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AP Test Prep

AP Government Review

AP Government Review

Dive into the nuances of the United States government and the inner workings of democracy.  

Any student looking to go into law or politics or simply wanting to learn more about the ins and outs of the U.S. government will find incredible value in AP Government and Politics (or AP Gov, for short). This challenging course will grant students experience reading myriad legal and government documents as well as experience engaging with the complex and nuanced conversations centered around the analysis and interpretation of those documents. Additionally, a high score on the AP exam at the end of the course will likely net college credit in a history course, which is a nice reward on top of the inherently valuable knowledge and skills that come with the class. 

Overview of AP Government Exam

The AP Gov exam is a daunting assessment of every skill the class covers, and it asks students to apply knowledge rather than simply restate facts. The test is broken up into two main sections, the multiple choice questions (MCQs) and a handful of lengthy free-response questions (FRQs). 

Multiple Choice Section Review

Students have an hour and 20 minutes to complete 55 multiple choice questions, the score for which will count for 50% of the overall exam grade. Thirty of these questions are self-contained, where students will simply need to apply skills to questions in isolation. The remainder of the questions are a little more involved and revolve around datasets where students will need to analyze qualitative, quantitative, and visual data.  

Free-Response Section Review

This section contains only four questions, but they are multi-faceted and challenging. One question will involve concept application, where test-takers respond to a political scenario and describe and explain the effects of a political institution, behavior, or process. Next, students will tackle more quantitative analysis by identifying a trend or pattern or drawing a conclusion from a visual representation and explaining how it relates to a political principle, institution, process, policy, or behavior. There’s also the SCOTUS comparison question, where students compare a nonrequired Supreme Court case with a required Supreme Court case, explaining how information from the required case is relevant to the nonrequired one. Lastly, students synthesize evidence from foundational documents to create a robust argument essay. This portion of the exam counts for 50% of the overall score for the test. 

Key AP Gov Exam Topics 

While all content and skills from the entirety of the AP Gov course are necessary for success on the exam, these specific topics compose the bulk of what the exam will entail. 


Students learn about the Founding Fathers and their vision for the United States of America. The class takes these guiding principles and explores their application in the systems we see today in America. Students will also explore how American democracy is a system of compromises, checks and balances, and yet-to-be-resolved questions that challenge us to this day.   

Federated System

The American government operates on multiple levels, and AP Gov covers everything from the federal to the local level governments and how each level answers to others. Students will learn which laws take precedence when conflicts arise, as well as how taxes are managed at different levels. The course also covers the ongoing challenge of determining the balance of power between the different levels of government. 

Political Beliefs and Behaviors 

America is a diverse and wildly-varied place, and that goes for political sentiments, too. AP Gov covers the wide array of political beliefs and behaviors, offering students an intimate look into what people believe and why. Students will also learn how these sentiments shape policy and steer the country’s priorities.  

Political Parties, Interest Groups, and Mass Media 

As an extension of the political beliefs and behaviors portion of the class, AP Gov delves deeply into the evolving values and policies of the major political parties in America. Additionally, students will learn about the complex role of interest groups and the media on influencing both public and politician sentiments and priorities.   

Institutions of National Government 

The course examines the intricacies, challenges, and conflicts inherent in the checks and balances between the three branches of government. Students learn how each branch functions as well as how specific bodies within each branch contribute to the effectiveness of the whole, like how Congress comprises the House of Representatives and the Senate, each body with its own specific powers and responsibilities.    

Civil Rights and Civil Liberties

Take a deep dive into how the Constitution enshrines certain rights to all citizens and how these rights continue to evolve and expand as the country develops. Students will learn about the Bill of Rights and how it set a precedent of government-sanctioned and protected freedoms that set America apart in its earliest days. From there, the class explores how various groups fought for more rights and freedoms and the role different branches of government played in the establishment and protection of these rights.  

AP Gov Exam Tips 

The AP Gov exam is not a test to take lightly, nor is it something a student can study for last minute. Success on the AP exam requires dedication and a plan for success. 

Develop a Study Schedule

The AP Gov exam is skill-based, and those skills can only be refined through extensive and persistent practice. If a student waits until the week before the test to start applying these skills, they will be woefully unprepared. Additionally, the kinds of texts students will read on the exam as part of the more intensive questions are often dense and challenging. Students without ample experience reading such documents will be at a loss. 

Prepared students will set aside time each week to practice the skills learned in class. The more practice reading complex text, the better, too, so time should be dedicated to reading older works with similar syntax and diction to what the works of the Founding Fathers might entail.  

Master the Art of Notetaking 

Notetaking is vital for lecture-based classes, but even more importantly, notetaking is a necessary part of analyzing complex texts. Annotations help students process dense materials, make note of important points, and easily reference parts of the text later. While annotation guides exist, students need to find the right method for them, and that process takes time. Some rely on color-coding and unique symbols while others scribble notes in the margins. The key to success will be refining notetaking skills during class so that analyzing texts on the exam is second nature.  

Understand and Analyze Case Studies 

Analyzing case studies is an integral part of AP Gov, and the process takes some acclimating. While the course itself will expose students to numerous texts, the more practice they can get, the better. In addition to reading comprehension of such dense works, students will need to know how to analyze them, which entails understanding historical context and concepts like judicial precedent. Students will need a working knowledge of U.S. history paired with an ability to process and situate texts to be successful on the exam.  

AP Gov Practice Exams

Even with robust skills and knowledge about the course content, the exam can catch people off guard with its length and intensity. The best way to prepare for this challenge is to take practice exams. College Board offers samples of previous tests online, but these samples are often just snippets of the complete exam and don’t capture the full scope of the test. Publishers offer study books and guides featuring complete practice tests, but these can be pricey. Libraries, however, often have older editions of such study guides for patrons to borrow, but students should ensure that the current year’s test aligns with the study book’s content. The tests do change from time to time, and older study guides might fail to address such changes. 

AP Gov Exam Scoring 

Each section of the exam constitutes 50% of the exam grade, but each question during the FRQ section is worth much more than each MCQ. Note that with the MCQ, students are scored based on how many questions they get correct, so if a test-taker begins to run short on time, educated guesses on remaining questions are advised. 


Number of Questions

% of Exam Score

Section 1

80 minutes

55 multiple-choice questions


Section 2

100 minutes

4 free-response questions


The AP Gov exam is scored on a scale of 1-5, a score of 1 demonstrating little to no mastery of the topics and 5 demonstrating excellent mastery. On average, scores break down as such:



Percentage of Test Takers


Extremely qualified



Well qualified






Possibly qualified



No recommendation


Given the challenging nature of this exam, only about half of students net a passing grade of 3 or above, and less than half of those students demonstrate significant mastery. Careful and deliberate preparation will be necessary to attain success on this test. 

Frequently Asked Questions About AP Gov  

Is AP Gov the hardest exam? 

When judged on pass rate alone, the AP Gov exam is one of the most difficult AP exams, beaten out by only AP U.S. History and AP Physics. The AP Gov exam is also difficult because of the wide array of skills and content ranging from data analysis, case studies, and general knowledge that students need to master. 

What topics are covered in the AP government and politics review? 

The AP Gov review covers topics like the structure of government (branches, checks and balances, etc.), political beliefs and behaviors, civil rights and civil liberties, political parties, interest groups, and the Constitution.

How do I review for the AP Gov exam? 

Make sure to start early refining and practicing the skills you will need to comprehend and analyze complex texts like government documents or court case filings. Take time to become familiar with the test format, too, and taking a practice exam will help with stamina and pacing. 

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