than from analyzing cod-fishing stories from the 1600s. But don’t give up on that 20 percent of credit from before the Constitution; it’s not just fishing stories.

Syncing your mind with the big test

I’m sure you want to make a little visit inside the minds of the Exam Mavens — the people who make up the big AP test. But you’d probably get in trouble with the AP security goons, and the mind-melding machine isn’t quite ready yet anyway. Fortunately, the AP test bosses

are willing to identify how their thinking is balanced between continuous themes in U.S. History and time-ordered chronological event topics. Themes are social and economic trends that happen over time; events are political happenings like wars and elections that happen in one specific period.

Balance has been a big issue in the history field since the end of the bad old days of names-dates-and-places boring history. When the New History broke out of the egg in the 1960s, professors were so glad to be liberated that some of them went overboard; they stopped emphasizing event topics all together and just went in for social themes. This disparity led to students cheering when the rebels closed in on Lisbon in the Spanish Civil War, only to find out later that those were bad Fascist rebels. Names and dates came back, but they’re now brought to life by human social themes.

Today, the test writers still stress the social and cultural trends that underlie political events, but now it’s important to know how trends and events fit in time. Dates are the gallon-sized baggies that hold social trends and political events together. You don’t have to remember specific years, but you should have an idea of the decade in which trends and events unfolded.

The 80 multiple-choice questions that make up 50 percent of your score on the Big AP are a natural hang-out space for questions about hard and fast political events. It’s hard to fit the nuances of schools of painting into five-choice questions and relatively easy to ask multiple-choice questions about elections and wars. Even so, four out of ten multiple-choice questions will be about cultural trends rather than political events. (You can find more about multiple-choice questions in Chapter 4.)

The Document-Based Question (DBQ), worth 22.5 percent of your total score, is all about the social and economic trends illustrated by political events. You’ll be analyzing actual letters, pictures, and reports from a historic period and bringing in your own outside information to explain the era of the documents given to you. (More about answering the Document-Based Question is in Chapter 5.)

Two regular essay questions are each worth 13.75 percent of your overall score on the AP. These questions each require about a five paragraph essay. If your essays make a good argument using social, political, and economic happenings, you’re on your way to a high score. (You can discover more about creating teacher-friendly essays in Chapter 6.)

Don’t get too stressed by the difference between themes and topics, or by the definition of what’s social against what’s political history. Teachers can’t agree themselves, and you see a lot of overlap. If you get the names, meanings, and time periods down, you’ll do fine.

Digging the themes

Themes are the melody that runs through U.S. history. In the form of social or cultural history, these themes show up in 40 percent of the multiple-choice questions on the AP exam. Additionally, themes are the lifeblood of the essays. You can improve your score on that section of the exam by referencing at least two themes in every essay answer. Here, in alphabetical order, is a list of what the AP U.S. History Development Committee considers to be important themes in American History:

● American Diversity: The roles of class, ethnicity, race, and gender in the history of America. Discuss different groups in the United States and the relationships between them; this theme is about how groups in the United States are different.

● American Identity: What it means to be an American, as seen in different parts of the United States and different periods in history. Just what is the American national character, and how are Americans different from other people in the world? This is what teachers call American exceptionalism. You may think of American Identity as how groups in the United States are the same.

Part I: College Credit, Here I Come!

● Culture: What was popular and earth-shaking in different periods of U.S. history?

This category includes literature, art, philosophy, music, theater, television, and film. Culture is what you can tell about the real beliefs of the country from what people watch, read, and sing.

● Demographic Changes: The political, economic, and social effects of immigration and movements within the United States. It also covers the way marriage, birth, and death rates have changed. How many kids were in the average family? How long did people live? What was the overall population size and density? Counting people helps in understanding trends.

● Economic Transformations: The effects of business and personal financial incentives on the United States, including buying, selling, and the changes in business structure (from small store owners to big corporations). You can discuss the effects of labor unions and consumer movements. Basically, if you want to get a handle on why people do things, check out their bank accounts.

● Environment: How the expansion of the United States has affected the environment in different periods of history. What’s the impact of more people, the expansion of cities and suburbs, pollution, and industrialization? Mother Nature has limits that affect human history.

● Globalization: The relation of the United States to the rest of the world, from the first colonies in the 1500s to the present. This topic includes global leadership and dominance, colonialism, mercantilism, imperialism, development of markets, and cultural exchange. The United States isn’t an island, however much isolationists want to make it one.

● Politics and Citizenship: What Americans believe about their revolutionary past, the importance of democracy, and the development of the U.S. nation. What do citizenship and civil rights mean? Just what is the United States, and who really is an American?

