How to Master Multiple Choice Questions on the AP U.S. History Exam

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Alexandra Lutz

Alexandra has taught students at every age level from pre-school through adult. She has a BSEd in English Education.

Are you ready to take the AP U.S. History exam? In this lesson, you'll learn about recent revisions, plus some tips and tricks to help you master the multiple-choice items and maximize your score.

Master the AP U.S. History Exam

United States history is one of the most popular Advanced Placement exams. It's a three plus hour exam with two main parts. Half of your points come from several essay-type questions; the other half of your points come in the form of 80 multiple-choice items. But, just because you're familiar with the question format doesn't mean you can waltz in without any preparation! Let's look at some strategies to help you master the multiple-choice section of your AP U.S. history exam.

Of course, there is no substitute for knowing the information. Nearly half of all questions cover the time frame between the Constitution and WWI, so you can focus the majority of your preparation on that period. And typically, there have been very few questions covering 1972 through the present. It's also good to know that three-quarters of the multiple-choice questions cover the themes of 'social and cultural developments' and 'political institutions, behavior and public policy.'

The exam places less emphasis on specific facts and more on the application of historical thinking skills or the connection of individual events to broader historical themes. For example, instead of asking you, 'What was decided in Plessy v. Ferguson?' (which is just factual recall), the exam might ask you, 'How was Plessy v. Ferguson similar to Korematsu v. United States?' (which requires factual knowledge and the ability to analyze the similarities between two separate events).

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Coming up next: How to Master the Document-Based Essay Question on the AP U.S. History Exam

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  • 0:01 Master the AP U.S.…
  • 1:43 Characteristics of the AP Exam
  • 3:02 The First Read-Through
  • 5:13 The Second Read-Through
  • 6:33 Before You Go
  • 7:16 Summary
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Characteristics of the AP Exam

Multiple-choice items have a prompt and five answer choices. You will have 80 items to complete in 55 minutes; that gives you roughly 40 seconds for each question. However, the multiple-choice section becomes increasingly more difficult, so you're going to need more time for questions at the end of the section than you will at the beginning. Keep an eye on your time; pace yourself, and make sure you have completed at least half the items after 25 minutes have passed. Also, questions on the AP exam are not necessarily chronological, so you can't depend on that progression to help you eliminate incorrect answers.

As for the answer sheet itself, it's a generic form with more than the 80 ovals you need for the U.S. history exam. So, double-check your numbers often to make sure you're in the right spot!

Finally, your score depends on how many items you answer correctly; as of 2011, you are not penalized for incorrect answers. Never leave a multiple-choice item blank on an AP exam. If you don't know, guess! Later on, we'll talk about some tips to help you make a better guess.

The First Read-Through

You should plan on going through the exam at least twice. On your first pass, read through each question carefully. If you have absolutely no idea what the question is about, skip it. You don't have time to waste thinking about a topic you know you haven't studied. It's perfectly fine to write in your test booklet, so mark it clearly and move on.

If you're familiar with the content of a question but aren't certain of the answer, cross out answer choices you know are wrong before you mark the item in the test book and move on; that will save you time when you come back to it. You also might want to skip time-consuming questions on the first read-through, such as those with charts or graphs.

Every question is worth the same amount of points, so it isn't worth using up several minutes to figure out one question if it means you'll run out of time to answer four or five others. Just mark it and move on.

As you read the prompts, mark-up key words to help you focus your attention on the correct answer choice and avoid careless mistakes. Many of the answer choices on an AP exam may be true statements, but only one is the best response to the question being asked. For example:

example multiple choice question

This prompt has three key points: turn of the 20th century, female and started. Women worked in all these movements, but the only one started around the turn of the century was the settlement house movement.

Be especially careful with prompts that are worded negatively. For example, 'All of the following were contributing factors to the Great Depression except…' If you just skim the prompt, you might choose the first option that matches your knowledge and get the question wrong.

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