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Anika Manzoor

AP US Government and Politics Exam

Well, hello 9th graders, parents of 9th graders, or 10th graders who recently took the AP US Government exam and came to this page by searching “Die AP Gov Die!!!” If you’re in the latter group, I’m sorry. This post won’t help you (the opposite actually), but maybe ice cream will? For those who are looking into the exam either for themselves or their rising sophomore, look no further!

AP US government exam

#1 antidote for post-breakup and/or post-AP stress.

The exam in a nutshell

The AP US Government and Politics Exam essentially tests material that would be covered in a semester-long college US government and politics class. The exam lasts for 2 hours and 25 minutes. There are two sections and they’re both worth 50% of the exam: the multiple-choice section and the free-response question (FRQ) section. The multiple-choice section has 60 questions and 45 minutes to complete. The free-response question section has 4 questions and 100 minutes to complete.

The exam expects students to have a really comprehensive understanding of how government works in the United States. The following are the six key concepts you will need to focus on as well as the proportion they make up the exam (check out the course description for more detail about these concepts):

  • Constitutional Underpinnings of United States Government (5-15%)
  • Political beliefs and behaviors (10-20%)
  • Political Parties, Interest Groups, and Mass Media (10-20%)
  • Institutions of National Government: the Congress, the Presidency, the Bureaucracy, and the Federal Courts (35-45%)
  • Public policy (5-15%)
  • Civil rights and civil liberties (5-15%)

Students take AP exams in May and get their scores back in July. As you may already know, AP exams are scored on a scale from 1 through 5, with 3 being equivalent to the lowest passing grade. You can think of each number corresponding to a letter grade: 5 = A, 4 = B, and so on and so forth.

How hard is the exam?

The average score of the AP US Government test was 2.54 in 2015, which might make it seem like it’s one of the harder exams. However, it’s important to remember that the AP US Government exam is the first AP exam many students have exposure to, which probably accounts for its lower average score.

In reality, the difficulty of the exam depends on the student. The US political system is a huge and complicated beast, so learning about it won’t necessarily be easy, especially if politics is not your cup of tea. Therefore, if you’re planning to take the AP US Government class and/or exam, it’s good that you are looking into it now so that you can get a feel for the concepts and how to approach studying in the next year. If you’re already a politics junkie, then you definitely have a head start!

AP US Government exam tips and resources

Other than paying attention in class and taking really good notes, here are some suggestions for preparing for the AP US Government exam:

  • If watching the news and reading about politics is not your thing, make it your thing because it would be a great way to relate what you’re learning in class to real life. PBS Newshour, NPR, and Roll Call are some suggestions for relatively unbiased news reporting.
  • Get the vocabulary down pat. In the midst of learning a lot of really complicated and maybe boring political processes, learning words and their definitions will seem like a breeze. Not only is learning the vocab the first step in mastering these complicated concepts, you will likely be asked questions related directly to vocab in the multiple-choice and FRQ sections.
  • Learn how to ace the FRQ section; this video describes pretty well how to do it. I cannot overemphasize outlining your response before writing it. Also, to make sure you are actually answering the question and to make to clear to the grader that you are answering the question, use the wording from the question in your answer.
  • Seriously, though, pay attention in class. Take good notes. It’s the best way to ensure that you’ve absorbed the material over the year rather than cramming concepts last minute. But if you find yourself cramming concepts last minute…
  • Some great outside-the-classroom resources to look into are the Crash Course (particularly good for last minute study) and Barron’s books. Keith Hughes and Craig Benzine have some fun videos about US Government and Politics as well.
About Anika Manzoor

A 2013 graduate of Grinnell College, Anika dedicated her first few years as a newly-minted professional to teaching. In addition to being an SAT instructor, she served as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant at a Malaysian secondary school for two years. Considering that both opportunities allowed her to explore fun ways to teach and relate to students who were otherwise bored out of their minds, she is excited to share that expertise on the Magoosh High School blog.

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