Published March 28, 2024

Everything You Need to get a 5 on AP United States Government and Politics


Natasha Potter

MSU Alumni, Creative Advertising Major, Marketing Associate at Knowt 😃

No worries, this guide has got your back with some seriously awesome strategies and killer tips for the AP United States Government test. I'm gonna lay out all the tricks and resources you need to know how to pass the AP US Gov exam and snag that sweet 5 score! So, get pumped and get ready to conquer the AP Government exam like a pro with the right approach and the absolute best AP Government exam tips out there. You've got this!

Free AP United States Government and Politics Resources

No need to stress if you're cramming for the AP United States Government and politics exam last-minute – we've all been there! So, no worries, you totally got this! If you're looking for some guidance on how to ace the AP US Government exam with limited time, we've got your back. Check out these super helpful tips on the best way to study for the AP US Gov exam from fellow students who've been in your shoes, along with these AP US Government and Politics exam tips tailored for effective last-minute studying. Armed with these tools, you'll totally crush that exam!

What Do I Need to Memorize for the AP United States Government and Politics exam?

When gearing up for the AP US Government Exam, your study plan should equip you with the skills to accomplish the following:

1. Describe and Compare: You'll be able to articulate and draw comparisons between essential facts, concepts, and theories relating to U.S. government and politics. Understanding the ins and outs of our government structure and how it operates will be second nature to you.

2. Explain Patterns and Processes: Dive into the intriguing world of political behavior, comprehending typical patterns and processes, and their far-reaching consequences. You'll explore the components that drive political behavior, the principles that underpin various government structures and procedures, and the significant political effects stemming from these structures and procedures.

3. Interpret Data: Fear not the data! You'll be proficient in interpreting and making sense of fundamental data relevant to U.S. government and politics, be it presented in charts, tables, or other formats. Data analysis will be your superpower!

4. Engage in Critical Analysis: Get ready to put on your analytical thinking cap. You'll critically dissect relevant theories and concepts, skillfully apply them when needed, and create meaningful connections across the entire curriculum. Your ability to think critically and holistically will set you apart.

Additionally, you need to know the following documents, amendments, and supreme court cases: 


Fed 10 (Federalist Paper No. 10): This paper, written by James Madison, says that a big country can better protect against groups of people who try to push their own interests over others'. It suggests having elected representatives is a good way to prevent any one group from having too much power.

Brutus 1: This essay argued against the new U.S. Constitution. The author was worried it gave too much power to the national government and would end up taking away freedoms from the states and the people.

DOI (Declaration of Independence): This important document announced that the American colonies were breaking away from Britain. It talks about the rights all people should have and why the colonies needed to become their own country.

AOC (Articles of Confederation): Before the U.S. Constitution, the Articles of Confederation were the first rules for how the American government worked. It made a loose friendship between the states, but it was too weak to do a lot of important things, like collect taxes or make sure the states worked together well.

The Constitution and BOR (Bill of Rights): The Constitution set up the structure of the U.S. government as we know it today. The Bill of Rights is the first ten amendments to the Constitution, and they list the specific freedoms that the government promises to protect for all people, like freedom of speech and religion.

Fed 51 (Federalist Paper No. 51): Written by James Madison, this essay talks about how the structure of the new government under the Constitution will protect people's freedom. It explains why it's good to have separate branches of government and how this helps prevent any one part from getting too powerful.

Letter from Birmingham Jail: Written by Martin Luther King Jr., this letter defends the strategy of nonviolent resistance to racism. He wrote it from jail after being arrested during a protest and argued that people have a moral duty to break unjust laws and to take direct action rather than waiting potentially forever for justice to come through the courts.

Fed 70 (Federalist Paper No. 70): Written by Alexander Hamilton, this paper argues that a strong and energetic executive leader is essential for good government. It says having one person as president is better than having several because it's clearer who is responsible for decisions and actions.

Fed 78 (Federalist Paper No. 78): Also written by Alexander Hamilton, this essay talks about the judicial branch of government, especially the role of the federal courts and judges. It argues for the importance of an independent judiciary to protect the rights of individuals against the majority's will and to ensure the laws stay consistent with the Constitution.

