Best AP US History Books – May 2021 Exam

Widely known as APUSH, AP US history is no mere quintessential chronicling of past events. It is a course that exposes students to the intricacies of US history with the objective of equipping them with an understanding of the implication of these events, and to help them navigate similar present-day and future occurrences.

The AP US history course break-down details significant events in U.S. history spanning 1491 till date -- and naturally, finding books that condenses relevant information without skimping on a few facts may prove to be quite the challenge. But given that nearly 50% of those who take the exam reportedly fail it, there is no arguing the importance of having up-to-date review materials.

To get you started on your way to acing the AP US history exam, we did some of the leg work and sifted through a barrage of AP US history texts and study guides to find the best five.

You'll be impressed with the results 

The Ultimate AP US History Prep List

The learning objective of AP US history as outlined by the college board is for students to cultivate an understanding of American history by exploring various national and international concepts in order to analyze historical sources and make connections that can spur historical arguments.

Thus, a great AP US History book must be one that:

  • Encompasses all nine units of the AP US History framework
  • Thoroughly discusses historical developments and processes
  • Engages the analytical capability of students in sourcing, arguments and contextualizing events, developments and processes
  • Features comprehensive exercises and answers to accompany each module or chapter.

And in choosing our recommended texts, we were sure to make sure they checked all the above boxes -- and more:

If you’re looking to score a straight 5 in your upcoming AP US history test, then this Princeton Review book should be your top choice.

The book comes loaded with relevant and informative materials. What’s more, it also covers every important historical detail that might be tested or assessed in the exam. 

Although this is not entirely a textbook, this review is extremely useful in the way it approaches history. Unlike common books, it gives you a summary of every section is a simple and easy-to-approach manner. Since the content of these summaries is easy to grasp, you can conveniently recall everything you've learned in the chapter.

The book doesn't include any fluff or unnecessary material.

While flipping through the chapters, we were also impressed by the practice tests and the review questions. Every section in this book ends with a set of challenging questions. This way, you can self-assess how you’ve fared in the test. By the time you complete all the questions, you will realize that you have successfully retained the important historical details that you’ll need for the exam. 

As with other books from the Princeton Review, this book includes questions that are more challenging than the real AP US history test. This way, you get to prepare yourself for the most challenging questions that might come your way. You get to tackle pressure better, and when you finally give the AP US history exam, you can answer the questions more strategically.

A defining aspect of Cracking The AP US History Exam is that it includes plenty of pointers that help you answer the multiple-choice questions better. Although some of the material of this book is recycled from its previous versions, we would still laud it for the quality of content, the useful pointers, and the challenging questions.

Both teachers and students have been extremely positive about the book. Students have especially raved about the informative practice tests. Overall, we loved the book and we will certainly recommend it to avid learners. 


  • Offers excellent coverage of the essential facts related to American History.
  • Assists you in answering multiple-choice and essay-type questions
  • Comes with five practice tests that are more challenging than your real AP US History Test.
  • Available at an extremely affordable price.


  • Some sections of this book have been directly lifted from the older versions of Cracking the AP US History.

Aligned with the upcoming AP US History Exam, Barron's APUSH book offers a comprehensive review of important historical aspects.

The biggest highlight of this book is the five practice tests that help students prepare better for their exam. 

We were especially impressed with the full-length practice tests as they are tailored according to the form and structure of the actual AP US history exam. Among these five practice tests, three are online tests and two are included in the printed book. Note that each of these practice tests come with detailed answers and explanations. This way, you can assess your performance and pinpoint the areas where you require more attention.

The book also includes several essential test-taking strategies. These strategies are useful for answering your multiple-choice questions, short questions, essay type questions, and the document-centric questions. When you follow these guidelines, preparing your answer gets easier. This also helps you fare better as you're completely aware of what the examiner is looking for.

Finally, as with other leading AP US History guides, this book includes a detailed review of every topic in the curriculum of AP US History. This includes sections involving the precontact of American societies, the evolution of Colonial societies, the Great American Revolution, the Civil war and its reconstruction, the development of industrialization, the first and second World Wars, the Great Depression, and American During the age of great leaders like Clinton, Bush, and Obama. In addition to the mentioned topics, you will also find due assistance on other important AP US History topics.

The book is comprehensive, and the guidelines introduced here are easy to follow. Going by its rave reviews and the quality of the materials, we will certainly recommend this test prep. 


  • Follows a simple and easy approach.
  • Includes five important full-length tests.
  • Comes with useful test-taking strategies that help you fare better.
  • The answers included in the book are detailed and glitch-free.


  • Doesn’t highlight the key areas to focus on.
  • Comes with some extra details that may not be important for your AP US History Exam.

Kaplan’s book is yet another top resource for your AP US History Exam. The book includes both online and offline resources which are equally useful for faring well in your exam. 

As with other AP US History test prep guides, this book offers comprehensive reviews of key historical areas. Additionally, it also comes with three full-length practice tests that help you work on your preparation better.

The unique aspect of this test prep is that it includes an online scoring tool that can be used for converting the raw score to a score ranging from 1 to 5. This way, you have complete clarity about your current performance.

