AP US Government Tips and Test Taking Strategies

By April 15, 2019 May 4th, 2019 High School Study Tips
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If you’re planning on taking the AP US government test you want to make sure that you’re paying close attention to all the tips you can find. These AP US government tips and test-taking strategies should all help you in the process. We’re going to look at what it will take to help you get a 5.

You want to make sure that you’re getting the best score you possibly can with this test because you want to get the credit from a college or university. You definitely don’t want to be taking these super hard classes only to not get credit for the work you’ve put in when it comes down to it.

In this AP government study guide we’re going to focus on some tips and some areas that people who have taken the test say are going to be the most important. These are areas where you’re going to want to study, specific ways you’ll want to study and what you’ll want to do when it comes to test day.

CollegeBoard is responsible for the test itself, and there will be qualified proctors that administer the test as well as readers who are responsible for the grading process. Each of these individuals will be responsible for the overall score that you get on your test and determining whether your answers are accurate or not.

If you’re using this AP gov exam review, you’re hopefully going to have a bit of a leg up when it comes to test time. We’ll go over some of the more general tips you’ll need to know for studying and test day, and we’ll also go over some of the specific things you need to know for the multiple choice section and the free response section.

Let’s take a closer look at each of the strategies that we’ve found in our AP government review packet so you can hopefully do great on your test.

If you’re looking for additional resources, check out our guide to the best AP US Government review books here.

AP US Government General Study TipsGeneral How to Study for AP US Government Tips

First, we’re going to take a look at some of the general tips that you’re definitely going to need to know for your AP gov review. These are things that are going to help you in preparing so you can make sure that you have the right topics down and that you’re going through the process in the best way possible. Whether you’re taking a closer look at your AP government course description or taking an AP gov practice test, these are important steps.

  1. Know your vocab – First up, there’s a whole lot of vocab to this topic and you’re definitely going to want to know it. Make sure you go through flash cards or just read through your vocab frequently to memorize it.
  2. Keep track of time – Your time is likely going to feel short so make sure you’re keeping track of how much you have left at all times. You don’t want to run out before you get through all the questions.
  3. Memorize key terms – Some of the key terms that appear in each section of your book are definitely going to be important. Memorizing these is going to be the only way you can keep them straight.
  4. Use CollegeBoard practice questions – CollegeBoard is responsible for actually making the test so use their practice questions. They definitely know best what’s going to be on the test and practicing these questions will help you prepare for your test.
  5. Watch videos – There are plenty of study videos out there that you can and definitely should take a closer look at. They’ll help you understand more about what the test will cover and even about the different parts of the class that you should know.
  6. Read the text – Go back through and read your AP US government and politics textbook, paying close attention to the specific events and people that are most important. Don’t forget to take a closer look at key terms and vocab as well.
  7. Know the areas you aren’t familiar with – Pay close attention to what you don’t know. You want to work on these areas the most because they’re the ones that are going to make the biggest difference on test day.
  8. Time yourself – When you take a practice test make sure that you’re actually timing yourself to make sure that you aren’t taking too long on each of the questions. You want to make sure you’re going to finish everything in time on the day of the test.
  9. Cut your time short – Set a timer when you’re working on practice tests and set it for slightly less than the amount of time you actually have. This will help you get done more quickly so you can be sure you don’t run out of time the day of.
  10. Take breaks in your study periods – Don’t sit down and study for 10 hours straight because all you’re going to do is wear yourself out. Instead, make sure that you take at least a few breaks along the way. Usually 10 minutes for each hour is a good standard.
  11. Consider the value – Not all of the questions on your test are weighted the same. The multiple choice questions are going to be worth less because the entire set is worth 50% of your grade whereas your free response questions are also 50% of your grade and you only have 4.
  12. Take practice tests – Don’t ignore the opportunity that comes in the form of practice tests. The official ap us government practice test is going to give you a good idea of what you can expect on test day, especially if you do them under the time restrictions.
  13. Make flash cards – Flashcards can be used to remember anything from vocab to people, places, and dates. Make sure you create flashcards for the specific things that you have trouble remembering and keep them with you all the time.
  14. Know what’s actually going to be tested – Look up the specific topics that are going to be tested and only study those. You don’t need to worry about areas that aren’t even going to be looked at.
  15. Start studying early on – The earlier you start studying for your test the less you’re going to have to cram at the last minute. You’ll be able to work your way through the different sections more slowly.
  16. Study gradually – If you’re trying to cram too much you’re not going to remember most of it or you’re going to struggle to actually pay attention. If you’re gradually working your way up to studying more and more you’ll be better prepared.
  17. Use study books – Study books and guides are going to give you the basic information that you need when it comes to specific topics and areas of concern. Plus you’ll have practice questions and tests.
  18. Study during your course – If you’re still taking the course this is the best time for you to be studying. Make sure you’re paying attention in class and taking notes on concepts and specific events.
  19. Set a study schedule – Having a study schedule will make sure that you’re actually sitting down and getting the studying done. You definitely can’t afford to miss out on anything.
  20. Try different techniques – There are all kinds of different study methods and techniques that you could try and you want to try out any and all of them. Work on different methods until you find something that seems to work out best for you. That’s where you’ll remember the most.
  21. Get a tutor – A tutor isn’t for everyone, but in this section a tutor can actually be a whole lot of help. They may be able to help you get through areas you can’t remember or just don’t understand on your own. They also focus on what you need rather than on a general outline or overview.
  22. Create outlines for chapters – Creating an outline for each chapter is going to make it easier for you to remember the highlights and the key points. Make sure to write out specific events and important people. When you look at your outlines you’ll have a better idea of what you need to work on.
  23. Make your own notes – There are plenty of notes out there that you can take a look at or try to use when you’re studying but your own notes are going to be the best way to go. You know what you need to practice best and you know how you learn best as well.
  24. Use mnemonics to memorize information – You can create your own mnemonics and often they can be extremely simple and the best way to memorize some of the information you need, like legislation and even presidents.