● Reform: The movement for social change. U.S. history has seen issues like women’s rights, civil rights, anti slavery, education, labor, public health, temperance, gay rights, war, and government. It’s time for some changes; heck, it has always been time for some changes.

● Religion: The variety of religious experiences and practices in the United States, covering the time period from the American Indians to the Internet. What’s the influence of religion on economics, politics, and society? The way you view your deity and your purpose influences everything you do.

● Slavery and Its Legacies in North America: The meaning of slavery and other forms of forced labor (such as indentured servitude) in different periods of the nation’s development. Subthemes include the money behind slavery and its racial dimensions, movements of resistance, and the long-term political, economic, and social consequences of slavery. After all, many of the leaders who founded the United States had the time to talk about freedom because slaves were doing their work for them.

● War and Diplomacy: How armed fights changed the United States, from the time before Columbus to the early-21st century war on terrorism. Perhaps the United States is a peace-loving nation, but the fact remains that the nation has been involved in a war about once every 20 years.

Don’t get so caught up in the story of certain themes that you forget the decades in which they happened. You don’t have to know the exact years for themes, because most of them are continuous. However, you do need an idea of the development of trends, at least in ten-year periods. Abolition, for instance, was minor in the 1820s but huge in the 1850s. Also, it helps to root trend answers to the approximate year of key developments. For example, The Liberator was an important abolitionist newspaper founded by William Lloyd Garrison in 1831. This newspaper founding marks the beginning of the growth of abolition in the northern United States.

Catting out topics on the Cottege Board

Although the melody of historical themes makes for interesting understanding, historical events and topics still pay the rent when it comes to your overall AP exam score. Here are the important chronological event topics specified by the College Board in its U.S. History Course Description:

1. Pre-Columbian Societies: The first people who lived in the Americas. American Indian empires in the Southwest, Mesoamerica, and the Mississippi Valley. American Indian cultures of North America before the explorers arrived. Before Columbus sailed the ocean blue, for thousands of years American Indians lived true.

2. Transatlantic Encounters and Colonial Beginnings (1492-1690): Explorers meet the American Indians. Spain’s empire in North America. The English settle (perfect name) New England and most of the Mid-Atlantic and South regions, and the French set

up in Canada. Settlers arrive, sometimes with hope and sometimes in chains, in the Chesapeake region. Religious diversity leads to different American colonies. Early revolts against colonial authority: the Glorious Revolution, Bacon’s Rebellion, and the Pueblo Revolt. The colonists got off to a rocky start — fighting each other wasn’t too smart.

3. Colonial North America (1690-1754): How the population expanded with more immigration. Trade made the port cities like Boston and New York grow while farming expanded in the country. The impact of the Enlightenment and the First Great Awakening. How British and other colonial governments affected North America. Don’t forget, as much of American history passes before the Revolution as after it.

4. The American Revolutionary Era (1754-1789): The French and Indian War leads to the Imperial Crisis and fighting back against British rule. Next comes the U.S. Revolution, state constitutions and the Articles of Confederation, and the federal Constitution. Local freedom is going too slow; been great, Great Britain, but gotta go.

5. The Early Republic (1789-1815): Washington, Hamilton, and the building of a national government. Political parties begin with the Federalists and Republicans. The meaning of Republican Motherhood and education for women. Effects of Jefferson’s presidency. The Second Great Awakening. Settlers move into the Appalachian West. The growth of slavery and free black communities. American Indians fight back. The causes and outcomes of the War of 1812. It’s great to be free, but what will we be?

6. Transformation of the Economy and Society in Antebellum America: The United States settles down to raise a family. The start of industrialization and changes in social and class structures. How steamboats, trains, and canals created a national market economy. Immigration and reactions against it from nativists. Planters, independent farmers, and slaves in the South grow cotton.

7. Transformation of Politics in Antebellum America: The development of the second party system. Federal authority and the people who fought against it: judicial federalism, tariff controversy, the Bank of the U.S., and states’ rights debates. Jacksonian democracy increases popular government but has limitations. So, besides getting ready for the Civil War, what else did you do?

8. Religion, Reform, and Renaissance in Antebellum America: Shaking up what people believe. Evangelical Protestant revivals, ideals of home life, and social reforms. Transcendentalism and utopian communities. American growth in literature and art.

9. Territorial Expansion and Manifest Destiny: Moving on West and stepping on some toes. Americans push American Indians across the Mississippi river to the West. The United States adds new territory, Western migration and cultural changes, and the beginning of U.S. imperialism and the Mexican War.

