Why take AP® U.S. Government and Politics?

When faced with the choice of whether or not to take AP® U.S. Government and Politics, the benefits often outweigh the costs for most students.

Maybe you’re a political junkie looking for a way to learn more about the government, or maybe you’re just really into taking AP® tests (if you are, you’re on the perfect website).

Whether you’re considering taking the course this year for credit or if you’re just curious about the inner workings of the U.S. government, here are some good reasons to take the class.

Many colleges require students to fulfill a history or social science course before they can graduate. However, if you take the AP® U.S. Government and Politics Exam and attain a high score while you are in high school, you may be able to qualify for credit toward that requirement and not have to take another social sciences course in college.

A more recent argument for taking AP® Exams, is that more colleges are going test-optional. This means that SAT® and ACT® scores are potentially holding less weight when it comes to college applications, and a good AP® score could help tip the scale in your favor when it comes to college admissions.

Besides creating the opportunity to earn college credit for the work you do, AP® Gov courses also help you to develop crucial skills, challenge you academically, and help round out your knowledge in ways you wouldn’t otherwise be able to. In addition to that, preparing for and taking the AP® U.S. Government and Politics Exam provides excellent practice for college-level exams you may take in the future. Still unsure? This article goes into more detail about the benefits of taking AP® U.S. Government and Politics.

How to sign up for AP® U.S. Government and Politics

To register for the AP® U.S. Government Exam, you need to contact your school’s AP® Coordinator, who can help facilitate your courses and exams.

Bear in mind you’ll likely need to complete requirements to be eligible to enroll in an AP® course. In order to register for the AP® U.S. Government and Politics Exam, you have to join your class section online, on College Board’s My AP® Portal. Some schools will automatically register you for the exam if you’re enrolled in an AP® U.S. Government and Politics class, but others won’t and you will have to register online through the portal. If you are unsure whether or not you are registered for the AP® U.S. Government and Politics Exam, check with your AP® Coordinator.

For the 2020-21 school year, College Board is waiving their cancellation fees, so if you are unsure about taking the exam, you are better off registering for it anyway, and cancelling for free if you later decide not to take the exam. There is however, still a deadline for exam registration on November 13th, 2020, so definitely make sure you register through your AP® Coordinator by then to avoid paying any late fees.

Specific deadlines may vary by the school—always be sure to check with your teacher or AP® Coordinator what date you need to register by in line with your school’s policies.

How much does the AP® Exam cost?

Each AP® Exam costs a total of $96—if you’re in the mainland United States and its territories and commonwealths, Canada, or a U.S. Department of Defense Dependents School.

If you’re outside of those areas, the AP® Exam will cost $126 per exam.

The College Board has a financial aid program that offers a $3 fee reduction in the exam. Read more about exam fees here.

You cannot use the My AP® Portal to pay fees – they will be collected by your AP® coordinator.

When you take into account the cost of a college course versus the cost of the exam, though, you’ll see that the AP® Exam is actually a bargain. With a passing score, you may be able to earn college credit and save hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

When can I take the AP® U.S. Government and Politics Exam?

The AP® U.S. Government and Politics Exam date in 2022 is Monday, May 2nd. You can find more information about dates and late-testing schedules for the 2022 AP® U.S. Government and Politics Exam in our 2022 AP® Exam Dates article.

What’s on the AP® U.S. Government and Politics Exam?

The AP® U.S. Government and Politics exam covers a breadth of topics surrounding the cultural, political, and social changes in U.S. history.

The AP® U.S. Government and Politics exam will test you on the subjects of “constitutionalism, liberty and order, civic participation in a representative democracy, competing policy-making interests, and methods of political analysis.” (College Board)

To get the best score possible, you’re going to want to make sure you know what to expect when you sit down to take the test.

That’s why we want to break down exactly what’s on the AP® U.S. Government and Politics Exam—as well as give you a few good tips on how to study for it.

