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How to Get a 5 in AP US History

5 min readnovember 20, 2020

Sander Owens


Introduction 👋

Hello! This guide will go over five key steps that you can take to help you get a 5 in AP US History. Of course, there is a lot more to the course than these five steps, but these are some key skills that helped us on APUSH.

Knowing the Rubrics 📋

The single most important thing you can do to improve your score on the essays for APUSH is to know the rubrics so your essays can be as effective as possible. We have included the rubrics for each essay below, but check out our APUSH Free Response Help guide if you want more information on them.

DBQ Rubric 📜

  1. 👩‍⚖️ THESIS: Respond to the prompt with a claim about the prompt. Remember to take a stand on the prompt! An example of this might look like “Railroads supported empire-building by __________ and___________, BUT they undermined it by ________________." Use the categories you developed earlier to help fill in the blanks in your thesis!
  2. 🌎 CONTEXTUALIZATION: Describes the broader historical context relevant to the prompt. Think of what happened in the years/centuries leading up to the prompt (big events like global wars, trends, patterns, etc.). You MUST connect this to the prompt.
  3. 🔍 EVIDENCE FROM THE DOCUMENTS: Use evidence from the docs to prove your point. Do not quote! Just use what the docs are saying to support your argument and cite them like this: (2). Using evidence from 3 docs will score in 1 point while using evidence from 6 docs will score 2 points.
  4. 🚴‍♀️ OUTSIDE EVIDENCE: Consider people, places, events, and concepts that are NOT discussed anywhere in the documents and connect them to your argument.
  5. 🦛 SOURCING/HIPP: For at least 3 documents, you must explain how or why the broader historical context, intended audience, purpose, or point-of-view of a document is relevant to your argument. Use the acronym HIPP to remember this!!
  6. 🦄 COMPLEXITY: Demonstrates a deeper understanding of the prompt. You should weave a counter-argument throughout your essay. Don't stress too much about this one! It is pretty hard to get, and it's not something you can really try to add.

LEQ Rubric 🖋️

  1. 👩‍⚖️ THESIS: Respond to the prompt with a claim about the prompt. Remember to take a stand on the prompt! An example of this might look like “Railroads supported empire-building by __________ and___________, BUT they undermined it by ________________." Use the categories you developed earlier to help fill in the blanks in your thesis!
  2. 🌎 CONTEXTUALIZATION: Describes the broader historical context relevant to the prompt. Think of what happened in the years/centuries leading up to the prompt (big events like global wars, trends, patterns, etc.). You MUST connect this to the prompt.
  3. 🔍 EVIDENCE (x2): Provide specific historical examples to support your argument. These are specific people, places, and events. Explain your terms, and then connect it to your argument.
  4. 📚 HISTORICAL REASONING: Use comparison, causation, or CCOT to answer the prompt. You can answer the prompt using any skill, but choose one and stick to it!
  5. 🦄 COMPLEXITY: Demonstrates a deeper understanding of the prompt. You should weave a counter-argument throughout your essay. Don't stress too much about this one! It is pretty hard to get, and it's not something you can really try to add.

Quickly Understanding Primary Sources 🖼️

First off, you might be wondering what on earth a primary source is, and that's OK. AP History courses have a lot of weird terminologies, so it's completely understandable!
A primary source describes or depicts events firsthand, such as a photo, a diary entry/letter, a speech, etc. 📜 We are concerned about the analysis of these first-hand accounts, or of history itself.
We often are already exposed to analyses of primary sources. These are often categorized as secondary sources and include those books or articles about history, including textbooks, that your teacher might have you read to actually learn the history, rather than learning exclusively from original sources. 📚
The attribution is a good place to begin when reading any document in APUSH. This is because it will usually give a good idea of what the excerpt is about without having to read ALL of the confusing language that most excerpts typically use. 🧐
This will save you lots of time reading in the future.

Knowing What to Memorize 🧠

When you first start APUSH, you might be overwhelmed by all the dates it seems you have to memorize, and, although it is true that APUSH is the most date-heavy of the histories, what needs to be memorized falls into only a few key categories.

Presidents🎩

You should know the order of, and the approximate dates of, the presidents from Washington - Jackson, Lincoln - Hayes, McKinley, T. Roosevelt, and FDR - present.

Wars 🔫

Know the dates of, and general facts about:
  • Seven Years War 🇫🇷
  • Revolutionary War 🇺🇸
  • War of 1812 🎆
  • Mexican-American War 🇲🇽
  • Civil War 💔
  • Spanish-American War 🇪🇸
  • World War I 🛩️
  • World War II 🇪🇺
  • Cold War 🥶 (including proxy wars)

Other Dates to Know 🗓️

  • 1607 - Jamestown
  • 1776 - Declaration of Independence
  • 1787 - Constitution
  • 1803 - Louisiana Purchase
  • 1816 - 1824: Era of Good Feelings
  • 1823 - Monroe Doctrine
  • 1830 - Indian Removal Act/Trail of Tears
  • 1848 - Seneca Falls Convention
  • 1850 - Fugitive Slave Law
  • 1862 - Homestead Act
  • 1877 - Reconstruction Ends
  • 1896 - Plessy vs. Ferguson
  • 1929 - Stock Market Crashes
  • 1954 - Brown vs. Board of Education
  • 1964 - Civil Rights Act
  • 1972 - Watergate
  • 1973 - Roe vs. Wade
  • 2001 - 9/11

Doing Multiple Choice Questions Efficiently ✔️

The Stimulus-Based Multiple Choice Questions make up 40% of the weighting for the total exam grade. This means that doing effectively on them is a key step to improving your score. There are some more detailed instructions in our APUSH MCQ guide , but here's a sample process from that guide to get you started.
  1. Read the source of the stimulus (author, place, year, and any other background they give you). Think about that time and place. What was happening? For example, if it says 1916 in Europe, you should know that WWI was happening. 🤓
  2. Read the first question and decide if you need the document to answer the question. If it asks about tone or something specific to the document, you need it. If it's general knowledge, you don't. 🤔
  3. Read the document looking directly for the answer. 🔍
  4. Answer the question. 📝
  5. Repeat steps 2-4. 🔁

Not Getting Caught Up in the Details 📚

One of the keys to APUSH is to always remember the big picture and processes. Although it may seem easy to get stuck in the weeds of history, try to remember that the APUSH exam is all about thinking big picture, making connections about historical events and processes, and analyzing broader historical trends. So don't worry the day before the exam if you can't remember what Franklin Pierce did in office (it wasn't much, anyway). Doing well on the APUSH exam isn't just about knowing all the information, it's about connecting it and applying it, as well as demonstrating through questions and essays that you can show it.
You got this!

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Big Reviews: Finals & Exam Prep
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Document Based Questions (DBQ)
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Exam Skills (MC, SAQ, LEQ, DBQ)
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Multiple Choice Questions (MCQ)
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Thematic Guides
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Unit 1: Early Contact with the New World (1491-1607)
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Unit 2: Colonization of North America (1607-1754)
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Unit 3: Conflict and American Independence (1754-1800)
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Unit 4: Beginnings of Modern American Democracy (1800-1848)
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Unit 5: Toward the Civil War and Reconstruction (1844-1877)
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Unit 6: The Industrial Revolution (1865-1898)
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Unit 7: The Early 20th Century (1890-1945)
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Unit 8: The Postwar Period and Cold War (1945-1980)
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Unit 9: Entering into the 21st Century (1980-Present)