AP US Government Multiple Choice TipsAP US Government Multiple Choice Tips

The first part of the test is going to be the multiple choice section, which consists of 55 questions. You’ll have a total of 80 minutes to answer all of these questions, which means you have more than one minute per question and this part counts for 50% of your total score. Make sure you’re paying close attention here and that you’re getting through all of the questions one way or another.

  1. Know what the question is asking – The first thing is to pay attention to what the question is asking. If you don’t know what it’s asking or if you assume you could end up choosing the wrong answer when you know the right one.
  2. Eliminate answers that are wrong – If you read through the question and the answers and aren’t sure of the answer the first thing to do is eliminate any that are absolutely wrong.
  3. Don’t pick the longest answer – Of course, sometimes the longest answer might be the correct one but don’t pick it just because it’s the longest answer. Instead, look at all of the answers and choose the one that seems to fit the question best. This could actually be the shortest or simplest answer.
  4. Create your own study questions – When you’re studying for this section of the exam take a look through your book. Come up with several study questions for each chapter that relate to the most essential information and then work on the answers.
  5. Keep track of your answer sheet – If you do jump around on the questions, you need to make absolutely sure you pay attention to your answer sheet. Make sure that you are matching up the question you’re trying to answer with the right bubbles on the answer sheet, or you could end up with wrong answers that you actually knew.
  6. Look for the best answer – Don’t jump immediately on the first answer that’s correct. Instead, look at all the answers and choose the best one. It’s possible that more than one of the answers will be right, but one is going to be best.
  7. Eliminate answers that are not 100% right – If you’re not confident what the answer is you should immediately eliminate any answers that are not 100% correct. If they’re not 100% correct, then they are not the right answer.
  8. Answer the question before you read the answers – This might sound strange but when you read the question try to come up with the solution before you read the options. Don’t take too long at this, but if you know the answer before you read them, you can pick that choice and move on fast.
  9. Read every word – Sometimes one word will eliminate an answer and if you’re not totally sure about what the correct answer is that’s where you’re going to start narrowing things down.
  10. Answer easy questions first – Skim over all of the questions and find the ones that you already know. These are the questions that you should be answering first, so you have more time for the rest.
  11. The questions are weighted equally – When it comes to the multiple choice questions every one of them has the same weight. So if you manage to evaluate 50 questions thoroughly, it’s going to be better than if you answer the ten really hard ones and then guess at others.
  12. Watch for ‘all of the above’ – You may actually find questions that give you this as one of the options, and it’s actually likely that this is going to be the answer if it’s one of the options that you’re given.
  13. Make a note of vocab you don’t know – When you’re studying you should immediately note down any vocab that you don’t know. That way, you’re going to have a reference of what you should be studying next.
  14. No points taken off for incorrect answers – You won’t lose points for an incorrect answer so make sure you’re at least writing something down. Use the points we already mentioned to figure out how to answer.
  15. Study graphs or charts carefully – If you’re given any type of graphics including graphs and charts make sure that you study it carefully. Assume anything on the graph is true and make sure you understand it.
  16. Keep track of what the questions are about – Most questions in this section are going to focus on relevance and significance and relationship between things so keep this in mind when you answer.
  17. Trust yourself – If you think you know the answer and you think one of the answers just sounds right or feels right then go for it. Don’t second-guess yourself when you’re in the middle of the test.

