Exam Guide

7 min readnovember 18, 2021

AP Comparative Government 🗳️

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AP Comparative Government Exam Guide

We know that studying for your AP exams can be stressful, but Fiveable has your back! Check out this guide for a comprehensive overview of the exam’s format and how to best prepare. Create a Fiveable account and join our Discord to stay involved in all things AP exams! 😁

Exam Overview: So What’s on the Test? 

This year, all AP exams will cover all units and essay types. The 2021 Comparative Government exam format will be the same on paper and digital!  


The AP Comp Gov Exam has 2 sections, a multiple choice and free-response section! Here’s the outline each section:

Image from AP Comp Gov Course & Exam Description.

Comp Gov covers content from six core countries (AKA the AP6): China, Iran, Mexico, Nigeria, Russia, and the United Kingdom. 


The exam tests 5 disciplinary practices that you’ll see in both the MCQs and FRQs!

Image from AP Comp Gov Course & Exam Description.


The course content features 5 big ideas, themes that are foundational to Comp Gov and allow you to make connections throughout the course. 

Image from AP Comp Gov Course & Exam Description.


Here’s a rough estimate for how each unit is weighed:

Image from AP Comp Gov Course & Exam Description.

For unit reviews, check out Fiveable’s Comp Gov Study Guides and Cram Sessions

Section I: Multiple Choice 

This section consists of 55 questions that test application, country comparison, data analysis, and source analysis. Here’s the breakdown: 
  • Individual questions (no stimulus): 40-44 questions 
  • Set-based questions:
  • 3 Quantitative Analysis: line graphs, charts, tables, maps, or infographics
  • 2 Qualitative Analysis: analyze text-based secondary sources

MCQ Tips

  1. Read the question fully before trying to answer. Don’t just skim! 
  2. For document-based questions, read the answer choices before reading the prompts! This allows you to be mindful 🧐 of what you’re looking for in the text. 
  3. Before guessing, try to narrow your answer choices through the process of elimination ❌Odds are that there’s at least 1 obvious wrong answer.
  4. Pace yourself! Try to spend only 1 minute on each question, and come back to harder questions if you need to. 
  5. Answer ALL questions! You won’t be penalized for wrong answers 🎉

Sample MCQs

All questions can be found on the AP Comp Gov Course & Exam Description.
Answer: 3) B. 
Explanation: Nigerian is a multinational state with the main ethnic groups (Yorba, Igbo, and Fausa) being from all different religions. This has caused significant tensions within Nigeria and prompted military intervention against groups such as Boko Haram. In Mexico, conflicts are primarily due to gang-related violence rather than ethnic and religious tensions. 
Answer: 7) D
Explanation: A common feature of an authoritarian regime is the denial of civil liberties and prevention of citizens participating in the government. For example, in Russia there is a large trend of persecuting LGBTQ+ citizens, and in China there is little free speech indicated by the Great Firewall. 
Answer: 10) C
Explanation: The passage states that the Iranian demonstrators’ demands are attainable but the government is unlikely to reallocate military funds to provide these resources. 
Answer: 11) A
Explanation: There are a couple of statements in the passage that imply a lack of organizational hierarchy, including the mention of this movement being a hybrid of precious outcries and the statement that the middle and working classes are not currently unified. 

Section II: Free Response

This section consists of 3 short FRQs and 1 longer essay. For the FRQs, it’s important to know definitions of political concepts, how to analyze data, and key events/systems/policies from the AP6. 
Concept Application FRQ
Define or describe a political concept and explain and/or compare political systems, principles, institutions, processes, policies, or behaviors. 
Quantitative Analysis FRQ
Analyze quantitative data, identify a trend or pattern, or draw a conclusion from a visual representation and explain how it relates to political systems, principles, institutions, processes, policies, or behaviors.
Comparative Analysis FRQ
Compare political concepts, systems, institutions, or policies in different course countries.
Argument Essay 
Develop an argument in the form of an essay, using evidence from course countries related to the course concepts in the question prompt. You should be able to: 
  • Articulate a defensible thesis 
  • Provide and explain specific evidence from one or more of the AP6 that addresses the question 
  • Respond to an opposing or alternative perspective with a refutation, concession, or rebuttal 

FRQ Tips 

  1. Know the task verbs that often appear in the FRQ section and how to answer each task accurately.  

Image from AP Comp Gov Course & Exam Description.