Kaplan’s Test Prep also comes with a set of pre and post quizzes in all their chapters. These quizzes are imperative in helping you assess your progress in every important area.

Next in line, is the content review. Unlike other top AP US History test prep guides, this book only includes the content reviews for the concepts you’ll need in the exam. Since they don’t advocate you to spend time on extraneous details, you get to study these important details faster. The guide also includes fully customized study plans that can be tailored according to your specific study goals and preparation times. The online quizzes, on the other hand, help you with extra practice.

The book also includes a set of test-taking strategies that are tailored for your AP US History Exam. With these strategies, you have clarity about the areas that require your attention and those areas, that can be overlooked for your test.

Overall, this study guide offers excellent guidance. The experts who've designed the test and the practice questions have a thorough knowledge of the nitty-gritty of the test. Since every explanation is included in the study guide, you won't be surprised with challenging questions or a different exam structure during your AP US History Test. The book updates you about the important question formats and when you finally complete it, you're thoroughly prepared for the test.


  • Includes practice exams and an online-scoring model to assess your performance.
  • Offers a detailed and thorough explanation of the key areas you'll need for the exam.
  • Updates you about the format and structure of the AP US History test.
  • Includes useful test-taking strategies that help you perform better.
  • The content review doesn’t include extraneous concepts.
  • Comes with a set of quizzes at the beginning and end of every chapter. 


  • The answers included in the practice tests do not offer detailed explanations.
  • The online scoring tool might be slightly challenging for beginners.

When it comes to AP US History, you can never go wrong with Sterling Test Prep. This is one of the main reasons why you should get this book for your upcoming history exam. 

This book includes a thorough and exam-oriented assessment of all important periods. What’s more, it also familiarizes you with the key concepts as prescribed by the College Board in their 2021 outline. 

The content of this review book is organized in nine different historical periods and they focus on the key concepts that are frequently asked in the AP US History exam. The biggest highlight is perhaps the fact that you get to glance through this information clearly and concisely. In other words, this book is more of a crash course that helps you understand the nitty-gritty of AP history.

As you start using this book, you can focus on a specific historical period at once. Alternatively, you can also use the key concepts for internalizing the most essential historical relationships.

You can use this preparatory book both as a review guide and as your accompanying text for the 2021 AP US History exam. When you start using it as your study guide, you will inadvertently grasp the essential skills required for acing the AP US History exam.

This book also teaches you to develop your historical assessment abilities. This way, you can assess historical events better and respond to the required questions faster. It teaches you to chronologically reason various historical events, draw multiple comparisons, contextualize texts, and craft your arguments with proper historical evidence. So, by the time you complete this book, you are thoroughly prepared for the AP US History exam.

Teachers have highly recommended Sterling's Test Prep because it is written and edited by qualified teachers and professionals. The book emphasizes on curriculum, and the discussions featured here are outlined by the College Board. This book is also tested for consistency by a team of expert educators who prepare students for standardized tests. So, if you want to ace your tests, think no further and get this book right away.


  • Offers a comprehensive insight into AP US History.
  • Teaches you chronological reasoning and contextualization.
  • Checked and edited by a team of professional scholars, teachers, and educators.
  • Divided into nine concise sections for better understanding.
  • The teaching approach is simple and straight-forward. 


  • The book is slightly more expensive than the others, however, the information is slightly better and more up to date. 

AP US History Test Structure

The AP US History Exam has two sections. Each section is further classified into two departments. Here’s a brief overview of the section.

Section 1A

Type: Multiple Choice.

Number of Questions: 55

Time: 55 Minutes

Scoring: 40% of the test score.

Note that this section includes primary and secondary sources along with graphs, maps and images.

Section 1B

Type: Short Answer

Number of Questions: 3

Time: 40 Minutes

Scoring: 20% of your test score

Note that while the first and second questions are compulsory, students can choose between the third and the fourth questions.

Section 2A

Type: Document Based

Number of Questions: 1

Time: 60 Minutes (Including a reading time of 15-minutes)

Scoring: 25% of your test score

In this test, students will get seven documents offering various historical perspectives about a certain historical event or development. They are required to assess these documents as historical evidence and develop an argument along with proper analysis.

Section 2B

Type: Long Essay

Number of Questions: 1

Time: 40 Minutes

Scoring: 15% of your test score

For this test, you need to explain and assess important issues in US History. You will be required to develop your arguments along with proper analysis of the historical evidence.

Additional Tips & Resources For Studying

Understand Your Documents

While reading the documents, do not waste time assessing every small detail. Instead, get a basic understanding of the document. Highlight the important parts. Finally, write one or two sentences explaining the primary idea behind the document and the type of argument it is supporting. This will make it simpler to outline your essay.

Use the Right Voice

The right voice in your AP US History Exam is a perfect balance between formal and personal. Avoid writing in a robotic tone. Similarly, you shouldn't write the answer like you are talking to a friend. Do not use ‘I' or ‘you' in the answers.

Cross Out Wrong Answers

For multiple-choice questions, cross out the answers that you think are obviously wrong. This way, you’re a step closer to finding the right answer.