AP US Government Free Response Question Tips

When it comes to the AP government FRQ section, you’re going to have four questions with a total of 100 minutes to answer them. This means you’re going to have approximately 25 minutes per question, which should be more than enough for you to get your thoughts and ideas out there. This section also counts for 50% of your total score.

  1. Think about the topic before you write – Before you write anything down make sure you think about what the topic of the prompt is and what the topic of your response is going to be.
  2. Make notes before you write – Make some quick notes about what you want to write before you actually start to write anything. This is where you’re going to figure out the basics of what you’re trying to say.
  3. Answer each part of the question – These questions are going to have multiple parts so make sure that you look at each one and that you actually answer each one so you can get the full credit.
  4. No five-paragraph essay required – You do not need a full essay with an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. You can get by with a much shorter response to the prompt.
  5. Include only what’s needed – Don’t go overboard trying to add on a lot of information just to hopefully get what you need. Instead, try to focus your answer and give only the information that’s actually needed to get your message across.
  6. Show that you understand – The most important part of the process is showing that you understand what the material says and what it means. If you can prove this you’re going to have a better chance of getting points on these free response questions.
  7. Use old FRQ’s – Studying old versions and old prompts from the official site (CollegeBoard) is going to give you the best possible resource. You’ll be able to see sample responses as well that show you what they’re looking for.
  8. Use similar vocabulary – When you answer a question make sure you repeat similar vocabulary back in your own response. This shows you read and actually understand the question.
  9. Stick to the proper terms – If you don’t know how to use a term properly or you’re not sure it’s the right term just avoid it. You’re better off explaining out what you mean than misusing a term. You could lose points if you’re not careful.
  10. Know your current events – Before you walk into the test, you should have a good understanding of current events. You don’t need to be up to date on everything, but being able to use current examples will help you.
  11. Know your presidents – Make sure you have a good understanding of the presidents and something that they accomplished or were known for during their presidency. This is going to help you with examples and explanations.
  12. Know your legislation – Legislation is another area that you should spend a lot of time and really focus on. This could definitely be a big part of your free response prompt.
  13. Use specific examples – Using specific examples is going to help the reader to know that you know what you’re talking about. It’s going to show that you understand the purpose of the prompt itself.
  14. Use more than one example – If you are asked to provide an example provide more than one. You won’t be penalized for extra information but using multiple examples could give you the points in case you made a mistake with one.
  15. Practice essay writing – Before you get to test day you should know how to write an essay. Keep in mind that it doesn’t need to be a full 5-paragraph essay, but it should still be easy to read and understand.
  16. Review old rubrics for grading – Look at what the old rubrics say were the grading scale for FRQ’s. You may be able to get a better understanding of what could be graded on your test.
  17. Choose a topic you’re comfortable with – You will have some flexibility on what you write here, and you may have some flexibility in how you choose what questions to answer. Choose a topic you feel comfortable about and a view that you can easily defend.
  18. Label multi-part answers – When you write out the answers to a multi-part test make sure that you’re labeling where each portion of the answer actually is. This will make it easier for the reader to find.
  19. Make sure to describe and explain as asked – Some questions may ask you to describe or explain your answer. Make sure that you do so or you will miss out on points.
  20. Explain your evidence – If you’re using any kind of evidence or facts you want to explain why you’re using them. Point out that they back up your point or use them as a counterpoint. Just make sure you express what they’re actually doing for your essay.
  21. Write the question back – Use the question as a jumping off point and parrot back the first part of the question as the first part of your answer. This helps you to stay more focused while you’re answering.
  22. Answer parts of the question you know first – If you don’t know all of the parts of the question right away, you can start out by answering only the parts of the question that you already know.
  23. Mark each question – The different parts of a question may not always be spelled out easily so as you’re reading mark each part of what you’re being asked. Pay attention to how many different questions you need to answer and underline or circle each to make sure you answer it.
  24. You can add notes and arrows – If you need to add in additional sections or if you need to rearrange things you can add notes or arrows in other sections and they will be read.
  25. Start with the easiest one – Take a few minutes to scan through the different free response questions that are in the test and start with the ones that you know the best. Once you’ve completed the one you know the best move to the one you know second-best and so on. Do the one you know the least about last, so you don’t waste time.
  26. Pay attention to all of the actions required – Look at the verbs that are included in the question. These are the things that you’re being asked to do, and you need to make sure that you’re addressing each one of them when you write out your response. Don’t skip over an action verb.
  27. Focus on the facts – Don’t get caught up in your own personal opinions. Instead, focus on the specific facts that are related to the question at hand and use those to create your answer. Your opinions won’t earn you points.

