How to Improve APUSH Short Answer Success (2023)

The APUSH Redesign (and the Re-Redesign that immediately followed this year) has brought a lot of uncertainty, fear, and confusion to many teachers. This is my eighth year teaching the course, and while I had certainly reached a comfortable level with the traditional multiple-choice and free-response questions, I have learned almost every aspect of the redesign.

In my opinion, the best addition to the test is the new short answer section, found in Section 1 of the exam (along with the stimulusMultiple choice questions). Last June I was fortunate enough to attend the AP® US History Reading in Louisville, Kentucky. For a week, I graded the same short answer question over 3500 times (for the record, I never want to read about John Adams or Benjamin Rush and their interpretation of the American Revolution ever again). While I certainly do not claim to be an expert or have "insider knowledge" about the inner workings of the Executive Board, I am happy to share my knowledge and advice based on my experiences and conversations with colleagues.

Short answer format

  • Students must complete four short answer questions in 50 minutes (12.5 minutes per task). Short answers are worth approximately 20 percent of students' grade on AP® exams and can be given in a variety of formats, including
    • Two different secondary sources written by historians with different perspectives on an event or time period.
    • Primary sources (animated quotes, maps, etc.)
    • A simple prompt or recognition question without a stimulus
  • Each prompt is divided into three parts (A, B and C), each worth one point.
    • These parts vary in difficulty, meaning that some parts may be more difficult (for example, one part may require simple recall of facts, while another may require higher level analysis).
    • Different parts of the same question can build on or refer to each other (for example, part A might ask students to explain a passage and part B might ask them to give an example of something related to same passage).
  • Some prompts have an "inner option". This means that students have choices within the question. For example, a prompt might ask students to “explain why ONE of the following was a major cause of the Civil War: the Dred Scott decision, Bleeding Kansas, or the publication ofUncle Tom's Cabin. Students can choose each of the options, describing WHAT it is and WHY it is most important.

Scoring short answer questions

There isn't really a section for these types of questions as there is for theDocument-Based Question (DBQ) or Long Essay Question (LEQ). Students are simply graded based on whether or not they answered the question correctly. Students receive one mark or zero marks for each part of the question (A, B and C), with a maximum of three marks per question.

Each letter is scored separately, meaning that students miss out on part A entirely, which doesn't necessarily mean they're doomed for parts B and C.

Readers are instructed that students receive credit as long as they "meet the threshold," i.e. complete the minimum amount required to answer the question. While the threshold depends on the question, this essentially means that some students can get full marks by going incredibly deep, giving detailed and complex examples and taking up the entire page, while others can only answer one sentence. two for each drink, barely meeting the requirements and still getting all three points. While I will never encourage my students to do the bare minimum, I do let them know that if you don't have time or are unsure, something is better than nothing.

If the amount of historically accurate and inaccurate information is roughly balanced and equal, the reader can decide at their own discretion whether or not to award the grade.

One thing that encouraged me during the lecture is that readers were generally told to give students the benefit of the doubt when grading answers. The goal was to award them points when they won, not to penalize or deduct points based on minor mistakes or misunderstandings.

Ten tips for student success

To clarify my advice, I'll refer to the paper that still haunts my dreams, Short Answer Question #3 of the 2015 AP® US History Exam:

How to Improve APUSH Short Answer Success (1)

Bron:2015 AP® US History Exam, AP® Central Short Answers Section (College Board)

1. Say it in your own words

To receive full credit for answers, students must answer the question completely in their own words. For the exercise above, many students parroted or overstated the clues for part A, rather than describing the differences in their own words. For example, students regularly said that the difference between Adams and Rush was:

"Adams believed that the revolution was in the minds of the people, while Rush said that it would not be complete until the principles, manners and morals of the citizens were established."

Students would not make sense of this as it is just a paraphrase of what is being said and does not show real understanding.

An example of a more successful response would be:

“Adams believed that the American Revolution was not the actual Revolutionary War, but rather the psychological change in the mentality of the patriotic settlers that led to the conflict. Rush agrees with Adams that the real revolution was not the war, but argues that the revolution is incomplete until a stable federal government is established.

2. Give specific examples: HOW and WHY?

Parts B and C of the prompt ask the student to provide evidence that would support both Adams' and Rush's claims. In this way, students should provide specific examples AND explain WHY they are relevant. For example, students might use the US Constitution as an example to support Rush's interpretation of the Revolution, as this document formally established the structure of the federal government and provided a Bill of Rights that defined the fundamental rights of the people.

3. Get straight to the point

No introductions are required as space and time are limited and these are not essays. The thesis is neither required nor very helpful. Students should dive right in and answer the question right away.

4. What is acceptable?

Complete sentences are required. Sentence fragments or bullet points are not graded. They were very strict about enforcing this.

Common abbreviations are acceptable (eg FDR, WPA, FBI, etc.).

As time and space are limited, it is better to go into depth and explain ONE example rather than superficially cite many.

5. Stay in the time period

One of the most common mistakes is that students do not stay within the time period. For example, if the studentsGreat awakeningAs evidence supporting Adams' quote, they would not understand this point because the religious movement preceded the period 1760-1775.

6. Stay in the boxes

Students should make sure they have enough space to cover all three sections on the 23-line page. Students are NOT allowed to write on a second page or even outside the box. Anything written outside the box will not be graded.

7. Make sure evidence and examples are NECESSARY

If a question asks for ONE similarity or difference, readers are actually looking for the MAIN similarity or ESSENTIAL difference. For example, students cannot simply say:

"Adams thought the revolution happened between 1760 and 1776, while Russ thought the revolution happened after the war."