You can read more about what to specifically know about each foundational document at the Knowt Blog

Amendments: Make sure you know the 13th-15th amendments, which are all about voting rights, 18th-21st amendments that both legalize and ban prohibition, and the 19th amendment which granted women the right to vote. It’s always a good idea to study the other amendments, but these ones especially like to show up on the exam. 

Supreme Court Cases: 

Marbury v. Madison (1803): This case said that the Supreme Court can decide if laws go against the Constitution. It's why the courts can tell the President or Congress "no" if they do something the Constitution doesn't allow.

McCulloch v. Maryland (1819): The state of Maryland couldn't tax a bank set up by the U.S. government. This case showed that when state and federal laws conflict, federal laws win.

U.S. v. Lopez (1995): The Supreme Court said that Congress went too far in using its power to control guns in schools. This case was about keeping a balance of power between the states and the federal government.

Engel v. Vitale (1962): The court decided that public schools can't make students pray. It was important for separating church and state, saying schools can't favor one religion over others or religion over no religion.

Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972): Amish families didn't have to send their kids to school past 8th grade because of their religious beliefs. The court said their freedom of religion was more important in this case than the state's interest in education.

Tinker v. Des Moines (1969): Students in public schools are allowed to express their opinions, like wearing armbands to protest a war, as long as it doesn't disrupt school. It was a big moment for students' free speech rights.

New York Times v. the U.S. (1971): The government couldn't stop the New York Times from publishing the Pentagon Papers, which were secret documents about the Vietnam War. This case was a win for freedom of the press.

Schenck v. the U.S. (1919): This case said free speech could be limited if it poses a "clear and present danger." Like, you can't yell "fire!" in a crowded place as a joke. It was about balancing freedom of speech with keeping people safe.

Gideon v. Wainwright (1963): If you're accused of a serious crime and can't afford a lawyer, the government has to provide one for you. This case made sure everyone has a fair chance in court.

Roe v. Wade (1973): This decision said that the Constitution protects a woman's right to choose to have an abortion without government restriction. It was a huge moment for privacy rights and women's rights.

McDonald v. Chicago (2010): The Supreme Court said that the Second Amendment, which allows people to have guns, also stops cities and states from banning them completely. It made sure the right to have guns applies all across the country.

Brown v. Board of Education (1954): This case ended racial segregation in public schools. The court said that separating black and white students was unconstitutional because it was never truly equal.

Citizens United v. FEC (2010): The court decided that corporations and unions can spend money on political campaigns, saying it's part of free speech. This case changed how money can be used in politics.

Baker v. Carr (1962): This case allowed courts to hear cases about how states draw their voting districts. It was important for making sure all votes count equally, known as "one person, one vote."

Shaw v. Reno (1993): The court said that voting districts can't be drawn just based on race. It was about finding a balance between making sure everyone has fair representation and not separating people by race.

To learn more about these specific Supreme Court cases and how you should study, read our Supreme Court blog!

By honing these essential skills and studying these documents, you'll be all set to tackle the AP US Government Exam with confidence and finesse, ready to showcase your comprehensive understanding of the complex world of U.S. government and politics. Embrace the challenge, and let your knowledge shine brightly!

What is on the AP United States Government and Politics Exam?

Let's take a closer look at the five major units that you'll dive into during the AP Gov course, and I've got this handy chart that breaks down the approximate percentage each unit contributes to the multiple-choice section of the AP test:

  1. Foundations of American Democracy: This unit sets the groundwork, accounting for around 15% of the multiple-choice questions. You'll explore the historical context, principles, and ideologies that laid the foundation for the American democratic system.

  2. Interactions Among Branches of Government: Around 25% of the multiple-choice questions come from this unit. Brace yourself for an exploration of the intricate relationships and dynamics between the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of our government.

  3. Civil Liberties and Civil Rights: This unit packs a punch with approximately 20% of the multiple-choice questions. Prepare to delve into the realm of individual freedoms, liberties, and the pursuit of justice and equality.

  4. American Political Ideologies and Beliefs: Accounting for roughly 20% of the multiple-choice section, this unit delves into the various political ideologies and beliefs that shape the American political landscape.

  5. Political Participation: Last but not least, this unit claims around 20% of the multiple-choice questions. Get ready to explore the fascinating world of political participation, from voting behaviors to political parties and more.

