The free-response section in the AP Psychology exam contains two seven-point questions that are weighted to account for a third of the overall exam score. One of the questions (or part of one) addresses research methodology and often asks students to distinguish between a correlational study and an experiment (although other types of descriptive research are also fair game). The second question is a concept application that will present a situation to students and ask them to apply seven concepts from any unit to the situation.


Coaching students to practice organizing their responses will help them understand what they can expect on exam day and will help them write responses that are easy to follow for readers of the AP exam.


To make it easier on you, I’ve compiled a list of some of my top tips and words of advice for Practice, Organization, and Grading for practicing this portion of the exam so you can help your students be prepared!



  1. Use past exam questions to demonstrate what students are often asked to do on the free-response portion of the exam.
  2. Grade practice FRQs using rubrics from the College Board® from AP Central or formatted in the same fashion as those from the College Board.
  3. Utilize peer grading and provide either your own rubrics or past College Board rubrics so that students can work directly with rubrics and can see how the graders would grade exams at the AP reading.
  4. Practice timed writings. In order for students to practice writing a seven-point response in the time allotted on the AP exam, simulate the same amount of time on practice or unit free-responses. On the AP exam students will receive 25 minutes per question for a total of 50 minutes for the free-response.
  5. Set up free-response questions in the same format and with the same directions as the College Board free-responses. This way, students can get as much practice as possible with the wording and instructions of exam questions. 



  1. No introduction or conclusion is necessary. They should think of each bullet point as a recommendation for a new paragraph and the overall answer as a series of “mini-responses.”
  2. Remind students that application of knowledge is the “point” award, while a definition may enhance the answer if the example is not “robust.” They should think of adding a definition as a type of insurance if they do not have everything they need in their example, a strong definition can “save” the point.
  3. Have students try to organize their response in the order in which it was presented in the question. Why? This makes it easier for the reader to know which part of the question the student is answering. If the student goes out of order, they should be certain to include the term or part of the question they are answering so it is clear to the reader.
  4. Students should treat each section of the free-response as if it were a separate free-response question. They must refer to the question prompt in each portion of the question. Each point is graded separately; if a student has mentioned something earlier in the response it will not carry over to later parts of the response.



  1. Spelling and grammatical mistakes are not counted against a student, but spelling must be close enough so that the reader can understand what the student is trying to say.
  2. Students will LOSE A POINT for a direct contradiction. For example, if a student indicates that a fixed ratio schedule occurs when a person receives reinforcement after a predetermined number of actions and then follows with an explanation that the person receives reinforcement after a predetermined amount of time, they will not be awarded credit.
  3. Definitions are not required to answer the question, but students should include them to help support their examples. If a definition is incorrect, the student will not be penalized but a correct definition can support an example that is ambiguous or incomplete.
  4. To avoid “circular definitions,” students should create synonyms for each of the terms provided. This will help demonstrate they know the concept and are not just parroting the question. For example, if students are asked about modeling, they should use a term or explanation other than modeling to describe the concept.


Students need not earn every point on a free-response and they should spend time on the concepts they know and can apply. The mean scores for free-responses generally are between 3 and 4 points but preparing students well can increases their scores. Best of luck to your students heading into AP exam season.


Laura Brandt currently teaches AP® Psychology at Libertyville High School in the Chicago suburbs and online at the Center for Talent Development through Northwestern University. She has taught AP Psychology since 1997 and has served as a reader, table leader, and question leader for the AP Psychology Exam. She also serves as an examiner for the IB Psychology. Laura was awarded the Excellence in Teaching award from the American Psychological Association and recognized with the Margaret Moffett Teaching Award from the Society for the Teaching of Psychology. She was also a finalist for the Illinois Teacher of the Year. Laura earned her master’s degree in U.S. History at Northern Illinois University, a master’s degree in Psychology from DePaul University in Chicago, and her administrative certificate form Concordia University. She is currently working on her Ed.D in Curriculum and Instruction.