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Advanced Placement (AP)


Free-response questions, or FRQs, on the AP US Government exam are more straightforward than those on some other AP tests, but they can still be tough if you're not ready for them. In this guide, we will lay out a simple step-by-step method for answering AP Government FRQs , go through a real example, and tell you where you can find additional practice resources.

AP Government Free-Response Section Format

The free-response section lasts one hour and 40 minutes and consists of four questions , each of which is worth 12.5% of your total score. So as a whole, the free-response section accounts for half your total AP Gov score (the other 50% comes from the multiple-choice section). Each FRQ is worth 3-6 raw points.

Here are the four types of FRQs you'll get on the AP Government exam:

  • Concept Application (3 raw points)
  • Quantitative Analysis (4 raw points)
  • SCOTUS Comparison (4 raw points)
  • Argument Essay (6 raw points)

The free-response questions will ask you to integrate your knowledge of the various content areas covered by the course. This includes analyzing political events in the US, discussing examples, and demonstrating your understanding of general principles of US government and politics. You'll also be asked to examine data from charts, define key terms, and explain the roles that different parts of our government play in the political system.

The following chart shows specifically what you must do for each FRQ on the AP Government test. All info below comes from the 2020 AP US Government and Politics Course and Exam Description .

Looking for help studying for your AP exam? Our one-on-one online AP tutoring services can help you prepare for your AP exams. Get matched with a top tutor who got a high score on the exam you're studying for!

AP Government FRQs: 5-Step Solution Process

This section provides a step-by-step process for answering any question on the AP US Government exam. Here's a sample question from the 2020 AP Gov Course and Exam Description that I'll reference throughout so you can see how these steps might work in practice:


Step 1: Read the Introductory and Concluding Sentences

Free-response questions #1 and #3 will include passages, while question #2 will have an image or a chart with data. Skim the first and final sentences of the passage (or title of the graphic for #2) before you get to the tasks (labeled A-C or A-D). This will help you get a rough sense of what to expect in the rest of the question.

It's a good idea to read the intros and conclusions to all the FRQs before choosing which one to begin with. Doing this might help build up your confidence and improve your efficiency to start with a question that's easier for you.

In the sample question above, you would read the title of the graphic ("Public Education Spending: Amount Spent per Pupil by State in 2014") and then skim the image itself to get a sense of what it's asking you to analyze.


Step 2: Identify (and Underline, If You Want) the Command Verb

For each task in each FRQ, you're given specific instructions on the type of answer that is expected; these instructions include command verbs that tell you what to do. It's important to be aware of exactly what the question is asking so you can earn full points.

These command verbs are the first words you should zero in on as you approach a question. If you think it'll help keep you focused, you can underline these verbs .

Here are the most commonly used task verbs, as described in the AP Gov Exam Description :

Compare: Provide a description or explanation of similarities and/or differences.

Define: Provide a specific meaning for a word or concept.

Describe: Provide the relevant characteristics of a specified topic.

Develop an argument: Articulate a claim and support it with evidence.

Draw a conclusion: Use available information to formulate an accurate statement that demonstrates understanding based on evidence.

Explain: Provide information about how or why a relationship, process, pattern, position, situation, or outcome occurs, using evidence and/or reasoning. Explain "how" typically requires analyzing the relationship, process, pattern, position, situation, or outcome, whereas explain "why" typically requires analysis of motivations or reasons for the relationship, process, pattern, position, situation, or outcome.

Identify: Indicate or provide information about a specified topic, without elaboration or explanation.

In part A of the sample question, the command verb is "identify," indicating that you need to correctly interpret the data in the image. In part B, the command verb changes to "describe," which means you'll need to go one step further and interpret and analyze data in the graphic that you have found.

Part C starts with "draw a conclusion," meaning that you will need to tie together the evidence you found in part B to come up with a final (accurate) statement on what this means. Finally, part D begins with the task verb "explain," showing that you must make a clear connection between the data in this graphic as a whole and the principle of federalism.

Step 3: Know Where You'll Earn Your Raw Points

In general, each part in a question (A, B, C, and D) will correspond to 1 raw point , but not all questions are like this.

After finding the task verb in the part of the question you're answering, take note of how many examples or descriptions you need to provide , as each will likely correspond to a point in your raw score for the question. There might also be more than one task verb in a question, in which case you'll likely get at least 2 raw points for it.

