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AP U.S. History Past Exam Questions

Free-Response Questions

Below are free-response questions from AP U.S. History Exams administered before the course and exam were initially redesigned in 2014-15.

If you require an accessible version of any documents on this page, please email We will respond to your email within 3 business days.

Looking for free-response questions and scoring information from the 2015 exam and later? Visit The AP U.S. History Exam. See also: AP U.S. History Document-Based Questions, 1973-1999 (.pdf/32.2MB)

AP U.S. History Document-Based Questions, 1973-1999

Note about “Form B” Exams

Prior to the May 2012 exam administration, for selected AP subjects, another version of the exam called “Form B” was administered outside of North, Central, and South America.


Important Updates

Updated and New AP History Resources

Teaching and Assessing AP U.S. History and the AP U.S. History course overview modules have been updated to align with the 2017-18 AP history updates. A secure practice exam reflecting the updates is also available on the AP Course Audit site.

2017-18 AP History Updates

Updates to the three AP history courses and exams will take effect in the 2017-18 school year and are reflected in the course and exam description, 2018 rubrics, and annotated sample essays available below. These changes do not require teachers to resubmit their syllabi to the AP Course Audit or attend professional development.

  • Fri, May 11, 2018

AP United States History Exam Day 2018

  • 8 a.m. | 3 hrs 15 mins

Exam Overview

The AP U.S. History Exam measures students’ knowledge of U.S. history and their ability to think historically. Questions are based on key and supporting concepts, course themes, and the disciplinary practices and reasoning skills outlined in the course and exam description.

Encourage your students to visit the AP United States History student page for exam information and exam practice.

Exam Format

Section I: Part A

Multiple Choice—55 Questions | 55 Minutes | 40% of Exam Score

  • Questions appear in sets of 2 to 5.
  • Students analyze historical texts, interpretations, and evidence.
  • Primary and secondary sources, images, graphs, and maps are included.

Section I: Part B

Short Answer—3 Questions | 40 Minutes | 20% of Exam Score

  • Analyze historians’ interpretations, historical sources, and propositions about history.
  • Questions provide opportunities for students to demonstrate what they know best.
  • Some questions include texts, images, graphs, or maps.
  • Update for 2017-18: The number of required short-answer questions has been reduced to three, and the time allotted has been decreased to 40 minutes. Students will be choose between two options for the final required short-answer question, each one focusing on a different time period.
    • Question 1 (required): periods 3-8
    • Question 2 (required): periods 3-8
    • Students choose between Question 3, periods 1-5, and Question 4, periods 6-9

Section II: Part A

Document Based—1 Question | 60 Minutes (includes 15-minute reading period) | 25% of Exam Score

  • Assess written, quantitative, or visual materials as historical evidence.
  • Develop an argument supported by an analysis of historical evidence.
  • Update for 2017-18: Five minutes have been added to the time allotted for the document-based question, which will now focus on topics from periods 3 to 8.

Section II: Part B

Long Essay—1 Question | 40 Minutes | 15% of Exam Score

  • Explain and analyze significant issues in U.S. history.
  • Develop an argument supported by an analysis of historical evidence.
  • Updates for 2017-18: Five minutes have been added to the time allotted for the long essay. The question choices will continue to focus on the same theme and skill but will now allow students to select among three options, each focusing on a different range of time periods:
    • Option 1: periods 1-3
    • Option 2: periods 4-6
    • Option 3: periods 7-9

Updated Rubrics for 2018

2018 AP History Rubrics

AP history long essay and document-based question rubrics, effective fall 2017.

AP U.S. History Student Samples Aligned to the 2018 Rubrics – Document-Based Question

Sample student responses to an AP U.S. History document-based question, scored using the updated 2018 AP history rubric. Includes scoring guidelines and commentary.

AP U.S. History Student Samples Aligned to the 2018 Rubrics – Long Essay Question

Sample student responses to an AP U.S. History long essay question, scored using the updated 2018 AP history rubric. Includes scoring guidelines and commentary.

Exam Questions and Scoring Information

For free-response questions from prior exams, along with scoring information, check out the tables below. Please note that these questions do not reflect the format of the 2018 exam, as they date from the 2015 to 2017 exam administrations. Similar resources for the 2018 exam will be available after the exam administration in May 2018.

