One of the more perplexing topics for students on the AP exam is federalism, due to the complex nature of the federal-state relationship. Most students will grasp that there is a clear division of power between the states and the federal government with each having authority in their own sphere and occasionally overlapping authority. This often results with students failing to understand the interconnectedness of the two levels of government and how fiscal federalism truly functions in the context of the AP exam and the American polity.


When students are introduced to federalism a lot of vocabulary is thrown their way: the 10th Amendment, enumerated powers, implied powers, delegated powers, implied powers, devolution, etc. These new phrases are often too much for students as they get focused on learning these new terms without a proper context of how they shape government action and behavior. Students are left in a daze, often feeling detached from how government functions and the relevance to their lived experience.


This is particularly important as students plan to take the AP exam. Because of all the new vocabulary and the dense nature of the material, I have found students frequently forget or fail to connect to their schema of government fiscal federalism. Fiscal federalism frequently appears as a Free-Response Question (FRQ) and almost always appears on the exam. Below is an activity that I use with my students in advance of the AP exam to remind them of the significance of fiscal federalism.


This short activity is introduced by asking students to use their textbook to come up with a definition for each term. Following this, students are asked to research—using local community websites, newspapers, and other media—to find an example of how each of the vocabulary terms involved with fiscal federalism has directly impacted our community today.


Download the review activity below!



Pat Sprinkle is a 13th year history teacher at the NYC Lab School for Collaborative Studies, teaching AP® U.S. History and AP® U.S. Politics and Government. Pat is a graduate of The Ohio State University and Columbia University. Pat has served as a member of the Teacher Advisory Council for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, National Humanities Center, and the National Constitution Center. In addition, Pat was a 2013 James Madison Fellow along with a 2021 C-SPAN Fellow. Pat lives in Jersey City, NJ with his wife, son (Franklin), and dog (Lyndon).