New Format Online AP US Government Study Guide – 2020 Changes

Published on Mar 26, 2020

👋🏼 Hi, I’m Nicole Johnston from New Jersey! I’m an AP Gov teacher and streamer at Fiveable. This year’s exam is different than we expected, but I’m here to help. I’ve put together this study guide to help keep you on track while you are studying from home. You can follow this guide on your own with a free Fiveable account! I’ll also be joining a group of students live on Wednesdays @ 8pm ET during cram sessions. Pick up your cram pass to join us.


Format of the New Exam

This year, the AP US Government exam will look different than you were expecting. As we’re all on quarantine 😷 due to COVID-19, the College Board has decided to update the format and content of the test to fit an online testing format.

You’ll have 45-minutes to take the exam online and it will only cover units 1-3. If you have already studied content from unit 4 and 5, don’t stress! It’s all worth knowing.

These units are on the exam. Click the unit to see the study guide!

1 – 🇺🇸  Foundations of American Democracy
2 – ⚖️  Interactions Among Branches of Government
3 – ✊🏽  Civil Liberties and Civil Rights

Not on the exam:

4 – 🐘  American Political Ideologies and Beliefs
5 – 🗳  Political Participation

What will be on the test?

  • Two FRQs
    • Q1 = Argument Essay
    • Q2 = 15 mins and will be 40% of your score
      • Concept application like FRQ 1

When is the exam and how do I take it?

May 11 @ 4p Eastern! Wherever you are in the world, this is the time you’ll take the test. Unless you have been approved for the make-up date in June, but only your school can request that. You’ll take the test online. There will be a practice simulation posted by College Board within the next few weeks.

How do I prepare for the exam?

With so many school closures and the stress of a global pandemic, this review season will be different than usual. If this is your first AP exam, welcome! Don’t worry, it’s not usually this chaotic. 

We’ve put together this plan for you to follow between now and May. This will cover all of the units and leave you time to practice questions before test day. Some classes may have done units out of chronological order throughout the year, which is ok. The units don’t have to be taught in order. If you are learning new material on your own and need some help, use the chat bubble on We’ll answer any questions you may have. 

What resources does this study plan use?

All of the required resources are free. You’ll need to create a free Fiveable account to jump in.  We’ve also linked a few other websites, articles, and YouTube videos that you can access for free. Some of the suggested resources include paid products. There are some documentaries that you can find on streaming sites with a paid membership and we’ll also list streams and practice questions that require a paid cram pass on Fiveable.



Before we begin, take some time to get organized. Remote learning can be great, but it also means you’ll need to hold yourself accountable more than usual. 

🖥 Create a study space.
Make sure you have a designated place at home to study. Somewhere you can keep all of your materials, where you can focus on learning, and where you are comfortable. Spend some time prepping the space with everything you need and you can even let others in the family know that this is your study space. 

📚 Organize your study materials.
Get your notebook, textbook, prep books, or whatever other physical materials you have. Also create a space for you to keep track of review. Start a new section in your notebook to take notes or start a Google Doc to keep track of your notes. Get your self set up!

📅 Plan designated times for studying.
The hardest part about studying from home is sticking to a routine. Decide on one hour every day that you can dedicate to studying. This can be any time of the day, whatever works best for you. Set a timer on your phone for that time and really try to stick to it. The routine will help you stay on track.

🏆 Decide on an accountability plan.
How will you hold yourself accountable to this study plan? You may or may not have a teacher or rules set up to help you stay on track, so you need to set some for yourself. First set your goal. This could be studying for x number of hours or getting through a unit. Then, create a reward for yourself. If you reach your goal, then x. This will help stay focused!


🇺🇸 UNIT 1: Foundations of American Democracy

Big takeaways:

Unit 1 introduces the concept of democracy and its various forms. The documents that first started the United States are analyzed by looking at the challenges and promises associated with each. The division of power within our government: individual rights vs government authority and state vs federal government powers are at the heart of this unit and discussed within each founding document. 

Definitely do this:

If you have more time or want to dig deeper:


⚖️ UNIT 2: Interactions Among Branches of Government

Big takeaways:

Unit 2 dives into the separation of powers between our three branches of government. It looks at the specific powers of each branch as outlined in the Constitution and how each branch has grown in power through the years. The system of checks and balances and the role each branch plays in holding the other accountable is analyzed. 

Definitely do this:

If you have more time or want to dig deeper:

  • 🌶 Join the live cram stream: Unit 2 Reviews with Nicole Johnston. Sign up here.
    • April 29: Institutions: Legislative and Judicial Branch
    • TBD: Institutions: Executive Branch and Bureaucracy 
    • TBD: Supreme Court Cases to Know
  • 👻 Check out Brown v. Board of Education (YouTube)


✊ UNIT 3: Civil Liberties and Civil Rights

Big takeaways:

Unit 3 takes the principles of our government established in Units 1 and 2 to analyze maintaining those principles while balancing liberty and order. The role of the Bill of Rights and the 14th amendment in guaranteeing civil rights and liberties for all citizens is at the heart of this unit.  

Definitely do this:

  • 🎥 Watch these videos:
    • First and Second Amendments: This stream looks at what the first and second amendments say, how they have been interpreted and some of the major Supreme Court cases around them.
    • Civil Liberties and Civil Rights: This video from crash course provides a review of the civil liberties and civil rights guaranteed to US citizens. It also looks at the way the Bill of Rights has been interpreted since its inception in relation to liberties and rights.
    • The 14th Amendment: This stream breaks down the 14th amendment and many of the key terms associated with it: due process, equal protection, incorporation, citizenship, and privileges or immunities clause. 
  • 📰 Check out these articles:
  • ✍️ Practice:
    • Join the Discussion: Follow this link to participate in various conversations surrounding Unit 3. Also use this link to add questions/discussion topics of your own. 

If you have more time or want to dig deeper:

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