So, as you embark on your AP Gov journey, keep these units and their respective contributions in mind. Understanding the distribution of content will help you strategize and focus your efforts during exam preparation. Now, let's conquer each unit one by one, and ace that AP Gov test!

AP United States Government and Politics Exam Format

If you've tackled AP exams in subjects like World History, European History, or US History before, brace yourself for something different this time! The AP US Government exam takes a bit of a detour from those history exams you've experienced. Don't worry; it's a mixed bag – easier to prepare for in some aspects, but also a bit tougher in others. Here's the lowdown: Unlike those history exams with multiple sections, the AP US Government Exam keeps it simple with just two sections. Yep, you heard that right – two sections to conquer, so buckle in and learn how to prepare for the AP United States Government and Politics exam!

So, while it might not be as sprawling as those history exams, there's still a unique challenge to tackle. But hey, now that you're in the know, you can tailor your preparation and game plan accordingly. Let's navigate this new territory together and rock that AP US Government exam!

Section and Percentage 

# of Questions 


Multiple choice: 50%


1 hr 20 mins 

Free Response: 50%


1 hr 40 mins 

What does the AP US Government MCQ look like?

The initial section of the exam is the multiple-choice part, lasting for one hour and 20 minutes. It consists of 55 questions, a mix of set-based and individual questions. Each question offers four answer choices (A-D).

You earn 1 point for every correct answer you provide, and there are no deductions for incorrect responses or leaving questions blank.

The set-based questions fall into three categories:

  1. Quantitative Analysis: There are five sets, with two to three questions per set.

  2. Qualitative Analysis: This section comprises two sets, with three to four questions per set.

  3. Visual Analysis: There are three sets, each having two questions.

What does the AP United States Government FRQ look like?

The free-response section stretches for one hour and 40 minutes, giving you a bit more time compared to the multiple-choice part. This section comprises four questions, and each question contributes 12.5% to your final score (though the raw points may vary slightly, the percentage value remains the same for all).

Here are the four types of free-response questions along with their recommended time allocations:

  1. Concept Application (3 points, suggested 20 minutes)

  2. Quantitative Analysis (4 points, suggested 20 minutes)

  3. SCOTUS Comparison (4 points, suggested 20 minutes)

  4. Argument Essay (6 points, suggested 40 minutes)

FRQ Advice

If you do in fact get the Argumentative Essay, don’t panic; here’s what to know. It is graded on a scale from 1 to 7 depending on how well or not so well you do. 1 point will be awarded for a clear thesis, 4 points for citing at least two sources with one of the being the foundational document that they list in the prompt, and 2 points for how well you argue and elaborate on each of your points. Keep in mind, you do NOT have to write a 5 paragraph essay! You only have 40 minutes, so as long as your essay has the following criteria, don’t waste your time on intro and concluding paragraphs. 

Additionally, when you’re writing your FRQ, make sure to do the following: 

DON’T Info dumping: In the AP Government FRQ, don't just throw in everything you know about a topic. Adding extra facts that the question didn't ask for won't help you get more points. Actually, doing this can waste your time, time that you could use to make your main points stronger or to check over your work. So, it's better to just stick to answering the question directly and clearly.

DON’T explain concepts you’re unsure about: In the AP Government test, it's best not to try explaining ideas you're not sure about. If you explain something incorrectly, it can actually lower your score. Stick to what you know well to make your answers as strong as possible. 

DO pay attention to prompt vocabulary: On the AP Gov exam, really focus on the words used in the question. These words, like "evaluate," "analyze," "identify," "define," "discuss," etc., tell you exactly how you should answer. They're your clues on what the exam wants from your essay, guiding you on how to structure your response, so don’t glaze over them! 

DO keep your political opinions to yourself: It’s SO important to leave your personal political views out of your answers. Concentrate on presenting facts and analysis based on the course material. The teachers grading your exam are looking for your understanding of political concepts, not your personal opinions, so keep them out of your FRQ. 

DO budget your time: Aim to spend about 25 minutes on each Free Response Question (FRQ). If you spend too much time trying to answer a question you're unsure about, you'll end up with less time for the other questions. This can hurt your overall score, as you might not be able to give your best answers for questions you might know better. Plan your time so you can answer all questions effectively.

