Top AP Psychology Exam Free-Response Questions Tips
March 1, 2023
Every year around the beginning of June, high school and college psychology teachers gather at a university for one purpose: to grade AP Psychology free-response question answers. These readers are assigned to one of the two essay questions and go through careful training to ensure they grade your writing fairly and consistently. Readers go through several reliability checks during the reading to make sure each free-response answer is read fairly. This is a unique grading experience for many of the readers, just as writing the AP Psychology free-response answer might be a unique writing experience for you.
Writing an effective free-response answer on the AP Psychology test may require you to modify the way you usually answer a normal essay question. These essays are graded in a very specific way, and your writing should take this difference into account. Free-response graders strive to be very consistent and objective, so the tests are graded in a systematic way. The entire grading system is set up to ensure that every student’s response is given a fair reading. Understanding how the tests are graded should give you insight as to how to best use your writing time.
AP Psychology Free-Response Questions: Tips
Top AP Psychology Free-Response Question Style and Organization Tips
- Remember to think before you start writing Free-Response Question answers, and feel free to jot down a few notes. You should have timed some practice responses before the test in order to get an idea about how much time you need to answer the questions. Use two to three minutes to organize your thoughts about each response, but be careful not to spend so much time that you feel rushed later.
- Do not write your Free-Response Question answer in outline form. While readers do not give points for the use of full sentences, proper paragraph form, and so on, they are not allowed to give any points for a response written as an outline. Write your response in sentences and paragraphs. Do not label parts of your response with letters; use paragraphs to show where you move from one point to the next.
- Make sure you cover all material in the Free-Response Question. If possible, try to answer the different parts of the question in order. Picture the likely rubric in your mind, and answer each part of the question in a clear, organized way.
- Structure your Free-Response answer so that it clearly shows you answered all parts of the question. Each paragraph should begin with a topic sentence that indicates which part of the question you are answering.
- Do not worry about an introduction and conclusion. Remember, you get points for accurate information, not the style or aesthetic considerations of your response. Do not waste time repeating the question; the reader knows it well enough by now!
- Write as legibly as you can in the time you have. Readers become experts in reading difficult handwriting, but indecipherable handwriting certainly will not help you get a better score. If you have time at the end of the test, look back through your response and rewrite any particularly messy words. If you need to add text in the middle of your response, clearly indicate where the additional text should go. Some students find leaving a little space between paragraphs for this purpose effective.
- Use all of your time. If you have extra time, use it to go back and make sure you said what you wanted to, add more examples for clarification, and rewrite any confusing sections.
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Top AP Psychology Free-Response Question Content Tips
- Keep it simple. When asked to describe several methods of experimental control, for example, the graders will want the best and therefore most common ones. Do not waste time and energy explaining unnecessarily complicated techniques. For instance, write about random assignment, not group matching.
- Use psychological terms. Readers are looking for your psychological knowledge, not what these terms mean in other contexts. In all cases, use the term, define it clearly, and give an example if possible.
- If asked to define a psychology term, make sure not to use the word itself in your definition. For instance, the sentence “Modeling is when someone models another person’s behavior,” is unlikely to score a point, because the writer is not demonstrating any knowledge about the concept.
- Make sure your context is clear. Sometimes whether you get the point or not is determined by whether you use an example in the right context. For instance, you might give a great example of retroactive interference. However, if you place it into a paragraph discussing state-dependent memory, you may not get the point if the reader is not sure you know which concept the example applies to.
- If you feel clueless about part of a question, do not despair. Do your best—write something, if at all possible. You might hit on what the rubric asks for. If not, you will not be penalized for trying. Do not worry—missing one part of the question will not ruin your score.
- When asked about a psychological term, define and give an example of the term in your response. Although most free-response questions ask for applications or examples rather than definitions of terms, defining and giving an example of the term gives you an additional opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge to the reader. It is possible that either your definition or the example you provide may fit the scoring rubric. But make sure you pay attention to the question: If it specifically asks for an example, make sure you provide a clear example in context because the scoring guide will focus on examples.
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