AP Macroeconomics Exam Tips

The following strategies for answering the free-response questions will help you on exam day.

Take advantage of the 10-minute planning time.

Starting to write immediately can lead to a string of disconnected, poorly planned thoughts. Using the planning time allows you to analyze the question and think through your answer. Then you will have 50 minutes to answer all three questions in the free-response section. Spend approximately half the time (25 minutes) on the long question and divide the remaining time between the other two questions.

Remember that you may answer the questions in any order.

It’s fine to answer the question you feel most confident about first. Just be sure to indicate clearly in your answer booklet which question you are answering.

Don’t restate the question.

Get straight to the point! The exam readers know the question, so don’t waste time restating it.

Use correct terminology.

For example, money and income are often confused, or aggregate demand will be labeled “D,” and discussed as though it were the market demand for a particular product. Learn and use the correct language of macroeconomics.

Use graphs wisely.

Even if a graph is not required, it may be to your advantage to draw one anyway. A correct graph can indicate that you understand what is happening even if you use the wrong economic terminology. On the other hand, graphs are not magical tools that ensure high scores; they are useful in making arguments, but they don’t stand alone. It is important that the story they tell is explained. And remember that if the question requires you to draw a graph, you must do so to receive full credit.

Label graphs clearly, correctly, and fully.

You will lose points if the readers can’t figure out what you’re trying to explain with a graph. Label each axis clearly and identify each curve on the graph. Changes in curves should be indicated clearly with arrows or with some clear sequencing, such as showing a change in aggregate supply with AS and AS’ or AS1 and AS2.

Use the same outline numbers or letters from the question in your answer, and answer them in the same order.

This helps the reader know where to look for specific answers to specific parts of the question. It also helps you remember to address all parts of the question in your answer.

Try to solve all parts of a question.

The free-response questions are divided into parts such as (a), (b), (c), and (d), with each part calling for a different response. Credit for each part is awarded independently, so you should attempt to answer each part. For example, you may receive no credit for your answer to part (a), but still receive full credit for part (b), (c), or (d). If the answer to a later part of a question depends on the answer to an earlier part, you may still be able to receive full credit for the later part, even if that earlier answer is wrong.

Explain your reasoning completely when prompted to “Explain.”

If the question includes the word “Explain,” don’t just state your answer, support it. For example, if a question asks you to explain what will happen to price, don’t just make an assertion such as “the price will increase”; explain why the price will increase.

Show your work when doing calculations.

If a question prompts you to “Calculate,” be sure to include your work and don’t just provide the final answer. Showing work is required in order to receive any credit for a calculation question.

Bring a four-function calculator to the exam.

A four-function calculator is allowed on both sections of the exam.


Answering free-response questions from previous AP Exams is a great way to practice. It allows you to compare your own responses with those that have already been evaluated and scored. Go to the Exam Questions and Scoring Information section of the  AP Macroeconomics Exam page on AP Central to review the latest released free-response questions and scoring guidelines. Older questions and scoring information are available on the  Past Exam Questions page.

Task Verbs

Pay close attention to the task verbs used in the free-response questions. Each one directs you to complete a specific type of response. Here are the task verbs you may see on the exam:

  • Identify. What? Which? Will? and other interrogatory words: Identify or provide information about a specified topic, without elaboration or explanation.
  • Explain: Provide information about how or why a relationship, pattern, position, situation, or outcome occurs, using evidence and/or reasoning. Graphs and symbols are acceptable as part of the explanation.
  • Calculate: Perform mathematical steps to arrive at a final answer. Showing work is required.
  • Draw a correctly labeled: Create a graph or visual representation that illustrates or explains relationships or phenomena. Labels are required.
  • Show/Label/Plot/Indicate: Show, label, plot, or indicate an economic scenario on a graph or visual representation created by the student. Clearly labeling all axes and curves and showing directional changes where relevant is required.