The AP U.S. History course is designed to provide the same level of content and instruction that students would face in a freshman-level college survey class. AP U.S. History classes generally use a college-level textbook as the foundation for the course.
Commonly used textbooks that meet the curriculum requirements include:
- America's History (Henretta et al.)
- American History: A Survey (Brinkley)
- American Passages (Ayers et al.)
- The American Pageant (Bailey et al.)
- The American People (Nash et al.)
- By the People (Fraser)
- The Enduring Vision (Boyer et al.)
- Give Me Liberty! (Foner)
- Liberty, Equality, Power (Murrin et al.)
- Out of Many (Faragher et al.)
- A People and a Nation (Norton et al.)
American conservatives have criticized the course framework for downplaying American exceptionalism and failing to foster patriotism. In 2014, there were protests against it in the Jefferson County Public Schools district in Colorado. In 2015, a bill to replace the course framework was passed by the Oklahoma House of Representatives’ Education Committee, but later withdrawn. The course framework was revised in 2015 in response to the criticism.
The AP U.S. History exam lasts 3 hours and 15 minutes and consists of two sections; additionally, each section is divided into two parts. Section I, part A includes 55 multiple choice questions with each question containing four choices. The multiple choice questions cover American History from just before European contact with Native Americans to the present day. Moreover, section I, part B includes three short-answer questions. The first two questions are required, but students choose between the third and fourth questions. In total, students are given 95 minutes (55 for the multiple choice section and 40 for three short-answer questions) to complete section I.
Section II of the exam is the free-response section, in which examinees write two essays. Section II, part A, is a document-based question (DBQ), which provides an essay prompt and seven short primary sources or excerpts related to the prompt. Students are expected to write an essay responding to the prompt in which they utilize the sources in addition to outside information. Section II, part B, provides three thematic essay prompts. Students must respond to only one of the three essay prompts.
Each long essay question on the AP exam may address any one of three possible historical reasoning processes: patterns of continuity and change, comparison, or causation. Each of the essay questions will address the same historical reasoning process. There is a fifteen-minute reading period for students to read the essay prompts, take notes, and brainstorm, but students may begin to write the essays before this period ends. Students will then have 85 minutes to write the two essays; 45 minutes are recommended for the DBQ and 40 minutes for the long essay, but students are free to work on the two essays as they see fit.
The AP U.S. History exam is divided into two sections. Section one consists of the multiple choice and short answer questions, while section two consists of the document-based question (DBQ) and a long essay question. Section one is worth 60% of the total AP exam score, with 40% of the total exam score derived from the student's performance on the multiple choice section and 20% of the total exam score derived from the student's performance on the short answer questions. The remaining 40% of the total exam score is derived from section two; the document-based question is worth 25% of the total exam score, while the long essay question is worth 15% of the total exam score.
The score distributions since 2007 were:
Note: The above composite score cut points reflect the pre-2011 grading formula which deducted 0.25 points for every incorrect multiple choice answer.