Ap Us History Essay Tips For Middle School

Way to Go! It is a great honor and privilege to be selected to be an Advanced Placement (AP) US History teacher! The assignment comes with a great deal of responsibility, but you can be sure that the position will be both exciting and challenging. As a history teacher, you will be familiar with with the AP US History curriculum and will also find it rewarding teaching an AP class. The CollegeBoard does not mandate any one curriculum for AP courses, so you and your school are free to develop your own curriculum. Just keep one thought in mind – the AP US History Exam is how students who take you course are measured.

A great resource available for you from the CollegeBoard is the AP US History Teacher’s Guide. This guide has a comprehensive list of resources you can use to help you develop your AP US History Course. It was prepared by seasoned AP US History teachers who have put together practical tips on how to approach teaching your AP course from start to finish.

We have created this guide for you as a place to start your journey on teaching one of the most challenging AP courses offered.

Let’s get Started in Creating Your Course

Before you get started developing your course, you should become familiar with what the CollegeBoard expects you to teach. The AP Course Audit provides you, as a new AP US History teacher, with a set of expectations for college-level courses. These expectations were developed by faculty at colleges and universities nationwide to ensure that AP courses provide students with an educational experience equal to that of an introductory college course in US History. All schools who want to label a course “AP” must submit the AP Course Audit form and the course syllabus for each teacher of that AP course.

The Course Audit will walk you through the process of developing your course syllabus. The Board includes an easy to follow three step process to syllabus development.

Gather Preliminary Resources

At the heart of any AP course is the Course Description. This resources will give you an understanding of the objectives and expectations of the AP US History course and exam. It describes the course and exam in detail, including the curriculum framework and a sample of the exam questions.

Another great resource from AP Central is a set of six Course Overview Modules. These video presentations will guide you through developing your APUSH course and answer any questions you have on topics like curriculum, assessment, and approaches to instruction. You can also learn about a variety of resources you have at your disposal.

You may want to print and read through it several times. The description will give you an idea about what will be included on the AP US History exam in May. The AP exam assesses how your students did in your course. It may be worth pointing out that your school and school district may also be graded based on your students’ AP test scores.

So, you should always teach with an eye to the AP exam, while still meeting all the objectives of the course. You can find examples of past multiple-choice and free-response questions on the AP US History Exam Page, and we will discuss how to create in-class assessments based on past tests.

Preparing Your Syllabus

The next significant step in teaching an AP course is creating your course syllabus and APUSH lesson plans. The Course Audit Page has a series of resources available to ensure that you have included the required level of detail in your syllabus. As a new AP teacher, you must provide a course syllabus as part of your course audit, and this resource will ensure that you can successfully complete the course audit.

In this section of the course audit page, you will find an example textbook list that includes some AP college-level textbooks that meet the APUSH content requirement.

A fantastic APUSH syllabus development guide is also available for you to assist in syllabus development. It includes the guidelines that reviewers use to evaluate syllabi. This guide will also show you how much detail that you will need to include to receive course authorization. This section also includes four annotated sample syllabi to give you examples of how the curricular requirements can be demonstrated in your syllabus. Here is a peek at Sample Syllabus 1.

If possible, you may want to pick a model syllabus that uses the AP textbook that your school chose for your AP US History course. You might want to also touch base with your department chair to see if a current or recent teacher has taught AP US History. The chair may have a copy of the syllabi you could use as a template.

Before You Submit Your Syllabus

Now that you have a draft of your APUSH syllabus created, you will want to make sure that it includes all the required elements before you submit it for review. The Syllabus Self Evaluation Checklist includes a list of items that you should verify before you submit it for review.

Course Pace and Timing

Once you have selected a model syllabus that you are comfortable with and works for you, look at your school calendar so that you can adjust your course to the number of teaching days you will have. You will have to be flexible; some concepts may take longer to teach than you had planned. After you have created a draft of your syllabus, you might want to get with your history department colleagues (AP or non-AP) and see what areas may be challenging for students to grasp. Being a new AP teacher can be a challenge when it comes to the pace and timing of your course. It can be hard to stick to the calendar you have created, particularly if you have taught a US History survey course and had more time to teach the related topics. Pacing will be determined by both your school’s calendar and the date in May that the AP US History Exam falls on. From there, you can figure out how many instructional days you will have to teach the course.

The seven thematic learning objectives and nine historical periods will help you organize, so you know what to emphasize and the topics that will become the content of your course. We realize that when you sit down and read the Course Description for the first time, it may seem daunting. But don’t despair, for there are enough resources available to you that you will be able to put your course together with confidence.

