As a high schooler, you're undoubtedly on the verge of participating in the democratic process. It's a great time to learn more about the structure and history of our government and how politics actually work. You're probably taking notes in your AP class based on your teacher's lectures and the information in your textbook, but it can be nice to have all the information you need in one place. This article will give you links to notes on every topic in the AP US Government curriculum along with a few tips on how to study effectively.
How to Use These AP Government Notes
These notes may be used throughout the year if you’re looking for materials to help you review for in-class tests. They can also be used cumulatively as study resources for the AP test. It’s a smart idea to supplement the notes in this article with more detailed notes from your class or a review book. You may find that your review book or textbook outlines certain topics more clearly or contains a more consolidated list of key concepts.
If you’re using these notes to prepare directly for the final AP exam, I’d recommend taking a full (accurately timed) practice test before reviewing them. You can then decide which topics to target based on where you made the most mistakes on the practice test.
It’s more efficient to do things this way rather than reading through all the notes indiscriminately. It’s also nice to get used to the format of the test questions and the timing of the test before you get too far into your studying. You may discover that you have more issues with timing or question wording than with content knowledge, in which case you’ll want to focus on doing additional practice questions.
AP US Government Notes
The exam covers six main topics, each of which has several major subtopics. The AP Gov notes below come from a site called CourseNotes, and their titles are based on the corresponding chapters of the American Government 11th edition textbook. These notes have practice questions that go along with them at the end, which can be used to help you retain the information after you read through it. You can also look at these detailed political timelines from CourseNotes to put all these concepts in context and see how they’ve impacted American history. The vocabulary lists and the links to important documents at the end of this section both come from the APStudyNotes website.
Topic #1: Constitutional Underpinnings of the US Government
- Chapter 1: Constitutional Democracy
- Chapter 2: The Living Constitution
- Chapter 3: American Federalism
Topic #2: Political Beliefs and Behaviors
Topic #3: Political Parties, Interest Groups, and Mass Media
- Chapter 6: Interest Groups
- Chapter 7: Political Parties
- Chapter 8: Public Opinion, Participation, And Voting
- Chapter 9: Campaigns and Elections
- Chapter 10: The Media and American Politics
- Public Opinion
- Political Participation
- Political Parties
- Elections and Campaigns
- Interest Groups
- The Media
Topic #4: Institutions of National Government
- Chapter 11: Congress
- Chapter 12: The Presidency
- Chapter 13: The Federal Administrative System
- Chapter 14: The Judiciary
- The Presidency
- The Bureaucracy
- The Judiciary (Briefs on major Supreme Court cases can be found here)
Topic #5: Public Policy
- Chapter 18: Making Economic and Regulatory Policy
- Chapter 19: Making Social Policy
- Chapter 20: Making Foreign and Defense Policy
- The Policy-Making Process
- Economic Policy
- Social Welfare
- Foreign and Military Policy
- Environmental Policy
Topic #6: Civil Rights and Civil Liberties
- Chapter 15: First Amendment Freedoms
- Chapter 16: Rights to Life, Liberty, and Property
- Chapter 17: Equal Rights under the Law
- Declaration of Independence
- Bill of Rights (Amendments 1-10)
- Constitutional Amendments 11-27
These documents are love letters to democracy that show the founding fathers' devotion to political equality for all citizens (i.e. white dudes with property...sigh...).
AP US Government Study Strategies
Here are a few helpful tips to keep in mind as you look through these AP Government notes. Tailoring your study strategies to the structure of the curriculum and the format of test questions is the first step towards earning a high AP score!
Practice Writing Clear, Direct Free-Response Answers
US Government is one of the more technical humanities subjects, so the free-response questions have multiple parts that only require short answers. In most cases, if you give a valid example or definition and a short explanation, you’ll earn points. There’s no reason to pad your answers with unnecessary fluff or write them in essay format. Make sure you review plenty of free-response questions and scoring guidelines to get a better idea of what’s expected on the test in comparison to, say, a history or literature AP exam. You can find a list of AP US Government free-response questions and score guidelines here.
Know the Most Prevalent Acts and Court Cases
There are a number of important court cases and legislative acts that have dramatically shaped US politics over the years. Make sure you understand the most prominent of these before you take the test. They will come up often in both sections. Even if free-response questions don’t ask about them directly, you may need to use these acts or court cases as supporting examples for other responses. It’s good to have a mental library of the most significant legislative and judiciary milestones in the history of the US that you can access at any point during the test. I’d recommend making flashcards for all the acts and cases you need to remember.
Pay Special Attention to Congress and the Presidency
Questions on Congress and the Presidency make up about a third of the test. You should know the composition of each branch of government, its powers, and changes to its role over time. You should also understand the ins and outs of election processes and have a detailed knowledge of how the legislature goes about drafting and passing laws.
Memorize Definitions of Key Terms
This is another area where flashcards might come in handy. You can use all the vocabulary lists I included in the notes as references, or you might have your own vocabulary lists from class or a review book. You’ll find that many questions are based on your knowledge of definitions. Sometimes, parts of free-response questions will just ask you to define terms. You’ll have a much easier time on the test if all the definitions are securely stored in the back of your mind.
Flashcards will help you come up with a lightning flash of memory after the thunderclap of a tough test question.
Conclusion: Using AP Government Notes Effectively
Notes for AP US Government cover six major topic areas that encompass a wide range of concepts. These topics include:
- Constitutional Underpinnings of the Government
- Political Beliefs and Behaviors
- Political Parties, Interest Groups, and Mass Media
- Institutions of National Government
- Public Policy
- Civil Rights and Civil Liberties
You can use the AP Gov notes in this article to review for in-class assessments throughout the year and in making final preparations for the AP test. The best way to review is to take a full practice test first so you can assess your areas of weakness and focus in on those topics.
I'd also recommend keeping the following pieces of advice in mind as you study:
- Practice Writing Clear, Direct Free-Response Answers
- Know the Most Prevalent Acts and Court Cases
- Pay Special Attention to Congress and the Presidency
- Memorize Definitions of Key Terms
Provided you avoid cramming and study the notes selectively, you'll be on the right track towards a stellar performance on the final exam.
Not totally sure how to begin studying for the AP test? Take a look at our five-step plan that will walk you through it. If you happen to be self-studying for the exam, you can also check out our seven-step plan custom-made for your situation.
High-quality practice tests are important if you want to make the best use of these notes. Learn how you can find the best AP practice tests out there to supplement your studying.
Are you still planning out the rest of your high school schedule? Find out how many AP classes you should take in total considering your goals for college and the offerings at your school.
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Samantha is a blog content writer for PrepScholar. Her goal is to help students adopt a less stressful view of standardized testing and other academic challenges through her articles. Samantha is also passionate about art and graduated with honors from Dartmouth College as a Studio Art major in 2014. In high school, she earned a 2400 on the SAT, 5's on all seven of her AP tests, and was named a National Merit Scholar.