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# How to Approach Each Question Type on the AP Economics Exam (page 2)

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By McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Feb 9, 2011

### Section II: Free-Response Questions

Your score on the FRQs amount to one-third of your grade and, as a long-time reader of essays, I assure you that there is no other way to score highly than to know your stuff. While you can guess on a multiple-choice question and have a one-in-five chance of getting the correct answer, there is no room for guessing in this section. There are however, some tips that you can use to enhance your FRQ scores.

2. Consistently wrong can be good. The free-response questions are written in several parts, each building upon the first. If you are looking at an eight-part question, it can be scary. However, these questions are graded so that you can salvage several points even if you do not correctly answer the first part. The key thing for you to know is that you must be consistent, even if it is consistently wrong. For example, you might be asked to draw a graph showing a monopolist who has chosen the profit-maximizing level of output. Following sections might ask you to label the price, economic profit, consumer surplus, and deadweight loss—each being determined by the choice of output. So let's say you draw your diagram, but you label an incorrect level of output. Obviously you are not going to receive that point. But, if you proceed by labeling price, economic profit, consumer surplus, and deadweight loss correctly at your incorrect quantity, you would be surprised how forgiving the grading rubric can be.
3. Have the last laugh with a well-drawn graph. There are some points that require an explanation (i.e. "Describe how …"). Not all free-response questions require a graph, but a garbled paragraph of explanation can be saved with a perfect graph that tells the reader you know the answer to the question. This does not work in reverse.
4. If I say draw, you better draw, Tex. There are what readers call "graphing points" and these cannot be earned with a well-written paragraph. For example, if you are asked to draw the monopoly scenario that I described above, certain points will be awarded for the graph, and only the graph. A delightfully written, and entirely accurate paragraph of text will not earn the graphing points. You also need to clearly label graphs. You might think that downward sloping line is obviously a demand curve, but some of those graphing points will not be awarded if lines and points are not clearly, and accurately, identified.
5. Give the answer, not a dissertation. There are some parts of a question where you are asked to simply "identify" something. Identify the price if this firm were a monopolist. Identify the area that corresponds to dead weight loss. This type of question requires a quick piece of analysis that can literally be answered in one word or number. That point will be given if you provide that one word or number whether it is the only word you write, or the fortieth that you write. For example, you might be given a table that shows how a firm's output changes as it hires more workers. One part of the question asks you to identify the optimal number of workers that the firm should hire. Suppose the correct answer is 4. The point is given if you say "4," "four," and maybe even "iv." If you write a 500-word Magna Carta concluding with the word "four," you will get the point, but will have wasted precious time. This brings me to …
6. Welcome to the magic kingdom. If you surround the right answer to a question with a paragraph of economic wrongness, you will usually get the point, so long as you say the magic word. The only exception is a direct contradiction of the right answer. For example, suppose that when asked to identify the optimal number of workers, you spend a paragraph describing how the workers are unionized and therefore are subject to a price ceiling and that the exchange rate between those workers and the production possibility\ frontier means the answer is four. You get the point! You said they should hire four and "four" was the magic word. However, if you say that the answer is four, but that it is also five and on Mondays it is seven, you have contradicted yourself and the point will not be given.
7. Marginally speaking. This point is made throughout the microeconomics review contained in this book, but it bears repeating here as a valuable test-taking strategy. In economics, anything that is optimal, or efficient, or rational, or cost minimizing, or profit maximizing can be answered by telling the reader that the marginal benefits must equal the marginal costs. Depending upon the situation, you might have to clarify that "marginal benefit" to the firm is "marginal revenue," or to the employer "marginal revenue product." If the question asks you why the answer is four, there is always a very short phrase that readers look for so that they may award the point. This answer often includes the appropriate marginal comparison.
8. Identify, Illustrate, Define, and Explain. Each part of a free-response question includes a prompt that tells you what the reader will be looking for so that the points can be awarded. If the question asks you to "identify" something, you may need only one word or a short phrase to receive all of the points. Writing a paragraph here will only waste your time. As I mentioned above, any reference to "illustrate" will require you to draw, or redraw, a graph to receive points. If the question asks you to "define" a concept, you will need to devote more time to providing your best definition of that concept. The most time-intensive prompt is usually one that involves "explain." Suppose you are told that the Canadian dollar is appreciating relative to the U.S. dollar. Then you are asked to explain how this will impact domestic output and the price level in the U.S. To give yourself the best chance at receiving all of the points, your response must provide two parts. First, give a clear statement of what exactly will happen; second, explain why it is going to happen.
9. Other things to keep in mind:

• The free-response section begins with a 10-minute reading period. Use this time well to jot down some quick notes to yourself so that when you actually begin to respond, you will have a nice start.
• The first parts of the free-response questions are the easiest parts. Spend just enough time to get these points before moving on to the more difficult sections.
• The questions are written in logical order. If you find yourself explaining Part C before responding to Part B, back up and work through the logical progression of topics.
• Abbreviations are your friends. You can save time by using commonly accepted abbreviations for economic variables and graphical curves and you will get more adept at their use as your mastery improves. For example, in macroeconomics you can save some time by using "OMO" rather than "Open Market Operation" and in microeconomics you can use "MRP" rather than "Marginal Revenue Product."

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