Ap U.S.History Essays

Average AP US History Score

Are you wondering if the AP US History Exam is difficult? Perhaps you are looking to take an AP class and wanted to know what the average score was on the AP US History Exam. Maybe you are sitting in your AP US History class now and are wondering what the chances are you can get a five on the exam. Or possibly you have just taken the exam and are want to know how you might stack up against your peers. Whatever the reason you are reading this article, your ultimate goal is to pass the exam so you may earn college credit.

This article will explore the AP US History exam process, let you know the average score on the AP US History Exam, and explain what a good score means to you and your future academic goals.

Let’s begin by looking at the results of past APUSH exams. This information will give you an idea of how hard past exams were, how many students passed the exam with a three or better, and perhaps an insight into your chances of getting one of those fours or fives, which will help you attain your goal of receiving college credit.

The chart below contains the CollegeBoard’s 2011 to 2016 historical performance data and score trends on the AP US History Exam.


What useful information can you take from this chart on past exams? The number of fives has ranged from a low of 9.4% in 2015 and a high of 11.9% in 2016. The mean score for the exam has remained steady as well, only deviating less than 10% from the six-year high and low, except the mean score of 2.64 in 2015. We will discuss later why the scores from the 2015 exam were statistically lower than other years.

As you can see, the AP US History exam is a challenging exam where nearly 50% of all students who take the exam do not receive a passing score. That means only half the students who take the exam get a pass mark of three or better and there are only four other AP exams that have a lower passing percentage. But don’t despair! That has not stopped nearly 500,000 students from taking the APUSH exam in 2016. Only the AP English Language course had more students take the AP exam in last year.

We can help put you on the right track with tips on passing the APUSH exam.

Odd Trends

You may wonder why the scores on the 2015 APUSH exam are lower than other years’ scores. A major reason may be that in July of 2015, the CollegeBoard released a new edition of the APUSH Course and Exam Description (CED). The 2014 edition the CED sparked massive public recourse of all the stakeholders on the teaching of US History. The 2015 version of the CED included improvements to the language and structure of the course. The APUSH Exam was also redesigned for the 2014-2015 school year. More emphasis was placed on historical thinking skills and students’ ability to analyze primary documents and write lengthy essays.

As you can see in the chart, the 2016 scores rebounded to their highest levels in years indicating that both students and teachers were more comfortable with the redesigned course and the improvements in the curriculum were warranted.

Since AP courses and exams are designed to be on par with college-level courses, you do need to put in the time and effort to succeed. The average AP US History score is not the whole story. Your strengths and weakness will play a big part in how well you do on the exam.

What’s a Good Score on the AP US History Exam?

All AP exams use the 1 – 5 grading scale. Even though there is a standard score for all AP exams, courses do have different passing rates. For example, earning a five on the AP US History Exam (11.9% of students received a five in 2016) can be viewed in a different light than a five on the AP Chinese Language exam (93.7% of students earned a five in 2016). That does not necessarily mean that the APUSH exam is harder and the AP Chinese Language Exam is easy. You have to look at the number of students who took the exam, their proficiency, and their background going into the exam to see the big picture.

Other factors play a big part in what is considered a good score on the AP US History Exam. One of those factors is what score will get you college credit at the school you plan on attending. Those standards are set by the CollegeBoard and the educational institution. To help you evaluate your desires and standing, you must understand AP test scores through four criteria:

CollegeBoard Score Definitions

Let’s begin by looking at the CollegeBoard scoring standards so we can understand the difference between AP scores. The Board provides a definition for each of the five scores based on how qualified you are to earn college credit.

One – This is the lowest score on an AP exam and reflects little knowledge of the material, little to no preparation, or perhaps you had complications during the examination itself. The Board offers “no recommendation” on this score and no college will accept an AP score of one.

