2021 APUSH Exam Guide

12 min readapril 3, 2021


Your guide to the 2021 AP US History exam

We know that studying for your AP exams can be stressful, but Fiveable has your back! We have created a study plan that will help you crush your AP US History exam. We will continue to update this guide with more information about the 2021 exams, as well as helpful resources to help you score that 5. Create a Fiveable account and join our Discord to stay involved in all things AP exams! 😁

Format of the 2021 AP US History exam

This year, all AP exams will cover all units and essay types. The 2021 US History exam format will be:
  • Multiple Choice Section - 40% of your score
    • 55 questions in 55 minutes
    • Same for both on paper and digital
  • Short Answer Section - 20% of your score
    • 3 questions in 40 minutes
    • Same for both on paper and digital
  • Free-Response Section - 40% of your score
    • 2 questions in 1 hour and 40 minutes
      • Document-Based Question | 1 hour | 25% of your score
      • Long Essay | 40 minutes | 15% of your score
  • Digital Changes: Free-Response Section
    • If you take the digital exam then the Free Response section will be changed. There will still be one Document-Based Question, but instead of the Long Essay, there will be two Short Answer Questions.
      • Document-Based Question | 1 hour | 25% of your score
      • 2 Short Answer Questions | 40 minutes | 14% of your exam

Scoring Rubric for the 2021 AP US History exam

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Check out our study plan below to find resources and tools to prepare for your AP US History exam.

When is the 2021 AP US History exam and how do I take it?

There are three different exam administrations this year and the tests will be taken in person at your school unless your AP Coordinator has indicated otherwise. Here is what we know from College Board so far:
  • The first exam date will be in-person and on paper at your school on May 6, 2021, at 8 am your local time.
  • The second exam date is digital at your school or your home: May 19, 2021, at 12 pm ET.
  • The final day is digital at your school or your home: June 2, 2021, at 12 pm ET.
You will have 3 hours and 15 minutes to take the exam. We will have more updates from the College Board soon, but as of now, this is what we know! 

How should I prepare for the APUSH exam?

  • First, download the AP US History Cram Chart PDF- a single sheet that covers everything you need to know at a high level. Take note of your strengths and weaknesses!
  • Review every unit and question type, and focus on the areas that need the most improvement. We’ve put together this plan to help you study between now and May. This will cover all of the units and essay types to prepare you for your exam. 
  • Additionally, create your schedule ahead of time so that you can connect with other students instead of just studying alone! Join our Discord channel to talk to real students just like you studying for this exam. We have TAs in each subject channel to support you this Spring and tons of free events and pep talks. 
  • Finally, check out our 13 live Cram events so that you can review for the APUSH exam with a rockstar teacher and study socially among other students.

Pre-work: set up your study environment

Before we begin, take some time to get organized. Remote learning can be great, but it also means you’ll need to hold yourself accountable more than usual. Guess what? Your study environment (yes, including staying hydrated) are huge contributors to how you will do this spring.
🖥 Create a study space.
Make sure you have a designated place at home to study. Somewhere you can keep all of your materials, where you can focus on learning, and where you are comfortable. Spend some time prepping the space with everything you need and you can even let others in the family know that this is your study space. 
📚 Organize your study materials.
Get your notebook, textbook, prep books, or whatever other physical materials you have. Also, create a space for you to keep track of review. Start a new section in your notebook to take notes or start a Google Doc to keep track of your notes. Get yourself set up!
📅 Plan designated times for studying.
The hardest part about studying from home is sticking to a routine. Decide on one hour every day that you can dedicate to studying. This can be any time of the day, whatever works best for you. Set a timer on your phone for that time and really try to stick to it. The routine will help you stay on track.
🏆 Decide on an accountability plan.
How will you hold yourself accountable to this study plan? You may or may not have a teacher or rules set up to help you stay on track, so you need to set some for yourself. First set your goal. This could be studying for x number of hours or getting through a unit. Then, create a reward for yourself. If you reach your goal, then x. This will help stay focused!
🤝 Get support from your peers. 
There are thousands of students all over the world who are preparing for their AP exams just like you! Join our Discord channel to chat, ask questions, and meet other students who are also studying for the spring exams. You can even build study groups and review material together! 

