Devin Barricklow 5 min read AP Guides, Standardized Tests

The Ultimate Guide to the Comparative Government and Politics AP Exam

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For a student taking AP classes, the day of the exam might feel particularly nerve-wracking. After all, your performance on this exam can help you demonstrate your expertise to colleges, and in some cases, an exemplary score on an AP exam might even earn you college credit.

In this post, we will focus on how to prepare for the AP Comparative Government and Politics exam. Before you start trying to research everything that has ever been written regarding politics  and the government, check out our step-by-step guide for how to do your best on this test.

About the Exam

The AP Comparative Government and Politics Exam focuses on six core countries: China, Great Britain Iran, Mexico, Nigeria, and Russia. According to the College Board, this exam measures your “ability to compare and contrast political regimes; electoral systems; federal structures; civil rights; and state responses to economic, social, and religious challenges over time.”

The exam lasts 2 hours and 25 minutes. There is one multiple choice section with 55 questions that  lasts 45 minutes and is worth 50% of the total score. There is one free response section with 8 questions that lasts 100 minutes and is worth 50% of the total score.

Scores on any AP exam range from 1-5. According to the Score Split from the 2016 exam, a relatively high percentage of students score a 3 or above on this exam. You can find more information about scoring of the AP Comparative Government and Politics exam here.

So what is the best way to study for this exam?

Step 1: Start by assessing your skills

The best way to begin studying for any exam is to determine what areas you understand well and what areas you need to work on.

In most AP Government and Politics classes, teachers will generally start any new unit with what is known as a “formative assessment.” This well-known cornerstone of teaching helps both the teacher and the students understand what areas of information they need to focus on in the days or weeks to come. After all, you can’t really know where to begin if you don’t have a realistic idea of where you’re starting from.

If you are self-studying the exam, start by taking a free practice test as your own formative assessment. This is  a helpful resource that can give you some hands-on experience with the upcoming test. You can score your own multiple choice section and free response, then you can have a friend score your free response and average the scores, since this area is often more subjective. Once you have an actual score to work with, identify the areas you need to improve in when you take the actual test.

Step 2: Study the theory

Next,  crack open some study guides and start to solidify your understanding of the theory taught in this course.

The Princeton Review’s Cracking the AP Comparative Government and Politics, 2016 Edition offers comprehensive reviews of this course and the material that might show up on the exam. Another good resource is AP Comparative Government and Politics: An Essential Coursebook (7th Edition). This book offers a really thorough review of the information in this course—in fact, some criticize it for having too much information. This guide should be used like a textbook; it will be much more effective this way rather than in a last-minute cram session.

There are also online study resources available to help you. Many AP teachers post complete study guides, review sheets, and test questions. You should talk with your teacher or check your school’s website to see if this is the case.

Apps are  a new, fun way to study for AP Exams—just make sure you read the reviews before you purchase one. You don’t want to end up spending money on an app that won’t actually be helpful to you. AP US Government: Practice Tests and Flashcards by Varsity Tutors and AP US Government & Politics Exam Prep by Brainscape are two examples of highly rated study apps that might be helpful.

Step 3: Practice multiple choice questions

When it comes to the multiple choice section of the AP Government and Politics exam, there are lots of study guides available. You can also search for study guides online. While you practice, be sure to focus on trying to understand what each question is really asking—what theories or themes does the question tie into? In what way do the test makers want you to demonstrate your understanding of the subject material? Be sure to keep a running list of any unfamiliar vocabulary words as well so that you go can go back later and clarify them.

Step 4: Practice Free Response Questions

There are three different types of free response questions. The first type is a short answer section with five questions that ask students to define concepts from the course topic outline and provide supporting information from the core countries of the course. The second section consists of one conceptual question that requires analysis. It will generally be about a major concept from the course topic outline. Finally, there are two country-specific questions that ask students to provide specific information and analysis of the core countries from the course. The CollegeBoard website gives some good examples of free response questions here.

It’s important to keep the task verbs in mind for each question of this section. Make sure you understand what each question is asking you to do. These verbs will commonly include “identify,” “define,” “describe,” “explain,” “provide one reason,” etc.

It may help you to underline each section of the question and check them off as you write. Students often lose points by forgetting  to include one part of a multipart of question. If a question asks you to identify and describe, make sure you do both. It is also a good idea to use the task verbs in your answer. If you are asked to “give a specific example,” start your part of the answer that addresses this question with “One specific example of this would be…”

Check out these scoring examples to understand where students commonly lose points and avoid doing so on the exam.

Step 5: Take another practice exam

After you’ve practiced the multiple choice and short answer questions, you should take another practice exam. Score the exam the same way as before, and repeat the studying process targeting areas that are still weak.

Step 6: Exam Day

To take the test this year, you can register through your school.If you are homeschooled or attend a school that does not offer the test you want to take, contact AP services no later than March 1 to get a list of names and telephone numbers of local AP coordinators willing to test outside students. Make sure to bring plenty of #2 pencils and pens with black or dark blue ink.

The exam day this school year is Thursday, May 4, 2017, at 8am. For information on AP courses and exams, check out CollegeVine’s posts below:  :

The Ultimate Guide to Self-Studying AP Exams

How Much Do AP Scores Matter?

What Are AP Scholar Awards?

Are All APs Created Equal In Admissions?

Devin Barricklow
Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
Devin Barricklow is a Political Science and Creative Writing double major at Columbia University. She’s really excited to be able to share her expertise about the college process with students who need advice. When she isn’t writing for CollegeVine, she enjoys reading the poems of Mary Oliver, going to concerts in the city, or cooking (preferably something with lots of bok choy and ginger).