Don’t be shy! Get out there and network with other teachers at your school or even in the district. Ask for any resources or suggestions others may have to help you during your first year teaching AP US History. Even though the resources you get may not apply to your particular AP course, it is better to have too much material than struggle to find content later while you are in the middle of teaching the course.

Once you have finished your syllabus and have collected appropriate resources from your colleagues, it is time to develop your course materials.

Creating Your Course Materials

After you have reviewed what content you will be covering in your course, you can begin to create your assignments and assessments. To make sure that your syllabus is in concert with the exam, you should download the latest available released AP US History exams.

On the Course Audit Page, you will find free, downloadable practice exams. They are available for in-class use, but not available to students. To download the AP Practice Exam, just sign into your AP Course Audit account and follow the “Secure Documents” link.

The 2015 AP US History Exam is available for your use. It is the actual exam that was administered so you can get a feel for what your students will see when they take the exam in May. The AP US History Exam Page has free-response questions, scoring guidelines, sample responses, and score distributions for the past two years. They even have the 2017 free-response questions available for your review. You can download as many released exams as you wish, but make sure that you follow the CollegeBoard guidelines on using exams in class. To be safe, you may want to use the AP released test questions only during class.

Class Notes

You should begin creating your class notes and presentations as you are working on your assignments and assessments. Since most students are visual learners, most teachers use PowerPoint slides as their mode of presentation. As you flesh out your units in PowerPoint, use a variety of resources to help you create bullet points, examples, charts, maps, and graphs.

Another great source of variety you can use are YouTube videos. They will add some great realism and actual historical events to your class. As with anything on the Internet, be careful and only download videos from reliable educators. Google is also a great source for charts, graphs, and photographs to insert into your PowerPoint slides. You will be investing lots of time and effort into creating your presentations and class notes, make sure you have a backup of all your pictures and videos.

After you have finished a draft of your class notes, flesh them out and make sure that you have not forgotten anything that might be on the AP exam. To accomplish this, you can go back and review all the released AP US History exams, both multiple choice, and free response, that you were able to find.

Learning Management Systems

Our students today live and breathe technology. By providing your students with access to course content (PowerPoints, syllabus, class notes, assignments, etc.) through a portal, like a learning management system, will be a great aid for learning. This will provide your students access to material whenever and wherever they want. An online presence is also helpful for students who were absent and will also keep you from having to make or hand-out copies of material that they lost or forgot to bring to class.

There are many options for online technology. Check with your school district to review their technology plan. The rage today in online access is Google Docs because it is user-friendly, and your students can access your course materials on any device at any time. Other options are Moodle and Blackboard. Again, your school’s tech department will let you know if your school has a site license and user support for the system that you end up choosing.

Student Notes

You will need to establish your own requirements for notes. You can use guided reading questions for students to use in helping them take notes on their reading assignments. It may assist them if you collect and grade their notes so they can use them to prepare for assessments throughout the course. Note-taking is a personal choice for your students, but many like to use Cornell notes. Some students will struggle with taking notes, so you may need to give them suggestions on how to take good notes. Good notes will yield great results when it comes time to review for the AP exam.

Creating Quizzes and Tests

This chart may come in handy so that you can get a big picture view of the structure, timing, and weight of all the AP US History Exam questions.


Questions Type

# of Questions


% of Total Exam Score


Part A: Multiple Choice

– Questions appear in sets of 2 to 5

– You will analyze historical texts, interpretations, and evidence

– Primary and secondary sources, images, graphs, and maps are included


55 minutes


Part B: Short-Answer Questions (SAQs)

– Questions provide opportunities for you to explain the historical examples that you know best

– Some questions include texts, images,

graphs, or maps


40 minutes



Part A: Document-Based Question (DBQ)

– You will analyze and synthesize historical data

– You will assess written, quantitative, or visual materials as historical evidence


55 Minutes (includes 15-minute reading period)


Part B: Long Essay Question (LEQ)

– You can select one question among the two given

– You will explain and analyze significant issues in US History

– You will develop an argument supported by an analysis of historical evidence

1 (chosen from a pair)

35 minutes


To prepare students for the AP US History exam in May, you should use the AP exam format for your in-class tests. As you can see from the chart, the AP US History exam has 55 multiple-choice questions and four free-response questions. The first part of the exam consists of multiple-choice questions that will test your students’ content knowledge by analyzing and interpreting primary and secondary sources. The first section also contains a series of short answer questions that addresses one or more of the course themes.

The second part of the AP US History exam contains the document-based question (DBQ) and long essay questions (LEQ). These questions will ask your students to demonstrate historical content knowledge and thinking skills through written responses.

You can even give additional FRQs for extra points. The key to mastering the FRQs is to give your students the chance to practice, practice, and then practice even more.

