American Government

The American Government exam assesses an understanding of civics and political process and behavior.

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The American Government exam covers material that is usually taught in a one-semester introductory course in American government and politics at the college level. The scope and emphasis of the exam reflect what is most commonly taught in introductory American government and politics courses in political science departments around the United States. These courses go beyond a general understanding of civics to incorporate political processes and behavior. The exam covers topics such as the institutions and policy processes of the federal government, the federal courts and civil liberties, political parties and interest groups, political beliefs and behavior, and the content and history of the Constitution.

The exam contains approximately 100 questions to be answered in 90 minutes. Some of these are pretest questions that will not be scored.

Knowledge and Skills Required

Questions on the American Government exam require test takers to demonstrate one or more of the following abilities in the approximate proportions indicated.

  • Knowledge of American government and politics (about 55%–60% of the exam)
  • Understanding of typical patterns of political processes and behavior (including the components of the behavioral situation of a political actor), and the principles used to explain or justify various governmental structures and procedures (about 30%–35% of the exam)
  • Analysis and interpretation of simple data that are relevant to American government and politics (10%–15% of the exam)

The subject matter of the American Government exam is drawn from the following topics. The percentages next to the main topics indicate the approximate percentage of exam questions on that topic.

Institutions and Policy Processes: Presidency, Bureaucracy, Congress, and the Federal Courts (30%–35%)

  • The major formal and informal institutional arrangements and powers
  • Structure, policy processes, and outputs
  • Relationships among these three institutions and links between them and political parties, interest groups, the media, and public opinion
  • Structure and processes of the judicial system, with emphasis on the role and influence of the Supreme Court

Civil Liberties and Civil Rights (10%–15%)

  • The development of civil rights and civil liberties by judicial interpretation
  • The Bill of Rights
  • Incorporation of the Bill of Rights
  • Equal protection and due process

Political Parties and Interest Groups (15%–20%)

  • Political parties (including their function, organization, mobilization, historical development, and effects on the political process)
  • Interest groups (including the variety of activities they typically undertake and their effects on the political process)
  • Elections (including the electoral process)

Political Beliefs and Behavior (15%–20%)

  • Processes by which citizens learn about politics
  • Political participation (including voting behavior)
  • Public opinion
  • Beliefs that citizens hold about their government and its leaders
  • Political culture (the variety of factors that predispose citizens to differ from one another in terms of their political perceptions, values, attitudes, and activities)
  • The influence of public opinion on political leaders

Constitutional Underpinnings of American Democracy (15%–20%)

The development of concepts such as:

  • Federalism (with attention to intergovernmental relations)
  • Separation of powers
  • Checks and balances
  • Majority rule
  • Minority rights
  • Considerations that influenced the formulation and adoption of the Constitution
  • Theories of democracy

Score Information

ACE Recommendation for American Government

Credit-granting Score 50
Semester Hours 3

Note: Each institution reserves the right to set its own credit-granting policy, which may differ from the American Council on Education (ACE). Contact your college to find out the score required for credit and the number of credit hours granted.

Add Study Guides

CLEP American Government Guide

This guide provides practice questions for the CLEP American Government Exam only.

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Study Resources: American Government

A study plan and list of online resources.


ACE Credit Recommendations

Recommendations for credit-granting scores from the American Council on Education.