Advanced Placement

The Importance of AP Exams Covering Full Course Content

This spring’s AP Exams are assessing a full year of course content, and that should give colleges and universities full confidence that students who score well will be ready to succeed in college. Students deserve the opportunity to be the best equipped they can be for the rigorous classes that await them when they arrive on campus.

Students who master AP material are ready for college because they’ve dug deep into a truly comprehensive subject. In my time as a reader for AP U.S. History, I’ve seen how students can draw on different pieces of the American story to deepen their understanding. A course that covers everything from Native American societies to modern economic debates allows students to gain the context one needs to analyze historical events and assess historical accounts.

One of the aspects of a great history course is its focus on connections across time. Students learn how ideas and movements take shape over many decades, how certain themes in national politics and culture present themselves at different moments, and how seemingly small events can influence the course of history for centuries. It’s hard to do that well if you’re only covering bits and pieces of a subject. In this pandemic year, I've been compassionate and flexible with students who’ve been struggling with covid-related challenges. This does not mean, however, that I have compromised on course content.  Real, college-level insight about what moves history can only come with a mastery of the material.

For example, understanding the language and strategy of the modern civil rights movement is much harder without a close understanding of the abolitionist movement and post-Civil War debates over Reconstruction. To recognize the gains and challenges of the contemporary women’s rights advocates, you need to trace their roots back to Seneca Falls. These are the kind of connections I make in my classes at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. My students are expected to cover a wide range of material that reflects the true sweep of American history.

It’s also the way so many students find their true passions and interests. They discover segments of the American story they didn’t know about and now want to explore in greater depth. College offers many opportunities to delve into specific topics.  Students who arrive with a broad background in history have the chance to find those opportunities earlier. I’m excited for the day when this generation of students arrives on our college campuses, ready to discuss and debate a national story that is still being written.


Dr. Michelle Kuhl is a Professor in the History Department at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh.  She has been involved in scoring the AP US History exam since 2003 and is now the Chief Reader.