Past exam questions from the May 2014 administrations and before are also available. Note that these questions do not reflect the content, scope, or design specifications of the initial redesigned AP U.S. History Exam.

Be sure to review the Chief Reader Report. In this invaluable resource, the Chief Reader of the AP Exam compiles feedback from members of the reading leadership to describe how students performed on the FRQs, summarize typical student errors, and address specific concepts and content with which students have struggled the most that year.

2017: Free-Response Questions

Note: The scoring guidelines in this table were used to score the 2017 AP United States History Exam. Updated rubrics for the 2017-18 school year are available above, under Updated Rubrics for 2018.

2016: Free-Response Questions

The 2016 sample response PDFs (.pdf/32.8MB) were updated to reflect changes to the rubrics that took effect with the 2016 AP U.S. History Exam.

2015: Free-Response Questions

Exam Resources

AP U.S. History Course and Exam Description — Fall 2017

This is the core document for teachers of this course. It lays out the course content, describes the exam, and includes a full practice exam. For details on what’s new in the 2017 edition, please see the preface.

Learn all about the AP U.S. History exam in this overview video. Topics include a description of the exam, sample exam questions, and scoring the exam.

AP Course Audit Website

Teaching and Assessing Modules (Updated for 2017-18)

Practice Exam from 2017 Course and Exam Description

This practice exam from the 2017 course and exam description reflects the updates taking effect with the May 2018 exam.

AP US History Essay Question Database

The two documents below both list hundreds of AP US History essay questions. The first document includes all of the real AP US History exam essay questions from 2001 to 2017. The questions are listed chronologically. The database also links each question to a corresponding chapter in The American Pageant, 13th edition.

The second document includes all of the questions in the 1st database, plus essay questions from AP exam review books, as well as some real exam questions from before 2001. The questions are listed chronologically, and linked to corresponding chapters in The American Pageant 13th edition. The source of each question is provided.

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Us history essay prompts

Days until the AP US History Exam

AP Document Based and Free Response Questions

The AP U.S. History Exam tests knowledge of U.S. History from the first European explorations of the Americas up through modern times. The bulk of the questions focuses on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Exam topics include political institutions and behavior, public policy, social and economic change, diplomacy and international relations, and cultural and intellectual developments.

Below, you will find links to past AP exams and the document based and free response questions that were asked from 2001 to the present.

Inspired by History

US History Bellworks

Please see my previous post here on the importance of bellworks at the beginning of class. It helps establish a routine and expectations as well as spark interesting discussions. Some get the students forming their own opinions before we begin a unit or topic, and others review information letting us as teachers know where they are in their thinking. Below are a few examples from my first grading period broken down by topic.

First Question at the Beginning of the Year or For a New Student

Write a paragraph about yourself, including anything you believe I should know about you.

How can disagreements be settled so that they do not lead to arguments/war?

What do you believe to be the most significant technology invention that impacted the Civil War and why? How did it impact the War?

If you were a freed black slave, would you run towards the North, stay in the south and try to get a house and a paying job, or join the Union army? Why?

If you were a rich, white southern plantation owner, what would be your reaction to the Emancipation Proclamation? How do you know?

How do you think the attacks on September 11, 2001 and December 7, 1941 (to bring the US into World War II) compare to each other?

Imagine you are President Lincoln and have just accepted the surrender of the Confederate army. What would be your punishment for the southern states that seceded?

How does the Civil War still affect us today? Please write 3 or more sentences.

What does it mean for a country to industrialize? What does it mean for a country to go through a revolution?

If you had the money and power to own your own factory, how would you treat your workers? How would you determine their pay? Would you rather be a railroad, oil, or steel owner? Why?

Which of the Robber Barons that we studied yesterday would you rather work for? Why?

Progressivism and Social Change

How would you handle a work situation where you felt that you were being paid unfairly and working too many hours? What if the conditions you were working in were dangerous? Who could you contact?

Imagine you are moving to a new country. What feelings would you have? What would you expect the process to be like? Do you think it would be easy or difficult to find a place to live and work?

What might be the benefits and drawbacks of having a political machine? Who do these types of systems hurt? Who do they help? Do you think a political machine and/or “pay to play” systems always lead to corruption? Why or why not?

Describe the working conditions of the average worker during the early 1900s. Was this treatment fair? How do you think they could correct this treatment?

