APUSH Survival Guide

Comic courtesy of Anh Nguyen '17
Comic courtesy of Anh Nguyen ’17

Almost every Loomis student has heard horror stories about APUSH. AP U.S. History is one of the most challenging courses that Loomis offers. During course selections last year, a few rising juniors approached me and nervously asked, “Is APUSH that hard?” The answer is, “YES, it is that hard.” Each day has 20-30 pages of reading as homework, which can take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. If you are brave enough to take notes, the assignment can consume twice as much time. Without thorough reading, quality class participation in discussion will be quite difficult. As the AP exam approaches, the class transitions from having a genuine interest in history to a mindless cycle of reading, test, reading, test, and so on. As icing on the APUSH cake, the tests cover countless specific details from the textbook. When I say everything, I mean everything. If the book makes a lame analogy between the Jean de Arc and woman suffragist, it’ll be on the test. If the book shows a political view on the Reaganomics, you need to know it. If you’re hoping for an “A” in the class, every pronoun, analogy, and reference in the book must be mastered. Sounds tough, doesn’t it? To soften the blow, here are some helpful tips for the class.


  1. Crash Course. Basically SparkNotes for APUSH, as John Green provides a summary of any reading assignment. In a pinch, this can not only impress your teacher, but also save your grade.


  1. Plan ahead. Typically, there are four major formats: multiple choice (MCQ), stimulus questions (STIM), long essay questions (LEQ), and document based questions (DBQ). MCQ is the most time-consuming format to study for because you need to remember every single detail from the textbook. For STIM, multiple-choice with the primary source given, you do not need to know it as many details as MCQ, but you still need to know background information such as the main players of the era, authors of certain documents, and acts that passed along with other details. For LEQ, you need to have a good understanding of the period and know three to four details to support your arguments. For DBQ, you need to have a good understanding of the era and documents provided along with one example to show additional information. Depending on the types of assessment, the amount of time you need to study varies dramatically, so plan accordingly.


  1. Take the hint. APUSH students would soon learn how to pick up potential phrases in Foner’s Give Me Liberty that can potentially show up in quizzes or tests. I hope this tip did not shine some light on you now (you know, since the AP exam is over).


  1. Drop the course. This obviously won’t help you survive the actual class, but if you took the course just for the AP credit and have no interest in history, it might be a smart decision. It isn’t absolutely necessary to take the course, and regular US History is a great class as well. Dropping the course would relieve yourself of much of the reading, thus reducing a lot of stress from the intimidating junior year. APUSH isn’t for everyone, and it’s completely fine to not take it.

Despite the tremendous workload, APUSH has taught me many important skills such as how to allocate study time, how to write fast, and how to write about facts I don’t completely know about. The class discussions are always interesting and very motivated. Each APUSH teacher is passionate about what they teach, and somewhat understand the pains that their students experience. Overall, APUSH is a great course that teaches many useful skills, and I strongly recommend that everyone take it.