While a thorough knowledge of United States history certainly won't hinder your ability to get a good score on the AP U.S. History exam, familiarity with the types of questions you should expect can help you earn the highest grades. According to the College Board -- the company who designs the AP programs and tests -- the U.S. history test has 80 multiple choice questions that you must answer within a 55 minute time frame. You'll have to answer quickly if you want to get to all the questions. Practicing the type of questions you're likely to encounter can make a difference.
Get the Questions
It can be hard to come by actual previous test questions, as these are a closely kept secret, but the College Board does offer some practice questions. For example, in the description of the test put out by the company, you'll find several sample questions, along with their answers. The College Board has also released a copy of the 1996 exam. Find links to both of these examples in the "Resources" section. Alternatively, purchase or borrow a few study guides for the exam, such as The Princeton Review's "Cracking the AP U.S. History Exam" or Barron's "AP United States History." These books have practice exams with detailed explanations of the answers.
Practice Your Weak Areas
20 percent of the test focuses on the time period between early settlers through 1789, 45 percent focuses on 1790 through 1914 and 35 percent on the time period from 1915 to present, according to The College Board. You'll want to spend more time on the areas of history that you're not so confident in. For example, if your teacher spent most of the first semester teaching early American history, only to find himself rushing to get through more modern history late in the year, you'll probably want to focus on the questions relating to modern history.
Read the Questions Thoroughly
You have the luxury of time while practicing for your exam. The questions on the AP U.S. History exam can sometimes be long and confusing, and it's important to answer the question. For example, questions that are asking you to select the answer that's the exception or a false statement might trip you up. The familiarity with this type of thinking will help you learn to select the correct answer more quickly.
Pretend It's Real
Ultimately, you'll need some practice answering questions in an environment that's going to closely resemble the conditions under which you'll be testing. Set the timer and answer all the multiple choice questions on a practice exam. Remember that you earn a point for correct answers and lose a quarter-point for incorrect answers, but are not penalized for not answering a question. If you don't immediately know the answer to a question, you should skip it and come back to it later. Eliminate incorrect answers and make guesses if you have to. Timing yourself can give you good insight into your weak areas.
Maggie McCormick is a freelance writer. She lived in Japan for three years teaching preschool to young children and currently lives in Honolulu with her family. She received a B.A. in women's studies from Wellesley College.