AP® U.S Government And Politics
Course And Exam Description

The AP® U.S. Government and Politics course may initially seem daunting, but don’t worry; this CED overview will help you prepare well for the AP U.S. Gov exam. This course and exam description guide breaks down the AP U.S. Gov course content into simple chunks for easy reading. This page provides a well-rounded course outline and includes AP U.S. Government key concepts, skills, and topics you’ll need to master for your upcoming exam. Before we explore the course content, let’s address a couple of questions you might have about this course:

  • Is AP Gov a one-semester course and a dual credit course in high school?

    No, AP courses are different from dual credit courses. AP U.S.Gov is not a dual credit course.

  • Which college course is equivalent to AP U.S. Government & Politics?

    The AP U.S. Gov course is equivalent to a first-semester college course in American government and politics.

  • Is AP U.S. Gov a political science course?

    Yes, AP Gov is an introductory-level political science course.

AP U.S. Government & Politics Units, Topics, and Key Concepts

The AP U.S. Gov course comprises two main components — the course content and disciplinary practices. As you progress through the course, you will develop certain disciplinary practices that you’ll need to apply on the exam. These components will help you build a solid foundation for U.S. government and politics.

The course content for AP U.S. Gov is divided into units, topics, and foundational documents. Each unit is based on key concepts, also known as big ideas, which provide the foundation for the course.

You can opt to take the AP U.S. Government exam even if you haven’t taken any government or politics courses in high school. Nevertheless, remember that it is a heavy-weight course, and you’ll need to prepare yourself by learning the course's core concepts and topics. In the following sections, we will explore the big ideas and the course units to help you understand AP Gov’s structure.

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The Five Big Ideas of AP U.S. Government and Politics

AP U.S. Government course content is based on five key concepts that spiral through each of its units. While the units focus on teaching particular topics, these big ideas are foundational to U.S. Government and Politics.

You might ask, What are the 5 big ideas of AP U.S. Government & Politics? These big ideas are listed below to help you understand the course foundation. Let's see what they are:

  1. Big Idea 1: Constitutionalism (CON)

    The U.S. Constitution divides authority between the federal and state governments and creates a system of checks and balances between the several branches of government. The rule of law and a balance between majority rule and minority rights serve as the foundation of this system. Therefore, the body of laws and the Constitution are essential for American democracy to function. This key concept forms the first big idea of Constitutionalism (CON).

  2. Big Idea 2: Liberty and Order (LOR)

    Based on the U.S. Constitution, governmental laws and policies that balance order and liberty have been viewed differently. What is the Bill of Rights, and how does it impact American democracy? These aspects form the basis of the second big idea of Liberty and Order (LOR).

  3. Big Idea 3: Civic Participation in a Representative Democracy (PRD)

    Republicanism, individualism, and popular sovereignty are key elements of American law and policy making, and they rely on the participation of citizens. The third big idea of Civic Participation in a Representative Democracy (PRD) consolidates ideas regarding how political participation by individuals helps shape civil rights and liberties.

  4. Big Idea 4: Competing Policy-Making Interests (PMI)

    In a political system, numerous institutions and players develop and implement policies. This big idea encompasses several aspects of policymaking that include the role of the Supreme Court, the Constitution, political parties, and other political factors in understanding how certain ideologies shape policies and our daily lives.

  5. Big Idea 5: Methods of Political Analysis (MPA)

    Political scientists examine how many factors shape American political behavior, views, ideologies, and institutions over time using a variety of approaches. The fifth big idea, Methods of Political Analysis (MPA), is about relating observations to data and presenting an analysis to support or refute a political claim.

These five big ideas are distributed across the AP Government units to help you understand each concept thoroughly. Let's walk through each course unit to better understand how these big ideas and the course units intertwine to build a solid foundation in U.S. government and politics.

The Five Units of AP U.S. Government & Politics and Their Topics

The AP U.S. Gov course content is divided into course units, required foundational documents, and Supreme Court cases. The exam will assess knowledge of these components. Let’s explore the units that make up the AP Gov course.

The course has five units, and as you progress through each one, you’ll come across one or more of the big ideas to reinforce core concepts.

Each unit is further divided into smaller topics. Knowing how these topics are organized can help you identify your areas of strength and weakness, so you can decide which units and topics to focus on during your review.

In the following tabs, we’ve outlined all the units, topics, and big ideas you need to know about the AP U.S. Government and Politics course.

Remember to go back and review the big ideas, units, and key topics as you move forward in the course. Timed practice tests will improve time management and help you retain course concepts effectively. You can also opt for a premium Qbank, like UWorld's AP U.S. Government and Politics practice exam, to prepare smarter and faster.

