Could You Pass the AP Exam on U.S. Government and Politics?

5 Steps to a 5 - cover imageHave you ever taken an Advanced Placement (AP) exam for anything? I haven’t. But, a few weeks ago I came across a book in the library titled 5 Steps to a 5: 500 AP U.S. Government and Politics Questions to Know by Test Day by William Madden (pub. by McGraw-Hill). Given the topics of many of my posts here, I was intrigued and checked it out. When I started flipping through the questions, I realized this was no walk in the park!

The questions are organized into the following parts & chapters, with anywhere from 8 to 100 questions (with multiple-choice answers) per chapter:



Ch. 1:  Influences on the Formulation and Adoption of the Constitution
Ch. 2:  The Separation of Powers and Checks and Balances
Ch. 3:  Federalism
Ch. 4:  Theories of Democratic Government


Ch. 5:  Beliefs that Citizens Hold about Their Government and Its Leaders
Ch. 6:  Processes by Which Citizens Learn about Politics
Ch. 7:  The Nature, Sources, and Consequences of Public Opinion
Ch. 8:  Voting Tendencies and Political Participation
Ch. 9:  Factors Affecting Differences in Political Beliefs and Behaviors


Ch. 10:  Political Parties and Elections
Ch. 11:  Interest Groups, Including Political Action Committees (PACs)
Ch. 12:  The Mass Media


Ch. 13:  Formal and Informal Arrangements of Power
Ch. 14:  The Relationship Among the Four Institutions and Varying Balances of Power
Ch. 15:  Linkages between Institutions and the Following: Public Opinion and Voters, Interest Groups, Political Parties, the Media, and State and Local Governments


Ch. 16:  Policymaking and the Federal System
Ch. 17:  The Formation of Political Agendas
Ch. 18:  The Role of Institutions in Enacting Policy
Ch. 19:  The Role of Bureaucracy and Courts in Policy Implementation and Interpretation
Ch. 20:  Linkages between Policy Processes and the Following: Political Institutions and Federalism, Political Parties, Interest Groups, Public Opinion, Elections, and Policy Networks


Ch. 21:  The Development of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties by Judicial Interpretation
Ch. 22:  Knowledge of Substantive Rights and Liberties
Ch. 23:  The Impact of the Fourteenth Amendment on the Constitutional Development of Rights and Liberties

To get a sense of the material, I semi-randomly chose one question from each chapter as a quiz for you to test yourself with. (The book’s answers follow, of course, including some helpful explanations.) Good luck!


#7: According to Alexander Hamilton, a strong central government was required for the United States to compete with the rest of the world on a(n) _____________ level.

(A) economic
(B) political
(C) military
(D) cultural
(E) All of the above

#14: Historically, the most frequent method for amending the Constitution has been for

(A) two-thirds of the states to request a constitutional convention to ratify a new amendment
(B) a two-thirds vote in Congress to be followed by ratification in three-fourths of the state legislatures
(C) three-fourths of special state constitutional conventions to ratify a new amendment
(D) a three-fourths vote in Congress to be followed by ratification in two-thirds of the state legislatures
(E) None of the above

#27: Which of the following is a key component of federalism?

(A) Each level of government is independent from other levels.
(B) The national government supersedes other, lower levels.
(C) Lower levels of government do not exert political leverage on higher levels.
(D) Separate responsibilities are given to people and territories.
(E) Federalism allows for self-governance at the local level.

#49: Coinciding with David Hume’s ideas of competition between contending interests and John Lock and Montesquieu’s belief in limited government, Adam Smith contributed the idea of a separation between

(A) business and government
(B) church and state
(C) state and national government
(D) individuals and government
(E) business and religion

#51: Public opinion on foreign policy is usually particularly responsive to opinion leadership because

(A) few people pay sustained attention to foreign affairs
(B) except in times of direct threat, citizens leave foreign affairs to government experts
(C) there are well-established foreign policy think tanks
(D) the news media cover government action sufficiently
(E) foreign policy is highly consistent

#70: The coherence of aggregate public opinion is based on:

(A) citizens’ general knowledge about politics
(B) the clearly defined positions of politicians
(C) opinion leaders who combine information from various sources
(D) the research individuals do on an issue or issues
(E) the effectiveness of campaign advertising

#78: Political attitudes introduce bias to the interpretation of political information because

(A) public opinion is never neutral
(B) people give more attention to information that confirms their beliefs
(C) one side of an issue has to be “right,” while the other is “wrong”
(D) such information is usually complex, and attitudes reduce it to one of two sides
(E) political parties tend to dictate attitudes

#86: Campaign money is regulated because of all of the following EXCEPT

(A) Taxpayers partially finance presidential campaigns.
(B) Candidates need to keep track of what their opponents are spending.
(C) Money can undermine political equality.
(D) Private financing leads to suspicion of politicians serving their donors.
(E) Pursuit of money can discredit electoral victory.

