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How to Prepare for the United States Government & Politics AP Exam

by Jana Sosnowski, studioD

The AP United States Government and Politics exam is designed by the College Board to be equivalent to one-semester college courses in introductory U.S. government. The College Board describes the course as a study of constitutional underpinnings of government, civil liberties and civil rights, political culture and socialization, citizen participation and influence and political institutions and policy-making as the foundation of modern U.S. politics.

Topics Covered on the Exam

The largest portion of the AP U.S. Government and Politics exam focuses on institutions of national government, including Congress, the presidency, bureaucracy and federal courts. Questions on powers of each institution of national government make up 35 to 45 percent of the exam. Questions on political beliefs and behaviors make up 10 to 20 percent of the exam, and understanding of political parties, interest groups and mass media make up 10 to 20 percent of the exam. The remaining three topics of the exam comprise 5 to 15 percent each: constitutional underpinnings of government, public policy and civil rights and liberties.

Understanding the Test Format

Preparing for the AP exam should include an understanding of and preparation for the test format. The exam is administered in two sections and lasts approximately 2 hours and 25 minutes. The multiple-choice section is 60 questions to be answered in 45 minutes, and the free response section is four questions to be answered in an hour and 40 minutes.

Specific Knowledge for Multiple-Choice

To achieve success on the exam, students will need to identify facts and analyze concepts for each major section of the exam. For example, under the largest portion of the exam covering institutions of national government, students need to know formal and informal arrangements of power and relationships between the presidency, Congress, bureaucracy and federal courts. Links between public opinion and voters, interest groups, political parties, the media and state and local governments should also be understood. In all sections of the exam, patterns of political processes, including behavior and consequences, should be studied in course material. In terms of skills, students should be able to analyze and interpret basic data presented in charts, table and other formats. Critical analysis is also a necessary skill as students should be able to analyze theories and apply them in developing connections across the curriculum.

Free Response Essays

Each of the essay questions will ask for a specific number of examples, explanations or selections that must be included in the response for maximum credit. Knowledge from different content areas may be integrated in a single question and students may have to interpret data in a chart or graph to answer the free response question. The College Board suggests paying close attention to task verbs to guide the answering of these questions: identifying, defining, describing, explaining or comparing. For example, a question from the 2012 AP exam asked students to compare a chart representing minority membership in Congress, explain the Voting Rights Act and 24th Amendment, and identify a barrier to current minority representation in Congress.

About the Author

Based in Los Angeles, Jana Sosnowski holds Master of Science in educational psychology and instructional technology, She has spent the past 11 years in education, primarily in the secondary classroom teaching English and journalism. Sosnowski has also worked as a curriculum writer for a math remediation program. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in print journalism from the University of Southern California.

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