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AP US Government and Politics Exam

How to Ace the AP US Government and Politics Exam

The AP courses and exams that are available for high school students in the United States to take include a number of incredibly fascinating and important topics, such as a guide to the United States government and politics that help form it. That is why thousands of American students each year study for and take the AP US Government and Politics Exam.

Whether you are signing up for the course in school as part of your high school curriculum or are planning on preparing for the exam through self-studying, there are some very important things that you should know about the exam.

One of those things is that scoring a perfect 5 out of 5 on the AP US Government and Politics Exam. It is incredibly difficult. In fact, only 12.9 percent of students who took the exam last year managed to score 5.

Statistics of last year's US Government and Politics scores

The challenging nature of the course is just one of the reasons why college admissions officers in some of the top colleges and universities love to see that high school students have taken the course.

For that reason, we at IvyCollegeAdmit think it is very important for students to have a basic understanding of what they will learn in the course, and what they will be expected to master for the exam before they take the AP US Government and Politics Exam. Together, we will go over the basics of the exam, the different sections of the course, as well as the best ways for you to prepare for the actual exam day as it approaches.

Basics about the AP US Government and Politics Exam

Through the AP US Government and Politics Exam, students will be asked to display their deep understanding of American political culture and history. More specifically, students will have to hold the knowledge and understand concepts behind key political concepts, ideas, institutions, policies, roles, interactions, and behaviors that make up the constitutional system and political culture of the U.S.

Here are the primary practices that you will study through the course and be expected to master before the exam:

  • Concept application: The application of political concepts to scenarios to context
  • SCOTUS comparison: Understand how Supreme Court cases related to one another
  • Data analysis: Analyze and interpret data represented in charts, graphs, etc.
  • Source analysis: Read, analyze, and interpret documents
  • Argumentation: Develop a strong argument and present it clearly in an essay

In addition to the disciplinary practices, students will get the chance to explore five big ideas that serve as the foundation of the AP U.S. Government course and will use the following ideas throughout the entire course.

  1. Constitutionalism: The system of checks and balances between the three branches of government as well as the separation of power between both the federal and state governments. Beyond that, students also learn about the laws and majority rule and minority rights
  2. Liberty and Order: The effects of different interpretations of the United States constitution have on the laws and policies that maintain order and liberty.
  3. Civic Participation in Representative Democracy: Considerations such as popular sovereignty, individualism, and republicanism and their effect on United States laws and policy.
  4. Competition Policy-Making Decisions: Interaction between multiple actors and institutions to produce and implement potential policies.
  5. Methods of Political Analysis: The methods political scientists use to measure United States political behavior, attitudes, ideologies, and institutions over time.

A great way to get the information you need is to check out the College Board site in order to get any additional information that you might be concerned with.

Course content students can expect

The AP US Government course is broken up into five units for students that are enrolled in the course. The five units are as follows:

Different topics tested in the US Government and Politics exam

Exam content students can expect in AP United States Government and Politics

When it comes to the format of the exam itself, the entire exam is broken up into two different sections, multiple choice and free response, and students are given three total hours to complete the entirety of the exam.

Here is the breakdown of exam format as well as the weight that each portion of the exam receives when it comes to the overall score of the AP United States Government and Politics Exam.

A table to show the different questions that are going to be asked

When it comes to preparing for any AP exam, we at IvyCollegeAdmit believe that one of the most important things to prepare yourself for is the actual format and flow of the exam. We will get into how to prepare for that in a little bit, but first, you must familiarize yourself with how you will begin and finish the exam.

Multiple Choice

When you begin your AP United States Government and Politics Exam, the first step you will take will be completing a 55-question multiple-choice section. There are typically 30 individual fact-based questions that stand alone and come with no stimulus. Then, the remaining questions will be group into sets of either two or four questions that respond to the same stimulus.

Overall, there are three types of questions that students taking the exam will face. Those types of questions include:

A few examples of types of questions that students may come across in the AP US Government and Politics Exam

Here are a few examples of types of questions that you may come across during the multiple-choice section:

A few examples of types of questions that you may come across during the multiple-choice section

Free Response

The second, and final, section of the AP United States Government and Politics Exam will have students answering four free-response questions, with students getting 20 minutes each to answer the first three questions and then 40 minutes to answer the final question.

It is important to remember that while the final question gets a 40-minute allotment and will, therefore, like be quite a bit longer than the first three questions, all four questions carry the same weight when it comes to the final grade of the exam and makes up 12.5 percent of each exam’s score.

