The following strategies for answering the free-response questions will help you on exam day.
Please note: These strategies apply to exams taken in the traditional paper and pencil format, and may not apply to the digital AP Psychology Exams in 2021. Learn more about the digital AP Psychology Exam.
- Answering free-response questions generally requires a good deal of training and practice. Students too often begin to write immediately, which can create a string of disconnected, poorly planned thoughts. You should approach questions methodically and plan your answers before putting pencil to paper.
- Carefully analyze the question, thinking through what is being asked, and identify the elements that must be addressed in the response. Each AP Exam asks different types of questions about each subject. For example, some questions may require you to consider the similarities between people or events, and then to think of the ways they are different. Others may ask you to develop an argument with examples in support of or opposing a movement or policy. You may even be asked to construct a graph or visual representation explaining relationships in a given scenario. Be sure to carefully craft your answer in response to what is being asked in the question prompt.
- After you have determined what is involved in answering the question, consider what evidence you can incorporate into your response. Review the evidence you learned during the year that relates to the question and then decide how it fits into the analysis. Does it demonstrate a similarity or a difference? Does it argue for or against a generalization that is being addressed?
- Whenever you offer evidence to illustrate contrast or similarity, clearly state your intent. Then, with additional information or analysis, elaborate on the ways in which these pieces of evidence are similar or different. If there is evidence that refutes a statement, explain why it argues against the statement. Your answer should reflect an understanding of the subtleties of the questions.
- Begin writing only after you have thought through the evidence you plan to use and have determined what your argument will be. Once you have done this, you will be able to answer the question analytically instead of in a rambling narrative.
- Learn how to present your argument: make your overarching statement and then position your supporting evidence so that it is obviously directed to answering the question, as opposed to being a string of abstract generalizations. State your points as clearly as possible and explicitly connect them to the larger argument. Do not leave it to the reader to infer what is meant or how something illustrates a point.
- If you have done the analytical work required prior to writing, you should be able to demonstrate an understanding of the complexity of the question. You should state your thesis, introduce the elements that support the thesis, and demonstrate the logic that led you to link the elements in support of the thesis. By applying these ideas, you will construct an excellent response.
- While essay writing is a valuable exercise in general, you may wish to work specifically on free-response questions from previous AP Examinations. This will allow you to compare your own responses with those that have already been scored and evaluated. Free-response questions are available through the Advanced Placement Program® in numerous formats. One of the easiest ways to find sample essays is to go to the Exam Practice page for Psychology.
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’ll see on the exam:
- Construct/Draw: Create a graph that illustrates or explains relationships or phenomena. Labels may or may not be required.
- Define: Provide a specific meaning for a word or concept.
- Describe: Provide the relevant characteristics of a specified topic.
- Draw a conclusion: Use available information to formulate an accurate statement that demonstrates understanding based on evidence. Sometimes phrased as, “what is the most appropriate conclusion?”.
- Explain: Provide information about how or why a relationship, process, pattern, position, situation, or outcome occurs, using evidence and/or reasoning to support or qualify a claim. Explain “how” typically requires analyzing the relationship, process, pattern, position, situation, or outcome; whereas, explain “why” typically requires analysis of motivations or reasons for the relationship, process, pattern, position, situation, or outcome.
- Identify/State: Indicate or provide information about a specified topic, without elaboration or explanation.