What's on the AP US Government and Politics Exam?

Exam Structure

The AP US Government and Politics exam is divided into two sections, with a 10-minute break in between. Section I gives you 1 hour 20 minutes to answer 55 multiple-choice questions spanning a variety of topics. Each question contains four possible answer choices, with only one correct response. The topics covered are as follows.

  1. Foundations of American Democracy: The historical and philosophical ideas underpinning the U.S. Constitution, and the compromises and conflicts that have continued to this day.
  2. Interactions Among Branches of Government: The distribution of power, and the checks and balances that keep each branch under control.
  3. Civil Liberties and Civil Rights: The freedoms and protections granted through the Constitution, specifically the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment, and the balance between liberty and social order.
  4. American Political Ideologies and Beliefs: The values and ideas held by both individuals and groups, the factors that influence these beliefs, and the ways in which these beliefs impact public policy.
  5. Political Participation: The ways in which citizens and institutions influence government and public policy.

Section II gives you 1 hour 40 minutes to answer four free-response questions. These questions can involve any of the content tested in the multiple-choice section, but will require you to make connections across a variety of ideas that relate to each question’s theme. To receive full credit on each of these questions, you’ll need to write an organized, thought-out response that addresses all parts of the prompt.

Exam Scoring

Student answer sheets for the multiple-choice section (Section I) are scored by machine. Scores are based on the number of questions answered correctly. No points are deducted for wrong answers, and no points are awarded for unanswered questions.

The free-response section (Section II) is evaluated and scored by hand by trained AP readers. Rubrics based on each specific free-response prompt are released on the AP central website after the exams are administered. Readers do not see the rubrics until the official reading has commenced. The rubrics have specific point values, assigned by the chief reader.

The score from the multiple-choice section of the exam counts for 50 percent of your total exam score. The other 50 percent is the combined score from the four free-response questions (which each count for 12.5 percent of your score).

After your total scores from Sections I and II are calculated, your results are converted to a scaled score from 1 to 5. The range of points for each scaled score varies depending on the difficulty of the exam in a particular year, but the significance of each value is constant from year to year. According to the College Board, AP scores should be interpreted as follows:

5 = Extremely well qualified
4 = Well qualified
3 = Qualified
2 = Possibly qualified
1 = No recommendation

Colleges will generally not award course credit for any score below a 3, with more selective schools requiring a 4 or 5. Note that some schools will not award college credit regardless of your score. Be sure to research schools that you plan to apply to so you can determine the score you need to aim for on the AP exam.

Registration and Fees

To register for the exam, contact your school guidance counselor or AP Coordinator. If your school does not administer the AP exam, contact the College Board for a listing of schools that do.

There is a fee for taking AP exams. The current cost can be found at the official exam website listed below. For students with acute financial need, the College Board offers a fee reduction equal to about one third of the cost of the exam. In addition, most states offer exam subsidies to cover all or part of the remaining cost for eligible students. To learn about other sources of financial aid, contact your AP Coordinator.