Two – This score is below pass mark but shows potential to pass a college Human Geography course of similar design and content – but doesn’t get you college credit. Again, a possible bad test-day may explain this score for some. The Board places a value of “possibly qualified” to pass a college course of the same level on this score.

Three – This is the most common score on AP exams as a whole. A score of three moves you to the “qualified” bar, which reflects both your adequate understanding of the course materials and your average chances for passing a similar college course. A three gets you college credit at many colleges.

Four – A four indicates hard study, a good understanding of the course, and high performance on the exam. This score may also show strong essay writing and good multiple-choice answering skills. The CollegeBoard deems you “well qualified”, translating to a B grade.

Five – You aced the exam and earned the highest score! This score means you are “extremely qualified”, and all colleges will give you credit for your AP US History course.

Relative to other Test Takers

To give you a perspective of where you fit with other test takers, you can compare your score with their scores in a particular year. For example, if you were among the 22.5% of the 489,291 who earned a three on the 2016 exam, you would be in the group of only half of those who took the exam to pass and should feel good about that. It is not possible to determine exactly why only about 50% of students who take the AP US History Exam pass, but the best-proven method of getting a good score is through your efforts and time spent in preparing for the exam and not the difficulty of the exam.

Based on College Credit Acceptance

Your score as a pathway to college credits depends on the college you plan on attending and your desired major. Some colleges accept only AP scores of four and five while others give credit for scores of three and higher. Each institution, and sometimes each department of a school, deal with AP scores differently. That means that an AP score of four may be good enough in the geography department for credit but not so in the chemistry department.

For example, the Kutztown University, in Kutztown, Pennsylvania accepts an AP US History exam score of three and awards you three college credits applied to the freshman level history course. However, if you score a four on the APUSH exam, you will earn six credit. Depending on what your major is, AP US History may count towards your major or towards the general education requirements for your degree.

Not all institutions accept a three on the AP US History exam for credit, but more elite colleges take fours at a minimum, and fives earn credit at almost any college or university. So you can see that your school choice counts critically in your assessment. Check the AP credit database to find out the criteria for AP scores for your dream school.

Based on Helpfulness in College Applications

Having AP exam fours and fives look great on your college application and are likely to attract the attention to college admissions officers. Having said that, passing the AP US History Exam looks good on your high school transcript regardless of your score. Passing AP courses show your ability to complete college-level coursework which you learned well enough to pass the class. Don’t forget the AP Scholar award that is given to high scorers on multiple AP exams. This will certainly stand out on your college application.

How is the AP US History Exam Graded?

The AP US History Exam contains two parts that will allow the AP graders to assess your knowledge of the historical content contained in the AP US History course. You will have to use the historical thinking skills that you developed in the course to successfully navigate both parts of the exam. Your performance on the exam will be compiled and weighted to determine your AP Exam score (1 to 5).

% of Total Exam ScoreTiming# of QuestionsQuestions TypeSection
40%55 minutes55Part A: Multiple Choice

– Questions appear in sets of 2 to 5

– You will analyze historical texts, interpretations, and evidence

– Primary and secondary sources,
images, graphs, and maps are

20%40 minutes4Part B: Short-Answer Questions (SAQs)

– Questions provide opportunities
for you to explain the
historical examples that you know

– Some questions include texts, images, graphs, or maps

25%55 Minutes (includes 15-minute reading period)1Part A: Document-Based Question (DBQ)

– You will Analyze and synthesize
historical data

– You will assess written, quantitative, or visual materials as
historical evidence

15%35 minutes1 (chosen from a pair)Part B: Long Essay Question (LEQ)

– You can select one question among the
two given

– You will explain and analyze
significant issues in world history

– You will develop an argument
supported by an analysis of historical

The first part of the exam (Section I, Part A) consists of multiple-choice questions that will test your content knowledge by analyzing and interpreting primary and secondary sources. Section I also contains a series of short answer questions (Part B) and will address one or more of the course themes.

