The short-answer section of the AP US History Exam, which appears after the multiple-choice questions, consists of four questions, and you must answer three of them.
Unlike the DBQ and LEQ later in the exam, your answer to each short answer question will be a short, on-the-spot response to each question's three required tasks. You must use complete sentences, but you do not need to write a thesis or provide additional information.
The short answer question types are always the same:
- Question 1 assumes a secondary source or sources. You may be asked to describe the difference between two historians' interpretations or to provide historical evidence to support a historian's argument.
- Question 2 assumes a primary source or sources. You may be asked to describe a perspective expressed in a historical image, such as an advertisement or political cartoon, or to explain a historical event.
- Question 3 and Question 4 do not provide resources and only cover the three required tasks. Choose EITHER question 3 or question 4. Question 3 will focus on a topic between the years 1491 and 1877 and question 4 will focus on a topic between the years 1865 and 2001.
AP US History Short Answer Strategies
Before we step through an example prompt, let's look at some special considerations for short answer questions.
- Carefully analyze the source stimulus (which can be a passage or a picture) in questions 1 and 2. Record key details, look for relevant information in the source titles and information, and paraphrase the main purpose of the source in your own words.
- Because each short answer question consists of three tasks (a, b and c), you should read all three tasks before you start planning your answer. Some tasks may be interrelated (such as providing multiple historical examples), so you should make sure you understand all the required tasks before diving in.
- Short answer questions do not require a thesis statement or organized essay response. Address each required task directly and concisely, use complete sentences, and move on.
- Choose EITHER question 3 or question 4. Read both questions and think about which gives you the most confidence. Note that you should be able to explain each part of your answer and provide relevant examples. If necessary, you can quickly start planning one or both questions so that you can determine which question you need to fully answer.
- You can answer the short answer questions in any order as long as you write your answers on the appropriate pages of your answer booklet. Start with the question you have the most confidence in. Be sure to spend about a third of your time on each question, as each question carries equal weight in your score.
Here is a step-by-step explanation of a sample question with a short answer.
AP US History Sample Short Answer Question
Use the picture and answer (a), (b) and (c).
a) Briefly describe ONE perspective on women's rights expressed in the picture.
b) Briefly explain ANY specific historical development or circumstance between 1848 and 1917 that led to demonstrations like the one in the picture.
c) Briefly explain ONE difference between the women's rights movement of 1848–1920 and the women's rights movement of 1950–1980.
Step 1: Analyze the prompt
Read or analyze the source stimulus carefully and highlight important details. If the source is a quote, briefly paraphrase the purpose of the source in your own words to reinforce your understanding. If the source is an image, note its details and point of view. See sample thoughts and notes from a highly rated commenter for the photo below.
- The photo is from 1917 (before the 19th amendment), when Wilson was president.
- The protesters come from their own political party (National Women's Party) and wear traditional women's clothing.
- Protesters are outside the White House and signs are addressed to the president and refer to "freedom" and the "human spirit." Women are probably protesting the right to vote.
Look for any additional information about the source. For this source, note that the highest-rated author has included details from the title (date, location and group involved) in the comments about the source.
Then read the three parts of the assignment carefully and underline exactly what each one requires. Circle, underline, or otherwise highlight the action words (which describe, explain, and explain for this example prompt). Be sure to answer in a way that addresses what each action word requires.
Step 2: Plan your answer
The following sections describe what a high-scoring writer might notice and what to consider when planning a response. For each part of the paper, examples are given of what the high-scoring writer might write as notes.
For Part A, you will be asked to describe a perspective on women's rights that is reflected in the picture. As the high-scoring author was asked to describe, she used her notes to find a perspective in the image that she could provide some relevant details about.
- women in political parties and picketing – points to increased political participation
Part B asks for an explanation of a historical development that led to protests, such as the pickets in the picture. The highly rated writer would reflect on relevant developments between 1848 and 1917 related to the women's rights movement, choosing one where she could use evidence and/or reasoning to explain how the development led to the pressures in the image.
- Seneca Falls Convention
- The first major debate on women's rights led to more debates
- Expression of feelings, debate about the right to vote
Part C requires an explanation of the difference between women's rights movements in different periods. The highly rated writer carefully notes the date ranges indicated, brainstorms the characteristics of each movement, and selects one for which she can use evidence and/or reasons to explain how the movements differed.
- 1848-1920: focused on suffrage, property, jobs. linked to issues such as the abolition, restraint and limitations of child labour
- 1950-1980: Focused on equal pay, no-fault divorce, reproductive rights, ERA
- different foci
Step 3: Action! Write your answer
Just jot down the information using your programming notes. As you write, remember to highlight each part of your answer (a, b, c) and keep your text legible. Refer to the action words in the question to make sure you are doing the correct tasks. See the following example of a high-scoring response and the scoring explanation at the end of this section. One of the best ways to improve your own free responses is to read sample responses, thinking carefully about what makes the responses effective and what features you can copy.
Step 4: Correction
Please wait about a minute for a quick fix, with any errors carefully corrected.
High Scored AP US History Short Answer Example
(a) The image reflects the perspective that in 1917 women were more involved in American politics, even though they did not yet have the right to vote in national elections. Women engage in the political practice of picketing, addressing the president, and as the caption indicates, these women are part of a political party that represents women's rights. The women in the photo believed they had a right to participate in the democratic process, even though they did not yet have official national voting rights.
(b) The Seneca Falls Convention of 1848 is believed to have contributed to twentieth-century political demonstrations such as the one in the photograph. The convention was the first major gathering to discuss women's rights, paving the way for greater attention to women's rights and women's participation in political advocacy. The convention set common goals for the women's movement in the Declaration of Sentiments, and while not everyone agreed on all of the goals, the women's suffrage debate began in earnest. Although the suffrage movement sometimes took a back seat to the abolition cause, it continued to grow until the time of the photograph and the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment.
(c) Movements differ in focus. The earlier movement emphasized women's rights such as voting, employment opportunities, and the right to own property, while the later movement, which emerged after the Nineteenth Amendment, emphasized equal pay, no-fault divorce, and reproductive rights. Because the earlier women's movement had achieved many of its goals, the later movement focused on additional ways to increase equality for women: now that women could work freely outside the home, they could support, for example, fair salaries. The movements also differed in that the movement's earliest activists were often closely associated with other issues of the time, such as abolition and temperance.