Multiple-Choice Questions

You can go through each AP US History multiple-choice test you find and separate all the questions by theme and historical period. Since you are probably not going to be able to cut and paste the test questions, you can use one of the following methods of saving the questions to your computer:

You can create a screenshot of the questions using use the Print Screen (PrtSc) function on your computer to take a screenshot of each page of the test. You can then paste the image into whatever program that you are familiar with (Word, Paint, Photoshop), crop this image, and save the multiple-choice question, complete with all five answer choices, in the folder of the topic it was taken from. You should name the file referencing the year of the exam and the question number, the correct answer choice, and the question subject. For example, 2015 18c The Immigration Act of 1924.

Another way to get the questions in a usable form is labor intensive. You could use Word to copy individual test questions manually. Even though this method is time-consuming, it may be preferable to you. Make sure you use the same naming methodology to document and keep track of each question.

Free-Response Questions

You should do the same for the free response questions (FRQs) as well, but this is not as easy to accomplish as the multiple-choice questions. The released AP US History FRQs require some time to analyze the responses that the AP readers are looking for. But having the FRQs available for the students to use is the best way to get your students to practice writing their short answers and essays that make up 60% of the AP US History Exam.

For the FRQs, your students will have to use the historical thinking skills that you will help them develop over the course of the term. The nine historical thinking skills are found in the Rubrics for AP Histories plus Historical Thinking Skills resource on the CollegeBoard website. This resource also has the grading rubrics for the DBQ and LEQ. The rubric will give you an idea of how the points available for those essay questions are scored.

Developing Daily Assignments

You can use the AP US History practice and released exam questions you have compiled, to create in-class assignments and assessments. An excellent way to engage your class as soon as you walk in the room is through “bellringers”. You can have them begin as soon as they sit down. The question should be from the material you covered the previous class period so they can go back through that material to come up with the correct answer. If you have a multiple-choice question, have them write down the question and their answer choice. If you have chosen a FRQ, have them t write down the question and then work through the prompt.

The more “bellringer” assignments you have, the more practice they will have on answering questions in the style and format of the AP US History exam because it is important to get them comfortable with the CollegeBoard’s style of questioning.

You are free to use sources other than released AP US History exams, but you should ensure that your course remains focused on the material and format of the AP exam. The more comfortable you get with teaching AP US History, the more you will be able to develop your own style while still getting your students prepared for the AP US History exam in May.

Resources for New AP US History Teachers

Useful Information Sources

The resources relating to the field of US History are expanding continuously, so it is a good idea to keep up on new resources that are released. The best way you can stay connected with US History educators like yourself is by joining the AP US History Community on the CollegeBoard website.

This website is a professional learning network connecting AP US History teachers from around the world. The more active you become in the discussions in the community, the richer of an experience you and your peers will have. With your help, the AP US History community will grow, and you can support your peers and your classroom through your contributions.Take a Tour of the Community.

What Tools can I Find in the Community?

Here are some online tools you can use to help you become more comfortable as a new AP US History teacher:

There are tools you can use to:

  • Engage in topic-driven discussions.
  • Locate classroom-ready materials and resources.
  • Search through the curriculum framework and share strategies.
  • Network with your AP US History peers.
  • Get email digests and advice on activities in the community.

The Way Forward

As a new AP US History teacher, you will find this assignment both challenging and worthwhile. Just keep an open mind to the resources available to you for support and to provide additional depth to your course. If you do a little research, you will find great material out there for teaching AP US History, such as video clips, and documentaries. These resources are a great way for you to explain how events that occur in the United States impacts their lives and the lives of people around the world. When your students can tie their classroom learning experience with real-world events, they are more likely to sit up and take an interest in your class and that, in many cases, will translate into a higher AP US History test score.

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I despised history, until I took AP U.S. History. From my elementary and middle school years, there remains a paper trail of get-to-know-you surveys for which I indicated that history bored me to tears, and doodles on notes of the Monroe Doctrine that subtly communicate the same reaction.

The U.S. history class I took in eighth grade is a perfect example. Almost every day consisted of hurriedly copying notes from a dim image projected on the board as the teacher read aloud the words we were inscribing. There were no lectures of substance; we were spoon-fed worksheets pulled from the dry pages of a textbook. The tests were a contest that determined who could regurgitate the highest percentage of memorized facts. Little to no analysis was ever done. We never focused on comprehending the cause and effect of critical movements or comparing past time periods to the modern era. Apparently, it was far more important to know the names of all the generals in the Civil War.

On the occasion that our daily work did not entail unhelpful note taking or memory-based testing, we took part in such educational activities as watching National Treasure or working on a slightly more involved version of a second grade project on African American leaders. I’m still curious as to why we selected one such leader for each letter of the alphabet in a three-day span, rather than learning about their actions concurrently with the rest of the curriculum.

