If you would like to be the 10% of students who gets a 5 in the Advanced Placement U.S History (APUSH) exams, you probably should get an APUSH review book as well as a pack of flash cards for self-practice.
This one is my top pick:
There are several AP US history review books out there.
The biggest differences between them are detail and the practice exams:
- Some are more Detailed than Others: If you have 2 months or more to study before the exam, I’d recommend a detailed review book that will help you get those additional details that will help you get that 5 you’re after.
- Some have more Practice Exams than Others: Most (but not all) books come with practice exams. Some of the books (like the Princeton Review) have really difficult practice exams while others (like Barron’s) have slightly easier exams. Also check the number of practices you get. Some books give you 5, others give you 0.
In my opinion, the best AP U.S History Review Books are:
|The Best AP US History Review Books||Brief Review||My Rating|
|Cracking the AP U.S History Exam (Princeton Review)|
The Princeton Review remains the most thorough APUSH test prep book on the market. Its multiple practice tests and online supplementary materials mean it’s packed with value. Jump to my full Review of this book.
|AP U.S. History Prep Plus 2020 & 2021 (Kaplan)|
I really like that you get a customized study plan that will tell you how to read the book (depending on how much study time you have). It’s also got pre-tests at the start of every chapter which is great. There are 3 practice tests included. Jump to my full Review of this book.
AP U.S. History: Complete Content Review (Sterling Test Prep)
|I love this book because it’s got the clearest and easiest to read explanations. It really disappoints me that it doesn’t have practice exams, or else it would have been my top recommendations. Jump to my full Review of this book.|
|AP United States History Test Prep (Barron)||The 5 practice tests are excellent but not as hard as the Princeton Review tests. The content is detailed, but at times a little bland. Jump to my full Review of this book.||8/10|
|AP U.S. Government & Politics Crash Course (Nancy Felton)|
Get this book if you’re low on time and want to consume the raw facts as fast as possible. It’s concise and gives you only what you need, no more no less. Jump to my full Review of this book.
Best AP US History Review Books
1. Cracking the AP U.S History Exam (Princeton Review)
Quick Review: A very thorough review book with really tough practice exams to ensure you’re prepared for the real thing.
This book has long been considered the premiere review book for the AP US History (APUSH) exam. The Princeton Review works hard to maintain their status at the top of the pack, with multiplefull-length practice tests and instructions & tips on exactly how to tackle the multiple choice section.
The Princeton Review’s practice tests are notoriously hard – the goal of this book is really to over-prepare you for the exam so when you walk in you’re confident they you’ll ace it.
I also like their practice multiple choice quizzes at the end of each section which are thorough and quite difficult to really ensure you know what you’re doing. But, unlike the Kaplan book, there aren’t pre-quizzes at the start of chapters.
Something else that bothers me about this books is that you don’t actually get to the content review until page 145. Before that there’s a whole lot of information about how to pass the exam which honestly could have been placed at the back of the book because most people aren’t getting a review book for 145 pages of tips on how to take an exam.
When you do get to the content, it’s clear and detailed. I like that there are notes placed in the margins for you to quickly get key definitions and tips. But I also feel like the paragraphs are sometimes a bit too long which makes reading the content laborious at times. I’d prefer the paragraphs to be shorted and more broken up to help me read it without losing my spot or falling asleep.
Why this Book:
- Five Practice Tests: Five practice tests will ensure you’ve got a lot of practice before walking into the exam. You also have multiple choice quizzes at the end of each section of the book.
- The Practice Tests are Hard: The practice tests are just as hard (or even harder than) the exam itself, which helps you prepare for a tough question on the day.
- Great Advice on How to do the Test: While tedious, the first 145 pages do give some great advice on how to tackle the exam, especially the multiple choice sections.
- Online Materials: You get access to all their online materials so you can keep practicing online. Their online portal also gives you all the updates you’ll need on the exam.
Keep in Mind:
- Long Paragraphs: I found the length of the paragraphs a bit tedious at times compared to other review books.
2. AP U.S. History Prep Plus 2020 & 2021 (Kaplan)
Quick Review: Get this one if you want a customized study plan and a whole lot of multi-choice quizzes to assess your knowledge as you go.
The Kaplan US History Prep book is a thorough review of all content in the exam. I prefer the was the Sterling Test Prep book is written as it feels more digestible for me, but this one is still good.
The biggest benefit of this book is the customizable study plan, which is unique. You can choose between:
- Comprehensive review: Follow this plan if you have more than 2 months until the exam and want to cover all the content in the course.
- Targeted review: Follow this plan if you have less than 2 months and want to focus on improving your weaknesses.
- Time Crunch review: Follow this plan if you have less than 1 month and need to get the most important information as fast as possible.
If you’re doing the targeted review, you can assess your prior knowledge at the beginning of each chapter and only focus on the information that you don’t know or have as your weaknesses.
