The free-response section is 1 hour 40 minutes long and consists of four questions, which are each worth 12.5 percent of your total score. You must answer all four; you do not have the option, as in some other AP exams, to choose the questions that you would like to answer. AP readers, hired by the College Board, score the free-response section by hand. (More details about scoring, question types, and free-response strategies can be found in Chapter 13.)
Each free-response question (FRQ) will be distinct and will address different topics of AP U.S. Government and Politics. The four types of FRQs are:
- Concept Application: You must apply government and politics concepts to a given scenario.
- Quantitative Analysis: You must interpret data from an information graphic and apply that data to government and politics concepts.
- SCOTUS Comparison: You must compare a description of a non-required Supreme Court case to one of the College Board’s required Supreme Court cases.
- Argument Essay: You must construct a full essay with a thesis, provide specific evidence, and respond to a view that opposes your thesis.
Every exam will feature these four question types, in this order. Across the four FRQs on every exam, you will encounter a range of U.S. Government and Politics topics from all five units. Most prompts will ask you to integrate multiple ideas, and each will contain three or four tasks (labeled A, B, C, D).
For the first three types of free-response questions, you should write organized paragraphs that clearly address all parts of the question. Do everything you can to make it straightforward for the readers to follow your responses and easily locate your quality content. For the fourth type of FRQ, the Argument Essay, you will need to write a longer essay with a central argument or thesis state- ment. With this in mind, you should aim to spend 20 minutes each on the Concept Application, Quantitative Analysis, and SCOTUS Comparison prompts and 40 minutes on the Argument Essay prompt.
The following are some general writing strategies and guidelines to keep in mind for every style of FRQ.
- Attempt to answer every part of every prompt. But what if you’re unsure of the answer?
- Still try to make a plan. Brainstorm ideas that you think are at least related to the topic, and you might just stumble onto information that will earn you some or all of the points.
- Err on the side of including a little extra information or writing your best educated guess. You generally don’t lose points for including incorrect information in the AP U.S. Government and Politics free-response section, unless the details you write are clearly contradictory (such as saying both “the court ruled the law unconstitutional” and “the court ruled the law constitutional”).
- Consider providing two answers for this same reason, especially for prompts asking for an example or explanation that have multiple possible correct responses. If one of your answers is correct (and doesn’t contradict other information you’ve written), you will earn the point(s). However, any additional information you provide must be explicitly related to the question.
- Make sure you intentionally address each task. Although you won’t be penalized for extra information, don’t waste time unnecessarily writing too much. Make sure you clearly answer each specific part of each prompt. Remember, the only way to earn points is to complete the assigned tasks.
- Similarly, avoid “filler” and “fluff.” The length of your response has nothing to do with your score; the quality of the content and how well it addresses the prompt is what counts. Time is limited, so every word you write should help you earn points.
- Don’t include your opinion on political issues or political parties. No free-response prompt, even the Argument Essay, will ask for your personal political views. Rather, you should make confident assertions backed by specific evidence. Aim for neutral language and impartial analysis.
- Make sure you write neatly. Readers can’t award points if they can’t read what you wrote. Keep in mind that actual people will be reading every word you write, so make them happy by making it as easy as possible to read.
- Make your responses clear for a reader to follow by keeping them organized.
- For FRQs 1, 2, and 3, respond to the parts in order, typically devoting one paragraph to each part and beginning each paragraph with a topic sentence.
- For FRQ 4, write multiple full paragraphs that clearly establish your thesis, discuss each piece of evidence, and address an alternate view.
Focus on Your Strengths
You must respond to all four FRQs to earn a high score, but the order in which you answer the prompts doesn’t matter. Therefore, begin with the prompt(s) that you feel you can write about most confidently, using the strongest supporting information. Just be sure to write each response in the correct designated area for that answer.