AP US History 2021 Study Plan🌽

UNIT 1: Period 1, 1491-1607

Big takeaways:

Unit 1 introduces the Americas as a place of interaction. It first discusses the diversity of Native Americans prior to contact with Europeans (symbolized by 1491, the year before Columbus). Then, the unit pivots into interactions between Europeans, Native Americans, and Africans as well as between rival European powers. It ends in 1607 with the founding of Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in North America. 

Definitely do this:

🎥 Watch these videos:
📰 Check out these Fiveable study guides:

If you have more time or want to dig deeper:


🦃 UNIT 2: Period 2, 1607-1754

Big takeaways:

Unit 2 dives more into the European colonization of the Americas. This involves comparing European countries to each other and then mostly focusing on the English who settled much of what would later become the United States of America. The rise of African slavery and continued interactions and conflict with Native Americans also plays an important role. 

Definitely do this:

🎥 Watch these videos:

If you have more time or want to dig deeper:


🇺🇸 UNIT 3: Period 3, 1754-1800

Big takeaways:

Unit 3 sees the creation of the United States as a country out of thirteen British North American colonies. The unit then covers the early Republic, focusing on the creation of the Constitution, the first federal government, and the administrations of Washington & Adams.

Definitely do this:

If you have more time or want to dig deeper:


🚂 UNIT 4: Period 4, 1800-1848

Big takeaways:

Unit 4 is when the United States begins to grow into its own identity as a country. It includes massive expansions of democracy through Jefferson & Jackson, the economic and social upheaval of the Market Revolution and Second Great Awakening, and also sees continued migration westward.

Definitely do this:

📰 Check out these Fiveable study guides:

If you have more time or want to dig deeper:


💣 UNIT 5: Period 5, 1844-1877

Big takeaways:

Unit 5 is all about the Civil War: the road to the Civil War, the war itself, and its aftermath called Reconstruction. Westward expansion and migration/immigration continue to be a big deal during this time period, and conflicts over slavery and rights for African Americans dominate the political discussions. 

Definitely do this:

🎥 Watch these videos:

If you have more time or want to dig deeper:


💰 UNIT 6: Period 6, 1865-1898

Big takeaways:

Unit 6 overlaps with Period 5, but it begins after the Civil War and is not as focused on Reconstruction. Its main focus is the Second Industrial Revolution, sometimes called the Gilded Age in the United States, and on the Western United States.

Definitely do this:

📰 Check out these Fiveable study guides:

If you have more time or want to dig deeper:


🌎 UNIT 7: Period 7, 1890-1945

Big takeaways:

Unit 7 is a massive unit, so you need to keep an eye on both domestic and foreign policy. Foreign policy becomes a big deal thanks to US involvement in several wars, including the two World Wars. Domestically, the Progressive Era tries to tackle the problems of the Gilded Age, plus there is the massive up and down of the “Roaring” 1920s and then the Great Depression and New Deal of the 1930s. 

Definitely do this:

🎥 Watch these videos:

If you have more time or want to dig deeper:


🥶 UNIT 8: Period 8, 1945-1980

Big takeaways:

Unit 8 focuses on the effects of the World Wars, including the Cold War and the Red Scare. This unit also dives into the social movements that happened at this time, namely the Civil Rights Movement, and addresses how this was a period of social transition within the United States, changing the course of future generations. 

Definitely do this:

If you have more time or want to dig deeper:


📲 UNIT 9: Period 9, 1980-Present

Big takeaways:

Unit 9 is the final unit of AP US History, and it covers Reagan and the rise of conservative politics, the end of the Cold War in 1991, as well as the changes in the economy, society, and emigration and migration throughout this period. This unit also contextualizes the challenges faced in the modern-day due to the growth of technology and other aspects of the 21st century.

Definitely do this:

🎥 Watch these videos:
📰 Check out these Fiveable study guides:

If you have more time or want to dig deeper:

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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)
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