Tips for success on the AP U.S. History exam

As we enter the second half of the school year, students in Advanced Placement courses have begun to prepare for the end of year exam. AP U.S. History, a class taken by sophomores, is likely a high school student’s first experience in an AP class. Last year, I went through the same thing they are going through now; preparation for the dreaded test in May. Luckily, I have some tips for this year’s sophomore class so they can be successful on the AP test in the spring.

  AP tests are scored on a scale from 1-5, 5 being the best score you can receive. In order to be eligible to earn credit for the course later when you enter into college, you must receive at least a 3 on the exam. For some more competitive schools, you must earn at least a 4, however, it depends on the colleges you are looking at. I recommend finding out the score that is necessary for the colleges you are interested in by going on their websites. OSU will accept a score of 3 of higher to receive college credit for American History.

  The score you receive on the AP test is really a matter of how much effort and commitment you put into studying and preparing. Mr. Camp, one of the AP U.S. History teachers here at Darby, spoke about how commitment is what will earn you the score you want on the test.

  “A person who is a five has a certain expectation of themselves and work ethic that puts them in a position where they attend things because it matters to them. You do not have to be passionate about history, but you do have to be passionate about knowledge, self-improvement, and taking criticism,” he shared.

  Beside putting in the work to succeed on the test, you need to apply yourself during class. If you haven’t been taking notes in class, I recommend that you start. All year, I kept a notebook with detailed information from each lecture. Taking notes on your iPad is better than taking no notes at all, but writing down your notes by hand will be more helpful to you when it comes to remembering the information later on. They will be good to look back on when you are studying for the test and will help you retain the material.

  I truly believe the thing that earned me a 5 on the test was attending the weekend and after school study sessions with Mr. Camp and Mr. Crawford. They will be offered after spring break on Saturday mornings and after school during the week. During the review time, they asked us trivia questions, we completed worksheets, and took tons of practice tests that prepared us for the format and time restraints of the AP exam. Review sessions are the best way to improve your writing and multiple choice test-taking abilities. Mr. Camp discussed the importance of using effective study techniques.

  “You can’t just be reading notes and facts, it’s more about developing your skills,” he said.

  The sessions are aimed at doing just that. They also helped me track my improvement and things I needed to study more. The donuts and orange juice, that the teachers provided, were an added bonus as well. If you do nothing else, go to the review sessions! They are proven to help improve your score, according to Mr. Camp.

  “If you make three of the five or more review sessions, of those kids…80% get a 3, 4 or 5,” he explained.

  By now, Mr. Camp and Mr. Crawford have probably taught you the importance of time management on the exam. You simply do not have enough time to read through every primary source document that will be given to you during the multiple choice section. The source of a primary document is your best friend. It will tell you who wrote it, when it was written, and the title of the work it is from. For example, if a source is given to you and you don’t recognize the author, but it says it’s about U.S. imperialism and the year given is 1901, the first thing you should think is Teddy Roosevelt and Big Stick Diplomacy. You don’t even need to thoroughly read the document to answer the question based on your knowledge of foreign policy. This method will save you so much time.

  I highly recommend that you purchase the 2019 Princeton Review AP U.S. History book. Taking the practice tests in the book and reading through the chapters is a really good way to review and refresh your memory on some of the topics from the beginning of the year. Also, going over your tests from the school year will help you gauge what topics you need to brush up on before the exam. Read the comments that were written on your long essays and brainstorm ways you can fix those problems. Talk to your teacher about ways to improve your thesis statements and long essays in general.

  Though the Princeton book will help you with practicing for the multiple choice portion of the test, writing all the DBQ (Document-Based Question) essays you can will help with the other sections. They are long and time-consuming, but writing a lot of DBQs will help you become a more efficient writer and will familiarize you with writing under a time restraint. Every DBQ you write should take less time than the one before. You will also become more knowledgeable about certain subjects by writing detailed essays about them.

  Know your presidents and when they were in office. I cannot express how helpful it is to know when a president served and basic information about their presidency for all sections of the test. Some presidencies aren’t as relevant or important, so focus on the presidents that were covered in class. For instance, if you don’t know when Franklin D. Roosevelt was president and what he did, you might want to figure that out as soon as possible. Presidential March Madness will greatly help you with presidents-look forward to that.

  In the end, it all comes down to the amount of effort you put into your studying. You have been taught everything you will need to know for the test, the question is if you can retain the information, and explain why it matters. The review sessions after school are very important and you should definitely take advantage of them. Earning the score you want is only a matter of putting in the work to understand and master the material. Good luck!

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