The second part of the AP US History Exam contains the document-based question (DBQ) and long essay questions (LEQ). These questions will ask you to demonstrate historical content knowledge and thinking skills through written responses. It may be helpful for you to go back and review the scoring rubrics. The rubrics are a great way to see how the CollegeBoard grades your essay questions.

All written parts of the exam (SAQs, DBQ, and LEQ) make up the general concept of the AP US History Free Response Questions (FRQs).

Multiple-Choice Questions

You are given 55 minutes to answer 55 multiple choice questions, so use your time wisely. The questions are divided into sets of two to five questions. Your score on the multiple-choice questions is based on the total number of questions you answered correctly. If you do not know the answer, you should definitely take a guess because there is no penalty for guessing.

Short-Answer Questions (four questions)

SAQs will address one or more of themes of the course. You will have to use your historical thinking skills to respond to primary and secondary sources, a historian’s argument, non-textual sources (maps or charts), or general suggestions about world history. Each question will ask you to identify and explore examples of historical evidence relevant to the source or question.

Scoring – you will receive 0 – 3 points for each of the four SAQs. Most of the questions will have you provide examples of historical evidence related to the question. You are not expected to develop a thesis in the SAQs. Your score will depend on if you accomplished none or all pf the tasks set out by the question.

Document-Based Question (one question)

The DBQ measures your ability to analyze and integrate historical data and to assess verbal, quantitative, or visual evidence. Your responses will be judged on your ability to formulate a thesis and back it up with relevant evidence. The documents included in the DBQ can vary in length and format, and the question content can include charts, graphs, cartoons, and pictures, as well as written materials.

You are expected to be able to assess the value of different kinds of documents, and you’ll be required to relate the material to a historical period or theme, thus focusing on major periods and issues. Therefore, it is crucial to have knowledge beyond the particular focus of the question and to incorporate it into your essay to get the highest score.

Scoring – you will receive a maximum of 7 points for the DBQ. Each point is earned independently, and unique evidence is required for you to earn each point. How can you get that seven on the APUSH DBQ – The Ultimate Guide to the 2016 AP US History DBQs.

Long Essay Question (one, chosen from a pair)

You are given a chance to show what you know best on the LEQs by having a choice between two long essay options. The LEQs will measure how you use your historical thinking skills to explain and analyze significant issues in the US history themes from the course. Your essays must include a central issue or argument that you need to support by evaluating specific and relevant historical evidence. You’ll be using specific in-depth examples of large-scale events taken from the course or classroom discussion.

Scoring – there is a maximum of 6 points available for the LEQ. The same method of scoring that was used for the DBQ applies for the LEQ as well. Each point is earned independently and the evidence you present must be targeted to the historical thinking skills that the AP graders are looking for in your essay. What is the best approach to the LEQs?Read The Ultimate Guide to the 2016 AP US History LEQ to find out.

Historical Thinking Skills

You may have noticed that we have mentioned historical thinking skills a few times. The APUSH exam FRQs are graded using rubrics designed around those skills. Read The 5 Most Important Thinking Skills for the AP US History Test to get a targeted review of the most important of those thinking skills.

What’s the Best Way to Prepare for the AP US History Exam?

Have a Study Plan – Studying for the AP US History Exam can seem overwhelming because of the sheer volume of the material covered in the course. You should figure out how you learn best and execute that plan from the start. This study plan should begin in the fall and take you all the way up to the exam in May.

One way is to study what you learned last and work your way back to the beginning. You may learn best chronologically so you might want to take the approach of studying from the beginning to the most recent material covered. All of these methods have merit, but you will have to determine what approach works for your learning style and helps you feel prepared for the exam.

Know what will be on the Exam

The next step to preparing for AP US History Exam is to make sure you have a list of all of the key concepts from the nine historical periods covered in the class. These concepts are found in the AP US History Course and Exam Description. You should review the course and honestly assess your comfort level with each of the key concepts. This will give you a realistic picture of your strengths and weakness, so you know where to put your efforts in your AP US History study plan.

