AP Psychology Sample Free-Response Question

April 1, 2024
AP Psychology Sample Free-Response Question

Read the following sample AP Psychology free-response question, grading rubric, and answer for an idea of what you’ll see on the AP Psychology exam. 

Sample AP Psychology Free-Response Question 

Professor Reiman places participants in a room with three confederates who are all asked to compare the size of geometric figures. The participants are randomly assigned to one of two conditions: In the first condition, the three confederates are introduced as introductory psychology students. In the second condition, one ­confederate is identified as a graduate student in perception research. During both conditions, the confederates all give the same wrong answers to the size-comparison questions. Professor Reiman tracks how many times participants conform to the incorrect answers. For this experiment, identify: 

  • the independent variable 
  • the dependent variable 
  • the operational definition of the dependent variable 
  • one confounding variable controlled for by this research design 
  • the principal difference between Professor Reiman’s study and Asch’s original conformity research
  • your prediction about the level of conformity in the first condition 
  • your prediction about the level of conformity in the second condition

After reading the question, stop and think about what it is asking you. You are allowed to make notes on the question sheet, and many students find making a simple outline at this point and organizing their thoughts helpful. All free-response questions imply a certain organization for your answer. Use this implied organization; do not ignore it. You might be tempted to create a unique organization for your answer. However, your reader is not giving you points based on organization, so the time you spend planning this unique organization is wasted. In addition, if you answer a question out of order, you increase the chances the reader might ­misunderstand what you are trying to say. In this case, the format of the question indicates that you organize your essay based on the seven bulleted elements. Do not write your answer as an outline (this is specifically prohibited in the ­instructions in the test booklet), but you should organize your answer in the same order as the elements in the question. Writing one paragraph per bullet in the implied order will help AP readers score your response (and you want to help your reader!). 

Also, notice that this question does not ask you to review the Asch study in detail. Knowing the basic findings of Asch’s conformity study will help you with the last two bullets, but a detailed description of Asch’s study does not directly answer this question. Always do what is asked of you in the free-response question: adding information that the question does not ask for (even if it is accurate information) will not help your score. 

In addition, remember not to spend your precious time writing an introduction or conclusion. Grading rubrics (as you will see) are focused on measuring your ­psychological knowledge, not general writing skills like introductions, conclusions, writing mechanics, and so on. Answer the elements of the question clearly and in order rather than spending time with introductions, conclusions, or creative ways to organize your response.

At this point, you may want to write your response to this free-response question before looking at the scoring rubric provided below. After you write your response, you can use the scoring rubric to score your answer.

Rubric for Sample AP Psychology Free-Response Question

This is a seven-point question.

AP Psychology Free Response Question Rubric—Point 1: Independent Variable

The answer should identify the different introductions of the confederates as the independent variable. In the first condition, all the confederates were introduced as psychology students. In the second condition, one of them was identified as a graduate student in perception. This was the only designed difference between the groups and is thus the variable the experimenter is trying to manipulate, the independent variable.

AP Psychology Free-Response Rubric—Point 2: Dependent Variable

You should identify conformity as the dependent variable. Professor Reiman manipulates the independent variable to see how it affects conformity, the dependent variable.

AP Psychology Free-Response Rubric—Point 3: Operational Definition

Professor Reiman operationally defines conformity as the participant agreeing with the wrong answers of the confederates. Do not award a point if you identified the operational definition as conformity. Conformity is the dependent variable.

AP Psychology Free-Response Rubric—Point 4: Confounding Variable

The main element of the experimental design mentioned that would control for potential confounding variables is the random assignment. Randomly assigning participants to the two conditions would control for many possible subject- (participant-)relevant confounding variables (you do not need to use this term, examples are enough). You might say “random assignment would control for the possibility that participants might misunderstand the directions” or “might be in a bad mood at the time of the study” or “might have hostile reactions to psychology students,” and so on. Any example of a subject-relevant confounding variable is correct.

AP Psychology Free-Response Rubric—Point 5: Difference

The main difference between Professor Reiman’s and Asch’s study is the inclusion of this particular independent variable. In one of the conditions, Professor Reiman identifies one of the confederates as a graduate student in perception.

AP Psychology Free-Response Rubric—Point 6: Level of conformity in the first group

You receive one point for demonstrating your understanding that most of the participants in the first condition would conform to the group’s wrong answers some of the time. This condition is similar to Asch’s original study, so the results would be similar.

