Teaching Advanced Placement® classes can be daunting. You’ll ask yourself questions like “what is the rigor?”; “How do I test them?”; “Should I stick closely to the book, or can I deviate?”; “How much writing do they need to do?”; “What is the graphing requirement?” and so on. If you’ve never taught an AP® Macroeconomics class, this situation can be even more daunting. Since most students have never seen a social science that leans on mathematics, it can be challenging to be on the receiving end of the material. There is one thing that can help, though: consistency. Below are a few helpful tips you can implement from the first day of class to help your students close in on a passing score. 


1. Make sure students learn to properly graph right away.  

When my own children took AP Chemistry, their teacher drilled into their heads “for significant figures, no unit, no credit.” As an AP Macroeconomics teacher, we need to remember that AP readers should be able to understand and grade students’ graphs easily. I always tell my students “We practice like we play.” After the second time they practice a new graph, we operate under the rule of “no label, no credit.”

Many students are taken aback by a “C” on an assignment when they realize that it’s due to lack of arrows, subscripts, or labels—never mind the proper shift. This might sound like “tough love,” but when the time comes to peer grade their first FRQ, students begin to understand that “one point is earned by drawing a correctly labeled graph.” I recommend looking over old FRQ rubrics to see how everything is labeled, then make the students stick to what you’ve taught them. 


2. Repeatedly tell students they need to graph it out to see the change. 

I have a silly rhyme that I use all the time for this: “when in doubt, graph it out.” When students first learn to graph, they get confused in two areas: first, that the catalyst to the change in equilibrium price and quantity is the actual shift of the supply or demand curve. Second, that supply and demand on every graph have their own determinants. Students instinctively want to combine demand with supply and end up talking themselves in circles with “what ifs.”

When they first learn to graph, they want so badly to just tell you what happens to equilibrium without graphing it. I tell them this: if you always graph it out and you shift things in the right direction, you have a 99% chance of getting the answer right (because nothing is perfect). If you never graph it and rely on the images in your head, you have a 50% chance of getting to the correct answer. For every test, I require my students to use a scratch sheet of paper (with their name on it) so that they can graph as much as they need to. I have gone so far as to give them an extra couple of points on the test if I see most of their questions graphed out. That ONE LITTLE DETAIL of putting it on paper allows them to see the catalyst and the result of that shift immediately.


3. Every opportunity you get, give them a free response question. 

There have been days where I use a 15-minute, 5-question FRQ as a bellringer and days where I put kids into groups and give each group a different FRQ. I try to find questions from the prior topic or the prior unit to keep things fresh in students’ minds. I remind them to only answer what they are being asked and to remember that one point is earned for just a correctly labeled graph. Assigning FRQs early and often 1) reinforces prior concepts, 2) makes them aware of their weak points where they need help, and 3) allows them to practice within the requisite time limit. Application of the concepts through FRQs also allows the teacher to check for understanding.  


4. Use old AP test questions to exemplify what the MCQs will look like on the actual test.  

This is not to say don’t make up your own questions. You can do that as well, especially if you have given them a reading assignment and want to check for comprehension. When it comes to testing, the more you mimic the actual AP test, the more prepared students will feel. The AP test has a specific “voice” and questioning style. Using it repeatedly will eliminate any surprises. The old questions are written in such a way that the students must apply their knowledge. Again, “we practice like we play. 


5. Engage weekly in current events to bring concepts to real life. 

 At any given time, there is a lot going on in our economy. Bringing the concepts you teach in class to life and adding relevance can help your students with their FRQs and help them understand how different aspects of the economy work and interact. Teachers can use current events to introduce new information as well. Often, we read a relevant article and I open the floor for discussion. Since AP Macro is a one-semester course, there isn’t a lot of time for discussion because of the dense amount of material students need to absorb before leaving what’s known as “the dismal science” and moving to AP Government where the conversations can be much livelier.

However, I have found that this practice is well worth the time because it creates a space for opinions to be aired and allows students to make connections between Government and Economics. I particularly enjoy an open discussion of what either Congress or the Federal Reserve is doing to assuage inflation or a recession and what benefits and consequences there are to their decisions. It is here where the real-life events meet the 2-dimensional graphs we study.  


Make no mistake about it, as a first year AP Macroeconomics teacher, I did NONE of the above and my students achieved. However, since I have started implementing these practices, my students seem to have a better understanding of how the U.S. economy works and what to expect from the AP Macroeconomics test. Understanding both the inner workings of the economy and the mechanics of the AP test is a winning combination. 


What are some of your best tips for beginning AP Macro teachers? Share them in the comments below!


Tracy Lowd has taught AP® Macroeconomics and Honors Gifted Economics at Southwest Miami High in Miami, Florida, for 14 years. She holds a certification to teach gifted and talented students, a Bachelor of Science degree in Secondary Social Studies Education from Florida International University, and a Master of Education degree in Curriculum and Instruction with a focus on Secondary Literacy from American College of Education. She assisted in writing and reviewing for the AP Macroeconomics coursebook from Perfection Learning.®