#95: The major reason for the decline in voter turnout in the past 40 years has been

(A) a decline in eligible voters
(B) apathy regarding once-important issues
(C) a disconnect between politicians and voters
(D) an increase in the diversity of the population
(E) a decline in mobilization efforts by parties and organized groups

#108: The long-standing two-party structure in American government is due to Duverger’s law, which states that

(A) people act in their own interests
(B) people vote for less objectionable major-party candidates if their first choice cannot win
(C) people will vote with the party with which they identify regardless of candidate qualifications
(D) people are uninformed and rely on polls to make voting determinations
(E) people are more likely to be independent only if they live in a region dominated by one party

#134: An interest group’s primary responsibility is to

(A) educate the public on an issue
(B) engage in partisan politics to further its cause
(C) court administrators for special privileges
(D) create talking points for politicians to use
(E) gain as many members as possible to make its issue more politically important

#148: The growth of the news media industry has created a barrier to covering political issues because

(A) print journalism resents broadcast journalism
(B) the Washington press corps is still a small select group
(C) all politicians have press secretaries to deal with the media
(D) the sheer volume of competing news stories means that some important issues are not always covered
(E) press beats limit reporters to following only one story

#184: The departments of Agriculture, Labor, and Commerce differ from the Treasury, the Justice Department, and the Department of Defense because the former

(A) serve general social purposes
(B) do not represent a particular clientele
(C) naturally grew out of the needs of society
(D) do not need anyone to lobby on their behalf
(E) All of the above

#210: Lower-court judges tend not to contradict the Supreme Court because

(A) a reversed decision is a defeat for a judge
(B) frequent reversals could damage a judge’s reputation
(C) reversed decisions will bring greater scrutiny
(D) controversial decisions may not be recognized
(E) All of the above

#316: The media’s demands for timely and accurate information serve all of the following purposes EXCEPT

(A) making sure the government remains transparent
(B) providing the public with necessary facts about government actions
(C) meeting the needs of the public to form opinions
(D) forcing the government to explain its actions
(E) preventing public officials from having the time to craft their own news stories

#352: The president can set policy by which of the following methods?

(A) Executive appointments
(B) Public speeches
(C) Meetings with congressional leaders
(D) Executive orders
(E) Judicial appointments

#365: National bureaucracies are important in setting policy agendas because

(A) the president gives them the power to do so
(B) Congress gives the the power to do so
(C) they possess the necessary expertise in a certain area
(D) they often come up with necessary innovations that pertain to issues
(E) they have to approve any policy goals

#373: The information problems associated with bureaucracy are complexity of information and

(A) executive branch interference
(B) changing public opinion
(C) the preference of bureaucratic agencies
(D) congressional oversight
(E) the proliferation of interest groups

#385: Until the New Deal in the 1930s, judicial attitudes toward the U.S. political process were republican, meaning

(A) they favored Republicans
(B) they protected property from legislative majorities
(C) they favored the institutions of democracy
(D) they did not appreciate or consider arguments for democracy over republic
(E) they wanted to expand political freedoms

#404: Major party leaders influence the policy process by

(A) negotiating with the executive branch
(B) negotiating with agencies
(C) reacting to judicial decisions
(D) shaping the overall budget
(E) responding to public opinion

#432: In terms of civil rights and liberties, a suspect classification is one

(A) where legislators legitimately apply the law to a certain group of citizens
(B) where judicial interpretation is questionable
(C) where there is concern that legislation separates a class of people
(D) where the law gives favor to a particular group
(E) where a law is seen as unnecessary

#462: What was the pivotal Supreme Court decision banning prayer in public schools?

(A) Betts v. Brady
(B) Wolf v. Colorado
(C) Benton v. Maryland
(D) Engel v. Vitale
(E) Brown v. Mississippi

#495: Using the Fourteenth Amendment to restrain the private sector is controversial because

(A) the amendment does not provide for that
(B) the Supreme Court has had difficulty creating a clear line of reasoning for it
(C) the amendment is aimed at government action
(D) the amendment originally pertained only to racial discrimination
(E) All of the above


#7: (E) Alexander Hamilton was perhaps the strongest proponent of a strong central government and became the leader of the Federalist Party that emerged after ratification. His focus was economic strength, but he believed that all other aspects were connected to economics and held equal importance on the international stage.

#14: (B) “Frequent” may be a misleading term, as there have been only 27 amendments; however, all amendments except Prohibition have occurred through the method in answer B. Answers A and C represent parts of the other ways that amendments can be passed, and Answer D is not a proscribed method.

#27: (A) Federalism works primarily because the national government and state governments have exclusive spheres of influence.

#49: (A) In his Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith laid the groundwork for free-market systems that separates the government from business, which is the foundation of capitalist theory. Smith believed that the market is self-correcting and that the more government intrudes, the more business is impeded. Since Smith, many economic theories have been developed, but America still holds on to his main idea of free-market capitalism as its economic structure.