Do you know of any organizations today that help people find housing and jobs? What are some of those organizations? How do you go about finding a place to live and work today?

Come up with a list of how you can determine the importance of a person or industry (such as railroads or steel). How would you determine the impact that person or industry had on Florida?

What would be the benefit for the United States in owning property all around the world? What would be a disadvantage?

What makes you read a story or a news article? Which type of article or story grabs your attention? (studying yellow journalism)

Why would countries welcome the United States’ influence into their lands? What would be their motivation? What could be their motivation to not want the US involved?

The ever important bellwork

Dream of having students walk in the door, sit down, and get right to work? Think it’s completely impossible? It’s not. Establishing routines in your class is the number one thing to create at the beginning of the school year. Believe it or not, human beings are prone to routines and, in fact, crave them. Students feel more at ease when they know exactly what the expectations are each and every day.

In my classroom, students are expected to get their notebooks from their bin, sit down at their desk, and begin work on their bellworks which are posted on the board. Bellworks are general questions that can preview or review information from the class. I grade the bellwork sheets every Friday. Each day is worth 5 points and if a student is absent, I just ask them to write in “Absent” on that day and I still give them credit as long as they write the word. It shows that they are cognizant of their responsibilities. I do not necessarily grade their responses on right or wrong answers because 99% of the questions are opinion. This gives the student more freedom and encouragement to actually answer the question. We always, and I mean always, review their responses at the beginning of class. This does two things- the first is to let them know that I actually care about their answers and their thoughts. The second is a form of formative assessment. I want to know where they are at that moment based upon their responses. At the beginning of the year it was like pulling teeth to get them to verbally respond. Now, we can get into lengthy discussions based upon responses without any prompting from me. They respond and counter each other and it is a beautiful thing to see in a classroom when we encourage free thought without fear of a grade behind it.

Over the next few days I will be posting some of my bellwork questions from the first grading period in US History, Government, and Economics. Enjoy!

Pre-Class Writing Prompts

When students come into a classroom it’s often hard to get them to settle down and get ready for a lesson. Between intense discussions with each other, being distracted with other responsibilities, or just non-interest in the subject, their attention is often focused elsewhere as they shuffle into the classroom. Setting up a beginning-of-class routine for them is one way to curb this distraction.

I like having students keep a journal that they write in with a daily writing prompt. It’s often a good idea to have the students’ keep their journals in your classroom so you don’t run the risk of someone forgetting it or losing it completely, though this will take up valuable real estate especially with large class sizes. Keep them by the door in boxes labeled by class so that they may pick them up when they walk in. Talking can be kept to a minimum and once the routine is established it becomes second nature for the students (ideally, though they may still gripe about it). Keep the writing prompts interesting enough for the students to be able to form an opinion that they can write on for at least one to five minutes. These may also serve as an excellent way to help determine if the students are doing their homework reading assignments! The idea is to keep the students writing and thinking.

Of course, these do not have to be limited to historical concepts. If there has been an issue in your classroom, you could creatively ask the students to come up with a solution or ways that they could make the situation different by reacting differently or standing up for a friend. Bullying is always a hot topic, but be careful and try not to single out students. Make these types of prompts as broad as possible. Writing prompts could also be a segue into teaching students empathy about a subject you will be teaching about, like the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 or Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

I like to check the writing assignments once a quarter, spot checking them (not reading every single entry). Students have the option of folding back a page once a week, letting me know that this is personal to them (though I check to make sure there is writing on the page without reading it).

Some writing prompt ideas can be:

  • If you were a farmer living in one of the original 13 colonies, what livestock would you raise and why? What crops would you be farming and why? Which colony would you prefer to live in?
  • What Constitutional amendment would you like to see added in the next 20 years to the United States Constitution? Who would it benefit and why? Who would it hurt and why?
  • Consider the technological advances in the last 100 years that have become so important in our every day lives (electricity, telephones, cell phones, computers, internet). What do you think will come out of technology in the next 100 years? How will it shape our daily lives?
  • If you were the President of the United States, what could you do to change the country for the better? What laws would you create or change?
  • During an (earthquake, hurricane, tornado), most of us do not have the time or presence of mind to do more than duck beneath a table or into a doorway. Afterwards, we may wish we had been able to save an object of sentimental value like a photograph or childhood toy. Pick one thing you would want to save from destruction and write about it. Describe this thing and why it is special to you. (Adapted from
  • If you had to live as a Spartan, a Viking, an English Knight, or a Roman warrior, which would you choose and why? What would a day in your life look like? What would be the fun parts and the not so fun parts?
  • Imagine that the Roman Emperor has just sentenced you to fight in the Colliseum for a crime you have committed. What is the crime and what would your argument be to him to help save your life?
  • If you could have grown up in a different place and cultural from your own, where and which would you choose? How would it be different?
  • We have studied numerous historical figures so far in this class. Who has been your favorite so far? Why? Are there any characteristics of this person that you see in yourself or any that you would like to see?
  • Imagine that you are on an archaeological dig (essentially, a bunch of people looking for old stuff in the ground) and you come upon an amazing discover. What is it and what do you do when you become famous for the discovery? (Taken from:
  • Think about the historical figures we have learned about so far this semester. If you could have dinner with any of them, whom would you choose and why? What would you talk about or ask him or her? (Adapted from

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Topic Outlines

Students who are taking the AP U.S. History Exam should familiarize themselves with the following topic outlines.

These important U.S. history concepts are essential to your success on the AP US History (APUSH) exam.

Licensed from the Monterey Institute for Technology and Education (under Creative Commons).

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APUSH Topic Outlines


It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it. Aristotle

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Sample Essays

Use these sample AP U.S. History essays to get ideas for your own AP essays. These essays are examples of good AP-level writing.

1. The ‘50s and ‘60s: Decades of Prosperity and Protest (DBQ)

The 1950s were characterized as a prosperous and conformist decade for many reasons. The first and most widespread of these reasons was the development of the suburbs. As masses of Southern blacks migrated northward to the big cities, more rich and middle-class families left to live in the suburbs t.

2. American Foreign Policy: Isolationism to Interventionism (DBQ)

World War I had left a bitter taste in the mouths of many Americans; many believed that the U.S. had been tricked into joining the war for the wrong reasons, and they were determined to avoid making the same mistake twice. After the Great War, Americans were disappointed to realize that the war was .

3. American Identity and Unity

Throughout the 17 and 18 centuries Americans developed a unique system of government with revolutionary ideals – never seen anywhere else before. Americans adopted representative governments with democratic principles that allowed each person to have a voice in the decisions about their countr.

4. Urbanization in the 19th Century U.S.A.

Cities attracted a diverse population composed of hundreds of ethnicities from around the globe. German and Scandinavian immigrants poured into America during the late 19 century, attracted by extravagant stories of the wonderful American lifestyle: three meals a day, freedom, and social equality. S.

5. Roosevelt and the Revolutionary New Deal

President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal” was the ultimate reform movement, providing bold reform without bloodshed or revolution. Although many Americans criticized President Roosevelt for his “try anything” approach and wasteful spending, Roosevelt saved the Americ.

6. Abraham Lincoln and the Struggle for Union and Emancipation (DBQ)

President Abraham Lincoln was faced with a monumental challenge during his two terms as Commander-in-chief of the United States: reuniting the shattered halves of the Union. This was his sole purpose in fighting the Civil War—nothing more, nothing less. However, Lincoln was flexible enough to .

7. Flip-Flopper Thomas Jefferson: From State’s Rights to Federalism

Throughout his early political career, Thomas Jefferson had always been a strong supporter of states’ rights and a major critic of Federalist policies. However, after being elected as President in 1801, Jefferson altered his earlier philosophy of government. Documents A and B show Jefferson&r.

8. Agrarian Discontent in the Late 19th Century

Midwest farmers expressed further discontent with the U.S. government on the issue of taxes. During the Civil War, the U.S. government had increased taxes to raise revenue for the relentless war machine, but had neglected to lower them back down after the conflict had concluded. The high taxes and t.

9. Post-Civil War Reconstruction in the South

Even before the Civil War had concluded, Northern politicians were busy making Reconstruction plans for the Confederate States. Reconstruction—the process by which seceded states were to re-enter back into the Union—was a difficult process for the United States for two reasons. Firstly, .

10. Winners and Losers in the American Revolution

The American Revolution was an important event for the North American continent because it affected so many differing parties. As in all conflicts, the American Revolution resulted in “winners” and “losers”. The Patriots were the obvious winners in the Revolution; they gained.