I received an A in the class (as I did in all of my classes throughout middle school), despite having rarely studied, drawn bumblebees on my notes, and often completed my homework in the five minutes before class began. Now, a few years later, I realize it was all irrelevant; I remember almost nothing. I know now that the class demanded bland memorization with no connection to the humanity of history. It offered no tools to aid true understanding. It gave us the how of the story but never the why. I like to think of classes as a telescope through which one can catch a glimpse of a larger universe. Of course, the student must have the wherewithal and ambition to look through the telescope. But what if the lens is smudged? Partially obscured? What if the student cannot get a clear picture of history because the class is woefully lacking?

Well, the lens in my eighth grade history course was almost entirely opaque. But I never would have known just how bad it was if I hadn’t taken AP U.S. History this past school year, as a sophomore.

Our teacher still lectured on a daily basis, but he was engaging and clearly explained why people acted as they did, and how these actions fit a larger narrative. We still took guided notes from a projected screen, but there were always a few lines of text written and updated by the teacher that better explained the larger story and prepared us for the College Board’s AP Exam that we would face in May. Each day, students were called on to identify information from the day before or explain the relevance of a vocabulary term, actively prompting participation in the class. Every night, our teacher expected us to review our notes and read a few pages from the textbook, laying a solid foundation of fact upon which he laid the cultural story the following day. We read and analyzed primary sources on a daily basis that supplemented the information we gathered from our textbooks every night. We studied women, African Americans, and Native Americans concurrently with the rest of the material. There was no need for a “Women of American History” unit or a special project on African American heroes because we had always included them in the study of each time period.

The class contained few projects, but they comprised in-depth debates and essays that required students to study the time period as though their lives were the ones being affected by the decisions made. Our two large debates—one on Andrew Jackson and the other pitting Alexander Hamilton against Thomas Jefferson—demanded hours of group-based work that involved extensive study of the writing and beliefs of the time period, as well developing the ability to quickly apply relevant knowledge to support a feasible historical argument. Throughout the year, we practiced specific College Board–defined historical thinking skills (contextualization, synthesis, causation, periodization, etc.) and essay writing that showed our comprehension of the why and so what of American history. And each month, our teacher assigned us a take-home packet that required us to use historical thinking skills, employ an essay-like analysis of primary sources, and identify the causation of events. Yes, we had vocabulary quizzes that required memorization, but the terms were picked specifically for our use on the AP exam essays, and were always tied in to the overall story we were learning.

At the end of each unit, we took an essay assessment and a multiple choice test. While our primary tests were still multiple choice, the questions demanded the ability to compare one time period to another, to identify broader processes, and to contextualize and comprehend why people thought as they did.

Perhaps most significantly, A’s were not handed out like candy.

Upon completing such an excellent class, I was confused about and disappointed in the sorry state of my eighth grade U.S. history class. What explained the chasm of difference between the two? Myriad things: understanding vs. memorization, the style of tests, the expectation of hard working and self-reliant students, the development of thinking skills, the opportunity to debate differing viewpoints, the exploration of contextualization within larger historical processes, and the telling of history as change shaped by human people rather than bland caricatures.

All of this combined to create a huge and important difference: In AP U.S. History, we learned. We learned about history, we learned to exercise layered comprehension of multifaceted societies, and we learned how to develop an independent work ethic.

The College Board and its measureable standards deserve much credit. When the reality is “Your students will either learn these skills or earn tangibly low scores that will make you look bad,” work gets done. The lessons get taught. Having an achievable standard to work for is absolutely invaluable to education. Sure, participation and cooperation are important. General competence is a good bar. But at the end of day, the most essential test of effective schooling is the question, “What do you know and what can you do with it?”

Every student deserves the opportunity to learn analytical skills at a high level. And only classes like AP U.S. History adequately reveal to students their intellectual capabilities, which in turn unlock ideas, careers, and whole worlds that would be otherwise closed to them due to an all-too-common façade of simplistic worksheets.

AP U.S. History allowed me to genuinely learn the subject matter, analyze historical movements with context, compare my world to past times, broaden my understanding of politics, and truly love the story that history tells. History went from being something I despised to one of my favorite subjects. I now see the people behind the events, and the deep and inseparable humanity that accompanies them. For my entire life, I have been a reader and writer, loving how words paint a picture of a real world. AP U.S. History made that love of mine applicable to our past—and potentially to my future profession. I will always be grateful for that.

Alli Aldis is a rising junior at Gahanna Lincoln High School in Gahanna, Ohio. She is the daughter of Chad Aldis, the Fordham Institute’s Vice President for Ohio Policy and Advocacy.

The views expressed herein represent the opinions of the author and not necessarily the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

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