What to Expect — The AP U.S. History course, as explained in the syllabus, is fast-moving and involves considerable work. Students should expect nightly reading assignments, daily reading quizzes, frequent involvement in lively discussion, and ongoing problem-solving, writing, and test-prep activities. Students should also expect to openly evaluate the answers and work of other students in the class. While there are no shortcuts to success in APUSH, there are benefits to hard work, including the development of college-level skills and an increased likelihood of earning a passing score on the AP Exam.

The course is based on requirements outlined in the College Board’s Advanced Placement United States History Curriculum Framework, which focuses on developing “apprentice historians.” APUSH stresses the development of historical thinking skills and building a conceptual understanding of important events of the past. Thus, while remembering facts plays a role in every history course, the AP course emphasizes big ideas, deep analysis, thematic connections, connections across time, and work habits central to the practice of history. AP students read widely, evaluate evidence and interpretations, and dissect and discuss historical problems. Further, because historians practice argumentation, AP students are required to write in ways that accurately and convincingly explain the past. Demands placed on students are equal to that of an academically challenging, introductory college-level course. The AP course begins with coverage of colonization and moves rapidly to the present day. Coursework begins in mid-August with reading and online work requirements and culminates each year with the AP U.S. History Exam in early May, on which students could potentially earn six hours of college credit. The course is taken during a student’s junior year.

Keys to Success — Successful students build the requisite knowledge, skills, and habits of mind by completing 6+ hours per week of homework (on average), closely following instruction, maintaining an organized notebook, thoughtfully annotating their notes, studying thoroughly for tests, actively participating in class, and learning and practicing APUSH strategies, including writing in ways that satisfy College Board rubric requirements.

Grades and AP Scores — A test average approaching “B-” and an overall uninflated grade of “B” in the course usually results in a score of 3 on the AP Exam, while a strong “A” grade tends to align with a score of 5. On average, based on past years, approximately 35-40% of students in the class earn uninflated final grades of “A” or “A-,” while approximately 35-40% earn uninflated final grades in the “B” range.

Although a student’s past performance in the class is not a guarantee of success on the AP Exam, studying thoroughly during a multi-week review in late-April and early-May can greatly improve the likelihood of earning a high score.

Who Should Enroll? — Higher-achieving juniors who want a real challenge, want to become more attractive to colleges, and who want to potentially earn college credit should consider enrolling in the course. An interest in history and strong reading and writing skills help in APUSH, but so do grit and determination. While students with high PSAT reading and writing scores generally perform better than students with lower PSATs, even students in the 40th and 50th PSAT percentile ranks can sometimes score well on the AP Exam. You can see the most recent PSAT-AP correlations for the class here, as well as the overall SMHS and global pass rates. Students interested in enrolling in APUSH are encouraged to talk to students currently taking the course in order to get additional insight into work requirements, performance standards, teaching methods, and classroom expectations. 

Although sophomore enrollment in the class is not encouraged, sophomores whose PSAT ERW score approaches 650 could potentially succeed in the class, provided their writing skills are well above average. Typically, though, even higher-achieving sophomores experience some difficulty and frustration meeting APUSH writing requirements.