#51: (A) Foreign affairs and the intricate relationships involved are more than the average citizen has time to follow. Therefore, opinion leaders are important for the average citizen to remain aware of what is happening. Of course, events such as September 11, 2001, capture everyone’s attention, but those events are rare and cannot be considered alongside the day-to-day interactions of our government with the rest of the world.

#70: (C) Aggregate public opinion becomes more consistent over time. This is due in large part to the consistent message of opinion leaders. As people coalesce around certain ideologies, general views will remain consistent.

#78: (B) It is human nature to drift toward that with which we agree and move away from that with which we disagree. Therefore, political attitudes are not a neutral measurement but often show a high degree of bias, because individuals are going to find information that supports their belief structure rather than refutes it.

#86: (B) All of these answers may seem to be legitimate, but although a candidate might like to track an opponent’s expenditures, there is no ethical need for him or her to have that information. All other responses deal with either public funding or voter perception, which fall under the idea of campaigns being transparent.

#95: (E) Voters go to the polls when they see activity for or against a candidate. Until recently, this was the focus of political parties and their mobilization efforts. The decline in these mobilization efforts has coincided with the decline in voter turnout.

#108: (B) Duverger’s law explains the lack of third-party success in American political history. If there are choices other than the two major-party candidates (which there are in every election), voters will end up voting for one of the two major candidates because they feel their first choice has no hope of winning. Voters do not want to feel that their votes are entirely wasted, even if they compromise their political beliefs to have their votes “count.”

#134: (A) Knowledge is power, and interest groups seek to educate politicians. More important, they seek to educate the public that is affected by the issue. Without public support, an interest group’s political power evaporates.

#148: (D) With ever-growing news coverage and reporting from traditional press and broadcast sources to new media on the Internet, there is a lack of far-ranging coverage of government activity, because no media outlet wants to miss the “big story”. The consequence is that with everyone chasing a handful of stories, many lesser stories of perhaps equal importance are overlooked or given scant attention.

#184: (C) These departments grew out of the needs of American citizens and specific business groups, so the corresponding cabinet positions were added. The Defense, Treasury, and Justice departments provide a general need that apply to all citizens and the workings of government.

#210: (E) The Supreme Court is the ultimate destination in a judge’s career, and most will never reach it. However, the federal judiciary is relatively small, and not following precedent again and again will be noticed and can hurt a judge’s hopes for career advancement. Further, any subsequent rulings will be given more scrutiny based on the judge’s previous behavior.

#316: (C) Public opinion is formed continuously, and the information people receive adds to that, but there is no deadline or time-sensitive aspect to what voters think. Granted, a breaking news story or emerging crisis may be important to them, but that information will be added to the aggregate public opinion that is constantly evolving.

#352: (D) Executive orders have the power of law as long as they do not conflict with any existing legislation or the Constitution. Because the president can issue orders unilaterally, policy can change instantly.

#365: (D) As policymaking rests firmly with bureaucracies, so does the creation of the agenda. Unless there is a reason for Congress to do otherwise, it will defer to agency expertise as to the best way of moving forward in developing and implementing policy.

#373: (C) Bureaucracies are made up of people with opinions and perspectives on the best way to accomplish a goal. Due to their expertise, they are often deferred to by those with control of the policy apparatus. Couple this with the complexity of information and situations arise in which Congress may not receive what it thinks is relevant because the agency representatives do not think it is relevant, or they would rather not share it because it may alter their policy implementations.

#385: (B) Republican government is generally based on government representing the people but not intruding on their daily lives, as power is vested in elected representatives who pursue the interests of the governed. According to the Supreme Court, property rights were at the heart of that system until the New Deal expanded federal authority. Civil rights and government responsibility did not occupy the court’s time in the nineteenth century.

#404: (D) The budget, proposed by the president and passed by Congress, is the vehicle that party leaders use to influence policy. In the House, the Rules Committee sets the legislative agenda and can shape the budget. This committee is controlled by the majority party, so any part of the budget that does not agree with its political agenda will receive less attention than items that do. Thus, party leaders can influence policy.

#432: (C) Legislation designed to limit activity or deny a group the opportunity to do what others are allowed to do is suspect. This does not mean that the group is suspicious, rather it refers to the historic discrimination or marginalization the group has faced in society and through legal limitations.

#462: (D) Engel v. Vitale, still decried in conservative circles nearly 50 years later, banned prayer in public schools, which was found to be a violation of church and state. Because schools were publicly funded entities, prayer in schools was a government endorsement of religion and thus violated the establishment clause.

#495: (E) The business of government has become more involved in the private sector, merging the two interests. Therefore, all the responses apply to this situation. The Supreme Court has placed restraints on the private sector that are similar to those it has placed on government action.

Frankly, I found some of the questions/answers somewhat vague or otherwise confusing. Mostly, though, I just haven’t really studied this stuff in ages, and I didn’t do as well as I’d hoped. How about you?


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