However, for a ‘time crunch’ style review, I’d probably stick with Larry Krieger’s Crash Course book.
This book comes loaded with some great extras like online tests, practice tests at the end of chapters, and unique study plans you can personalize for your own requirements.
I appreciate that they have updated their explanations of the answers from their 2018-19 edition which has significantly improved this book although I’d still like to see better answers and explanations about the multi-choice sections.
There are quizzes at the beginning and end of each chapter as well as three practice tests at the end of the book. These are further supplemented by an online scoring tool that will tell you what grade you’re likely to get in the exam. All the online supplemental materials are great.
Why This Book:
- Practice Tests: There are many practice tests and quizzes, supplemented by more online practice materials.
- Study Plan: The customizable study plan idea is a great idea for helping students get the most out of the book for their needs.
- Detailed: The review is very detailed and will give you all the information you need to ace the exam.
3. AP U.S. History: Complete Content Review (Sterling Test Prep)
Quick Review: Takes you through the 9 historical periods in a story-like way making it easy to read.
I like how this book is structured more like a story than many other books. It takes you through the 9 historical periods in full-paragraph, multi-page explanations. The explanations are supplemented by pictures which break up the writing pretty well.
This book would probably be best for someone who wants to sit down and consume the information like they would in a book, rather than someone who wants to get simple crash course notes to study from.
You come away from this book feeling like you’ve gotten a good quality, detailed account of all the important information. Some other AP US History review books feel a little light on detail, while this one feels like it’s given me sufficient details to know the content well.
However, I imagine it would be hard to dig up specific points from each Key Concept if you’re using this as a reference book precisely because it’s all told in a story-like fashion. Compare that to books that are structured more like bullet-point reports which would be better as ‘reference books’.
Another great reason to get this book would be to supplement your in-class readings. It would likely give you additional details that would sit beside what you’re learning in class really well to supplement your knowledge.
Why This Book:
- Great Details: It goes into a lot of depth in a really clear and readable way.
- Very Readable: I find this to be one of the easiest to read books as it sometimes feels like reading a (admittedly bland) story rather than just having facts thrown at you.
- I Love the Pictures: The pictures somehow break up the reading and make it easier to get through each page.
- Gets Straight to It: I get really annoyed at books that spend the first 100 pages giving tips on ‘how to sit an exam’. Honestly, I don’t think many people care for that – they just want the info they need! And this book delivers, jumping straight into the first period on Page 14.
Keep in Mind:
- No Practice Test: This might be a deal breaker for some.
4. AP United States History Test Prep (Barron)
Quick Review: A detailed and through review with 5 practice exams.
This is another very popular APUSH review book. Barron’s are a premium test prep company who is also well known for their flash cards (which I love).
In this book you’ll get clear explanations of all 9 periods and multiple choice quizzes at the end of each section. But that’s pretty standard for the review books.
Something that does stand out is the 5 practice tests – 2 in the book and 3 online. This number of practice tests matches the Princeton Review’s book. However, these practice tests are significantly easier. I also found the quizzes at the end of each chapter to be pretty easy and soft on you.
Like the Princeton Review book, I at times found the paragraph lengths tedious and each page felt a bit bland. For me, that really suppressed my desire to keep reading through a full chapter in one sitting.
However, I do still like Barron’s and they provide high quality information. I’d still recommend their APUSH flash cards, for example.
Why this Book:
- Easy Quizzes: If you’re starting from a low base of knowledge or are not feeling confident, the quizzes in this book might ease you into the information.
- Five Practice Tests: I like just how many practice tests are included. This gives you a lot of hands-on exam like preparation.
5. AP U.S. History Crash Course (Larry Krieger)
Quick Review: A no-nonsense book that will give you the most important information – fast.
I love that this study guide provides short, no-nonsense notes. It is a very well organized, trimmed down guide on exactly what you need to memorize in order to succeed in the AP exam. It tries to get across the most important information in the least amount of words possible.
Because it’s so brief, I also think this guide is also incredibly clear. It doesn’t waste a word and gives all the information to you straight.
To be fair, if you need the most information in the least amount of time because the exam is in 5 days and you’re feeling incredibly unprepared … this is the book for you.
But students who need additional details and context might not want this review book though. It’s really more as a supplemental study guide or even a ‘cram’ guide for just the most important things you need to cram into your head before you walk into that exam room.
I feel a student wouldn’t be able to get a 5 just from this book alone. It doesn’t provide quite enough detail. But it’ll likely get you through the exam in one piece.
Something else I really like about this book is that it doesn’t waste 100 pages at the start talking about “how to do well in the exam”. It has information about that toward the end of the book, but it front-ends all the important stuff: the actual content you need to know! It’s really symptomatic of this book’s no-nonsense approach to studying for an exam.
Why This Book:
- No Nonsense Notes: It doesn’t mess around with anything but the most important details – and tells them to you straight.
