17 APUSH Strategies

17 Simple APUSH Review Strategies You Can Do Today!2017-04-21T19:12:01+00:00
AP Study Strategies

17 Simple APUSH® Review Strategies (You Can Do Today!)

I’ll be honest. Scoring a 5 on the AP® US History (APUSH) exam requires specific study strategies.

These strategies can be very simple (but simple doesn’t mean quick).

What are these simple strategies for APUSH reviewing?

I would tell you all at one-time, but I wanted to breakdown each one, step-by-step.

So scroll down to see all 17 simple APUSH review strategies. I think you’ll find one or two you didn’t know about!

BONUS: We can email you the strategies! so you can read them, share them, and use them at your convenience.

#1 Make EVERYTHING Easier by Understanding Chronology

Do you know the second biggest reason students score low on free response questions?

Read these excerpts from the AP® graders and you can find out.

“Many students confused chronological sequencing,”

Jonathan Chu, 2014 Student Performance Q & A for Free Response Questions.

“Students continue to have chronological sequencing problems,”

Ernest Freeberg, 2013 Student Performance Q & A for Free Response Questions.

“Most responses were weak on chronology,”

Raymond “Skip” Hyser, 2009 Student Performance Q & A for Free Response Questions.

“Many students have problems with chronology,”

Raymond “Skip” Hyser, 2008 Student Performance Q & A for Free Response Questions.

Did you catch it?

The second biggest reason students score low on the free response questions is not using correct chronological sequencing.

What is chronological sequencing?

Chronological sequencing is simply arranging events in the correct order.

Unless you know the context of the event, knowing about the event is almost useless.

Example: Knowing the Emancipation Proclamation ended slavery is good, but unless you know WHEN the Emancipation Proclamation happened and what events preceded it, it’s almost useless knowledge.

“Some responses (too many to ignore as an anomaly) seemed to believe that the goal of the Civil Rights movement of the 1890s-1920s was to end slavery, undermining the quality of the essays.”

Ernest Freeberg 2011 Student Performance Q&A for Free Response APUSH Questions.

To develop chronological understanding, create a timeline.

Get your history textbook out, along with a piece of lined paper.

Take all the bold words and write them on a sheet of paper. For every word, find a date of relevance for that word.

Then, on a new sheet of lined paper, order each event based on chronology.

AP US History Study Tip

CHEAT TIP: Use one of the Apprend timelines to learn correct chronological sequencing of important events in US History.

# 2 Write the BEST Answers with a Rock-solid Thesis!

What is the biggest complaint of AP graders over the past 6 years?

I read feedback from AP graders from the past 6 years. Do you know one of the biggest complaints of AP graders?

It shocked me!

The biggest complaint is that students do not write a solid thesis in the free response questions.

So, how do you write a rock-solid thesis for the APUSH exam?

It’s the same way you get to Carnegie Hall.


To practice writing a rock-solid thesis, do this:

Download one of the AP US History Free Response questions list from past years.

For each question, handwrite an introduction on a piece of lined notebook paper.

Then download the sample student responses. These responses will have a high score, a middle score, and a low score example.

See how your thesis compares to each of the sample essays


Have a friend compare your thesis to the sample thesis and provide honest feedback.

AP US History Resource

HELP LINK: This is a great starting point to writing a rock-solid thesis statement. Stating Your Case: Writing Thesis Statements Effectively

#3 Find Out How Much Money You’ll Make by Scoring a 5

How much money can passing the APUSH exam save you?

Did you know most private colleges charge about $3,900 per class! You can get credit for up to three classes for scoring a 5 on the APUSH exam. You can potentially save over $10,000 in college tuition with one AP test.

To find out how much you can save by passing the APUSH exam,

Google “[YOUR DESIRED UNIVERSITY]” cost per class.

You can save that much money, or even more depending on how many credits your university awards to APUSH scores.

#4 To Write Like a Historian, Think Like a Historian

What are the 9 historical thinking skills for AP US History?

You should know every one of them.

If you don’t know them, you need to find out what they are!

So, get out a sheet of lined notebook paper and a pencil (or pen).

Download the AP US History Historical Thinking Skills.

Write down each of the 9 historical thinking skills.

Once you write down each one, take out a new sheet of notebook paper.

Order the historical thinking skills based on which one you feel is your strongest to the weakest one.

Fold up your lined sheet of notebook paper and put that paper in the pocket of the pants you will wear to school tomorrow.

Also put a reminder in your phone that during your APUSH class you should hand the note to your teacher and say, “Help me get better”.

AP US History Resource

HELPFUL LINK: Mrs. Montes has a fantastic breakdown of the College Board AP US History Historical Thinking Chart

# 5 Sucker Punch Test Day in the Mouth!- Get CONFIDENT

Do you know how many students fail the APUSH exam each year because they psyched themselves out and got intimidated?

