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2021 CLEP Official Study Guide

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This study guide provides practice questions for all 34 CLEP exams. The ideal resource for taking more than one exam. Offered only by the College Board.

American Government Guide

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

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American Government


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. Any time test takers spend on tutorials and providing personal information is in addition to the actual testing time.

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 examination 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

Study Resources

Most textbooks used in college-level American government courses cover the topics in the outline given earlier, but the approaches to certain topics and the emphases given to them may differ. To prepare for the American Government examination, it is advisable to study one or more college textbooks, which can be found in most college bookstores. When selecting a textbook, check the table of contents against the knowledge and skills required for this test.


  • Bardes et al., American Government and Politics Today: The Essentials (Wadsworth)
  • Edwards et al., Government in America: Brief Edition (Longman)
  • Fiorina et al., America's New Democracy (Longman)
  • Ginsberg and Lowi, American Government: Freedom and Power (W.W. Norton)
  • Jacobson and Kernell, The Logic of American Politics (Congressional Quarterly)
  • Janda et al., The Challenge of Democracy (Wadsworth)
  • O'Brien et al., Government by the People (Prentice Hall)
  • O'Connor and Sabato, American Government: Continuity and Change (Longman)
  • Patterson, The American Democracy (McGraw-Hill)
  • Welch et al., Understanding American Government: The Essentials (Wadsworth)
  • Wilson, American Government (Wadsworth)
  • Wolf et al., Keeping the Republic: Power and Citizenship in American Politics (Congressional Quarterly)

Online Resources

Score Information

Credit Granting Score for American Government
ACE Recommended Score*: 50
Semester Hours: 3

Each institution reserves the right to set its own credit-granting policy, which may differ from that of ACE. Contact your college as soon as possible to find out the score it requires to grant credit, the number of credit hours granted, and the course(s) that can be bypassed with a satisfactory score.

*The American Council on Education’s College Credit Recommendation Service (ACE CREDIT) has evaluated CLEP processes and procedures for developing, administering, and scoring the exams. The score listed above is equivalent to a grade of C in the corresponding course. The American Council on Education, the major coordinating body for all the nation’s higher education institutions, seeks to provide leadership and a unifying voice on key higher education issues and to influence public policy through advocacy, research, and program initiatives. Visit the ACE CREDIT website for more information.