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AP Macroeconomics Free Response Help - FRQ

5 min readβ€’december 12, 2020

fiveable-dylan

Dylan Black


How is the AP Macro Exam Organized?

On the AP Macro exam, you'll be faced with two main parts: the multiple-choice section (MCQs) and the free-response section (FRQs). The free-response section takes up 33% of your AP exam. On the exam, you'll be given 60 minutes (including a 10 minute reading period) to answer 3 questions, one long question and two short questions asking you to calculate values, draw graphs, predict the effects of different economic policies, and make policy actions based on whether the economy is in a recessionary gap or inflationary gap.

Tips to Succeed on the FRQ Section

Draw Good Graphs!

A huge part of the AP Macro FRQ section is the graphs! In many instances, you'll be drawing 1-2 graphs per question, and these graphs are a lot different than the ones you may draw in the multiple-choice section. In the MCQ section, nobody sees your graphs. This means that you can be as sloppy and unlabeled as you want as long as you know what's going on.
However, in the FRQ section, they often ask explicitly, "draw a correctly labeled graph of ____". This means that your graphs must be both accurate and correctly labeled. Because of this and the fact that knowing these graphs will simply make your life infinitely easier, it is integral to your success in AP Macro that you memorize and understand these graphs completely. Let's take a look at an example.
https://firebasestorage.googleapis.com/v0/b/fiveable-92889.appspot.com/o/images%2F-dEGrhP2Nn1K7.png?alt=media&token=8c25d2de-cdd8-4399-b722-16bc13f31bdf

Image Courtesy of CollegeBoard

First things first, looking at the information in the top part of the question, we're told that Canada is an open economy and is in a recessionary gap. That is some useful information right there folks, especially as we head into part (a) for this question. Part (a) asks us to draw LRAS, SRAS, and AD and label certain indicators on the graph. For this, we need to know three things: the axes, the curves, and the data points.
For ADAS, the axes are price level on the y-axis and real GDP on the x-axis. Typically, standard abbreviations like GDP are ok, but if you ever doubt things like that, just write it out!
When drawing our curves, we need to remember two key things: what SRAS, LRAS, and AD look like (ie. upward sloping, downward sloping, or vertical) and where they should be placed based on the economic conditions. In this problem, we're told that Canada is in a recessionary gap, meaning that the short-run equilibrium (where AD meets SRAS) should be to the left of LRAS.
Finally, the question asks us to find the current equilibrium output (Y1 and PL1) and full employment output (Yf). This means using dotted lines to show these points on the graph, giving us:
https://firebasestorage.googleapis.com/v0/b/fiveable-92889.appspot.com/o/images%2F-zKIfZnoUNGNr.png?alt=media&token=ece86045-fb7a-4f43-a991-0776a7df6bc6

Image Courtesy of CollegeBoard

Show Your Calculations

Many times, a question or multiple questions will ask you to make calculations based on the numbers they give you. These will be calculations you learn in class such as a bank balance sheet or a calculation involving the simple spending multiplier and tax multiplier. However, you aren't given a calculator on the test so the CollegeBoard gives you nice numbers. When making calculations, it is crucial that you show each step including writing out a formula in variable form. Let's take a look at an example from 2019:
https://firebasestorage.googleapis.com/v0/b/fiveable-92889.appspot.com/o/images%2F-ixLV96Yomc1e.png?alt=media&token=a284cb39-6174-43bc-afa1-bd1c55ca41e8

Image Courtesy of CollegeBoard

This question is asking us to calculate the change in government needed to raise GDP by $40 billion ($540 - $500). To do this, we must use the simple spending multiplier. To solve for this change. From the information in the problem, we know that the MPC = 0.8, and since MPC + MPS = 1, MPS = 0.2. From here, we can find the simple spending multiplier by using the formula SSM = 1/1-MPC = 1/MPS = 1/0.2 = 5. Now, because we know that Ξ”GDP = SSM * Ξ”Spending, we can plug in our numbers and find an increase in $8 billion. Here's what that may look like on your actual FRQ:
https://firebasestorage.googleapis.com/v0/b/fiveable-92889.appspot.com/o/images%2F-ctxgGxi0mFC9.png?alt=media&token=eb062c14-4975-42eb-bf74-d4108cb25aac
As we can see, all work is shown, including finding the gap, showing that the spending multiplier is five (they probably could have shown more work here, but they clearly indicate it), and finding $8 billion dollars as the correct answer. When in doubt, write out the work!

Look for Patterns in Questions

In doing your practice for the FRQ section, you might notice a couple of repetitive types of questions. For example, across most years, FRQ question 1 typically follows the same couple parts:
  1. An economy is in either a recessionary gap, an inflationary gap, or full employment
  2. Draw ADAS to show this economic condition
  3. Analyze policy positions and draw more graphs related to either fiscal or monetary policy, typically this is also shown on the ADAS graph you drew prior
  4. Other questions like FOREX or long run adjustments to show further impacts of this policy
If you're aware of this pattern, not only are you better equipped walking into the exam with less of an element of surprise, but you can also hone your practice and studying towards these exact skills, making sure you look at question 1 and understanding what to expect.
For questions two and three, they tend to be more wildcard questions. In saying this, we mean that they typically don't follow any one pattern. However, there are question "types" that are pretty typical for questions two and three. Some notable types of common question patterns are questions about bank balance sheets and money creation, the loanable funds market, and the Philips Curve.

Final Thoughts

We've laid out a bunch of information about the FRQ section on the AP Macro exam. These tips, along with knowing the content and formatting of the exam/questions, can help you immensely on your journey to a 5. However, there is one thing I have yet to mention that, if not done, makes these tips near useless.
PRACTICE.
PRACTICE.
PRACTICE.
Practicing FRQs are the surefire way to gain content knowledge, know the questions, and be confident in yourself! If there is one thing that I want you to take away from this, it's that practice makes perfect. You're going to destroy the exam and do absolutely amazing!! Good luck!

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