- Perfect for Cramming: It gives you exactly what you need to get through the exam if you’re starting to freak out that you haven’t got the basics covered.
- Very Clear: Its notes are possibly the clearest out of any AP US history textbook.
- Affordable: It’s probably the cheapest AP US history review book you’ll find.
Keep in Mind:
- Low on Detail: It tells you the facts, but not much more. There isn’t much context or additional detail that might help you to excel in the essay sections of the exam.
- Only one Practice Test: You get one online practice test. Other books provide practice tests for each section plus multiple practice tests at the end of their books.
What to Look for in an APUSH Review Book
A review book is not a textbook. It is a book that you should use to review in preparation for the exam only. The textbook will be much more detailed and will take you all year to get through with the support of your class teacher.
So here are the key features of a good APUSH review book:
Not all books are equally detailed. I personally love the amount of detail in the Stirling Test Prep book (it’s my favorite – but it doesn’t have practice tests!). The top 4 in this list all have a lot of good detail in them.
The one book that is less detailed is Larry Krieger’s Crash Course book. It’s purposefully less detailed, though, because it is designed to give you the bare bones facts that you need if you’re really cramming late in the game. It definitely serves its purpose for someone who’s panicking and needs to cram with 2 weeks until the exam begins.
2. Practice Tests
Students love books with practice tests included in them. You’ll get two types of practice tests.
Each chapter usually has a set of multiple choice questions at the end of them to assess your retention of what you just read. But I also love how the Kaplan book has a pre-test at the beginning of each chapter so you know your weaknesses before you start reading.
There should also be full practice tests at the end of the book or as an online supplement. The Princeton Review and Barron’s books both have 5 practice tests which is excellent. Unfortunately the Stirling Test Prep book doesn’t include practice tests.
3. Clarity and Ease of Reading
This is a really important consideration. I hate when a book has paragraphs that go on and on. Short, clear paragraphs that are broken up with supplementary images can really make your reading experience much better. The Stirling Test Prep book really excels in terms of ease of reading.
4. Exam Tips and Study Guide
Some books will come with exam tips and study guides.
The book with the best study guides is the Kaplan book. It’s great! It lets you customize your reading experience depending on how much time you have before the exam. You can ‘cram’, do a ‘targeted review’ or a ‘comprehensive review’. I love this idea.
The Princeton Review book has the best exam tips, but their tips go on and on and on … I wish they were shorter to be honest.
What to Expect in the AP US History Exam
The AP U.S. History exam is a 3 hour and 15 minute examination equivalent to a freshman-level college US history exam.
The exam has two sections and two parts in each section.
Section 1 covers American History from European contact (and just prior) all the way up to the present day.
Time Provided: You will spend 1 hour and 35 minutes on Section 1. You will get 55 minutes for Part A and 40 minutes for Part B. These separate time periods for each section are mandatory, so you cannot ‘borrow time’ from the other part – e.g. you cannot start Part B early or go overtime for Part A.
Value: Section 1 is worth 60%. This includes Part A (40%) and Part B (20%).
Part A of Section 1 has 55 multiple choice questions. You will have to select the correct answer between four multi-choice options for all 55 questions. You will be given 55 minutes to complete this section.
Part B of Section 1 has four short-answer questions, but you only have to answer three. You get to choose to answer either the third or forth question in Part B. You will be given 40 minutes to complete this section.
Section 2 requires you to quickly write two essays that demonstrate your historical reasoning skills. The historical reasoning skills you will need to demonstrate are: 1. patterns of continuity and change, 2. comparison, or 3. causation.
Time Provided: You will spend 1 hour and 40 minutes on Section 2. There is an initial fifteen-minute period designated for reading the essay prompts, take notes, and develop a plan of attack. Many students just get started straight away during those 15 minutes, and that’s allowed.
You will then have 85 minutes of writing. It is recommended that you spend 45 minutes on Part A and 40 minutes on Part B, but this is just a recommendation.
Value: Section 2 is worth 40%. This includes Part A (25%) and Part B (15%).
Part A: Part A of Section 2 is an essay in response to a provided document. This document will have an essay prompt and seven primary sources related to the prompt. You will need to write an essay that answers the prompt, refers to the provided primary sources, and utilizes other knowledge that you have about US history. It is recommended by the exam board that you take 45 minutes for Part A.
Part B: Part B of Section 2 requires you to write the second essay. You will be given three essay prompts and you can choose the essay prompt that you would like to answer. It is recommended by the exam board that you take 40 minutes for Part B.
This review of the best AP US history review books has concluded that there are different types of books for different purposes. While my preferred book for clarity and ease of reading is the Stirling Test Prep book, I couldn’t recommend it as it didn’t have thorough practice tests. So, I settled on the Princeton Review book at the top pick given just how many great supplementary materials it provides. If you need to cram really fast, I’d recommend Larry Krieger’s Crash Course book.
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Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]