I don’t either… But I do know it is A LOT!

Go into the test with confidence! Know what to expect the day of the test.

Take out a sheet of lined notebook paper and draw a line down the middle to create two columns.

On the left-hand column, write down everything you typically have in your pockets/backpack during the day.

Then on the right-hand column, write down everything you can take into the class.

Then, for each item in the left-hand column that is NOT on the right-hand column, write down where you will leave that item the day of the test.


On the backside of the piece of paper, make a headline “APUSH DAY OF THE TEST”.

Write down what time you will go to bed the day before the test.

Write down what time you will wake up.

Write down what you will eat for breakfast.

Also write down what time you will leave so that you arrive at the testing facility on time (then check this with Google maps).

Congratulations! You have just created the test plan for the day!

AP US History Study Tip

CHEAT TIP! Daniel Jocz- a.k.a JoczProductions- has an super useful review page: APUSH Explained Review

CHEAT TIP! Adam Norris has a great breakdown of important topics in each period.

CHEAT TIP! Mr. Montooth has a great breakdown of the APUSH exam.

#6 Don’t Be a Fool – Decide to Prepare


Do you know what happens when students are not prepared for the free response questions?

  • People draw the middle finger in the essay portion
  • They tape $5 bills to the paper with the caption “Have Mercy”
  • They write about ice cream
  • They write a two-act play across MULTIPLE AP exams
  • They degrade their teachers, only to have the teacher be sent the booklet the next year and confront the student

Source: Ridiculous AP Answers

Don’t be a fool!

Sit down at an empty desk.

Think of how frustrating and defeating it would be during the AP test to be totally blank on the exam.

Tell yourself you will not be a fool.

Resolve to prepare.

Then come back to the computer for #7.

#7 Know What the Graders Want to Read! Review the Rubric

AP graders hunt for certain characteristics in each free response answer.

And every question has a secret passage to a perfect score.

What’s that secret passage?

The rubric!

Did you know every free response question has a clearly defined way to grade each question- outlined in the question rubric?

Every question has a rubric!

AND College Board GIVES IT AWAY!

That’s like a bank hanging its blueprints on the wall!

Let’s capitalize on this gift from the College Board.

Take out a sheet of lined notebook paper with a pencil (or pen).

Draw one line from the top of the page to the bottom so that you make two equal-sized columns.

On the first column, write at the top “Document Based Question”.

On the second column, write at the top “Long Essay Question”.

Then download the APUSH Free Response Rubric.

In the Document Based Question column, write down where each point of the 7 points comes from: 1 point for the thesis, 1 point for comparison, 1 point for causation, etc.

Repeat this same process for the Long Essay Question.

Then go to Page 8 of the document and look at how many points you need to score to earn a 5 on the test.

Now review where each point comes from and practice each skill so that you can score the MOST points possible on each essay.

#8 Guarantee You Answer Half the Multiple-Choice Correctly

There is a scientifically-proven method to answer multiple-choice questions!

I found this out.

And that’s why I score high on every multiple-choice question exam I take.

It’s super-easy to learn.

It’s super-easy to do.

All you have to do is retrain yourself how to answer a question.

So what’s the scientifically proven way to best answer every multiple-choice question?


Here it is.

After you read the question, do NOT try to find the correct answer.

Try to find every INCORRECT answer you can.

Once you eliminate every INCORRECT answer, you should have the correct answer.

Why is this so effective?

By eliminating the incorrect answers first, you give yourself the best chance of choosing the correct answer!

It sounds silly, but it works.

Trust me.

Every time you answer a multiple-choice question from now on, eliminate the incorrect answers first.

This one simple trick will skyrocket your test scores!

# 9 Don’t Shoot Yourself in the Foot- Avoid These Easy Mistakes

There are THREE big errors people make on the APUSH test that are insanely EASY to avoid.

First, do not recite DBQ sources.

“Students still have a tendency to use too many long direct quotes from the documents, which interrupt the flow of the essay,” Jonathan Chu, 2014 Student Performance Q & A for Free Response Questions.

“Weaker essays tended to string together long direct quotes from the documents which interrupted the flow of the essay for the reader,”

Ernest Freeberg, 2013 Student Performance Q & A for Free Response Questions.

“[A common student error was] essays that quoted the documents extensively,”

Raymond “Skip” Hyser, 2009 Student Performance Q & A for Free Response Questions.

In the Document-Based Question, DO NOT simply quote chunks of the documents. Readers HATE this.

Second, students do not eliminate the incorrect answers first.

See #8.

Third, leaving multiple-choice questions blank.

If you don’t know an answer- the solution is simple.


You don’t lose points for incorrect answers on the APUSH exam.

#10 Read This Paper – Seriously, That’s All.

This one is incredibly easy and incredibly hard.

Incredibly easy because it’s clicking a button.

Incredibly hard because YOU HAVE TO READ.

