AP U.S. Government and Politics Exam: 2021 Results

The following data reflect the 260,941 students worldwide who took either the paper or the digital AP U.S. Government and Politics Exam in May. Data from students who tested in June are not yet available.

AP U.S. Government and Politics score distributions, 2019 vs. 2021

The following table enables comparisons of student performance in 2021 to student performance on the comparable full-length exam prior to the covid-19 pandemic.

AP Score 2019 2021
5 13% 11%
4 12% 11%
3 30% 27%
2 25% 27%
1 20% 23%

Of these 260,941 students, 31 students achieved a perfect score from all professors/readers on all free-response questions and correctly answered every multiple-choice question, resulting in the rare and impressive feat of earning all 120 of 120 points possible on an AP U.S. Government and Politics Exam.

The May 3 In-School Paper Exam

The largest exam date for AP US Government and Politics was May 3, so the following information is specific to the exam version administered on that date.

As usual, students scored significantly higher on the multiple-choice section than on the free-response questions.

Multiple-choice section:

  • Course Periods/Units:
    • AP U.S. Government students scored well and evenly across every unit of the course, but earned especially high scores on Unit 4, American Political Ideologies and Beliefs. 31% of students earned perfect scores across questions about Unit 4.
  • Big Ideas:
    • Students scored especially well across questions about Big Idea 2 (Liberty and Order), Big Idea 3 (Civic Participation in a Representative Democracy), and Big Idea 5 (Methods of Political Analysis).
    • Big Idea 4 (Competing Policy-Making Interests) was the most challenging. 9% of students were able to answer all or most of these questions correctly.
  • Disciplinary Practices:
    • Students’ strongest skill in the multiple-choice section was SCOTUS application. 27% of students earned a perfect score across all SCOTUS application multiple-choice questions.
    • Students were slightly less proficient at source analysis than they were at data analysis and SCOTUS application. That said, 19% of students earned most or all of the source analysis points, and scores in this category were overall very good.
  • Free-response section:

    Set 2 Questions

    • The highest performance in the Set 2 free-response section was on Q2, the quantitative analysis of votes and seats won. 18% of students earned all 4 points possible on this question.
    • Students also generally scored well on the “Taylor Swift” question; 25% of students earned all 3 points possible.
    • The lowest performance within this year’s AP US Government Set 2 questions was Q3, the SCOTUS comparison of Gideon v. Wainwright (1963) and Betts v. Brady (1942).
    • On the argumentative essay about the balance of power between the executive and legislative branches:
      • 59% of students earned the claim/thesis point.
      • 33% earned 3 evidence points; 18% earned 2 evidence points; and 35% earned 1 evidence point, and 13% earned 0 points.
      • 41% earned the reasoning point.
      • 28% earned the point for responding to an alternative perspective.

      The May 20 Digital Exams

      To support student access, different testing modes—paper and digital—were essential. To protect exam security, many different exam versions were necessary. Accordingly, to provide students with similar opportunities for success regardless of which version they took, each version of the exam had to be analyzed separately by psychometricians to identify its unique difficulty level so that standards for scores of 3, 4, and 5 could then be separately identified for each exam version. Analyses focused on:

      1. Differences in the testing mode (paper or digital). For sections of the exam that proved easier to take digitally, the digital versions require more points for each AP score. For sections of the exam that proved easier to take on paper, the paper exam requires more points for each AP score.
      2. Differences in the difficulty of specific questions. When exam questions prove easier, more points are required for each AP score, and when exam questions prove more difficult, fewer points are required on one version than another.
      3. Differences in versions of the exam. The net result for this year’s AP U.S. Government and Politics Exams is that out of 120 points possible, most of the digital versions were more difficult than the paper version, and a few of the digital versions were similar to or easier than the paper version. As a result:
        1. On the easiest digital version, a student needed to earn 2 more points to receive an AP score of 3 or higher than students who took the paper version.
        2. On the harder digital versions, a student needed to earn 1–13 fewer points (depending on their version) to receive an AP score of 3 or higher than students who took the paper version.