AP Psychology Free-Response Rubric—Point 7: Level of conformity in the second group

You receive another point for predicting the level of conformity in the second group, with one confederate identified as the expert. You should predict a higher level of conformity in this group due to the addition of the authority figure.

Interpreting the Sample AP Psychology Free-Response Rubric

Notice how the rubric directs the readers to look for points that correspond to correct answers, not mistakes you make. You might be relieved to know that you will not be penalized for saying something incorrectly or even making a factual error. Readers look for points and ignore incorrect information. This rule has one exception: Do not directly contradict yourself. Readers will not give you a point if you directly contradict something you wrote earlier. 

The rubric shows you how you should write your response; it is organized in the way the question implies. If you organize your answer in this way, the reader can go through your response and look for the points in order. This is not just to be kind to the reader (although that is a nice thing to do). It increases your chances of communicating effectively with the reader. The more clearly you communicate to the reader, the better your chances of getting points. 

AP Psychology readers often use “grids” as they grade responses to keep track of how many points a response earns. The grid is based on the organization of the question and mirrors the rubric. If it helps you think about how to organize your answer, you can imagine or even sketch out what you think the grid for a question might look like (but don’t spend much of your precious writing time drawing a grid!). The grid for this example free-response question might look like the one in the table below. Readers would use the column on the right to check off when a student essay earned a point.

Point 1


Point 2


Point 3

Op. Def. DV

Point 4

Conf. Var.

Point 5


Point 6

Predict Group 1

Point 7

Predict Group 2

Sample AP Psychology Free-Response Answer

Professor Reiman picked a valuable psychological topic to study. Her experimental design includes many valuable elements but also includes several problems. In this essay, I will critically examine Professor Reiman’s experiment to determine the most likely results. 

The independent variable in this experiment is prestige. In one condition, all the confederates are introduced as psychology students. In the other situation, one of the confederates is a graduate student in perception. This change is the independent variable. The dependent variable is whether the people change their answers or not. This is also the operational definition. One of the confounding variables in the study is the presence of the confederates. For an accurate study, Professor Reiman should not use confederates in the research, she should use a random sampling of people not familiar with her research. 

The only major difference between Professor Reiman’s study and Asch’s research is the fact that she had one of the people in one of the groups pretend to be a graduate student in research. That is the principal difference. 

I think people would conform in both groups but more in the second one than the first. Most of the people in the first group would conform to the wrong answers because speaking out against the group is hard. However, more people would conform in the second group because not only is the majority saying the wrong answer, the graduate student in psychology is saying the wrong answer, too. The participants in the study would consider that person to know what he or she is talking about. 

In conclusion, Professor Reiman’s study is a valuable addition to the world of psychology. She proves that people are too easily swayed by experts. This can become dangerous if those experts do not know what they are talking about.

Grading the Sample AP Psychology Free-Response Answer

Before we begin discussing individual points, notice the introduction and conclusion to this sample response. The student does not write anything in those two sections that directly addresses the question. These two sections did not help this response. The student could have used his or her time more effectively by just starting the response in the second paragraph where he or she starts answering the question directly.

The following table presents the possible points for this sample free-response answer, whether or not the student received each point, and a reasoning for the point award.


Point Awarded?


Point 1


The student correctly identifies the difference in the two groups as the independent variable: “In one condition, all the confederates are introduced as psychology students. In the other situation, one of the confederates is a graduate student in perception. This change is the independent variable.”

Point 2


This student is unclear about the difference between an operational definition and the dependent variable.

Point 3


The student identifies “whether people change their answers or not” as the operational definition. The student incorrectly says this is also the dependent variable, but the point is awarded for this correct identification.

Point 4


The student misunderstood that the use of confederates in this study is not a confounding variable. Researchers can and often do use confederates in research. It is not in and of itself a confounding variable.

Point 5


The student correctly explains that the difference between this study and Asch’s research is the inclusion of the graduate student in perception.

Point 6


The student states, “Most of the people in the first group would conform to the wrong answers,” which corresponds with the findings in Asch’s study.

Point 7


The student predicts more of the participants exposed to the second condition would con- form than those in the first condition.

So, overall, this essay would get 5 out of 7 possible points.