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An Expert Guide to the AP Macroeconomics Exam

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Posted by Ashley Robinson | Aug 30, 2021 3:00:00 PM

Advanced Placement (AP)



If you’re taking AP Macroeconomics, it’s important to start preparing for the exam as early as you can. Familiarizing yourself with what the AP exam will be like is a crucial stepping stone to achieving the score you want...and (hopefully!) earning college credit

This article provides a complete guide to the structure and scoring of the AP Macroeconomics exam as well as essential tips on how to study for AP Macroeconomics. 

There’s a lot to cover here, so let’s begin!


How Is the AP Macro Exam Structured? 

The AP Macroeconomics exam is two hours and ten minutes long and consists of two sections: a multiple-choice and a free-response section. The multiple-choice section of the exam lasts for 70 minutes, consists of 60 questions, and accounts for 66% of your overall exam score. The free-response section lasts for 60 minutes and consists of three open-ended questions: one long free-response and two short free-response questions. The free-response section makes up 33% of your exam score. 

Both the digital and paper exams are designed to assess the same skills and knowledge. 



Terrible dad joke alert: How is the AP Macro exam like an orange? They both have sections! Get it? 


What Are the Different Sections of the AP Macro Exam? 

There are two main sections on the AP Macro exam: a multiple choice section and a free response section. Below, we’ll answer the question, “How long is the macroeconomics AP exam?” and explain what to expect from these two exam sections. 


Multiple-Choice Section

The multiple-choice section is the first section of the AP Macro exam. Here’s what you need to know about the multiple choice section: 

  • Consists of 60 stand-alone multiple-choice questions, each with five answer choices (A-E)
  • 70 minutes long
  • Worth 66% of your score

16 to 20% of multiple-choice questions will include analyzing numbers or performing calculations. This means you’ll have to use math skills to answer questions on the multiple-choice section of AP Macro. 


Free-Response Section

The free-response section is the second and last section of the AP Macro exam. Here are the most important details about the free-response section: 

  • Consists of three free-response questions, divided up into two question types: 
    • One long free-response question 
    • Two short free-response questions
  • 60 minutes long (includes a 10 minute reading period)
    • Worth 33% of your score

The long answer question is worth 10 points, and each short answer question is worth five points. On the paper exam, one free-response question will require you to draw a graph or visual representation of an economic situation, model, or market. 


Expectations of the AP Macro Exam

Both sections of the AP Macro exam assess your ability to do the following: 

  • Define economic principles and models
  • Explain given economic outcomes
  • Determine outcomes of specific economic situations

Additionally, the free-response section on the paper exam requires students to draw a graph or visual representation. Students are not required to produce any visual representations on the multiple-choice section, but they’ll have to answer multiple-choice questions about a provided graph or visual representation. 




What’s Tested on the AP Macro Exam? 4 Big Ideas

The AP Macro exam content is focused on assessing your knowledge of four major themes, called “Big Ideas” by the College Board. The four Big Ideas serve as the foundation for the AP Macro course and highlight the core topics that will appear on the exam

Topics and skills relating to each of the four Big Ideas are woven throughout the AP Macro curriculum and course units. Below, we provide a full list of the specific topic areas pertaining to each Big Idea that you’ll need to learn when you take AP Macro. (If you want links to study resources for these topics, be sure to check out our AP Macroeconomics study guide.) 


Big Idea 1: Economic Measurements

Economists construct measurements to monitor the state of an economy and evaluate its performance over time. Governments, firms, and citizens often use these measurements to help inform policy, business, and personal decisions.

Topics that fall into this category (and that students may be tested on!) are as follows: 

  • Economic indicators and the business cycle, including
    • The circular flow and GDP
    • Limitations of GDP
    • Unemployment
    • Prices indices and inflation
    • Costs of inflation
    • Real v. nominal GDP
  • Financial sector, including
    • Financial assets
    • Nominal v. real interest rates
    •  Definition, measurement, and functions of money
  • Long-run consequences of stabilization policies, including
    • Economic growth
  • Open economy--international trade and finance, including
    • Balance of payments accounts


Big Idea 2: Markets

Competitive markets bring together buyers and sellers to exchange goods and services for mutual gain. The simple model of supply–demand can be applied in different market contexts. 

Topics that fall into this category include the following: 

  • Basic economic concepts, including
    • Comparative advantage and gains from trade
    • Demand and supply
    • Market equilibrium, disequilibrium, and changes in equilibrium
  • Financial sector, including
    • The money market
    • The loanable funds market
  • Open economy--international trade and finance, including
    •  Exchange rates
    • The foreign exchange market
    • Effect of changes in policies and economic conditions on the foreign exchange market
    • Changes in the foreign exchange market and net exports
    • Real interest rates and international capital flows


Big Idea 3: Macroeconomic Models

Macroeconomic models are simplified representations that depict basic economic relationships and can be used to predict and explain how those relationships are affected by economic shocks.

The main topics in the category of Macroeconomic Models are as follows: 

  • Basic economic concepts, including
    • Scarcity 
    • Opportunity cost and the Production Possibilities Curve (PPC)
  • National income and price determination, including
    • Aggregate Demand (AD)
    • Multipliers
    • Short-Run Aggregate Supply (SRAS)
    • Long-Run Aggregate Supply (LRAS)
    • Equilibrium in the Aggregate Demand– Aggregate Supply (AD–AS) Model
    • Changes in the AD–AS Model in the short run
    • Long-run self-adjustment
  • Long-Run consequences of stabilization policies, including
    • The Phillips Curve
    • Economic growth


Big Idea 4: Macroeconomic Policies

Government taxation and spending policies and central bank monetary policy can affect an economy’s output, price level, and level of employment, both in the short run and in the long run. 