Required Foundational Documents and Supreme Court Cases

AP U.S. Gov requires you to study the course units parallel to various foundational documents and landmark Supreme Court cases in order to fully understand the inner workings of the American political system.

The foundational documents serve as the bedrock for the concepts learned in each of AP Gov’s units. The AP Gov course has nine foundational documents:

  1. Federalist No. 10
  2. Brutus No. 1
  3. The Declaration Of Independence
  4. The Articles of Confederation
  5. The Constitution of The United States (including The Bill Of Rights and subsequent amendments)
  6. Federalist No. 51
  7. "Letter from Birmingham Jail" (By Martin Luther King, Jr.)
  8. Federalist No. 70
  9. Federalist No. 78

In addition to these documents, you’ll study fifteen Supreme Court cases to understand how our constitution functions. These milestone cases serve as examples of how the ideas of democracy, federalism, and individual rights are applied in real-life scenarios. These cases include:

  1. Mcculloch v. Maryland (1819)
  2. United States V. Lopez (1995)
  3. Engel V. Vitale (1962)
  4. Wisconsin V. Yoder (1972)
  5. Tinker V. Des Moines Independent Community School District (1969)
  6. New York Times Co. V. United States (1971)
  7. Schenck V. United States (1919)
  8. Gideon V. Wainwright (1963)
  9. Roe V. Wade (1973)
  10. McDonald V. Chicago (2010)
  11. Brown V. Board Of Education (1954)
  12. Citizens United V. Federal Election Commission (2010)
  13. Baker V. Carr (1962)
  14. Shaw V. Reno (1993)
  15. Marbury V. Madison (1803)

These cases are included in the AP U.S. Gov course content to help you understand how our Supreme Court interprets various policies, bills, and constitutional provisions in real-life contexts.

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AP U.S. Government and Politics Course Disciplinary Practices

AP U.S. Government and Politics disciplinary practices describe the skills you will acquire while exploring course concepts. The College Board® categorizes four integral disciplinary practices for success on the exam:

  1. Concept Application

    The first disciplinary practice requires you to identify, describe, and learn about political principles, institutions, processes, policies, and behaviors. As you proceed through the chapters, you will need to apply and explain these concepts and processes to scenarios in context.

  2. SCOTUS Application

    Under the second practice of the SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the United States) application, you will need to identify the facts, reasoning, decision, majority opinion, and dissenting opinion of the required Supreme Court cases. You will also learn to describe and explain how certain political concepts are applied in Supreme Court decisions.

  3. Data Analysis

    The third disciplinary practice involves analyzing and interpreting quantitative data in tables, charts, graphs, maps, and infographics. You’ll learn to describe the presented data and draw conclusions from its patterns and trends.

    As you progress through the course units, this skill will equip you to describe certain political principles, institutions, processes, policies, and behaviors from data. In time, you will also learn to identify possible data limitations.

  4. Source Analysis

    Source analysis involves reading, analyzing, and interpreting foundational documents, as well as other text-based and visual sources. You’ll need to explain how a cartoon, map, or infographic depicts political principles, institutions, processes, policies, and behaviors.

  5. Argumentation

    The fifth skill, argumentation, involves making a defensible claim in an essay. You should be able to support your argument using relevant evidence and explain its significance to justify the claim or thesis.

"Remember to apply what you learned from the course content. You’ll need to truly understand and easily apply the concepts to get a 5 on the AP U.S. Gov exam."

If you’re preparing for your AP Gov exam, we can help! Our online AP courses offer challenging practice questions, detailed answer explanations, and digital performance tracking. You'll love your improved understanding of course content and higher test scores with UWorld. Take our free AP U.S. Gov practice exam today and feel the difference!

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  1. AP® U.S. Government and Politics. (2023). apcentral.collegeboard.org. Retrieved July 2023, from https://apcentral.collegeboard.org/media/pdf/ap-united-states-government-and-politics-course-overview.pdf?course=ap-united-states-government-and-politics
  2. AP® U.S. Government and Politics Course and Exam Description. (2023). apcentral.collegeboard.org. Retrieved July 21, 2023, from https://apcentral.collegeboard.org/media/pdf/ap-us-government-and-politics-course-and-exam-description.pdf?course=ap-united-states-government-and-politics
  3. AP United States Government & Politics Exam – AP Students. (n.d.). https://apstudents.collegeboard.org/courses/ap-united-states-government-and-politics/assessment

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

There are five units in the AP U.S. Government & Politics course.

As per the 2022 exam results, students had the most difficulty in FRQ No. 3, the SCOTUS FRQ.

Read More About the AP U.S. Government & Politics Exam

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