Strategies for the Multiple-Choice Section

Fifty-five minutes seems really long when you have to get through a whole period in school. But in the AP U .S. History exam, when you're faced with 80 multiple-choice questions, each with 5 possible answers lettered from A to E, those same 55 minutes don't even seem to be enough time to say hello. Yet 55 minutes is plenty of time for 80 multiple-choice questions, when you follow the test-proven strategy provided in this chapter for digging up the winning answers.


If you look at the AP test as payday for all the studying you've done, Section I of the test is where you can score some fast bucks. In only a third of the test time, you can earn half of the test credits. The trick is to avoid turning multiple choice into multiple guess.

You're going to be getting a great grade on multiple-choice Section I because you'll be working like the pros do. Don't waste your time on hard questions. You get the same credit for answering hard questions as easy ones. Get all the easy answers before you bang your head on the hard ones.

Think of each multiple-choice question as a puzzle holding one point worth of credit toward a great score on the AP. To get to that point, you have to avoid four false moves per question. Read carefully, because you can't choose the right answer for sure until you have carefully rejected the four wrong answers.


If you get stressed during your run through the multiple-choice warehouse, do a couple of the deep-breathing exercises outlined in Chapter 2. Breathe in deeply through your nose for a count of four. Breathe out completely through your mouth. Don't overdo it, and keep your eyes on the test.

Points hidden in plain sight

To be fair, the test writers try to hide the points in the most important spots. The AP folks want you to know the key trends in U.S. history, not a bunch of board game trivia. You don't have to remember all the battles or the name of every explorer who ever leaned on a tree. The right answer is often the broadest, most important concept.

Take a look at this example:

1 What was the most important impact of the Great Depression of the 1930s on the United States?

(A) It led to Prohibition.

(B) Lots of Americans were depressed.

(C) Businesses did better with less competition.

(D) It led to an expansion of the role of government and social programs to protect people from poverty.

(E) The United States got off the gold standard to make more money.

The question on the Great Depression almost gave you the answer: It asked for "most important" impact. Even though some of the other answers contain a little bit of truth, the only one that can be the key concept is expansion of the role of government and social programs, choice (D). Some answer choices are attractive bait to lure you into a quick wrong decision. For the question about the Great Depression, some students might guess (B), that lots of Americans were depressed, because that answer could sound like a fit. Watch out for answers that sound a little too simplistic; they're traps.

The key concepts to study for the AP are in this book in italic type: The really big concepts are section headings in this book and your textbook.

Educated guessing

Up to a few years ago, the College Board took away a quarter of a point for every wrong answer on the multiple choice. Because you got penalized for guessing wrong, occasionally it was better not to guess at all. Those dangerous days are gone. Today, wrong answers aren't penalized. Therefore, you need to take a shot at every question. To make it your best shot, think like the people who wrote the test. You may not know everything about U.S. history, but at least you know that you can guess when you need to.

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