Tuesday, October 13, 2009

CLEP American Government Study Guide

CollegeBoard's CLEP American Government exam is one of the easiest exams out there, and is considered by most universities to be an introductory political science course worth three lower-level credits. Most people who have taken a basic high school civics class should know enough about the government to be able to pass this exam.

However, if you don't think you're up to speed on American politics, or you want to be extra-prepared for the exam, I can suggest a few reading tips for you.

First, read the US Constitution (not that you shouldn't have already if you want to understand what makes a free country). Know the powers of federal and state legislatures, the process for elections, and how the courts function. Be especially sure to read the Amendments to the United States Constitution and to know how each amendment modified the original document. (Amazon.com has a good pocket-sized U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence rolled into one book for the price of $4.95 at the time of writing this blog; it's published by the Cato Institute). Also know the significance of the "reserved powers" clause of the Bill of Rights and how it affects the division of power among the federal government and the states. If you're a visual learner, here's a good and quick video which breaks down each amendment within the Bill of Rights:

Knowledge of court cases can also be important. Thinkquest.org has a list of important Supreme Court cases that you can read, though it may be somewhat lacking in the civil rights cases, which About.com gives a good summary of here. You should also read about the civil rights movement in general, which Wikipedia divides into two parts: civil rights between 1896 and 1954, and civil rights between 1955 and 1968.

Know about the different kinds of legislatures, such as unicameral and bicameral, and know about how a bill becomes law. You should also know about the President's veto powers.

You should be able to understand basic demographic graphs and be able to answer questions about graphs. For example, "Which group had the greatest amounts of supporters of __."

Read up on political parties and Political Action Committees. Know how interest groups affect political decision makers and what strategies they use.

Also know about the political theories about democracy, such as pluralism, elitism, and (yuck) Marxism.

For an excellent book on political theory and processes, I recommend The Irony of Democracy: An Uncommon Introduction to American Politics. I personally used this to brush up on my political science, and as far as textbooks for freshman courses go, it's a fairly good price. If you can borrow another freshman textbook for a political science course, that should also be just as good.

You can read the CLEP exam description for American Government here.

Good luck!

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