It is important to remember that not only are facts and knowledge important here, but also a student’s writing ability. It is important that students taking the exam know how to effectively argue their point of view on a matter of stimulus that they are offered in the exam.

As explained previously, the four topics of the exams are as follows:

  • Concept application
    • In this section of the exam, students are offered a hypothetical political scenario and are asked to explain the impact it might have on a political institution, behavior, or process. A sample of a question you might face in the concept application portion of the exam is below:

A sample of a question students might face in the concept application portion of the AP US Government and Politics Exam

  • Quantitative analysis
    • In this section of the exam, students are given a data set that will be represented in a table, graph, map, or infographic. From there, students will be asked to draw a meaningful conclusion or identify a trend or pattern and explain how it relates to some kind of political belief, institution, process, policy, behavior, etc. A sample of a question that you might face in the quantitative analysis portion of the exam is below:

A sample of a question that students might face in the quantitative analysis portion of the exam

  • SCOTUS comparison
    • In this section, students are given a non-required Supreme Court case and are then asked to compare it with a required Supreme Court Case. From there, they explain how the required case is relevant to the non-required case. An example of such a question is below:

A sample of an SCOTUS comparison

  • Argumentation
    • In this final portion of the short-answer section of the exam, students will be tasked with using evidence from a required foundational document as well as course concepts to develop a convincing and cohesive argument.

A sample of a question from the argumentative portion of the AP US Government and Politics Exam

The best way to study for the AP United States Government and Politics Exam

Now that you understand the format of the exam itself, as well as what you can expect to face when you take the exam, it is probably smart for us at IvyCollegeAdmit to walk you through what we believe is the very best way to prepare for the exam.

There are several steps that you can take as you prepare for the day of your exam that will allow you to not only gain a greater understanding of the material that you will be tested on but also familiarize yourself with the format of the exam to such a high level that you will basically be expecting every step before they even arrive!

Let’s break it down together.

Analyze and assess your knowledge and ability

The very first thing that you should do when preparing for the AP United States Government and Politics Exam is to take a full practice exam from start to finish. While you do not technically have to, it is not a bad idea to give yourself the allotted time that you will be given on the day of the exam. This way, you will already start to get a good feel for how much time you will have to answer each question on the exam.

What is most important to do after this initial practice exam, however, is to cross-reference your answers with the answers that you find in the key. This way, you will be able to get a good idea of what subjects you are feeling strongly about and which subject you will likely have to study further to improve your knowledge and understanding.

Study the basics and theory

After you have taken this practice exam, you will have probably identified the areas that you need to continue studying. While referencing your coursework is a great place to start, it is also not a bad idea to continue to learn through returning to sample questions and exams.

If you are looking for answers to specific questions that you might have, one of the best ways to get information is online. There are a number of great sites that you can utilize as you continue studying.

In fact, there is even an on-the-go smartphone app that you can take advantage of. Here are two of the best apps that you can utilize as you prepare for the exam.

Practice multiple-choice and free-response questions

Once you feel as though you have expanded your knowledge to a point that you are ready to take the exam, it is time to return to honing your skills for taking the exam itself. When it comes to the AP United States Government and Politics Exam, and all other AP exams for that matter, practice truly makes perfect.

Start out by testing yourself on multiple-choice sets. It is a great way to not only familiarize yourself with the types of questions you will face as well as with the flow of the exam, it will also help you further identify topics that you still need to work on. The best way to learn through doing here is by completing a set of questions and then going over to the answer key and comparing your answers with the answers that are provided.

You will also want to test the short-answer section of the exam. Make sure that one of the key factors that you pay close attention to is the task verbs that are included. Make sure that you understand what the questions are asking you to do, as that will be a crucial aspect of making sure that you answer the question correctly.

You should make sure that you are being careful about answering all of the questions if it should have multiple parts. Make it a practice to underline each section of the question and then proceed to check them off as you write. This will help you avoid missing important sections of the answers that the standardized rubric will require for perfect scores.

Another valuable practice to make is to use task verbs in the questions in your answer as well. That will make it clear what you are doing and will leave no ambiguity about your determination to answer the question in its entirety.

Take another full exam

The final step that you will take as you prepare for the actual day of the exam is to take practice exams in their entirety. Not only this, but you also want to be sure that you are fully timing yourself while you take this test.

Ideally, you will be able to take multiple practice exams as the day of the actual exam nears. With that being said, once you are getting exceptionally close to the actual day of the exam, it is important to give your mind the rest it needs in order to perform its best. At this point, you simply have to trust your knowledge and preparation before you head into the exam!

Good luck!

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