This would not count because it is too superficial and simplistic. It is not the MAIN difference described in the text.

8. Pay attention to analysis categories or historical themes

Students should pay attention to categories of analysis (political, economic, cultural, social, spiritual). Often students give examples that do not fit the category they need to identify.

Students should assume that the reader does not have background knowledge and fully explain their examples and evidence.

9. Minor mistakes will NOT lower your score

Minor mistakes do not necessarily mean that students will not receive marks. For example, for Part C, many students used Bacon's Rebellion as an example that a stable federal government was needed to prevent rebellions or create a fairer and more equal society. They confuse Bacon's Rebellion withThe Shays Rebellion, but since the description of the events is correct and they just changed the names, they would still make sense for their example. I haven't necessarily shared this with my students because I have high expectations for them and want them to focus on knowing the content and striving for accuracy, but I stress to them that even if you don't understand the law or the person I don't know Describe them as best you can , as this is better than leaving it blank.

10. The discussion of how to organize the writing

There was much discussion during the lecture about which is better: writing responses in paragraph form without letter tags, or breaking up and labeling separate sets of complete sentences based on the specific letter being addressed. The advantage of writing in paragraph form without highlighted letters was that students could answer the task in any order they wanted, and for good writers it was often more natural. Additionally, if students did not answer part A at first, where they initially tried to answer it, but ended up answering it later in the answer, readers could still award the point if there were no labeled letters. If students wrote their sentences with the corresponding letters, students could not get marks if they answered the question in another section (for example, some students failed to answer A completely in the so-called section, but eventually got there). section C. , but they could only understand the point in the labeled section. However, one advantage of labeling their sentences was that it ensured that students fully answered the specific questions for A, B, and C. Students who wrote unlabeled paragraphs answered parts or got incomplete answers as they jumped from one part to another.

I recommend that my students create a hybrid of these two scenarios because I think it gives them the best of both worlds. I suggest that my students label their sections so they don't forget any sections, but when they're done writing, they cross out the letters so they can get points if they accidentally appear elsewhere in their answer.

How to Learn the AP® American History Short Answer Question

How to Improve APUSH Short Answer Success (2)

1. Work with students to answer the question

Students sometimes have trouble with these types of questions at first. Some note vague passages of some answers that don't go far enough. successful candidates want to turn these into complex essays with introductions and transitions. It really is a skill that needs to be practiced and perfected. Student answers should be concise (hence the SHORT answer), but thorough with specific examples.

In the beginning, our class worked together and as short answer partners, walking and talking about good answers. I also took student samples from the College website and had the students review and rate them. This was a great activity to show students the difference between incomplete, delinquent and excellent responses.

Students should practice putting their answers in their own words, not paraphrasing, repeating or quoting from the source language. That doesn't show understanding, and that's what the Executive Council is looking for. It is worth working with students to provide the answers in their own words.

2. Introduce students to a wide variety of historical sources

Exposing your students to a wide variety of resources is good preparation for the Short Answer section (as well as multiple choice questions and essays, for that matter).

Observing historians who differ in their ideological or other interpretations of history and discussing or debating them in class helps students understand and appreciate nuance and different points of view. Using Howard Zinn'sPopular History of the United Statesand van Larry SchweikartPatriot's Guide to American Historygives students both liberal and conservative perspectives on important events in American history.

I also like to hold Socratic seminars or debates where I use secondary texts that have a persuasive or unorthodox perspective and allow students to discuss whether or not they agree with the historian's argument.

Additionally, exposure to primary sources can be helpful in preparing students to read and understand texts they may see in the messages for each section of the exam, including short answers.

3. Timing is everything.

The short answer section is part of Unit 1 and students have 50 minutes specifically for these four questions after the multiple choice section is completed. This gives students less than 13 minutes per question. Students need practice at this crucial time. Many students want to spend a lot of time planning and writing, which they don't have on exam day. I usually start more loosely at the beginning of the year, but by October or November, students should be used to reading the prompt quickly and thoroughly, writing their responses in no time.

Because I liked the short answer question

The short answer test is a brand new addition to the AP® exam, but I actually think it's the most useful in many ways. Students were forced to memorize "everything" and were at the mercy of what the college board would ask them on the multiple-choice section. Short answers allow students to bring relevant examples that they have learned and remembered. They don't need to know "everything", they just need to know some important things about each period. This can be reassuring for students and liberating for teachers trying to cram everything into their classes in the few months before the AP® exam.

What I also like most about the short answer question is that, unlike other question types, it's very clear when students know what they're talking about (and vice versa, when they have no idea what it's about). ). Multiple choice questions can be "multiple guesses" and students can rationally limit distractions and make an informed choice. Essay pages can be filled with fluff and a simple thesis and analyzing a few papers can earn them a few points. With short answers, students really have nowhere to hide. They either know what the writer is saying or they don't. They can give an illustrative example, or they can't. As a teacher, I love the clarity and authenticity of these types of assessments.

Looking for AP® US History practice?

Start your AP® US History preparation with Albert.Start preparing for AP® exams today.

In this video, we also discuss a five-step strategy for writing the AP® US History FRQ:

How to Improve APUSH Short Answer Success (3)

Ben Hubing is a teacher at Greendale Middle School in Greendale, Wisconsin. Ben has taught AP® US History and AP® US Government and Politics for the past eight years and has been an AP® U.S. Reader. History Short Answer last year. Ben received his undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and his master's degree from Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.


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