As a reminder, here is the maximum number of raw points you can earn for each question (don't forget that each question is still worth the same percentage of your score: 12.5%):

Take care to answer the question thoroughly but directly , addressing all points in a way that will make it easy for graders to assess your response. Remember that you don't need to write an essay for the first three FRQs, so just go straight for the answer to avoid any ambiguity.

In the sample question, we know there will be 4 raw points you can earn. And since the tasks are divided into four parts (labeled A-D), we can assume that each part will be worth 1 raw point .

You can see more sample FRQs and how they're graded with the official scoring guidelines here .

Step 4: Reread Your Answer

Once you've come up with an answer, reread what you wrote to ensure it makes sense and addresses the question completely . Did you give the correct number of descriptions or examples asked of you? Does your answer directly respond to what the question is asking?

If you're satisfied, move on to the next part of the question and return to step 2!

Step 5: Pace Yourself

The final step is to keep track of time so you can be sure you're pacing yourself effectively and are not spending too much time on any one question. As a reminder, you'll have one hour and 40 minutes for the entire free-response section of the AP Government exam.

It's suggested that you spend the following amounts of time on each FRQ:

As you can see, you should spend about an equal amount of time on the first three FRQs and save most of your time for your essay , which will likely require the most effort of the four.


A Real AP Government FRQ Example + Analysis

Now, let's go through the answers to a real AP Government free-response question from the 2019 released questions to show you what your responses should look like. This question is an example of a Concept Application question on the exam, meaning it's worth 3 raw points (1 point each for parts A, B, and C).


This question is all about the Johnson Amendment, which does not allow religious organizations to engage in political activities and contribute money to political campaigns. As this passage explains, the Alliance Defending Freedom, a religious group, encourages pastors to challenge this law by participating in an annual event called Pulpit Freedom Sunday.

Below, we go through how to answer each of the three parts correctly using the scoring guidelines .

Part A—1 Point

Part A asks you to come up with an example of a specific action Congress could take to address the concerns of the Alliance Defending Freedom. In other words, what could Congress do to allow groups such as the Alliance Defending Freedom to speak freely about political campaigns?

Note that the command verb used here is "describe," meaning you must "provide the relevant characteristics of a specified topic," or elaborate on what you're proposing and why it would work.

There are two possible answers you could put down here, according to the scoring guidelines:

  • Congress could pass a law that would reverse the Johnson Amendment.
  • Congress could pass a law to allow religious organizations to participate more directly in politics.

Part B—1 Point

Part B asks you to go into more detail about what you proposed in part A . You must talk about how partisan divisions (i.e., differences in political parties among politicians) could stop whatever you proposed in part A from going into effect (whether that's a new law altogether or a reversal of the original Johnson Amendment).

The task verb used here is "explain," so you must use evidence to show how the action you wrote down in part A could be blocked or reversed.

Here are two possible answers , according to the scoring guidelines:

  • Partisan divisions make it more difficult to pass a law because parties adhere to different ideological points of view.
  • If Congress and the president are from different political parties, the president might threaten to veto the legislation.

Part C—1 Point

The final part of this free-response question asks you to examine the scenario again, this time from the perspective of the Alliance Defending Freedom , or the religious group in question.

How might the Alliance argue that the Johnson Amendment, which prevents them from speaking on political issues and contributing money to political campaigns, is taking away their rights?

The key here is to first think about what rights these could be . Perhaps freedom of speech or freedom of religion? As you probably noticed, the task verb is "explain," so once again you must use plenty of evidence to show why this contentious relationship exists between the Alliance and the Johnson Amendment/the US government as a whole.

Here are examples of answers you could write, according to the official scoring guidelines:

  • The Alliance Defending Freedom and other religious groups might argue that their First Amendment rights are being violated.
  • The Alliance Defending Freedom and other religious groups might argue that their freedom of speech/religion is being violated.


Essential Resources for Practicing AP US Government FRQs

There are several resources you can use to hone your skills for answering AP Government FRQs.

Official College Board Resources

The College Board website hosts free-response questions from previous tests that you can use for practice. I recommend starting with the 2019 FRQs (unfortunately, they don't come with sample student responses), as these will look the most like the questions you'll get on test day.

Once you've used those, you can look at FRQs from the 2018 test and earlier; most of these come with sample student responses so you can see what a good response looks like.

