The AP US Government & Politics exam has four FRQs, or free-response questions. You must answer all four of the FRQs, and you have 100 minutes to do so.
The essays test your ability to think critically, analyze the topics studied in the course and demonstrate an understanding of the connections between the various parts of government.
The questions you are asked will cover content, concepts, themes and issues from all six areas of the course:
1. Constitutional underpinnings
2. Political beliefs and behaviors
3. Political parties, interest groups and the mass media
4. Institutions of national government
5. Public policy
6. Civil rights and civil liberties
Be careful. Free-response is a bit misleading. You are not free to write about whatever you choose in response to a topic. You need to provide specific answers to each part of the question to do well. (Fortunately, within the individual questions you will often be given choices. For example, “choose one of the three court cases listed.”)
But don’t worry, we’ll tell you how to answer the FRQs specifically and fully here.
Before The Exam
During your AP US Government course, be sure to read your textbook and supplementary texts, with a particular focus on how the various parts of government interact. (For example, how lobbyists influence lawmakers, or how the media influence elections.) You will be expected to discuss these dynamics in your essays.
Before You Begin Writing
Read over the questions.You should plan to budget 25 minutes for each question, for a total of 100 minutes, so that you do not have to rush on any question.
(For what it’s worth, AP scorers say one of the biggest mistakes that students make on the AP US Government FRQs is spending too much time on one or two questions at the expense of the others, or becoming fatigued after three good answers and skipping the fourth.)
It doesn’t matter in what order you complete the essays, so feel free to complete the essays you are most comfortable with first.
As you begin, read the essay question carefully. Figure out what the subject matter is. (i.e. Congress, or political parties.)
Next, pay close attention to the essay prompt you are given. The prompt vocabulary will tell you exactly what to do in your essay. Some common prompts are:
1. Evaluate or judge – discuss the value or wisdom of a belief or idea
2. Analyze – evaluate each part of the whole systematically
3. Identify – name something, typically members of a group
4. Define – explain what something means
5. Discuss – provide details and examples of something
6. Describe – create a picture of something with details and examples
7. Compare and contrast – point out similarities and differences
8. Categorize – sort into groups based on traits or features
9. Explain – tell how and why with reasons and examples
10. Determine cause and effect – decide what leads to an event/circumstance and what results from this event/circumstance
Once you know what you are supposed to argue, brainstorm.
The questions will be specific. So your answer must be focused. Spend a few minutes writing an outline at the start of each essay. Match the points in your outline to the rubric points in the question.
As You Write
You shouldn’t try to write a five-paragraph essay with introduction and conclusion paragraphs. Have clear topic sentences and write an organized argument, but do not feel the need to repeat information. So:
1. Don’t rephrase the question in your introduction.
2. Don’t write a conclusion paragraph that restates what you have already written.
Do not ramble. Do not be vague. Write clearly and concisely. You don’t need rhetorical flourishes.
Use structural indicators such as “First, second, finally” and back up your ideas with examples.
And remember these rules:
1. Don’t use words you are uncomfortable or unfamiliar with.
2. Don’t editorialize or moralize. Don’t put any personal opinions in your essays. Stick to fact-based analysis.
3. Don’t dump facts or create laundry lists simply to fill up space. Provide context for the data you provide.
4. Pay attention to dates and terms. If a question asks about the “modern presidency,” do not write about Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln.
5. Be as specific as possible.
After You Finish Writing
Some free-response questions will have multiple parts. After you finish writing, make sure you have addressed each part (in addition to checking for spelling, grammar and punctuation errors).
Also, you won’t lose points for an incorrect answer, so make sure you write at least something down for every question. The graders know that you might have to rush to finish the last question, so do not be afraid to abbreviate or write partial sentences if you must.
You should try to write at least three paragraphs if possible. Just be sure that you are clear and coherent.
Now, let’s look at a past exam question.
The Constitution states that “each House shall determine the rules of its proceedings.” Sometimes these rules impede the legislative process. In other cases the rules expedite the passage of laws. (6 pts.)
1. Define each of the following rules
2. The filibuster
4. Closed rule
5. Describe one way two of the above rules either impedes or enhances the legislative process.
6. Explain how the House Rules Committee affects the legislative process.
OK, so how do we tackle this question?
In (a) we’re asked to define three things: the filibuster, cloture and the closed rule.
So your first few paragraphs should be:
1. The filibuster is…
2. Cloture is…
3. The closed rule is…
No more than a few sentences are needed to answer each question. Be detailed, but don’t get lost in the intricacies—remember the old adage, “Just the facts, ma’am.”
Now we are asked to (b) describe one way two of the above rules impede or enhance the legislative process. So, pick two rules and provide one or the other for each. That’s it! You won’t get bonus points for providing more examples—so don’t. Make sure you are not answering more than you have to: time is of the essence.
The filibuster impedes the legislative process in the Senate by…
Cloture enhances the legislative process in the Senate by…
Again, you need only a few sentences to answer each of these questions.
Finally, we have to explain how the House Rules Committee affects the legislative process. You are not asked for a specific number of examples as in part (b), so you need to be disciplined. Use structural indicators (such as one, another, also, etc.) to keep yourself focused. Do not say more than is necessary.
One way the House Rules Committee affects the legislative process is…
Another way is…
The House Rules Committee also…
Keep in mind we’ve shown you how to pace yourself, organize your argument, and avoid including superfluous information on your AP US Government FRQ section. But you’ve got to know the content well to write a good response—so get back to studying!
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The AP U.S. Government & Politics course covers the United States political system, and is one of the most popular advanced placement classes. The exam covers the general concepts that are used to interpret the U.S. Political System as well as the analysis of specific examples. Try our free AP Government practice test to see if you are fully prepared for your exam.
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About the AP U.S. Government Test:
The exam is 2 hours and 25 minutes long, and is divided into two sections. The AP Government Multiple Choice section is 45 minutes long and has 60 questions. Each question has five possible answers, and no points are deducted for incorrect answers. So make sure you answer all the questions, even if you are just guessing on some.
The Free-Response section is 100 minutes long and has four essay questions. Each of the essay questions are weighted equally, so you should spend approximately 25 minutes on each of them. Students are expected to demonstrate analytical and organizational skills, while incorporating specific examples into their answers.
Start preparing for your exam right now! Try our interactive AP Gov practice test. Answers and thorough explanations are included for all of our questions.