How To Answer AP® Statistics Free-Response Questions (FRQs)

AP® Statistics is one of the most versatile AP exams out there. To score high on this exam, you must make sure to do well in both sections of the exam - the free-response (FRQ) and multiple-choice (MCQ) sections. However, the free-response questions of the AP Stats exam can be a little tricky to ace. But worry not! This guide will discuss key strategies and how to use them to answer accurately the FRQ section. We will also discuss the question types, units, and topics in detail with some FRQ examples.

Format of the AP Statistics FRQ section

The FRQ section represents 50% of the composite score on the AP Statistics exam. It also represents 50% of the total time spent on the AP Statistics exam. The FRQ section is split into two parts. The first part, Part A, represents 37.5% of the composite exam score and lasts 65 minutes to answer five free-response questions. The question types, the skills they require you to apply, and the units from which these questions appear are listed in the table below.

Question type Units Covered Skills Assessed
One multi-part question primarily focuses on collecting data Unit 3 Selecting Methods
One multi-part question primarily focuses on exploring data Units 1 and 2 Data Analysis
One multipart question, primarily on probability and sampling distributions Units 4 and 5
One question with a primary focus on inference Units 6 - 9 Statistical Argumentation
One question on two or more skill categories Multiple Skills Assessed

The second part of the FRQ, Part B, is the investigative task. Part B represents 12.5% of the composite score and lasts for 25 minutes. The purpose of the investigative task is to assess multiple skill categories and content areas, focusing on the application of skills and content in new contexts or in non-routine ways. It is common for the investigative task to include hypothesis tests and other material that would not be included as part of the AP Statistics course but which can be understood by applying the concepts learned in the course.

At least three questions from Part A, as well as the investigative task in Part B, will assess statistical argumentation.

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How To Answer AP Statistics FRQs?

Unlike multiple-choice questions, free-response questions require you to write an answer rather than only select an option for an answer. This means you will need to show your work, including any method you used to arrive at your answer. Sometimes, you will even need to create graphs. To really understand how to do well on the FRQs, it helps to know how the FRQs are scored.

Unlike the multiple-choice questions, which are scored by a machine, the free-response questions are scored by college faculty and AP teachers. These ‘AP Readers’ score the FRQs based on the precision of the methods as well as the accuracy and completeness of the results and explanations. This is done in two steps.

First, each part of the question is scored based on whether it meets the criteria for being essentially correct, partially correct, or incorrect. There are typically several components to a complete question that the AP Readers will check. If you check all the boxes, you will earn an essentially correct answer for that part of the question. Next, each response is categorized based on the scores assigned to each part and awarded a score between 0 and 4 points. For example, it typically takes being essentially correct on all sections or parts of the question to earn 4 points for the overall question.

What does this mean for how you should write free-response questions? Several strategies are important.

• Strategy 1: Explain your answer in detail, but be concise with individual points

To earn full credit, your response to an FRQ must fulfill multiple criteria based on the intention of the question. Checking off those "boxes" should be your objective. This means making your answer detailed and broad, as well as being accurate. But you will not earn more points for devoting a lot of time to an individual component.

For example, an FRQ may require you to describe a distribution in a graph. The criteria for the answer will include such things as (1) center, (2) spread, (3) shape, and (4) unusual features. An answer with four sentences, each tackling one of those components correctly, will earn full credit. However, an answer with five sentences focusing only on 'center’ will have a much lower score.

• Strategy 2: Keep an eye on the clock

Time is an important factor for every AP exam. For Part A of the FRQ section of the AP Stats exam, you will technically have thirteen minutes per question. But you should aim to spend ten to twelve minutes on questions. You will want to check your answers and focus more on more difficult questions, so leaving time left over is best. You will have twenty-five minutes for Part B, which will include multiple parts. You will have 4-5 minutes for each part of that section. This may mean you have to consider a trade-off. If a particular part of a question will take too long to answer and you do not feel confident, it is OK to skip it to avoid running out of time. You do not need a perfect score to earn a 5 on the AP Stats exam, so missing some points is OK if it allows you to earn more points at another point.

• Strategy 3: Use key terms you learned in class and use proper units

The criteria that you need to fulfill in an FRQ answer are often directly related to the key terms you learned in class. Using those terms makes it easier for an AP reader to recognize that you are meeting those criteria.

An important example is the units you use to refer to any statistical data. A common criterion that AP readers look for in answers is that the answer properly refers to the context of the question, and the use of proper units in your answer is important.

• Strategy 4: Answer each part of multi-part questions in order

The parts of a multi-part question on the AP Stats exam often build on one another. Even when the exam does not explicitly state it, the answers to previous parts can often be used to solve later parts. For this reason, try to answer multi-part questions in the order they are presented. This may not always be possible or practical, but it should be your default strategy.

• Strategy 5: Decide beforehand when you want to do Part B (the investigative task)

The last FRQ of the exam is the investigative task in Part B. This question represents a greater percentage of the exam than any FRQ from Part A. You may want to strategize the way you tackle it. If you like getting more difficult and meaningful questions out of the way, you can start working on them before finishing Part A. Doing so may help with time management and getting the most points in the time you have to finish the FRQ section.

But at most, only go over the time meant for Part B (25 minutes) by a couple of minutes. While Part B is worth more than the other FRQs, it is not an overwhelming amount. If you have tackled the majority of Part B and are stuck on one part, move back to Part A.

AP Statistics FRQ Examples

We will now go over some examples of FRQ questions from the 2019 AP Exam to give you an idea of what to expect. However, note the College Board® provides all this information on its website, and we have only compiled them here for quick reference.

We have explained each example with two types of answers that can earn you full credit. An essentially correct answer includes a complete answer with all the components of the question correctly addressed. As a reference, we have also added the ideal solution provided by AP to help you understand the answering criteria put forward by the College Board. You can compare the two answer categories to identify the components for AP Stats FRQs.

Present all of your work. You will be graded on the accuracy and completeness of your results and explanations, as well as the correctness of your techniques, so make sure to indicate these clearly.
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How can I practice AP Statistics free-response questions?

The most effective way to practice AP Statistics free-response questions is to use the FRQ sections of past exams for practice runs. Pay particular attention to what you need to do to stay within the time allotted for the exam. Once you have finished a practice run, grade your answers yourself using the scoring guidelines provided by the College Board.

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References

1. AP Statistics Course and Exam Description. (2020). Apcentral.collegeboard.org. Retrieved on March 19, 2024 from https://apcentral.collegeboard.org/media/pdf/ap-statistics-course-and-exam-description.pdf
2. AP Statistics. (n.d.). Apcentral.collegeboard.org. Retrieved on March 19, 2024 from https://apstudents.collegeboard.org/courses/ap-statistics/assessment
3. AP® Statistics Free-Response Questions. (2019). Apcentral.collegeboard.org. Retrieved on March 19, 2024 from https://apcentral.collegeboard.org/media/pdf/ap19-frq-statistics.pdf

There are five free-response questions included in Part A and one free-response question included in Part B. However, several FRQs contain multiple parts.

The FRQ section constitutes 50% of the AP Statistics exam. The FRQs are graded by AP readers based on the correctness of the methods as well as the accuracy and completeness of the results and explanations.

The total time allotted for the FRQ section of the AP Statistics is 90 minutes, split between Part A (65 minutes) and Part B (25 minutes).