10. The Crisis of the Union: Oops, couldn’t keep that slavery thing in the closet forever. Slaveholder-versus-antislavery arguments and conflicts, the Compromise of 1850 and popular sovereignty, and The Kansas-Nebraska Act. The emergence of the Republican Party, the election of 1860, Abraham Lincoln, and the South leaves the Union.

11. Civil War: Fighting for the soul of America. North-and-South societies are at war. Resources, mobilization, and internal disagreement. Military strategies and foreign diplomacy. The role of blacks in the war. Emancipation. The social, political, and economic effects of war in the North, South, and West.

12. Reconstruction: The Civil War was a serious operation; it took a while to recover.

The plans of Lincoln and Andrew Johnson versus Radical Reconstruction. Southern state governments: goals, achievements, and shortcomings. The role of blacks in politics, education, and the economy. The outcome of Reconstruction. The end in the Compromise of 1877.

13. The Origins of the New South: Okay, no slavery; what’s Plan B? Retooling Southern agriculture: sharecropping and crop-lien systems replace slavery. The expansion of manufacturing plants and business. The politics of segregation: race separation,

Jim Crow, and disenfranchisement.

14. Development of the West in the Late 19th Century: Meanwhile, back on the ranch, the natives are restless. Rivals for the West: miners, homesteaders, ranchers, and American Indians. Building the Western railroads. Government policy toward American Indians. Men and women, race, and ethnicity in the far West. What Western settlement did to the environment.

15. Industrial America in the Late 19th Century: The money is talking, and people are walking into the future. How corporations took over industry. The effects of technology on the worker and workplace. National politics and the growing influence of corporate power. Labor and unions. Migration and immigration: the changing demographics of the nation. Fans and foes of the new order, including Social Darwinism and the Social Gospel.

16. Urban Society in the Late 19th Century: Like the old adage says, “The city makes free.” City growth and machine politics. Urbanization and the lure of the city, intellectual and popular entertainment, and cultural movements.

17. Populism and Progressivism: So we’re making money and having fun, but what do we stand for? Farmer revolts and issues in the late 19th century. Roosevelt, Taft, and Wilson as Progressive presidents. The beginnings of municipal, state, and national Progressive reform. Women’s roles in the family, politics, the workplace, education, and reform.

Black America: city migration and civil-rights initiatives.

18. The Emergence of America as a World Power: The United States becomes a big dog. U.S. imperialism grows with political and economic expansion. The beginning of WWI in Europe and American neutrality, WWI at home and abroad, and the Treaty of Versailles. Society and economy in the postwar years.

19. The New Era (1920s): Everything old is new again. The consumer economy and the business of America. Republican presidents Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover. Modernism: the culture of science, the arts, and entertainment. Responses to modernism: nativism, religious fundamentalism, and Prohibition. The ongoing struggle for equality: blacks and women.

20. The Great Depression and the New Deal: A bummer of a time, but we’ll get through it together. What created the Great Depression? The Hoover administration tries to do something. FDR and the New Deal. The New Deal coalition and its critics. Labor and union recognition. Living through hard times: American society during the Great Depression.

21. World War II: The “greatest generation” fights the good war. The rapid growth of fascism and militarism in Italy, Japan, and Germany. America’s policy of neutrality. The attack on Pearl Harbor and the U.S.’ declaration of war. Diplomacy, war aims, and wartime conferences. Fighting a multifront war. The United States as a global power in the Atomic Age.

22. The Home Front during the War: While you were out kicking some Axis butt, things changed at home. The mobilization of the economy for World War II. Women, work, and family during the war. City migration and demographic changes. Reduced liberties and civil rights during wartime. War and regional development. The expansion of government power.

23. The United States and the Early Cold War: Is it just me, or did things get really cold in here? The beginning of the Cold War. Truman’s policy of containment. Strategies and policies of the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations. The Cold War in Asia: China, Korea, Vietnam, and Japan. The Red Scare and McCarthyism. The impact of the Cold War on American society.

24. The 1950s: Creating all those high schools, roads, and baby boomers. The beginning of the modern civil rights movement. The affluent society and “the other America.” Agreement and conformity in the suburbs and middle-class America. Nonconformists, cultural rebels, and critics. The impact of changes in technology, science, and medicine.

25. The Turbulent 1960s: It’s a political demonstration at the love-in! Moving from the New Frontier to the Great Society. Developing movements for civil rights. Cold War confrontations in Latin America, Asia, and Europe. The beginning of detente. Hippies, the antiwar movement, and the counterculture.

