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How to Approach the Free-Response Essay on the AP U.S. Government and Politics Exam (page 2)

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By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Mar 22, 2011

What Criteria Do the AP Readers Use to Score a Free-Response Essay?

The readers look for responses that answer the questions asked. Remember, each free-response is scored by a different AP reader, trained to score that particular question. Care is given to compare each student essay to the standards established in the rubric. The same standards are applied to all essays, and no modifications in the rubrics occur. In general, students should:

  • Recognize the subject matter of the question. When you see “Congress,” don’t just start writing about Congress. Analyze what the question asks about Congress.
  • Recognize what task you are being asked to perform in relation to the question, for example, list, explain, describe, identify and explain, or explain and give examples (sometimes you will be asked to perform more than one task).
  • NOTE: Remember that there is a general order to the tasks within the question. Organize your essay to answer the question or address the tasks in the order asked.

Types of Free-Response Prompts Free-response questions are generally straightforward and ask you to perform certain tasks. Understanding what the prompt is asking you to do will help you perform the task correctly.

Prompt Vocabulary

  • analyze—examine each part of the whole in a systematic way; evaluate
  • define—briefly tell what something is or means
  • describe—create a mental picture by using details or examples
  • discuss—give details about; illustrate with examples
  • explain—make something clear by giving reasons or examples; tell how and why
  • argue/defend/justify/support—give evidence to show why an idea or view is right or good
  • categorize/classify—sort into groups according to a given set of traits or features
  • compare and contrast—point out similarities (compare) and differences (contrast)
  • determine cause and effect—decide what leads to an event or circumstance (cause) and what results from an event or circumstance (effect)
  • evaluate/judge—determine the worth or wisdom of an opinion, belief, or idea

Developing the Free-Response Essay

Strategies for Writing the Free-Response Essay

  • Read the question carefully, in its entirety, and determine what you are being asked to write about. Analyze the question and identify the topics, issues, and key terms that define your task (define, discuss, explain). Underline key terms to focus your attention.
  • Brainstorm ideas.
  • Organize ideas and outline your essay before you begin to write. Use the blank space in your test booklet to plan. (Brainstorming and outlining should take about five to eight minutes per question.)
  • Write the essay. Include an introduction that restates the question, the factual information, evidence and examples, and a conclusion. Stick to your outline and keep sentences simple. If time is short, forget the introduction and conclusion and jump into the essay, using bulleted lists with explanations or an outline.
  • Reread the question and your essay to determine if you answered the question or questions. NOTE: Many of the free-response questions will have several parts; make sure you answer them all.
  • Proofread for grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors. Even though these errors will not count against you, they can make your essay harder to read and can make your answer less understandable.
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