11. The United States: A Date with Manifest Destiny

Since the first Puritan settlement of America by the Massachusetts Bay Colony (“City on a Hill”) to the United States’ current involvement in the affairs of foreign countries, it is clear that Americans find a need to spread their democratic ideals abroad. The idea of Manifest Dest.

12. The Transformation of Colonial Virginia (DBQ)

During the time period between 1606 and 1700 hundreds of settlers flocked to the Virginia colony seeking riches – only to find hardship, and no gold. However, after many years, and much effort, the Virginians managed to secure a solid social and economic system that would eventually make Virgi.

13. Challenges to American Democracy: Trends and Similarities

American democracy has faced numerous challenges from the 1700s to modern day. However, the American dream has never faltered for a moment; even in the face of sure failure, and sure destruction, the United States has triumphed. The years 1805, 1905, and 2005 were no exception to this tradition; tho.

14. "Duck Soup" and American Beliefs in the 1930s

The Marx Brothers’ film was first released in 1933. At first, many critics deemed the film to be a commercial failure because its popularity paled in comparison to other Marx Brothers’ productions like , , and . Furthermore, many sensitive American audiences were offended at the rampant.

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APUSH Sample Essays


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That’s easy — it’s the best way to study for AP classes and AP exams! StudyNotes offers fast, free study tools for AP students. Our AP study guides, practice tests, and notes are the best on the web because they’re contributed by students and teachers like yourself. Always 100% free.

Analyzing Important Documents in American History: Essay Prompts

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Now that you’ve completed the lessons in your course, use the exercises shown here to practice applying your new-found knowledge. This is not a mandatory part of your coursework, but is useful practice.

Creation of Key Documents

  • Analyze the major issues that were under consideration when the U.S. Constitution was written. What do you think influenced the way that the document was written most substantially? What historical events and issues do you see reflected in the creation of this important document?
  • When Lincoln wrote the Emancipation Proclamation, who do you believe he was primarily addressing? How can you see the influence of his supposed audience in the way he created his famous speech? How might the speech have looked different with a different audience in mind?
  • What primarily motivated Thomas Paine to write Common Sense? How can you see this motivation in the text itself, and to what extent does it impact the precise way that Paine constructed and wrote this document?
  • What key concerns were the country’s founders trying to ward off when they created the Bill of Rights? What, conversely, were they trying to create and ensure via this document? How can you see these influences in the way the document is crafted?

Adoption of Key Documents

  • Describe exactly who was involved in the adoption of the Articles of Confederation. Then, explain what it meant to adopt this particular document and how its adoption signified change from the way the country was structured prior to the articles’ existence.
  • What was the process that went into the adoption of the Bill of Rights? What were some of the key challenges and obstacles that proponents had to face during this adoption? What historical lessons might we learn from the ways these obstacles were overcome at the time?
  • Describe the relationship between the reception of the Emancipation Proclamation and the ending of the Civil War. Do you consider the Proclamation a harbinger of the war’s end, or are the two less interconnected than that? Use evidence to support the argument you are making.

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Influence of Key Documents

  • What, if anything, was the immediate influence of the Constitution on the structure of the new country’s government? How did this influence become more profound and vast over time? On a related note, what kinds of people were more and less immediately affected by the Constitution, and how were their lives influenced?
  • What was the influence of Paine’s Common Sense on most colonists’ views of the British government? What was it about Paine’s style and the content he used that led his work to have such a meaningful and broad influence? What lessons can we take from this phenomenon about the relationship between political philosophy and the everyday lives of people?
  • If someone did not already believe the same things that Lincoln believed about slavery and its moral character, do you think the Emancipation Proclamation had the power to influence their point of view? Explain why or why not, using specific examples from the document as well as your own beliefs about human nature.

Continuing Impact of Key Documents

  • Of all the important documents that have played a role throughout American history, which one do you feel has had the most abiding impact on the way lives are lived in this country, and why? Use as much specific evidence as you can to back your argument.
  • Some interpreters of the Constitution believe that it should be read just as it was originally written, whereas others believe it is a live document and must be interpreted in line with contemporary society and issues. Take up one of these arguments and explain it in detail, justifying why you believe it is more right than the opposite stance.
  • Choose one amendment of the Bill of Rights that you believe has a profound or significant impact on American life and society. Describe the amendment and characterize its influence. Explain whether you believe the impact has been primarily positive, and why.

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