26. Politics and Economics at the End of the 20th Century: America moves right. Nixon wins in 1968 with the Silent Majority. Nixon’s challenges: China, Vietnam, and Watergate. Changes in the American economy: deindustrialization, the energy crisis, and the service economy. The New Right and the Reagan revolution. The end of the Cold War.

27. Society and Culture at the End of the 20th Century: America sees the social realities of being a rich nation. The changing face of America: surge of immigration after 1965, Sunbelt migration, and the graying and tanning of America. New developments in biotechnology, mass communication, and computers. A multicultural society faces the future.

28. The United States in the Post-Cold War World: Get ready for the future; it’s starting right now. The American economy faces globalization. Unilateralism versus multilateralism in foreign policy. Home-grown and foreign terrorism. Environmental issues that affect the whole world.

Getting Ready for the Big Day

As test day gets closer, make the most of the time you have. Although you’d ideally be reading this on a calm day months before the test, chances are you’re getting close to crunch time. Here’s how to spend the precious time you have profitably.

Say you have only a month to go before the exam that spans the centuries. Now more than ever, paying attention to your schedule and timing determines your success. Here are a few basic tips to get you started:

● Be true to your school; stick with the AP History review your teacher has planned for you.

● Work your way through this book like you do your school review — a little each day.

● Plan a time to study that you can stick to. A lot of brainiacs spend a little time studying at night before they crash and a little time first thing in the morning while the bagels are toasting. That way, you can sleep on the information and double-check it in the morning with a clear mind.

At some time during this month, the age-old dilemma of “Study or a show?” will arise. Before you jump in the car, remember that you’re on a mission for college credit. You can be saving a whole college course by getting a good score on the AP, and the college course you can avoid would otherwise have cost you and your dear parents thousands of dollars. And just think about how much better it’ll be to party later with advanced credit (and money) under your belt. Meanwhile, do something you like that goes well with studying. Perhaps you can take a lovely run in the park or treat yourself with some double-good premium ice cream!

The following sections show you how to creep up on the AP with preparation so complete that the actual exam will come as naturally as opening a candy bar in the dark.

Building a winning study strategy

Yes, it’s a bummer that you have to study. Studying is work, but hey, you get paid with grades. Think of it like you’re working in sales on commission; the harder you work (study), the more money you make (the more college credit you get). Given the harsh realities, you should make it as fun and easy as possible by turbocharging your study time with a few choice moves.

How much should you study? That depends; how smart are you? Despite what you’ve heard or read and all the head banging you’ve done in school, smart doesn’t mean good, brave, or even successful in the world. Henry Ford could barely remember the capital of his own state, but he built an industrial empire. You, my friend, have some facts to remember to get through the big test, but they should be facts that you know how to use — not just rote memory pop-ups.

The following list presents some tips to help you set up your studying schedule and strategies in order to maximize your strengths (and your grade):

● Even within the field of intelligence, there are different kinds of smart. Some people can photocopy facts in their head; you can call them Copy Machines. Some folks may not be able to remember facts as well, but they can write essays like Shakespeare. You have the kind of intelligence that The Force gave you, but you also can build up smarts through exercise — just like muscles at the gym. On the AP exam, you’ll need to be a Copy Machine and a Shakespeare, so you need to study based on your strengths and weaknesses. If you’re good on multiple-choice, you have your Copy Machine running strong. If you’re shaky on essays, you want to work on your inner Shakespeare.

● Study enough to know the themes and topics outlined in the earlier section “Syncing your mind with the big test.” That college course you can avoid by getting AP credit would’ve taken at least seven hours a week out of your life. It seems reasonable, therefore, to study an hour a day for the AP U.S. History exam — more if you have a thick head for facts, and less if you can already ace through the tests in Part V of this book.

● Studying should never be just reading; it should be work with a pencil in your hand. Write on this book; your kid brother can buy another when his time comes (Wiley would like that!). If you can’t write in your school textbooks, mark key passages with sticky notes.

Only highlight the most important parts (say, for example, the icon information); if you use the highlighter to turn the whole book yellow, you’re just coloring, not studying.

● Make lists of key events and themes and write out their definitions and years (perhaps on notecards). Always quiz yourself. What was the first state to permanently allow women to vote? (Wyoming in 1869.) Who was the guy who took over after Lincoln? (Andrew Johnson in 1865.) When was the Constitution ratified? (1789.) What was the big deal about the Second Great Awakening? (It renewed personal salvation with ties to church and social reform — 1800 to 1830s.)

If you find an error or have any questions, please email us at Thank you!