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How to Approach the Free-Response Essay on the AP U.S. Government and Politics Exam (page 3)

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

Rubrics for the Free-Response Essay

What Is a Rubric?

Rubrics are scoring guidelines used to evaluate your performance on each of the free-response essays. They are based on the sum of points earned by meeting the preestablished criteria.

How Are Rubrics Developed and Applied?

The number of points students may earn for each free-response question is assigned by members of the Test Development Committee. The chief faculty consultant, exam leaders, and question leaders develop preliminary rubrics for each question based on these points. These rubrics are sampled against actual student essays and revised if necessary. Table leaders are then trained using these standards. When the reading begins, table leaders train the AP readers at their table (usually five to seven readers) in the use of the rubric for that particular question. Once the reading begins, the rubrics are not changed.

Common Characteristics of Rubrics

Since each free-response question is different, each scoring rubric will differ. There are, however, several characteristics common to all U.S. Government and Politics rubrics. Each rubric

  • Addresses all aspects and tasks of the question. Points are awarded for each task or response requested—one point for a correct identification and two points for the discussion.
  • Contains evaluative criteria. These distinguish what is acceptable from what is not acceptable in the answer, for example, accept AARP as an interest group but do not accept the Democratic Party.
  • Has a scoring strategy, a scale of points to be awarded for successfully completing a task. For example, identification of an interest group is worth one point.
  • Awards points for correct responses; points are not deducted.
  • Can be applied clearly and consistently by different scorers. If more than one reader were to score a particular essay, it would receive the same score, based on the same standards.

Final Comments—Some Helpful Hints

When writing your free response, consider these do’s and don’ts.

  • Don’t use words that you are uncomfortable using or not familiar with. Readers are not impressed if you use “big words” but don’t understand what they mean or use them incorrectly.
  • Don’t try to “fake out” the reader. They are government professors and teachers.
  • Don’t preach, moralize, editorialize, or use “cute” comments. Remember, you want the reader to think positively about your essay.
  • Don’t “data dump” or create “laundry lists.” Do not provide information (names, court cases, laws) without explanation or relevant link.
  • Do write neatly and legibly. Write or print in blue or black ink (not pencil; it’s harder to read) as clearly as you can.
  • Do use correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation. They make your essay much easier to score.
  • Do answer all questions and all parts of each question. You may answer the questions in any order. Answer the questions you feel you know best, first. That way, if you run out of time and don’t finish, no harm is done. Even though the essays are graded on different scales, they are weighted equally and together count for half your total score. (Each essay is 12.5 percent of your total score.)
  • Do support your essay with specific evidence and examples. If the question asks for examples, supply not only the example but also a discussion of how that example illustrates the concept. Provide however many examples the question asks for; hypothetical examples may sometimes by used, if they are backed up with facts.
  • Do pay attention to dates and terms like “modern.” When time frames are used, keep your evidence and examples within that time frame (modern presidency would not include Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln).
  • Do stop when you finish your essay. Proofread! If you ramble on after you have answered the question completely, you might contradict yourself, causing the reader to question your answer.
  • Do your best!

Test Your Free-Response Skills

It is now time to try the free-response section of the second diagnostic exam. Once again, do this entire section in one sitting. Time yourself. Be honest with yourself when scoring your answers.

If the 100 minutes passes before you finish all the questions, stop where you are and score what you have done up to this point. Afterward, answer the remaining questions, but do not count the answers as part of your score. When you have completed all of the freeresponse questions on this exam, assess which ones gave you trouble. Use this book to learn from your mistakes.

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