See what has been Tested on in the Past

The third tip for getting ready for the APUSH exam is to research what the CollegeBoard has emphasized on previous exams. The AP US History Exam Page lets you go back and see all of the past free-response questions as well as scoring guidelines, sample responses and commentary, and score distributions. You can use these resources to assess your ability to answer AP US free-response questions. Practice with actual test questions, compare your responses with student responses, and then find out what your score would be.

Explore All of Your Options

There are many online resources that you may use to supplement this guide on approaching the AP US History Exam. You can find helpful tips on all aspects of APUSH test prep. You will know going into your study plan what you will need the most help with so you can target your search to help you find ways to strengthen those areas and make sure that you are ready for the exam when May rolls around.

Do you have to have a book in your hand to learn and want to know what’s the best AP US History exam prep guide? Albert has that resource too Read The Best AP US History Review Books of 2017.

Wrapping it up

The more ways you can approach your exam preparation, the better. But the key is to have a study plan and stick to it. For the free-response questions, we can’t stress this enough – practice as much as you can because 60% of your total score comes from the FRQs. You will find that you will look forward to the time when you can sit down and take the APUSH exam with confidence to get the score that you dreamed of.

Looking for AP US History practice?

Kickstart your AP US History prep with Albert. Start your AP exam prep today.

The APUSH long essay is worth 15% of your entire score. To get the coveted 5 on the exam, you’re going to need to write a solid APUSH long essay. Start by reading through the two prompt options, and choose the one you feel more confident in writing about. The prompts fall into 4 categories:

  1. Patterns of connectivity (argue whether history changed or remained the same)
  2. Compare and contrast
  3. Causation
  4. Periodization

No matter which type of essay you face, here are 4 steps to help you write a good APUSH long essay.

Focus on Writing a Solid Thesis

Your thesis is the most important part. It’s going to set up the entire essay. It’s also the first thing that the grader is going to see, so start with a strong thesis!

Your introductory paragraph should be about 2-5 sentences in length. Start with a hook before including your thesis. Your thesis should be original. Don’t just copy the question prompt!

Make sure that your thesis contains the following three things:

  • Your stance (or answer) to the prompt
  • A counterargument to address
  • The 3 strongest supporting points for your thesis

Describe and Explain Your Supporting Points

To support your thesis, you need three specific examples. If you’re having a hard time coming up with examples, think about PERSIA: political, economic, religious, social, intellectual, and artistic.

Describe each example as much as possible. Then, don’t forget to reflect back to the thesis. This is the most important part, so spend plenty of time circling back to the thesis for each point.

Make Connections

When writing the body paragraphs, try to connect to events from different time periods, geographical areas, and themes whenever possible. Making connections is especially important when it comes to the rebuttal for your argument.

Synthesis across history is important to show that you have a deep understanding of U.S. history and that you’ve developed the historical thinking skills you need.

Don’t Forget the Conclusion

Some people skip over the conclusion. With only 35 minutes to write a polished essay, they would rather spend time developing the introductory and body paragraphs.

However, if you’ve practiced your timing for the APUSH long essay, you should have a few extra minutes for a conclusion. The conclusion should restate your thesis and strongest points in different words.

You’ve spent the entire school year preparing for your APUSH long essay. You’ve studied the concepts and themes. You have the information that you need to write a 6-worthy essay. Follow these tips as you practice writing APUSH long essays, so you can practice crafting these essays within the 35-minute time period. The more you practice, the better prepared you’ll be to write your essay on exam day.

About Jamie Goodwin

Jamie graduated from Brigham Young University- Idaho with a degree in English Education. She spent several years teaching and tutoring students at the elementary, high school, and college level. She currently works as a contract writer and curriculum developer for online education courses. In her free time, she enjoys running and spending time with her boys!

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