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In AP U.S. History, students investigate significant events, individuals, developments, and processes in nine historical periods from approximately 1491 to the present. Students develop and use the same skills, practices, and methods employed by historians. The course also gives students seven themes to explore throughout the course in order to make connections among historical developments in different times and places.

According to surveys of comparable curricula at four-year colleges and universities, AP U.S. History is aligned to a two-semester introductory college U.S. history survey course

Course Overview

The course framework organizes U.S. history into nine periods and presents key conceptual understandings that students should explore in that period.

Period Date Range Conceptual Focus % of Instructional Time % of AP Exam
1 1491–1607 On a North American continent controlled by American Indians, contact among the peoples of Europe, the Americas, and West Africa created a new world. 5% 5%
2 1607–1754 Europeans and American Indians maneuvered and fought for dominance, control, and security in North America, and distinctive colonial and native societies emerged. 10% 45%
3 1754–1800 British imperial attempts to reassert control over its colonies and the colonial reaction to these attempts produced a new American republic, along with struggles over the new nation’s social, political, and economic identity. 12%
4 1800–1848 The new republic struggled to define and extend democratic ideals in the face of rapid economic, territorial, and demographic changes. 10%
5 1844–1877 As the nation expanded and its population grew, regional tensions, especially over slavery, led to a civil war — the course and aftermath of which transformed American society. 13%
6 1865–1898 The transformation of the United States from an agricultural to an increasingly industrialized and urbanized society brought about significant economic, political, diplomatic, social, environmental, and cultural changes. 13% 45%
7 1890–1945 An increasingly pluralistic United States faced profound domestic and global challenges, debated the proper degree of government activism, and sought to define its international role. 17%
8 1945–1980 After World War II, the United States grappled with prosperity and unfamiliar international responsibilities, while struggling to live up to its ideals. 15%
9 1980–present As the United States transitioned to a new century filled with challenges and possibilities, it experienced renewed ideological and cultural debates, sought to redefine its foreign policy, and adapted to economic globalization and revolutionary changes in science and technology. 5% 5%

The framework also organizes U.S. history into seven themes, large-scale topics of historical inquiry that students explore throughout the course:

  • American and National Identity
  • Politics and Power
  • Work, Exchange, and Technology
  • Culture and Society
  • Migration and Settlement
  • Geography and the Environment
  • America in the World

These themes help students connect the historical content they study to broad trends and processes that have emerged over centuries. The learning objectives within each theme clearly state what students should know and be able to do by the end of the course.

AP History Disciplinary Practices and Reasoning Skills

Using the AP history disciplinary practices and reasoning skills students learn to think like historians, analyze evidence about the past, and create persuasive historical arguments. By focusing on these practices and skills, teachers create learning opportunities for students that emphasize the conceptual and interpretive nature of history.

AP History Disciplinary Practices

  1. Analyzing historical evidence
  2. Argument development

AP History Reasoning Skills

  1. Contextualization
  2. Comparison
  3. Causation
  4. Continuity and change over time

About the AP U.S. History Exam

Exam questions measure students’ achievement of the thematic learning objectives, use of the AP history disciplinary practices and reasoning skills, and understanding of all nine periods of U.S. history. Each exam question will explicitly target one or more learning objectives and the corresponding parts of the concept outline. For detailed information on the exam, see the course and exam description (.pdf/2.7MB) and exam information page.