How to Approach Each Question Type for the AP Psychology Exam
Section I: Multiple-Choice Questions
You've undoubtedly taken final exams before. What did you do that enabled you to succeed on the exams where you earned your highest scores? Probably doing similar preparation for your AP Psychology exam will pay off. If you relaxed the night before the exams, watched TV, or spent time with friends, that may be most productive for you. I always found it most productive for me to review note cards I made with important definitions, important themes, major issues, key research studies, and notable names written in small letters on them. As you use this review book, you may want to make your own note cards—or not!
Every multiple-choice question has three important parts:
- The stem is the basis for the actual question. Sometimes this comes in the form of a fill-in-the-blank statement, rather than a question.
- The correct answer option. Obviously, this is the one selection that best completes the statement, or responds to the question in the stem. Making good use of this book will help you choose lots of correct answer options.
- Distractor options. Just as it sounds, these are the four incorrect answers intended to distract the person who doesn't know the concepts being assessed.
Example: Psychometricians are psychologists who:
Example: How do SSRIs work?
Students who do well on multiple-choice exams are so well prepared that they can easily find the correct answer, but other students do well because they are savvy enough to identify and avoid the distractors. Much research has been done on how to best study for, and complete, multiple-choice questions. There are no foolproof rules for taking the exam, but here are some heuristics ("rules of thumb") that are usually helpful:
- Carefully read the question. This sounds pretty obvious, but you would be surprised how often test takers miss words that can change the meaning of a question, such as not, all, always, never, except, least or least likely, and rarely.
- Words like "never" and "always" are called absolute qualifiers. If these words are used in one of the choices, it is rarely the correct choice. If you can think of even a single instance where the statement is untrue, then you have discovered a distractor and can eliminate it as the correct answer.
- Before looking at the answer options, try to visualize the correct answer. Then look for that answer among the distractors. If that answer isn't there, see if you can find an answer option that means the same as your answer.
- Write in your booklet. Make notes to yourself in your question booklet whenever you think it would be helpful. Highlight or underline words that can change the meaning of a question. Jot down words or draw a quick sketch in the margin.
- Answer the questions in order if you can do them in a reasonable amount of time. Multiple-choice questions on AP exams are arranged in order of difficulty according to pre-test data. If you spend a ridiculous amount of time on one question, you will feel your confidence and your time slipping away. Mark any question you skip in your booklet so that you can easily come back to it after you've finished all of the other questions. Be sure to skip the corresponding answer row on your answer sheet. You have an average of about 45 seconds to answer each question. Perhaps a question later in the exam will provide information or a retrieval cue that will enable you to answer the question you originally skipped.
- Don't "overthink." Some of the questions may be easy for you to answer. Answer them and move on. Don't think that they are too easy. What is easy for you may be difficult for other people.
- Should you guess? If you have absolutely no clue which choice is correct, guessing is a poor strategy. With five choices, your chance of getting the question wrong is 80%, and every wrong answer costs you one-quarter of a point. In this case, leave it blank with no penalty. Guessing becomes a much better gamble if you can eliminate even one obviously incorrect choice. You earn a point for each question you answer correctly. If you wildly guessed the answers to five questions, chances are that you'd get one right and four wrong. For these five questions, your total score would be zero. If you left these questions out, your total score for them would also be zero. But if you take an AP Psychology course and use this book as recommended, you will probably be familiar with all or almost all of the concepts being tested. Rather than just guessing wildly, you will probably have some idea about the concept being tested. Chances are you'll beat the odds if you have an inkling of the answer.
- Change an answer only if you have a good reason for the change.
- Time flies. Keep an eye on your watch as you pass the halfway point. If you are running out of time and you have a few questions left, skim them for the easy (and quick) ones so that the rest of your scarce time can be devoted to those that need a little extra reading or thought.
Example: Which of the following is least likely to be part of a reflex arc?
(A) an afferent neuron
(B) a sensory receptor
(C) a voluntary muscle
(D) cells of the adrenal glands
(E) cells from the occipital cortex
Someone who misses the word least might choose the first answer without looking any further. Over half the students who answered this question on a class test got it wrong because they did just that.
Other things to keep in mind:
- Take the extra half of a second required to clearly fill in the bubbles.
- Don't smudge anything with sloppy erasures. If your eraser is smudgy, ask the proctor for another.
- Absolutely, positively, check that you are bubbling the same line on the answer sheet as the question you are answering. I suggest that every time you turn the page you double check that you are still lined up correctly.
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