AP US Government Test Day TipsAP US Government Test Day Tips

It’s essential that you’re fully prepared when it comes to test day. You definitely don’t want to wake up the morning of and realize that you have no idea what you’re doing and that you’re not prepared for the day. By following each of these tips, you’re going to be better prepared for what needs to be done.

  1. Know what’s allowed – Know what you’re allowed to have and what you aren’t. Make sure that you leave anything you aren’t supposed to have in a vehicle or at home that day.
  2. Get there early – You should definitely be early for your test so you have plenty of time to park, find a seat and then relax for a few minutes before the test begins so you can recharge.
  3. Practice the drive – You should practice driving from your home (or wherever you’re leaving from) and driving directly to the exam site the day before (or a few days before) the exam. Make sure you know how long it will take to get there, especially if you’re traveling over tracks or a bridge or in bad weather.
  4. Have everything you need – Make sure you have all of the things that you need for the day, including things like pens and pencils, sharpeners and anything else that’s approved for test day.
  5. Get plenty of sleep – Make sure you sleep well the night before your test and for several days before that as well. Getting plenty of sleep is going to help you focus and feel more well rested.
  6. Eat a good breakfast – Eating a good breakfast will make sure that you’re energized and that you’re not going to be distracted by your hunger.
  7. Relax the day before – The day before the test is not a good day to actually be studying. At this point, you should be resting and making sure you’re prepared for the next day.
  8. Stick to a normal routine – The morning of your test make sure you’re trying to stick to your normal routine as much as possible. You don’t want to get a lot of coffee or take medications or anything that’s going to possibly throw you off your normal.
  9. Make the most of breaks – You’ll have several breaks throughout the test period. Make sure that you’re using them and that you’re relaxing on each break rather than stressing about the next section or the last one.
  10. Know where and when to be – Before test day make sure that you are checking out where you’re supposed to be and when you need to be there. That way you’re going to be fully prepared for the day of the test, and you’ll be able to relax.
  11. Have good erasers – This is actually an extremely important tip because if you aren’t able to erase an answer bubble all the way you could end up with an incorrect answer. You need erasers that are going to clear an answer you decide to change completely.

Hopefully, each of these tips is going to make it easier for you to prepare for your test and take your test when the day comes. You’re hopefully going to be better prepared for the day, and you’ll be able to focus on answer the questions and actually knowing the answers. Studying areas like presidents, events, legislation, and vocab are definitely going to help you. Using old questions to study, using your AP government and politics textbook and making sure that when you get there you actually answer every part of the question is also going to be very important. Take a little bit of time to look over these tips and then make sure you put them into practice when the day comes.

If you need extra help, be sure to read our guide to the best AP US Government review books here.


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