AP® Psychology Free-Response Questions (FRQs)

If your goal is to do well on the AP® Psychology exam's free-response section, you've come to the right place! This article will cover critical strategies that will help you get a high score on the free response section of the AP Psychology exam.

Format of the AP Psychology FRQ Section

The second section of the AP Psychology exam is the free-response portion, which consists of two free-response questions (FRQs) and will make up 33.3% of your final AP Psychology exam score. These FRQs in Section II of the AP Psychology exam will always be in a certain format.

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How to Answer AP Psychology Free-Response Questions

Students often find the FRQ section challenging because, unlike the multiple choice section, there are no answer options to choose from, and students must come up with their answers, which is why the section is called "free response."

To do well on the FRQ portion of the AP Psychology exam, you need a solid grasp of the tested content, a logical approach to tackling the questions, and effective time management. Although this portion of the exam can be intimidating at first, if you know how to approach each type of FRQ you will encounter on the exam, you will be able to perform well. By following the tips and strategies below and actively working on these skills, you will prepare yourself for success in the FRQ section of the AP Psychology exam!

Know how the FRQs are scored

AP readers score the FRQ responses. AP Psychology teachers and college instructors trained to use standards for scoring serve as the readers. The reader awards a point when they conclude that a specific requirement described in the scoring standards is in the FRQ response. Therefore, demonstrating your understanding of each part of the question is the key to earning maximum points.

  • Even though the AP Reader who scores your FRQ is an expert, you should write your responses in a simple way, as if you were explaining the concepts to someone who isn’t very familiar with psychological theories and concepts.
  • Every AP Psych FRQ is different and will contain prompts for you to address. For example, you might need to compare or contrast individuals, take a stance on an issue, state how a list of terms applies to a scenario, or draw a graph. Be sure to note which prompt(s) the question provides and ensure your answer addresses each part of the question.
  • Before writing, carefully read and think about the question, and then organize your thoughts for your response. Consider starting with a clear thesis statement and then adding points with supporting evidence to your broader statement.
  • As you plan your response, look for ways to include evidence from your AP Psychology course to support your argument. Clearly state how this information applies to the question and informs your answer.
  • Make sure to organize your answer so that it mirrors the organization of the question itself. In other words, if the question has parts (a), (b), (c), (d), and (e), your answer should have the same labels and be in the same order. Doing this will make it much easier for your reader to grade. 
  • Write legibly using a blue or black pen, and be sure your answer is within the space provided. The readers cannot give you points unless they can absolutely confirm that you meet the scoring criteria. If you make a mistake, mark a line through the section you do not want scored. Don't bother scribbling everything out or attempting to erase the ink.
  • As you explain a concept, ensure you express complete thoughts and use sentences. Remember to demonstrate your understanding, not just provide simple definitions. For example, if asked to apply the concept of negative reinforcement, you need to describe that an undesirable stimulus is removed as a consequence of a behavior and explain that, in doing so, the behavior is more likely to be repeated. Simply saying that negative reinforcement involves the removal of an undesirable stimulus may not be sufficient to earn a point.
  • You won't lose points for incorrect answers (unless they directly contradict the correct information in your answer). Therefore, you should attempt to answer as many portions of the questions as possible within the time limit, even if you are unsure. You will probably know something about the concepts in each question, and there are often several ways to earn a point for a part of a question. The only way you will have zero points is by skipping a question! So make sure you give it your best shot!

Pay attention to the wording of the FRQ

If you successfully answer all parts of a question, you will earn full points. Therefore, it is important to pay close attention to what the instructions ask of you. You will find a list of common task verbs below with examples to help you know what to do when they appear in a question.

  • As you read a question, circle or underline each instruction as you read it. Think about what you need to do to answer that part of the question.
  • Mark off each part of the question as you finish writing that part of your answer. Doing this will help keep you on track and is a great way to be sure you have responded to everything the question asked. Before you go on to the next question, double-check that you have not overlooked anything the current question asks you to do.

Use your time wisely

You will have 50 minutes to complete the FRQ portion of the AP Psychology exam. You can answer the two questions in any order.

The most efficient use of your time will be to start by answering the parts of the questions in which you feel most confident, earning you the most points in the shortest time. That is why spending some time in the beginning reading over the questions is critical. Doing this allows you to read the questions and create a strategy for earning the most points. However, you must remember that you can start writing at any point, so once you have your plan, you can start writing.

