Though the College Board’s AP® United States Government and Politics FRQs #3 and #4 may be more involved and seem more challenging, FRQ #1 and #2 can be tricky for students. Data sets and primary reading passages can be intimidating.And a careless answer without expressed detail could result in a failure to earn full points. So, a little thoughtful strategy for #1 and #2 could enhance scores and perhaps increase the student’s overall score.

Since the Redesign, the College Board® has only created and released a few FRQ examples. These tell us a few things. The scenario prompt #1 usually presents a situation or issue that could allow for a policy change by some governing body. It calls on student knowledge of interaction between branches or linkage institutions in policymaking. Free-response #2 presents a statistical depiction relevant to some Government and Politics concept or reality. The charts and graphs in these early examples seem a little more complicated than those that accompanied the multiple-choice questions on the old AP® Exam. There’s usually enough data and categories for students to identify multiple trends and to make more than one comparison. But the test-makers seem to be keeping them simple enough to answer the four accompanying prompts.


Those who are comfortable with explaining primary sources and data might say of #1 and #2, “Much of the answer to these questions is right in the accompanying quote or data set.” This may be true, but students still need to know and present the governing and political concepts that are lodged somewhere in their heads. And they need to connect these functions and customs with the information presented.


Instruction on technical writing could be effective for improving responses on #2. The other day, I had a student describe a line in a line graph that “increased exponentially,” when it really “rose steadily.” Students should be cautious to not confuse causation with correlation. Extra consideration of such word choice could maintain accuracy and convey ideas better. Capitalized proper nouns and regular vocabulary terms should stand out in the response. Using an active voice certainly helps. Are your students explaining how something happened or are they explaining how some government body or some linkage institution acted to cause a unique or expected outcome? The latter, though not required, will usually prove their knowledge more so. And of course, it tightens up the writing and is on par with a college-level prose.


Learn more about these FRQs in the recorded webinar below. We’ll take a look at additional strategies, examine some FRQ examples, and share some tips for creating your own. We’ll take a brief look at my website, USGOPO.COM, where you can find additional FRQs. I discuss these FRQs alongside veteran AP® Government teacher, table leader, and master craftsman Brian Stevens. We realize every student won’t get a 5, but we’ll do our best to raise averages and perhaps advance a few kids into their college experience. 





David Wolfford teaches Advanced Placement® U.S. Government and Politics at Mariemont High School in Cincinnati, Ohio, and has served as an AP® Reader. He has a B.A. in Secondary Education and an M.A. in Constitutional and Legal History, both from the University of Kentucky. He has conducted historical research projects on school desegregation and American political history. David has published in historical journals, such as Ohio Valley History and Kentucky Humanities. He has written on government, politics, and campaigns for national magazines and Cincinnati newspapers. He is a James Madison Fellow, a National Board-certified teacher, and a regular contributor to Social Education. David is editor of By George: Articles from the Ashland Daily Independent (Jesse Stuart Foundation) and editor of Ohio Social Studies Review.


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