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New Changes Coming to AP US Government and Politics This Fall

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After a two year review process, the US Government and Politics Advanced Placement course will use an updated curriculum beginning in the fall of 2018. These changes come on the heels of an extensive review in which the CollegeBoard sought to clarify course content, strengthen the link between knowledge and application, place a greater emphasis on primary historical sources, and incorporate a student-led research project.


The announcement of these changes comes in time for students to consider them before committing to the fall course work. If you’re interested in learning more about the changes or if you’re considering registering for this class in the fall, don’t miss the details below.



What Is the US Government and Politics AP Course?

This class was designed to measure a student’s understanding of American political culture in both contemporary and historical contexts. According to the CollegeBoard, students must be able to “analyze, compare, interpret, and communicate political information.”


The AP exam consists of two sections. The first is composed of 60 multiple-choice questions, to be completed in 45 minutes and accounting for 50% of the total score. The second section is the free response section, consisting of four questions answered over the course of 100 minutes and accounting for the remaining 50% of the total score.


To see the CollegeBoard course description, visit the US Government and Politics AP homepage. You can find more information about the course redesign here.



Greater Clarity of Course Content

Many AP classes have been revised in recent years with the goal of clarifying course content, making the classes more consistent across the country. In this case, the CollegeBoard has designed a more comprehensive description of the exam content, enabling teachers to better tailor their instruction to topics that are likely to be included on the test.


The new content outline is broken down into five units. These include:


  • Foundations of American democracy
  • Interactions among branches of government
  • Civil liberties and civil rights
  • American political ideologies and beliefs
  • Political participation



Applying Knowledge

Another shift will ask students to better apply their knowledge in new and engaging ways. Rather than simply memorizing facts, students will now be tasked with applying knowledge in order to analyze or interpret new political information. The goal of this change is to encourage students to make their own, informed political conclusions.

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Primary Source Emphasis

Students taking the US Government and Politics AP course beginning in fall 2018 will need to become familiar with a wide variety of primary sources from US history. The course curriculum specifies a total of nine foundational documents and 15 Supreme Court cases that students will be required to read, reflect on, and discuss.


These sources range from the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution to Martin Luther King Jr’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” and certain Federalist Papers. The Super Court cases include pivotal cases such as Brown v. Board of Education.


All of the required primary sources represent significant moments in US political history. Students will be asked to demonstrate an understanding of them both in their original context and as applied to contemporary issues.



Student-Led Research Project

One of the most significant changes for students will come in the form of a research or investigative project. All students enrolled in the course will be required to complete an

applied civics or political science research project, linking course content with a real-world issue.


Students will be allowed to work in groups for the project and will complete some form of media as a major component of it. This could include a an article, brochure, podcast, or other type of media. The CollegeBoard includes projects examples in the course description ranging from holding a mock congress to designing and collecting a survey of political opinion. In addition, students have the opportunity to design their own project.


The research or investigative project does not count towards the final AP exam score, but will usually count towards a student’s final grade in the class.



Is the US Government and Politics AP Course Right For Me?

Students who are interested in a future in law or politics will find the content of this course particularly interesting. If you have a strong interest in US history, you will likely be interested in the course content, especially now with its increased emphasis on primary documents.


In the past, this AP exam has been one that is commonly taken as a self-study test. This pattern is likely to continue, but until examples of the test based on the new course content are available, self-studiers will likely find the test slightly harder to prepare for, without any current examples of its content.


If you’re interested in taking the US Government and Politics AP course, or are considering another AP course or exam, don’t miss these valuable CollegeVine resources:


Can AP Tests Actually Save You Thousands of Dollars?

Should I Take AP/IB/Honors Classes?

How to Choose Which AP Courses and Exams to Take

What If My School Doesn’t Offer AP or IB Courses?

Are All APs Created Equal in Admissions?


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Kate Sundquist
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.