  • Jot down notes that will help you stay on track in the margin of the test book while you write your answers. However, remember that only what has been written in the official, designated spaces will be scored.
  • If you get stuck while writing, just leave some room in your answer document and go to the next part of the question or the next question entirely. If you have time at the end, return to the unfinished question or part of a question.
  • If you have spare time after finishing your answers, go back and read over your responses. Double-check to ensure you have answered all parts of each question and completed everything asked of you in each question.
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Write in complete sentences, but be concise

To make sure you receive full credit on each FRQ, ensure that everything you write contributes directly to answering the question. Focus on demonstrating to the reader that you understand the tested concept rather than worrying about flawless writing.

Remember that you do need to write in complete sentences (i.e., bulleted lists or outlines are not acceptable). You will not earn points simply by mentioning a term without demonstrating your understanding. Therefore, resist the urge to write many words to mention a word that will earn you a point because the FRQs do not work that way.

  • Always stick to the point and avoid writing anything that is not directly relevant to the question. Don't rephrase the question or write an abstract introduction; just focus on answering the question directly.
  • Stop writing once you’ve answered the question. If you keep writing, you might contradict something you wrote earlier that would have otherwise earned you a point.
  • When asked to provide examples, give only the number of examples requested by the question. Extra examples will not be scored, even if they are correct and an earlier example you gave was incorrect.
  • Just do your best with spelling. And remember that you earn points by demonstrating your conceptual understanding, so if you can’t recall a particular term, explain the concept as best you can anyway.

Task Verbs and Their Meanings

The AP Psychology FRQs commonly use certain task verbs. To write the most effective answer to an FRQ, you need to know what each task verb means and the differences among them. Understanding these will help you earn the most points for each question.

  1. Construct/Draw
    For this type of question, you will create a visual representation or a graph, which may or may not require labels. Carefully think about what labels or titles your graph may need, as you will typically be awarded points for them. Not including them could cause you to miss out on available points.
    Example: Draw a correctly labeled bar graph that depicts the study’s results.
  2. Define
    Here, you will state the precise meaning of a concept or term. You must pay careful attention to what you are being asked to define and then do so thoroughly but concisely.
    Example: Operationally define the independent variable in this study.
  3. Describe
    You will provide information about a particular process, topic, or experiment. In your description, you will need to show that you understand the concept and any relevant aspects of that topic.
    Example: Describe how the fundamental attribution error relates to the context provided.
  4. Draw a conclusion
    Here, you will come to a decision or conclusion after evaluating the given evidence in the question. This type of question tests your critical thinking skills. Be sure to provide evidence or your reasoning for coming to that conclusion.
    Example: Using the data provided, determine if the study's results support the researcher's hypothesis.
  5. Explain
    Here, you must explain how or why an association, occurrence, or consequence happened. Using specific examples or data from the question will likely be a good idea for this task. Also, make sure you have made the concept understandable to someone reading your answer.
    Example: Explain why the study described in the question stem is not longitudinal.
  6. Identify
    This task verb requires you to indicate or give information pertaining to a specific topic. For this type of prompt, you only need to provide a concise answer to the question, not any reasoning or examples. Easy!
    Example: Identify the independent variable in the experiment.

Types of FRQs on the AP Psychology Exam

You will find a description of each type of question you will come across below. Although the details of each question vary (e.g., type of experiment performed, scenario described, psychological concepts tested), the general outline is the same. Knowing what each type of question is testing will help you be prepared and earn an awesome FRQ score!

FRQ 1: Concept application

In this FRQ, you will be provided with a description of an authentic scenario. Then you will be asked to explain behavior using psychological concepts and theories.

FRQ 2: Research design

In the other FRQ, you will analyze a psychological research study. Quantitative data, which you will need to analyze and interpret, will also be provided.

Now that you have read about the specific skills necessary to approach each of the FRQs you will come across on the AP Psychology exam, If you use the tips provided here and practice the necessary skills, you will be sure to master this section of the exam!

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Frequently Asked Questions

Every AP Psych exam will include two free-response questions (FRQs): one where you will explain behavior and another where you will analyze a research study.
AP Psych FRQs are graded by AP Psychology readers, who are AP Psychology teachers and college instructors who the College Board® has thoroughly trained on how to grade the FRQs. The two AP Psych FRQs comprise 33% of your total AP exam score.
The FRQ section of the AP Psychology exam lasts 50 minutes.
The College Board website allows you to access and download past FRQs, scoring criteria, examples of how students answered the questions, and score distributions. However, the AP Psychology exam was updated in 2019, so the materials from exams in 2019 and earlier may not be the best reflection of the current types of questions asked.

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