What You Need to Know About the AP U.S. Government and Politics Exam

By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Mar 4, 2011

Background of the Advanced Placement Program

The Advanced Placement program was begun by the College Board in 1955 to construct standard achievement exams that would allow highly motivated high school students the opportunity to be awarded advanced placement as first-year students in colleges and universities in the United States. Today, there are 37 courses and exams with more than 1,000,000 students from every state in the nation, and from foreign countries, taking the annual exams in May.

The AP programs are designed for high school students who wish to take college-level courses. In our case, the AP U.S. Government and Politics course and exam are designed to involve high school students in college-level studies in political science.

Some Frequently Asked Questions About the AP U.S. Government and Politics Exam

Some Frequently Asked Questions About the AP U.S. Government and Politics Exam

AP U.S. Government and Politics


Section Number of Questions Time Limit
I. Multiple-Choice Questions  60  Total Time: 45 Minutes
II. Free-Response Questions  4  Total Time: 100 Minutes


Why Take the AP U.S. Government and Politics Exam?

Most students take the exam because they are seeking college credit. The majority of colleges and universities will accept a 4 or 5 as acceptable credit for their introductory U.S. Government and Politics course. Some schools will accept a 3 on the exam. This means you are one course closer to graduation before you even attend your first class. Even if you do not score high enough to earn college credit, the fact that you elected to enroll in AP courses tells admission committees that you are a high achiever and serious about your education.

Who Writes the AP U.S. Government and Politics Exam?

Development of each AP exam is a multi-year effort that involves many education and testing professionals and students. At the heart of the effort is the AP U.S. Government and Politics Test Development Committee, a group of college and high school government teachers who are typically asked to serve for three years. The committee creates a large pool of multiple-choice questions. With the help of the testing experts at Educational Testing Service (ETS), these questions are then pretested with college students enrolled in introductory U.S. Government and Politics classes for accuracy, appropriateness, clarity, and assurance that there is only one possible answer. The results of this pretesting allow these questions to be categorized as easy, average, or difficult. After more months of development and refinement, Section I of the exam is ready to be administered.

The free-response essay questions that make up Section II go through a similar process of creation, modification, pretesting, and final refinement so that the questions cover the necessary areas of material and are at an appropriate level of difficulty and clarity. The committee also makes a great effort to construct a free-response exam that will allow for clear and equitable grading by the AP readers.

At the conclusion of each AP reading and scoring of exams, the exam itself and the results are thoroughly evaluated by the committee and by ETS. In this way, the College Board can use the results to make suggestions for course development in high schools and to plan future exams.

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