The AP U.S. History exam isn't like a surprise pop quiz; you have a good idea of what the big test looks like and how it's run. You'll devote a chilling three hours and five minutes of your life to searching frantically but calmly through the history hard drive of your mind. You'll be under the control of the test proctor, who will give you the usual warnings about food, time, copying, and reading answers off your history tattoos. And you'll have to shift gears at least once in order to complete the two sections of the test.
Time limit for Section I
You'll have 55 minutes to answer the multiple-choice questions. You'll receive a Scantron form to fill in (with pencil, of course). With the form comes a booklet that contains the 80 multiple-choice questions — each of which has five possible answers, labeled from A to E. The questions are arranged from easy to hard, with chronological years and themes sprinkled in all levels of difficulty. The changes in difficulty come gradually; don't expect to find yourself lost in geniusland all of a sudden. And remember, what's hard for somebody else may be easy for you, especially if you've studied.
Even though the multiple-choice questions in Section I take less than a third of your test time, they're worth half your test score. Because wrong answers aren't penalized, you should take a shot at every question. Do the easy ones first and mark the hard ones to go back to after you have picked all the low hanging fruit.
On the Scantron form, fill in the oval completely and erase thoroughly when you want to change your answer.
Time limit for Section II
In Section II, you get a question book containing one DBQ, or Document-Based Question (Section A), and four regular essay questions arranged in two groups of two questions each (Sections B and C). You answer one question from Section B and one from Section C.
Starting with the DBQ, you have a total of 1 hour and 55 minutes to write the three essays. You get 15 minutes during which you can only review the questions. During this time, you can't start an essay, but you can read and take notes in the question booklet.
The DBQ is challenging. You are given anywhere from 7 to 10 documents, which could be diaries, letters, speeches, charts, graphs, political cartoons — almost anything you can read. Use the first 15 minutes to read those documents and think about how you can bring them together with some relevant outside knowledge to write a stunning DBQ essay. You can discover everything you ever wanted to know about the DBQ in Chapter 4. (For information on the regular essay questions, go to Chapter 5.)
You may be tempted during your 15 minutes of calm before the writing storm to peak ahead at the questions that come after the DBQ. Don't. Just concentrate on the DBQ during the reading period. The other essay questions will take care of themselves when you get to them. Don't cloud your brain — you have plenty of documents and outside facts to marshal for the DBQ.
The suggested time for the DBQ essay is 45 minutes. The suggested time for the two regular essays is 35 minutes each.
Don't get caught out of time on the big exam. Nothing is worse than having important, grade-winning points to make in an essay and no time left to write them. Before the exam, practice writing five-paragraph essays in 30 minutes. Get used to timing yourself as you write. Better to write short and smart than long and pointless.
Making up your own exam questions: Challenge Questions
Taking practice tests helps you get ready for the AP exam. Part IV of this book contains two tough exams. But better than any printed test are the exam questions you make up yourself while you study. Creating Challenge Questions means turning the history that you read into questions that challenge you to find the answers as you study.
To create Challenge Questions, make every major heading you see into a question. For example, if the heading in the history text says "Jacksonian Democracy transforms the United States," you say to yourself, "Name the ways Jacksonian Democracy transformed the United States." Find the answers about Jacksonian Democracy as you're reading the section and write them down. Close your eyes and repeat the question and the answers.
To get good at making your own Challenge Questions while you study, though, you need to actually take a sample AP U.S. History Test. Study the AP U.S. History Released Exams to find out what actual past tests looked like. These exams may be available at your school; you can also look at them on the College Board website: apcentral.collegeboard.com/apc/ members/exam/exam_information/2089.html.
If you take the practice tests in this book, you may discover some areas of weakness. If so, be sure to create Challenge Questions that focus on these areas. Doing so enables you to focus on areas where it will do the most good for you.
Avoiding test-induced panic
As the big day approaches, no matter how hard you study, you'll feel a bit scared. So much history, so little time. What was that XYZ Affair? (Diplomatic incident with France, 1797 .) How many Great Awakenings were there? (Two — one before the Revolution and one after.) The more you know, the more you know you don't know.
Pre-show jitters are normal, but relax: The AP exam isn't like the tests you took in school, where you were supposed to know everything. It's impossible to know everything about U.S. History. The AP exam is more like an endurance race; even if you limp over the finish line, you deserve applause. Nobody is supposed to get all the questions right. The test has a theoretical perfect score of 180, but you can get the highest grade of 5 with a raw score as low as 117. It's as if an A grade on AP U.S. History starts at 65 percent.
The AP U.S. History test is curved to ensure a certain proportion of high grades every year. You just have to finish ahead of enough other people taking the exam to get ahead of the curve. Think of the story of two guys running away from a grizzly bear. The first guy stops, takes out a pair of running shoes, and starts to put them on. The second guy says, "Don't be stupid! You can't outrun a bear." Replies the first guy, "I don't have to outrun a bear; I just have to outrun you."