This is one of the best preparation pieces of the APUSH exam content available ANYWHERE.

Important AP US History Tip

John Irish helps design the APUSH COURSE and Exam! This is his breakdown of the APUSH exam!

Again- BLUEPRINTS of the bank on the BANK WALL!

# 11 Read APUSH EXAM Sources Faster- Practice Reading Old Documents

You will have to read old documents on the exam.

Most of these documents are not written in today’s writing style = THEY ARE NOT EASY TO READ.

Shakespeare writes in English, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to read.

Practice reading old documents.

This will help you in TWO WAYS.

The first way is that you will read source documents from the time period. You can use this knowledge on the free response questions to get a better idea of what the actual historical figures thought.

Example: What did Columbus think of his discovery? (Hint: click the link.)

Second, you will get familiar reading old writing styles.

So, get the old, primary source documents here.

Choose 8 documents to read.

Read the documents.

AP US History Study Tip

CHEAT TIP! Update your Snapchat, Facebook, or Twitter telling people how smart you are for reading these documents. THEN, send this article so your friends will thank you for helping them.

#12 Make a 370 Event Timeline of AP US History

It is not as hard as you think.


This is one of the best things you can do.

Go buy 3 x 5 notecards on Amazon or at your local store.

Get a new pen that is comfortable to use.

Pick up your APUSH textbook and turn to the chapter that begins the year 1607.


  • 20 events for 1607 – 1700
  • 30 events for 1700 – 1750
  • 60 events for 1750 – 1800
  • 60 events for 1800 – 1844
  • 60 events for 1844 – 1890
  • 60 events for 1890 – 1920
  • 60 events for 1920 – 1950
  • 20 events for 1950 – 1080

If you can’t find 60 events… phone a friend


Wipe the tears from your eyes from hand cramps and go get another textbook

AND then

Look at Wikipedia.

When you’re finished, order all your cards together and use them as flashcards to help learn chronological sequencing.

And yes, this is the second specific point to help with chronological sequencing.

It’s THAT important.

AP US History Study Tip

CHEAT TIP! Use the Apprend timelines!

#13 Fun Studying = More Studying

Studying is more fun with friends. But studying by yourself in the same room as a friend is not REALLY studying with a friend.

Pick up your phone.

Find a friend in APUSH.

Invite them to study with you.

Choose one (or more) of the following options:

Create a study game.

See who can find 15 important events in the reform movement (like the abolitionist movement of the 19th century).

Grade each other’s thesis from #3 and the winner gets a free ice cream courtesy of the loser.

Find the funniest APUSH meme (not REALLY studying, but SUPER FUN).

Quiz each other.

The winner gets a free ice cream.

The loser buys the ice cream.

#14 Find Out What You Don’t Know – Take a Diagnostic Test

Knowing what you don’t know is the first step in being awesome.

Download the 1996 APUSH exam.

Go get a sheet of lined notebook paper and a pencil.

Answer ALL the multiple-choice questions.

Take a red pen and grade your answers using the answer key in the document.

For each question missed, write the year/period for the question.

On a new sheet of paper, write down all the years/periods SEQUENTIALLY from your answer sheet.

Start studying the time period of your most missed questions.

This will tell you what time period you know the LEAST about.

#15 Think Like an AP Grader! Think Like a Historian.

Use evidence and ask the right questions.

Easier said than done.

You have to ask the right questions as you read historical documents. Take a look at these three resources to help you:

Historical Thinking = Making Evidence-Based Claims

Using Historical Sources

Evidence-Based Historical Writing

# 16 Watch a Documentary or YouTube

How did the fight for prohibition lead to the income tax?

Why did Franklin Roosevelt order the killing of thousands of cows during the Dust Bowl?

These are two fascinating questions answered by documentaries by Ken Burns: Prohibition and The Dust Bowl.

Go watch these two documentaries on Netflix


Watch APUSH-specific videos like:

Tom Ritchey’s Overviews

Adam Norris Videos

JoczProductions (Created by Teacher of the Year Daniel Jocz)

# 17 Learn the Themes

Did you know APUSH has 7 distinct themes it bases the test on?

You should know each theme.

Pull up Mr. Gibson’s super helpful theme page.

Read each of the 7 themes.

Then get a lined sheet of paper.

Write down each theme.

Then get 7 additional sheets of lined notebook paper.

At the top of each paper write one of the 7 themes so that you have 7 sheets of lined paper with one of each of the 7 themes at the top.

Then write 10 APUSH events on each paper that best represent that theme.

Now organize each of those ten events in sequential order.

This will help you understand what a theme is and how it works.

BONUS: Take all the timeline flashcards from Step 12 and write the appropriate theme on each card.

Then organize your cards by theme to learn the important themes throughout US History.

AP US History Study Tip

BONUS: Do #13 right now. Share this article with a friend and have them prepare the activity that both of you will do!

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