The AP® U.S. Government and Politics exam tests students on their knowledge of a wide variety of topics surrounding the United States’ governmental bodies and institutions. The course itself will go over five units covering the following topics:

  1. Foundations of American Democracy
  2. Interactions Among Branches of Government
  3. Civil Liberties and Civil Rights
  4. American Political Ideologies and Beliefs
  5. Political Participation

It is also important to become familiar with all of the required Supreme Court cases. They are, after all…required! In the free-response section of your AP® U.S. Government Exam, you will have to answer four essay questions. The third of these questions is a SCOTUS comparison essay, in which you will be required to compare a non-required Supreme Court case with a required Supreme Court case, so get to know each case as well as possible!

The required Supreme Court cases for the AP U.S. Government and Politics Exam  in 2021 are:

Marbury v. Madison (1803)
McCulloch v. Maryland (1819)
Schenck v. the United States (1919)
Brown v. Board of Education (1954)
Engel v. Vitale (1962)
Baker v. Carr (1962)
Gideon v. Wainwright (1963)
Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (1969)
New York Times Co. v. United States (1971)
Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972)
Roe v. Wade (1973)
Shaw v. Reno (1993)
United States v. Lopez (1995)
McDonald v. Chicago (2010)
Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010)

What is the test format for the AP® U.S. Government and Politics Exam?

Students have 3 hours and 15 minutes to complete the exam. There is a 1 hour and 20-minute multiple-choice section, followed by a 1 hour and 40-minute free-response section. A full breakdown of each section is provided below:

Part A: Multiple-Choice (55 minutes) Free-Response Section(1 hour, 40 minutes)
  • 55 questions
  • 50% of total exam score
  • 4 questions
  • 50% of total exam score

There are four questions students must answer with an essay on the AP® U.S. Government and Politics Exam. The questions are:

  1. Concept Application. Students are given a political scenario and must explain the impact of a political “institution, behavior, or process.”
  2. Quantitative Analysis. Students are given a piece of quantitative data, and they must show how that data relates to a political process.
  3. SCOTUS Comparison. Students are tasked with comparing a non-required Supreme Court case with a required one and showing how they’re relevant to one another.
  4. Argument Essay. Students must craft an argumentative essay based on required documents and evidence.

College Board suggests that students take at least 20 minutes to answer each question during the allotted time.

How is the AP® U.S. Government and Politics Exam scored?

The free-response and multiple-choice sections are scored differently. The multiple-choice section is scored by a computer that scans your answer sheet and records the total number of correct responses.

It’s worth noting that incorrect answers aren’t deducted from your score. So be sure to answer every question even if you’re unsure!

The free-response section is scored during an annual event called the AP® Reading. This occurs during the first two weeks of June. Professors and high school teachers from all over the country gather to help read and score thousands of essays from the free-response section of every AP® test.

The AP® Exam’s scoring system is on a scale of one to five—with five being the best and one being the worst.

Here’s a good table that breaks down the score you could get and what it means.

AP Score

What it means


Extremely well qualified. The highest score you can get on your AP® U.S. Government and Politics exam. This score typically guarantees college credit.


Very well qualified. While this isn’t the highest score possible, it’s still a very good score. You’ll typically get college credit with it.


Okay. Not the worst but plenty of room for improvement. This is the usual threshold for colleges to give you credit, though not at the most competitive colleges.


Possibly qualified. If you can, you’ll want to retake the exam as schools most likely won’t give credit for this score.


No recommendation. Sign up to retake the exam if you can—and use one of Marco Learning’s free study guides to help you.

When it comes to the AP® U.S. Government and Politics Exam, you’ll want to aim for 3 or higher. Most colleges will give you college credit if you score within that range. But it does vary from school to school, so if you want to find out the score you’ll need, you should contact the school’s registrar’s office and ask for information about their AP® credit policies. Alternatively, you can check the school’s website for more information.

NOTE: Schools sometimes change the score required for AP® college credit. So be sure to check in with the school to make sure you have the most recent information.

