Last Updated: Apr 17, 2018
As a sophomore last year, I took my first Advanced Placement class, AP US History (APUSH). It was daunting to walk into the testing room and take the AP exam, but with good preparation, I was able to score a 5. Here are five tips to help you walk out of that exam with confidence!
(Some of these tips can easily be applied to AP European History or AP World History as well, so if you have a friend in one of those classes, feel free to share with them.)
1. Stay organized
This is a common tip, but it’s crucial. Throughout the year, I kept my typed notes organized by each of the nine APUSH periods in folders on my computer. I further organized them into folders for each individual chapter. Because my notes were saved digitally on the computer instead of hard copies haphazardly crammed into a binder, I was able to keep track of them all the way up ’til the day of the AP exam. But some teachers require you to take notes by hand, which just means you have to be more diligent about keeping your notes in order and in a safe place.
2. Don’t stress about specific dates and facts
Although there are a lot of dates, people, and events mentioned in every history textbook, you don’t have to remember them all. Quick! Name the four states that the “Five Civilized Tribes” were from! (The answer is Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi. Don’t worry. I had to look it up too.) Although you’ll have to remember at least one piece of specific information each for both the document-based question (DBQ) and long-essay question (LEQ), it’s much more important for you to be able to understand the main themes and trends of each era. For instance, if you’re learning about the battles of the Civil War, you only need to know the context and impact of the major conflicts. You’ll never need to remember that the first Levittown was built in 1947. Never. That being said, it’s still a good idea to have a rough sense of chronology. (Check out tip #5 for some resources you can look over.)
3. Remember the heart of the history
Just as globalization and widespread technology use are evident in our daily lives, child labor and monopolization were the trends of the pre-progressive era. Whenever you look at a statistic or read about a Supreme Court case, think about the people whose lives were affected. History suddenly becomes a lot more meaningful when you realize the events and trends you’re learning about were the inescapable realities of thousands or even millions of people at the time. That mindset will help you get more out of your studying.
4. Find the fun
Seeing as I’m an only child with no siblings to annoy, I found it beneficial to act out my notes as I was reading them aloud. It’s difficult for me to remember facts when I just read them quietly, so I chose to study by reading my APUSH notes aloud in a dramatic (and sometimes loud) voice with accompanying gestures. Although history is often denounced to be boring memorization, I was actually able to turn studying into an entertaining experience. You could also do this by forming a study group, but make sure you find people who can be counted on to stay focused and actually be productive. Another good tip is to use quizlet.com to review with their Match and Gravity games. If you’re going to have to study anyway, try to make it enjoyable so you won’t want to put it off.
5. Do what works for you
I may have my own unconventional study techniques, but that doesn’t mean you should study the same way. If you don’t want to only use your notes, there are tons of resources out there, and a lot of them are free too. First off, check out the College Board’s AP US History page for an official practice test. Make sure you’re comfortable writing both the LEQ and the DBQ within the time constraints. Other resources include the Packet of Doom (it’s less scary than it sounds!), which is a good summary of the APUSH topics you’ll need to know. The Gilder Lehrman Institute has a study guide, videos, primary sources, and timelines for each APUSH period. Adam Norris is an American history teacher who has review sheets, links to other helpful websites, chapter videos for many APUSH textbooks, flashcard sets, and more on his website at apushreview.com. Khan Academy is another great free resource with video and text lessons as well as practice questions. You could also invest some money in a prep book by Barron’s or The Princeton Review if you’d like. Which resource works best? That depends on the person using them, so do what works for you.
Finally, don’t procrastinate
This could technically count as a sixth tip, but it won’t because it would ruin the ingenuity of my title. Now that you’ve almost reached the end of this article, do yourself a favor and crack open your notes. You’ll thank yourself later when you’re not cramming past midnight before the AP exam. Maybe you’re reading this article right now to avoid actually studying. Push yourself to go get started. That’s why you’re in A-PUSH, right?
Thanks for reading this blog and putting up with my bad attempts at humor. And good luck!