Let’s face it, poorly answered free response questions are hard on both teachers and students. Most students shudder at the thought of answering the free response questions in AP Macro because it requires them to gather all their knowledge AND apply it. When teachers see poorly answered FRQs, we typically ask ourselves where we went wrong.   


I will give them the “FRQ Rules of the Road” talk the first few times we work in groups to practice. These guidelines might seem like common sense, but you shouldn’t assume students automatically understand them. Remind students of these rules each time FRQs are practiced, allowing them to focus more on the content that needs to be answered. 


Here they are, in no particular order. 


  1. Read the question before answering. So often, students just jump right in.  And while that is admirable, it can be detrimental. One question may ask you to show a change on a previous graph or use information from another question. Reading before answering tends to slow the students down just enough to place the information where it is required. There’s a 10-minute reading window for a reason. I tell my students they should take advantage of that time and I assure them there will be plenty of time to answer the questions after they read. 
  1. Draw whatever formulas or charts you may need in a small corner of your paper after you have read and before you start answering the FRQ. For example, when working with the money multiplier, spending multiplier, or taxing multiplier, my students know to draw the chart they memorized or the formula to obtain the numbers before beginning the FRQ. It may take a moment or 2 more, but in the end, it is worth it to do it at the beginning because they aren’t trying to figure out what formula to use amid answering the FRQ.  
  1. Don’t try to fix the economy…just follow the directions. I have seen a few AP test FRQs where the writers began with a recession and asked the students to make it worse. After giving these practice questions the first time, most of my students didn’t do so well. It wasn’t until the 2nd time that I realized that all my students wanted to do was to fix the economy and they couldn’t wrap their heads around what the question was asking them to do. Now that I remind them to follow directions, they fare much better on questions of this nature.  
  1. Identify where the actual answer is. So many times, students are asked to calculate an answer, yet don’t make it clear where the outcome of that calculation is. I ask my students to draw a box around the answer. This helps the person grading (whether it is the teacher or a peer) to see where the actual answer is and not confuse the answer with the calculations. 
  1. Show your calculations whether or not they ask to show your work. This requires the students to slow down a little and make their calculations clear on their answer sheet. If an answer is wrong, the person grading can see where they went wrong and really show them how to fix it. 
  1. DO NOT worry about how neat your lines on your graphs are. If I had a dime for every time my students try to pull out a ruler or even their school ID badge to draw their X and Y axes, I’d be rich. I remind them that while it is nice of them to try to be neat, no one cares how neat a three-inch line is. Spending energy on the labels is WAY more important.  
  1. No label, no credit. My students hear this over and over. And by the second free response questions that they do individually, they feel it. I have said it before, it may seem like tough love, but when you lose one whole point to an incorrectly labeled graph on the exam, it hurts. Especially where it could have been avoided. 
  1. Review your answer with the given FRQ before turning the assignment in. Students are very eager to submit their answers as if the first one done receives a trophy. I always tell them that there are no extra points for turning in the FRQ first and reinforce that thought by letting the timer run out regardless of if everyone is finished. 



The FRQs in AP Macroeconomics are a little challenging for students at the outset.  The first time we work on an FRQ I usually give them a short, 5 question FRQ, typically, something having to do with opportunity cost and terms of trade. When we do work on the first 2 or 3 free response questions, I try to make it less intimidating by putting the students in pairs or triads. This usually takes the pressure off and lets them dig in knowing that they can rely on each other. I don’t typically grade the first one or 2 FRQs that they do in groups unless it is for a “practice grade” where they know they must be engaged to receive a participation grade. As we move further into the course, I may pair them up using a more difficult FRQ for a grade but typically, this group scenario allows for less tension at the beginning.  


Taking the time to review the rules of the road for FRQ answering seems to help in a few areas. First, putting the rules out there removes the mundane remediation requirement of repeating these things and allows you, the teacher, to focus on content. Second, they create habitual behavior and a “practice like you play” mindset. Lastly, once these habits are put into place, students tend to feel more secure as they know what is expected from them every time. Do you have any “rules of the road” that you use? Drop them in the comment section below! I’d love to hear them!