How Will the AP U.S. History Exam Change in May 2015?

In May of 2015, there will be changes to the Advanced Placement U.S. History test. These changes have been in the works since 2006, with the new framework rolled out in 2012 to give teachers the chance to prepare themselves and their students. There will also be changes to the AP Physics B Exam in May 2015 as well. So, what will the new exam look like? How has it changed, and why? 

Why is the exam changing?

The prior AP U.S. History exam was heavily criticized. Mainly, critique focused on the exam’s length, as well as its questions spanning such a wide range of potential topics that students did not always know what to study. Moreover, many teachers did not feel they were able to teach important topics in an in-depth manner. Some felt the old exam tested trivia-like information instead of students’ deeper knowledge of historical concepts and their critical thinking skills. 

The revised test addresses these issues by focusing questions more on analyzing historical documents, as opposed to recalling isolated facts. Additionally, the revised course framework and accompanying exam attempt to align the curriculum more closely with that of college introductory U.S. History classes. The focus has shifted the responsibility of students from displaying knowledge of historical facts to being able to think critically about historical information and analyze multiple viewpoints.

There has been some criticism of the new test saying that it focuses too much on themes across history and critical thinking, and not enough on the basics that students need to know. However, the test creators are optimistic about the switch, and maintain the stance that changes in the course and exam will benefit students in the long run. 

What does the exam look like?

The AP U.S. History exam is a two-section test, each section being composed of two smaller parts. The number of questions, as well as the content of these questions, have been changed in the new exam starting in May 2015. 

The first section of the exam consists of multiple-choice and short answer questions, and is to be completed in one hour and 45 minutes. One of the main changes of the new test is a reduced number of multiple-choice questions; while it used to have 80 questions, the new test will have only 55. The primary criticism of the questions in the old test was that they were essentially fact recall and resembled trivia prompts. The new test questions require students to analyze and interpret primary or secondary source documents (e.g. text, charts, maps, etc.) provided in the test, while also utilizing fact-based knowledge learned during their coursework. 

The test has also added three additional short answer questions to the original one, for a total of four. These short answer questions test a student’s ability to use critical thinking skills to respond to a text, graph, argument, or other historical document. Section I constitutes 60% of the student’s grade for the exam: 40% for the multiple choice, and 20% for short answer.

The second section of the exam is composed of two questions: a document-based question and a long essay question. Students will have one hour and 30 minutes to complete this section, since both questions involve a substantial amount of writing. Both questions assess the student’s ability to support his or her thoughts with evidence. These questions are worth 40% of the exam grade: the document-based question counts for 25%, while the long essay counts for 15%.

AP U.S. History practice tests and sample questions are available in order to inform students, instructors, history tutors, and parents of what will likely be on the test. Here is a great test prep timeline for AP exams. The changes in the AP U.S. History exam are intended to more accurately test students’ knowledge, and thus better position them for success in later college classes.