AP US History Exam Grading

Knowing how you will be graded on the AP US History exam is essential for preparing to take the exam. You need to know exactly how much time you have, what type of testing format and how long you will have to write the essays.


The AP US History exam is 3 hours and 5 minutes long. Of that allocated time you will have 55 minutes to fill out the multiple choice questions and 130 minutes to fill out the free-response section. The multiple choice section consists of 80 questions with 5 choices to choose from. The free-response section is divided into these following sections:
15 minutes - Mandatory reading for Document-Based Question (DBQ) and free-response questions.
115 minute - Essay writing. Which should be utilized in the fashion below:
  • 45 minutes - Essay writing for the DBQ
  • 35 minutes - Writing free-response to one of the questions in part A
  • 35 minutes - Writing free-response to one of the questions to part B
The only time blocks enforced are the 15 minute reading period and the 115 minute writing period.

Time frame of Material Covered

Time period covered for the multiple choice section.

As for the free-response questions, any period is up for questioning. You may have to combine knowledge from multiple periods to develop a correct answer.

Type of material covered

The free-response section will include topics from all of the above categories and you will need to have a deep understanding of all the above topics to answer the question. Multiple choice is designed to test factual knowledge while the free-response is designed to test how well you understand the material as a whole.

Multiple Choice VS Free-Response Scoring Weight

The multiple choice and free-response sections both carry a different percentage weight into factoring your score. The multiple choice accounts for 50% of the grade while the free-response accounts for 50% as well. Within the free-response section, the DBQ accounts for 45% of that and the two free-response essays account for 55%. All in all, here is what each part accounts for in the big picture of the AP US History grading scale:

Final Score

After completing the AP US History exam you will be mailed a score after a couple months. The scores are ranked on a 1-5 scale. Different colleges value these scores differently. Please check with the school you wish to attend to see what type of credit they are willing to give you. For most state schools a 3 is considered a pass while more competitive schools only give credit for a 4 and above.

To derive the above scores the College Board has released information on the composite scores. The total exam is worth 180 points. On the multiple choice exam, each correct score earns 1.125 points, so if you got all 80 questions correct you would have a score of 90. There is no penalty for wrong selections or unanswered questions. The remaining 90 points are obtained from essays. Each essay is ranked from 0 to 9. For the DBQ, the 0 to 9 score is multiplied by 4.5 and for the FRQs the 0 to 9 score is multiplied by 2.75. For example if you got a nine on all 3 essays then you will get a score of 90  ( (9 x 4.5) + (9 x 2.75) + (9 x 2.75) )
The total points required to obtain a certain score changes from year to year, however, the college board has indicated that these are the composite ranges for 2001 and 2002. We assume they hold valid for future years.

Final Score as a Percentage of Test Correct

Unlike traditional grading scales, the APUSH test does not use the regular 70% = C, 80% = B, 90% = A. Instead they use a specialized point system that rewards students who get more correct. The above chart is read as follows: 41%+ for a 2, 54%+ for a 3, 62%+ for a 4, and 71%+ for a 5. Yes you read that correctly, you only need to get 71% of the test correct in order to get a 5 and you only need to get 54% of the test correct in order to get a 3. Then again, the people who are grading your exams won't go easy on you so its no excuse to slack off in preparing for the exam! =)

2009 APUSH Results

These are the final scores of the students who took the 2009 APUSH exam.

This chart is interesting because it shows us the percent of scores received. Around 45% of students only got a 1 or a 2, in other words nearly 45% of all APUSH test takers did not pass. While 55% of students did receive a 3 or higher. Only the top 10% of test takers receive a 5.