2. Make sure you understand the rubric for the Argumentative Essay and how to earn each point. Find the full rubric here. 
  • 1 point for a defensible thesis 
  • 2 points for 2 pieces of relevant evidence 
  • 1 point for an explanation of how the evidence answers the thesis 
  • 1 point for responding to an opposing or alternate perspective with a refutation, concession, or rebuttal
3. Outline your FRQ answer (esp to the Argumentative Essay) before you start writing. This ensures that you've covered all things the question asks. 
4. When answering the shorter FRQs, make your answers straight-forward! Try to number your answers and use the same wording as the prompt. Focus more on the content and less on the thesis/structure of the essay. 
5. Pace yourself! You have 90 minutes for 4 questions, so make sure you watch the clock and give yourself enough time for the Argumentative Essay.
6. Test Your Knowledge with Popsicle Stick Essays
    • Get a bunch of popsicle sticks or slips of paper. Put a bunch of different policies concepts/institutions, important vocab words, and the required countries. Make sure that you separate these things by color (ex. make the countries blue, the vocab words purple . . .) so you can tell them apart.
    • Draw a country, an important vocab term, and a concept out of the jar. Then, write about them. Explain how that term exists in the country you drew and what it means

Sample FRQs

    (A) Iran 
    (B) Answers include: 
      • Voter turnout in Nigeria declined between 2007 and 2015. 
      • In 2007, voter turnout was just under 50%, and in 2015 turnout declined to 32%. 
    (C) Answers include: 
      • Citizens have faith and trust in government and believe that they can influence politics. 
      • Citizens believe that one’s vote can influence political affairs.
    (D) Answers include: 
      • In 2009 voter turnout was high because voters wanted to elect reformist Musavi to office and remove hardliner Ahmadinejad from office. 
      • In 2009, once the candidates were vetted, there was real political competition among candidates, with no guaranteed winner, and citizens believed their votes mattered.
      • Voter turnout in 2013 was lower than in 2009 but still fairly high. It was lower than in 2009 because citizens had less faith in free and competitive elections, and this was the first presidential election since the protests of 2009. 
    (E) Answers include: 
      • Authoritarian regimes often allow citizens to participate to develop and maintain a sense of political legitimacy.
      • Political participation in authoritarian regimes is often mandatory, which often means that turnout in authoritarian regimes is higher than in democratic regimes. 
    Thesis examples include: 
  • “Democratic regimes are better at maintaining sovereignty in a country because they can do so by using less coercive power than authoritarian regimes.”
  • “Authoritarian regimes are better at maintaining sovereignty in a country because they can carry out their preferred policies and government actions without taking into account the wishes of citizens.” 
    Evidence examples include: 
      • In the United Kingdom, Mexico, and Nigeria, the government maintains sovereignty through the legitimacy of the citizens.”
      • “In the United Kingdom, government officials follow the rules, law, and regulations, which gives the government authority and allows it to maintain sovereignty.”
      • “In Mexico and Nigeria, government officials follow the rules and laws set forth in the constitution, which gives the government authority and allows it to maintain sovereignty.”
      • “In authoritarian regimes such as China, the state uses coercive power to maintain sovereignty and does not require the consent of citizens.”
      • “In China, the Communist Party maintains sovereignty and has complete control over transitions of power and transitions from one government to the next.”
      • “Iran uses its armed forces to maintain international and domestic sovereignty, which allows the Supreme Leader to maintain control of the population.”
      • “In democratic countries like the United Kingdom and Nigeria, government officials follow the rules and regulations that the constitution provides, which is a source of their authority.”
    Reasoning examples include:
      • “Democratic regimes are better at maintaining sovereignty by maintaining high levels of legitimacy by acting on citizen input through representative officials.”
      • “As long as the governments follow democratic procedures and written rules of constitutions, they do not need to use coercive power to maintain sovereignty.”
      • “Authoritarian regimes are better at maintaining sovereignty because they can act more efficiently through the use of coercive power and thus quickly implement policies and make important decisions.”
    Alternative perspective examples include: 
      • “Although democratic regimes are good at maintaining sovereignty in a country, authoritarian regimes may be just as effective at maintaining sovereignty. Authoritarian regimes can maintain sovereignty without consulting representatives or citizens and can make difficult decisions for the good of the country. Therefore, authoritarian regimes can be better at maintaining sovereignty.”
      • “Although democratic regimes are good at maintaining sovereignty in a country, there are potential problems. Democratic regimes have to incorporate citizen input into decision making, which can lead to counterproductive policies or decisions that are not necessarily good for democracy.”
      • “Although authoritarian regimes are good at maintaining sovereignty, democratic regimes can also be effective at maintaining sovereignty. Governing with the consent of the people, democratic regimes are good at maintaining sovereignty by maintaining government legitimacy. Having a legitimate and democratic government can be very efficient for maintaining sovereignty.”
Browse Study Guides By Unit
👑Unit 1 – Political Systems, Regimes, & Governments
⚖️Unit 2 – Political Institutions
🙋‍♀️Unit 3 – Political Culture & Participation
🐘Unit 4 – Party, Electoral Systems, & Citizen Organizations
🏗Unit 5 – Political & Economic Changes & Development
✏️Frequently Asked Questions
📝Exam Skills

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