If you're hoping to practice FRQs in the context of a full-length test, here are some links to past AP Government exams you can download (as always, prioritize the most recent tests):

  • 2018 Practice Test
  • 2013 Practice Test
  • 2012 Practice Test
  • 2009 Practice Test
  • 2005 Practice Test
  • 1999 Practice Test

These are by far the best sample AP US Government free-response questions you can get because they most accurately represent what you'll see on the real test.

AP Government Review Books

AP Government review books are also solid resources for free-response practice, though they vary a lot in quality.

The Princeton Review's prep book for AP Gov includes five full-length practice tests , so there should be tons of free-response questions you can use to hone your skills. Barron's AP US Gov review book also has some useful practice tests and free-response questions.

If you use these unofficial free-response questions for practice, just be sure to intersperse them with official questions from the College Board so that you maintain an accurate sense of what to expect on the real test.


Recap: Everything to Know About AP US Government FRQs

The four free-response questions on the AP US Government and Politics exam can be approached methodically to earn the maximum number of points.

Read the intro and conclusion to the question first so you can get your bearings. Then, for each of the separate parts, identify the task verb, figure out where you'll earn your raw points, and double-check your answer for any missing pieces or careless errors.

You should also pace yourself so that you're spending no more than 20 minutes each on the first three questions and 40 minutes on the essay.

I suggest practicing at least a few free-response questions before heading into the AP exam. The best resource to use is the College Board website, which contains an archive of past questions accompanied by scoring guidelines and sample student responses. These questions are pretty simple compared to the free-response questions on other AP tests once you get the hang of them!

What's Next?

Not sure where to begin in your AP prep? Our five-step plan will prepare you to take on any AP test .

If you're missing some of your notes that you need to study for AP Gov, check out this article with links to all the content you need to know for the test . You can also learn about the test as a whole with our comprehensive AP Government and Politics review guide .

Do you have a target score in mind for this exam? Learn more about what it takes to earn a 5 on an AP test and whether you should aim for one yourself.

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Lesson Plan: AP Government: Argumentative Essay Practice

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The Federalist Papers

Boston College professor Mary Sarah Bilder gives a brief overview backgrounding the Federalist Papers


This is intended as an end-of-course review activity for practice with the argumentative essay format included on the AP United States Government and Politics exam since the 2018 redesign. Eleven practice prompts are provided, reflecting content from Units 1-3.


  • Review the provided Argumentative Essay Prompts in either an individual or jigsaw format.
  • Write a thesis statement for your selected prompt(s) and identify the selection you would make from the provided list and the second piece of evidence you would choose.
  • If there are prompts for which you struggle to develop a thesis, or items on the bulleted lists with which you are not conversant, use the hyperlinked C-SPAN Classroom resources to extend your understanding of the required founding documents and SCOTUS cases that you found challenging.


  • Chose one or more of the provided Argumentative Essay Prompts , as assigned, and use the planning and exploration you did above to write a full essay in response to your designated prompt(s) in 25 or fewer minutes , since that's the time limit you'll face on the AP Exam!
  • Exchange essays with a classmate and evaluate each others' work.
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  • Branches Of Government
  • Constitution
  • House Of Representatives
  • Separation Of Powers
  • Supreme Court


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Adjust the sliders to guesstimate which rubric points you think you’ll get. The calculator will apply the accurate score weights + give you an estimated final score! (Pep’s final form will change depending on your score 🌶️)

Exam sections and scoring

  • Every AP subject has standardized sections on the exam. They usually include multiple choice and free response questions.
  • Each section is worth some number of points based on 1) the number of questions and 2) sometimes a scoring rubric. Each section also has a different weight on your final score.

Is it accurate?

Yes! The weights of the score + the points possible are very accurate, based on info from the Course & Exam Descriptions and Scoring Guidelines from the 2023 AP exams.

(If you notice any errors, please email us at [email protected] so we can fix it!)

The one area that can’t be perfectly accurate is how we determined the final predicted scores (College Board doesn’t publish the “cut points” for each scores.)

We used old released exams and other calculators to estimate “if you earned this % of points, you would earn this score”:

  • 75% or more = 5

These are meant to be benchmarks to give a rough idea of where you might fall, but the actual numbers are adjusted each year to be based on the curve. We’re probably pretty close though.

How are the 👩🏿‍⚖️ AP US Government exams scored?

  • Multiple Choice questions are graded with a computer, those are super easy to grade quickly.
  • Some teachers do this remotely and grade online, others are physically in person reading essays. They sit together at tables in huge conference centers for ~1 week to go through every single essay.
  • These educators are truly rooting for you to get as many points as you can. When there is a high scoring essay, the table quietly celebrates 🥳
  • Total scores for multiple choice and free response are combined, then translated into a 5-point scale.

