Is AP U.S. Government and Politics Hard? A Complete 2022 Guide

Learn about the AP U.S. Government and Politics course materials and exam as well as how this AP course could impact your college applications.

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by Christina Payne

Published on March 11, 2022 · Updated on April 7, 2022

Edited by Tyler Epps
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Is AP U.S. Government and Politics Hard? A Complete 2022 Guide


AP U.S. Government and Politics is a popular AP high school course. With all AP classes, students can earn college credit after taking the relevant AP exam. In 2020, more than 326,000 students took the AP U.S. Government and Politics exam.

In this guide, we'll look at what AP U.S. Government and Politics covers and how to prepare for the exam.

What Does AP U.S. Government and Politics Cover?

AP U.S. Government and Politics delves into the topic of American democracy, focusing on political ideology and the branches of government. This course covers the founding of the U.S. government and how American political ideology has evolved at practical and theoretical levels.

The class also explores political participation and how the public influences the government.

AP Government and Politics covers the following units:

What Determines the Difficulty of AP U.S. Government and Politics? 3 Key Factors

What questions should students ask before taking an AP course? Here, we discuss the AP Government exam pass rate and how to evaluate course material and subject skills.

The Pass Rate

Pass rates help students determine how difficult an AP exam is. The table below compares score rates for students who took the AP Government exam to average score rates across all AP exams.

The table shows that the pass rate for AP Government is lower than the pass rate across all AP exams. Readers can infer that AP Government can be a more difficult class than other APs.

AP Government Exam Pass Rates
AP Exam Pass Rate (3 or Higher) Perfect Score (5)
AP U.S. Government and Politics 57.5% 15.5%
All AP Exams 71.13% 19.57%

Source: College Board

AP exam pass rates are a good starting point for determining the difficulty of an AP class. However, readers should remember that the difficulty of the class and exam heavily depends on the strength of the individual school and teacher. Students with a good teacher and strong school support may find the class easier.

The Course Material

The difficulty of an AP course can also depend on the amount of material the curriculum covers. Students may find classes with a lot of material more difficult as they must retain more information for the final exam.

AP Government has a moderate amount of material to cover in the curriculum. Students must learn about the historical formation of the U.S. government, key political ideologies, and landmark Supreme Court decisions.

Your Subject Skills

Subject skills make a huge difference for students when mastering an AP course. Students with strong subject skills will often find AP courses easier than their peers.

AP Government requires strong subject skills in critical thinking, memorization, organization, and essay writing. Critical thinking is especially important — students in this course must make connections to historical decisions and themes to current events, applying what they learn in class about American politics to the real world.

When Should You Take AP U.S. Government and Politics?

Students typically take AP U.S. Government and Politics in their junior or senior year of high school.

While some schools may allow students to take this course in 9th or 10th grade, many students wait until they complete a high school-level U.S. history class to provide them with the foundational knowledge and context for AP Government.

Students can take AP Government and other AP classes at the same time. Juniors and seniors typically manage multiple AP classes better than their younger peers. However, each student should evaluate their own learning needs when enrolling in AP classes.

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

In this section, we dive into the structure and scoring of the AP Government exam.

The table below shows the score distribution of the AP government exam by number of students and percentage of total students.

AP U.S. Government and Politics
Exam Score Number of Students Percentage of Students
5 45,461 15.5%
4 48,323 16.5%
3 74,797 25.5%
2 64,530 22.0%
1 60,085 20.5%

Source: College Board

How Is the AP U.S. Government and Politics Exam Structured?

The AP Government exam contains both multiple-choice and free-response questions.

The multiple-choice section consists of 55 questions. Students have an hour and 20 minutes to complete this section. Questions include quantitative analysis of source material, qualitative analysis of primary and secondary sources, and analysis of visual information.

The essay section contains four questions. Students have an hour and 40 minutes to complete this section. Essays include a concept application essay, quantitative analysis essay, Supreme Court comparison essay, and an argumentative essay.

How Is the AP U.S. Government and Politics Exam Scored?

All AP exams are scored on a scale from 1-5, with 5 being the highest score possible and 1 the lowest. The multiple-choice section of the AP Government exam makes up 50% of a student's score. The essay section makes up the other half.

Students with weak essay-writing skills may struggle with this exam. The AP Government exam score relies heavily on strong essays written in a short amount of time.

How the AP Government Exam is Scored
Section 1 50%
Multiple-Choice Questions 50%
Section 2 50%
Concept Application Question 12.5%
Quantitative Analysis Question 12.5%
SCOTUS Comparison Question 12.5%
Argument Essay 12.5%

Source: College Board

AP U.S. Government and Politics: What Score Do I Need for College Credit?

Many colleges award college credit to high school students who complete AP exams; however, not all AP exam scores qualify students for credit.

In general, students need a 4 or 5 on an AP exam to receive college credit. Depending on the college and the AP course, colleges may accept a score of 3 for credit. Few colleges will award credit for a 1 or 2 on an AP exam.

Should I Take AP U.S. Government and Politics?

AP U.S. Government and Politics requires students to learn and understand a moderate amount of material compared to other AP courses. That said, some students may find the AP Government exam particularly challenging due to its emphasis on text analysis and essay writing.

Students with excellent organizational, memorization, and critical thinking skills will likely excel in this course. In contrast, those who struggle with essay writing may not perform as well on the AP Government exam.

When choosing AP classes, you might consider asking teachers and past AP Government students for advice and insight into the difficulty of the course at your school.

Frequently Asked Questions About AP U.S. Government and Politics

true Is AP U.S. Government and Politics worth it?

Students seeking to bolster their academic resumes should consider enrolling in AP U.S. Government. Juniors and seniors in high school can use foundational U.S. history knowledge to help with this course. This class emphasizes information analysis over rote memorization, which may appeal to students with strong subject skills in these areas.

Each student must decide for themselves if an AP course is worth taking. AP classes look excellent on college applications and may win students college credit. However, these classes are also difficult and time-consuming and can impact students' GPAs if they're not prepared.

true Do colleges care about AP U.S. Government and Politics?

Yes, they do. When reviewing applications, colleges take AP courses into account. Because AP course material is standardized, it allows colleges to evaluate the strength of a student's course schedule. Students managing multiple AP classes — including AP Government — often demonstrate strong academic ability.

Students must balance the strength of their academic schedule with their individual needs. Taking more AP classes may not be worth it if it results in a drop in GPA. Students can always speak with teachers and guidance counselors for advice when figuring out how many and which AP classes to take.

true How many credits do you get for AP U.S. Government and Politics?

AP U.S. Government and Politics often fulfills requirements for a history or social science course. This means that students who receive credit for AP Government usually earn around three college credits for taking the exam.

However, not all students who pass the exam will receive college credit. Colleges often require a score of 4 or 5 for students to qualify for credit, though some schools may accept a score of 3. Students can ask guidance counselors or reach out to their accepted college to determine what score they need to receive credit.

Feature Image: John Baggaley / Moment / Getty Images

Learn how to find the "easiest" AP classes, which have more flexible study requirements, and earn college credit through classes with high exam pass rates. Considering taking AP U.S. History? Learn how difficult this course and exam are and get tips on how you can earn the score you want. AP World History challenges students. But how hard is the exam, and should high schoolers sign up for AP World History?

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