How to Approach Each Question Type on the AP U.S. History Exam
If you are presently enrolled in an AP U.S. History class you have undoubtedly already taken a large number of multiple-choice tests. In all probability, your teacher will give you plenty of practice on these as the year progresses. Remember, you will have 55 minutes to complete 80 questions. This does not give you a lot of time to “ponder” each question.
All questions on the test will have fi ve possible answers. The following question follows the format of many questions on the exam:
1. America during the Great Depression experienced
A. severe drought across the vast majority of the country
B. a vast increase in the number of Americans opposed to the policies of Franklin Roosevelt
C. widespread unemployment in both urban and rural sectors
D. increased employment possibilities for women and blacks
E. an increased sense of militarism
Look familiar? It should! You may also have questions on your exam asking you to interpret a political cartoon or a graph. To answer these, rely on the social studies skills you have developed from all of your social studies courses.
Many students maintain that the hardest type of questions encountered on the exam are the “which of the following is not correct” kind. Here is an example:
2. All of the following are true about Americans during the Great Depression except
A. Americans were put to work by programs such as the W.P.A.
B. American saw an increase in the power of labor unions through acts such as the Wagner Act.
C. By the end of the decade, many Americans favored the policies of Father Coughlin and Charles Townshend.
D. The majority of Americans rejected socialist solutions to the problems of the Great Depression.
E. The majority of Americans favored the programs of the New Deal.
Some Useful Hints on the Multiple-Choice Section
• Guessing: The most commonly asked question about this section is whether or not to guess if you are not completely sure of a question. If you can eliminate at least one of the answers as defi nitely wrong, the answer is: absolutely guess! As the College Board notes in a recent publication on the AP U.S. History test:
Many candidates wonder whether or not to guess the answers to questions about which they are not certain. In this section of the examination, as a correction for haphazard guessing, one-fourth of the number of questions you answer incorrectly will be subtracted from the number of questions you answer correctly. It is improbable, therefore, that mere guessing will improve your score signifi cantly; it may even lower your score, and it does take time. If, however, you are not sure of the best answer but have some knowledge of the question and are able to eliminate one or more answer choices as wrong, your chance of getting the right answer is improved, and it may be to your advantage to answer such a question.
• If you think the questions are getting harder, you are right! The questions on this exam are linked in a predictable format. Usually, they are bunched in groups of nine to twelve questions (occasionally eight to twelve). Each group of questions follows a chronological pattern: the fi rst question is on an early period in American history, while the last question is the closest to the present day. Each group of questions is harder than the group before it. Now that you know this, don’t get thrown by it!
• There may be more than one “possibly right answer”: The directions ask you to “select the one that is best in each case.” Get rid of the one or two responses that are obviously incorrect, and focus on the others. For example:
3. Which of the following was not a major infl uence on American youth in the late 1960s?
A. Rock and roll music as popularized through AM and FM radio.
B. The works of novelists of the Beat Generation such as Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs.
C. The continued infl uenced of the anti-communist movement championed by Joseph McCarthy.
D. Television shows specifi cally designed for the teen audience, such as American Bandstand.
E. Films, novels, and songs that contained anti-establishment themes.
So, what do you think the right answer is? Let’s eliminate the obvious choices: Rock music and popular culture with anti-establishment themes were generally popular with teenagers, so throw out A and E. B, C, and D all might be correct. Yet there were still some kids who read the Beats in the 1960s, and shows like American Bandstand still appealed to the “teenybopper” set. Therefore, the “best” answer would be C.
• Memorizing the facts is NOT enough: Although this is what 50–55 questions on the test will ask you to do, the other questions require some degree of analysis. For example:
4. The most accurate assessment of the Reconstruction era would be
A. a period when many of the tensions leading up to the Civil War ended
B. a period when southern blacks achieved racial equality throughout the South
C. a period when former abolitionists from the north were generally welcomed by southern whites
D. a period when southern economic growth increased dramatically
E. a period when the postwar ideals of Abraham Lincoln were only partially realized
E is the correct answer. To answer this question you need to be able to categorize the entire era of the Reconstruction.
• Don’t overlook the obvious: Questions on the AP U.S. History test emphasize the major themes, events, trends, and people in United States history. Don’t overthink the question. If you think an answer is so obvious that it has to be right, it probably is! The correct answer on this section of the test will probably not be some weird oddity of American history.
• Use a good pencil with a good eraser: I know this may seem a little far-fetched, but I have a colleague who is convinced that this is an approach to be emphasized. He maintains that many students get marked off because they don’t entirely fi ll in the bubbles or totally erase when they change their answers. He claims to have proof of this. He is so convinced of this that I thought I would pass this on.
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