What is a good score on the 👩🏿‍⚖️ AP US Government exam?

It’s all relative (really). We tend to think your score matters far less in the long run, so there really isn’t such thing as a “bad score”.  Taking the test and going through the process is correlated with going to and doing better in college.

Technically, a “3” is considered passing because it’s the lowest score that can earn college credit. Some colleges require 4s or 5s. And some (elite) colleges don’t give credit at all.

You can search all colleges for their AP Credit policy here:

What were last year’s 👩🏿‍⚖️ AP US Government scores?

College Board publishes the distribution of scores for every subject so you can see what % earned each score on the 5-point scale:

We listed these on the calculator as well :)

How can I improve my 👩🏿‍⚖️ AP US Government scores?

This calculator is useful because it’s a baseline. Once you know your strengths and weaknesses, you can make a plan to improve!

In the weeks leading up to the exam, you should do a few things:

Take the time to review all the content. Don’t reread the textbook or anything, but remind yourself of all the key topics.

Go through the study guides and find areas where you remember less content:

Start practicing questions on topics that you know the least. You can do easy, medium, hard, or extremely hard questions to test yourself:

And finally, attend a cram session in the days before the exam to get a last minute confidence boost:

When do 👩🏿‍⚖️ AP US Government scores come out?

The scores are usually released the week after the 4th of July. You can get them by signing into your College Board account. Instructions are here:


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Looking for an AP® US Government and Politics score calculator? You’ve found it! Explore how you would do on the AP® US Government exam by using this interactive widget.

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Section I: Multiple-Choice

FRQ 1: Concept Application

FRQ 2: Quantitative Analysis

FRQ 3: SCOTUS Comparison

FRQ 4: Argument Essay

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What is a good AP® US Government score?

A good score on any Advanced Placement exam is generally considered to be a 3, 4 or 5. These scores mean you passed the exam. The College Board specifies a score of 3 as “qualified”, 4 as “well qualified” and 5 as “extremely well qualified.” Depending on the specific colleges you apply to, a passing score on an AP® exam could also qualify you to receive college credit. You can see the AP® credit policy for any school you are considering on the College Board website here .

It is also important to note the pass rate for the exam. In 2020, over 326,000 students took the exam with a pass rate of 53%.

What is the average AP® US Government score?

It is difficult to give an overall average score because the AP® US Government exam changes every year based on overall exam changes or a different set of questions. Therefore, every year there is a different average score and score distribution. For example, in 2014, the average score was 2.62, 2.54 in 2015, 2.64 in 2016, 2.58 in 2017, 2.7 in 2018, 2.73 in 2019 and 2.85 in 2020. So, an approximate average score is around 2.67. You can reference the latest 2020 student score distributions here .

Why are AP® US Government scores curved?

Advanced Placement exam scores are always curved to maintain consistency. Because the specific questions change every year, the College Board wants to ensure that the scores reflect the same level of understanding year after year. That is, a student should get a 4 on any version of the exam they take. Also, the Advanced Placement program is designed to model college courses, many of which are graded on a curve.

How do I get a 5 on AP® US Government?

First, it is important to note that on average, only about 11% of all AP® US Government test takers achieve a 5 on this exam. Getting a top score is challenging, but definitely not impossible. There are a few things to keep in mind if you are aiming for a 5. Of course, content knowledge is vital, but good study habits and practice are vital to doing well on this exam.

Albert provides a wealth of resources to help you review and practice for test day. Search the website for resources like these:

  • Is AP® US Government Hard?
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Also, Albert provides hundreds of AP-aligned practice questions on the study guide to help you practice. You can access these anytime, anywhere on the site.

Why should I use this AP® US Government score calculator?

This AP® US Government score calculator uses the official scoring worksheets provided by the College Board from previously released exams, making this tool accurate and up-to-date. Using this calculator can help you grade any practice exams you take so you can get a general idea of what score to expect come exam day. Also, knowing roughly how many questions you have to answer correctly to pass provides a great confidence boost as well.

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    Section I: Multiple-Choice Section (MCQ) The total Section I raw score for the 2023 AP U.S. Gov exam was 60 points, with each correct answer carrying roughly 1.09 points. Your total score, therefore, is calculated by multiplying the number of correct answers by 1.09.


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