When do AP United States Government and Politics scores come out?

The AP US Government and Politics scores are set to come out mid-July. If you want to stay updated or check for any changes, you can refer to the official CollegeBoard Annual calendar. Keep an eye out, and good luck with your results!

Should I Self Study AP United States Government and Politics?

AP US Government is a difficult exam to take, and by utilizing these AP United States Government exam tips, tricks, and resources, you should understand how to study for the AP US Gov and Politics exam.  

1: Focus on Unit 2 Goodies: Check out that chart we gave you earlier, and you'll see that Unit 2 ("Interactions Among Branches of Government") is the big boss here, making up about one-third of the test. So, get cozy with Congress, the Supreme Court, the prez, and the Constitution – they're the main players!

You gotta know their powers, what they're made of, and most importantly, how they all work together. Think about how they keep that power balance in check too!

Knowing this stuff is key because it forms the foundation for understanding all the other info in the US political system.

2: Master the Lingo

AP US Government loves its jargon, so you gotta be on top of those terms and their meanings in context. Flashcards are your best buds here – make 'em and get familiar with all those fancy words about the government.

Find lists of important vocab in AP Gov review books or textbooks. Match each term with its definition, and make sure you can nail it when you see 'em!

3: Rock Those Authentic Practice Resources

When it comes to practice, official AP questions rule! Sure, you can toss in some unofficial sources too (you'll need the variety), but make sure you mix in the real deal to prep for the test properly.

Do at least one or two official AP US Government practice tests. They'll give you a good idea of how you'll do on the real thing.

Oh, and don't forget to time yourself – you gotta match the real AP test's pace. Each multiple-choice question has about a minute and a half, so keep pushing ahead to finish the section strong. You got this!

Is the AP US Government and Politics Exam Hard?

Scoring big on the AP US Government & Politics exam is no easy feat, my friends. Brace yourself for one of the toughest AP exams out there, and learn the AP US Gov test tips – it's no walk in the park!

Let's dive into the numbers to get a clearer picture: Taking a trip down memory lane to 2014, only a mere 11.9% of students aced the test with a splendid 5, while 12.4% proudly rocked a respectable 4. A solid 26.5% managed to secure a decent 3, but an equal 24.6% found themselves hovering around a 2. And here's the kicker – another 24.6% ended up with a 1, which means almost half of all the brave souls who took the AP US Government & Politics exam walked away with either a 1 or a 2. Yep, it's a real challenge, no doubt about it. But fear not, for with the right preparation and determination, you can conquer this academic adventure and rise above the odds!

Explaining the 2023 AP United States Government and Politics Scores

AP US Gov can really throw you for a loop. When you crunch the numbers, it turns out the AP United States Government and Politics exam is one of the trickiest ones the College Board dishes out. It's got a seriously low percentage of test-takers bagging that sweet 5 or a solid 4, and the mean scores aren't looking too hot either. In simple terms, compared to the other exams, AP Gov is no walk in the park.

Check out the grade distributions for the years 2010 through 2015. Only a teeny 9.8 percent nailed a 5 in 2015, while a whopping 26.9 percent got stuck with a 1 on the APUSH exam that same year. The mean score for all those years came out to be 2.63.

Gotta admit, those percentages are pretty darn low compared to the rest of the AP exams. But here's the thing – students who've done the AP Gov course along with other College Board AP courses don't quite agree. AP US Government rarely makes it to the list of the most difficult AP courses. You won't hear as many tired groans when talking about AP Gov like you might with, say, AP Chemistry. And here's another scoop – the AP Gov review process is often said to be straightforward, making those study guides easier to follow and understand.

Now, the mystery lies in why there's this disconnect between the stats and the student opinions. It's a mix of how the AP Exam is set up and the types of questions they throw at you. Plus, the content for AP Gov can be a bit tricky too.

But hey, don't fret! Even though the AP Gov exam has proven to be more of a challenge than some folks assume, that doesn't mean scoring a 5 is totally out of reach. If you get a solid grip on how the exam works and what's expected of you as an AP US Government student, you can totally rock that test day and snag that dream 5! You got this!

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