What can I bring to the AP® U.S. Government and Politics Exam?

Below is a list of all the things you can bring with you into the exam room. Note: It’s possible that not all of the items will apply to you (e.g., the Student Accommodations Letter).

  • Two No. 2 pencils with erasers. These will be used on the multiple-choice portion of the exam.
  • Two black or dark blue ink pens. These will be used for the free-response questions. Be sure to bring black or dark blue ink pens only. Leave your gold glitter pens at home.
  • A watch. This is a simple analog or digital watch with no internet access or alarms. Don’t even try to bring your smart watch in the room.
  • The AP® Student Pack. This is given to you just before you take your exam and contains a label that you need to place on your exam. Follow the labeling instructions carefully.
  • Government- or school-issued ID. If you don’t attend the school where you’re taking the AP® U.S. Government and Politics Exam, you must also bring a government- or school-issued ID.
  • College Board SSD Student Accommodation Letter. If you require accommodations beyond the regular exam, you’ll receive a letter that verifies this (e.g., you need a braille or large-type exam).
  • Remember, you won’t have to bring all these things—but it’s in your best interest to be as prepared as you can for the exam.

Take a look at our Test Day Checklist to make sure you are 100% prepared to take your AP® U.S. Government and Politics Exam when the time comes!

How do I study for AP® U.S. Government and Politics?

Here are the best study tips for AP® U.S. Gov:

The best way to prepare for what’s on the AP® U.S. Government and Politics exam is through proper study tactics. Here are a few of the best ones you should employ to make sure you get the best score possible:

Study Tip #1: Talk to someone who’s been there before

One of the best ways to learn any topic is by talking to someone who has experience taking AP® exams—and asking them questions.

It might seem simple, but many students often ignore this step and try to learn things on their own. While it’s possible to get a good score by studying by yourself, you’re actually short changing yourself by not drawing on the experience and expertise of others.

That’s why it’s a good idea to get mentorship from someone with experience in the AP® U.S. Government and Politics exam—preferably a former student who scored high on the test themselves.

Sit down with them and ask them different questions on what to expect. Some suggestions:

How did you go about studying the topics?

What was the most difficult part of the exam and course?

If you could go back, what would you change about the way you studied and the topics you looked over?

These questions will give you a wealth of insight into the exam you wouldn’t have otherwise.

Study Tip #2: Read (and re-read) as much as possible

A big portion of the exam covers the reading and interpreting of foundational documents, Supreme Court cases, and multiple data sets. That’s why it’s so important that you’re both familiar with these readings and know how to interpret them.

The best way to do that is through good old-fashioned reading.

Make sure you read through all of your course material and review it frequently. Frequent reviewing is actually one of the most crucial factors when it comes to learning and retention.

It’s scientifically proven that the more consistently you review and repeat information to yourself each day, the better you remember it. So make sure you take time out of each day to read and review your material.

Study Tip #3: Take a lot of practice tests

The best way to get better at something is by practicing.

That’s why it’s so important that you take practice tests to help you get better at the AP® U.S. Government and Politics Exam. Only then can you expect to get a good score—and even improve your score.

If you don’t have much experience taking practice tests, check out John Moscatiello’s Step-by-Step Guide to taking a practice test like a pro.

Study Tip #4: Find resources that work

When it comes to studying for your exam, there is no “one size fits all”. Just because your older sister studied best with flashcards doesn’t necessarily mean that flashcards are right for you. We encourage you to take some time to figure out what study methods you are most comfortable with; it could be a mixture of everything!

We know it can be overwhelming starting from scratch. If you feel stuck, we suggest downloading our free AP® U.S. Government and Politics study guide as a jumping off point and going from there.

If you’re looking for live video reviews before the AP® Exams, we will host live AP® review sessions on our YouTube channel. As well as live sessions, you can review content for the AP® U.S. Government and Politics Exam here: AP® Gov Content Review.

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