Here are the main topics that fall into this category: 

  • National Income and price determination, including
    • Fiscal policy
    • Automatic stabilizers
  • Financial sector, including
    • Banking and the expansion of the money supply
    • Monetary policy
  • Long-run consequences of stabilization policies, including
    • Fiscal and monetary policy actions in the short run
    • Money growth and inflation
    • Government deficits and the national debt
    • Crowding out
    • Public policy and economic growth



These sample questions will give you a closer look at the types of questions you'll see on the AP Macro test.


AP Macro Sample Questions

Now that you have a basic understanding of the content areas included in AP Macro, here are some examples of the types of questions that will appear on the AP Macroeconomics exam. Exploring a few sample questions will help you get a clearer picture of what to expect from the AP Macro exam. 


Multiple-Choice Sample Question

Let’s start with an example of a multiple-choice AP Macro exam question: 


This question may seem complicated at first glance, so let’s break it down. 

This question is asking you to use your interpretation skills and recall how specific economic concepts interact. You’ll need to interpret an economic outcome using the data provided in the graph. Specifically, you’re being asked to consider how the concept of the Production Possibilities Curve (PPC) affects production. 

Now, here’s some good news: you’ll learn all about this concept in your AP Macro class! You can use what you’ve learned about the PPC to calculate the correct answer to this question. 

So, what’s the correct answer? If you landed on answer choice “E,” you chose the correct answer to this multiple choice question!


Free-Response Long Sample Question

Next, let’s look at an example of a long answer free-response question from the AP Macro exam. 


Because this is an example of a long free response, it’s worth ten total points. There are several parts to this question, so we’ll go over how to interpret the question as a whole and break it down to address each individual part. 

The question begins by giving some crucial background information. This information asks you to make some assumptions about the inflation rate, unemployment rate, and natural rate of unemployment in a fictitious country. You’ll need to use those numbers to answer the remaining portions of the free response question. 

We can see that there are eight main tasks (parts a through h) that you need to correctly complete in order to get full credit for this question. So let’s break down what you need to do on each task and how many points each one is worth next: 

  • a) Worth two points: Draw a correctly labeled aggregate demand-aggregate supply graph (worth one point) that shows the plotted data points indicated in the question (worth one point). 
  • b) Worth one point: Correctly identify one of the following actions: selling bonds, increasing the discount rate, or increasing the required reserve ratio. 
  • c) Worth one point: State that “Zeetoland” will experience financial capital inflows and explain that higher interest rates will attract financial capital from other countries. Both parts are required to earn the point.
  • d) Worth two points: Draw a correctly labeled graph of the foreign exchange market for the zeet (worth one point). To earn the second point, the graph must show a rightward shift in the demand curve for the zeet and an increase in the exchange rate (an appreciation in the currency).
  • e) Worth one point: State that Zeetoland’s net exports will decrease and explain that the appreciation of the zeet will make Zeetoland’s exports relatively expensive to those of other countries. Both parts are required to earn the point. 
  • f) Worth one point: Use the graph you created in part (a) to show the impact of the government’s action and label the resulting real output and the resulting price level. The graph must show a leftward shift in the aggregate demand curve and a decrease in the price level and real output.
  • g) Worth one point: State that the demand for money will decrease.
  • h) Worth one point: State that nominal interest rates will decrease.


Okay, that seems like a ton of work. But ultimately, this question is just asking you to show that you can convey information by creating a graph and make assertions and explanations based on that information. AP Macro will teach you all of those skills, so you’ll be prepared to tackle the many parts of a long free response question. 


Free-Response Short Sample Question 

Finally, we’ll break down the following example of a short free-response question: 

Because this is an example of a short free response question, it’s worth five total points. But those points are broken out across the four different tasks within this question. We’ll break down this question part-by-part next. 

Let’s start with the background information provided at the beginning of the question. This information sets some numerical parameters that you will need to use to make calculations in each part of the question. 

This short FRQ is divided into four parts (a through d). You’ll need to correctly complete the task outlined in each part in order to earn full credit for this question. We’ll break down what each task is asking you to do and how many points each one is worth below: 

  • a) Worth one point: Calculate the maximum amount of loans that Bank A can make as a result of the deposit as $75,000 and show your work: Total reserves − required reserves = ($100,000 − (0.25 × $100,000)) = $75,000.
  • b) Worth one point: Calculate the maximum increase in demand deposits as $400,000 and show your work: $100,000 × (1/0.25) = $400,000. 
  • c) Worth one point: State that the maximum change in the money supply is less than the maximum change in demand deposits and explain that this is because with Mary’s deposit the circulating currency decreases, or because the $100,000 is no longer part of the currency in circulation.
  • d) Worth two points: Draw a correctly labeled graph of the money market (worth one point). For the second point, the graph must show a shift in the money supply curve to the right and a decrease in the nominal interest rate (worth one point).


This question asks you to demonstrate the ability to perform numerical analyses. You’ll also be drawing on your ability to create graphs and visual representations to answer this question. Like the other example questions provided here, this one draws on skills and equations that you’ll get tons of practice with in your AP Macro class. 



You might get an A on a homework assignment, but the AP Macro test is graded a little differently.


How Is the AP Macro Exam Scored? 

On the AP Macroeconomics exam, the multiple choice section makes up 66% of your overall score and the free response section makes up the other 33% of your score. Within the free response section, the long free response question is worth 50% of your score, and each of the two short free response questions are worth 25% of the section score. 

Calculating your score for the multiple choice section is fairly simple. You receive one point for each multiple choice question you answer correctly. You won’t lose points for incorrect answers or questions that are left blank. 

Now, here’s how scoring works for the free response questions. FRQs are scored by actual graders. This means that you’ll earn points based on how effectively you respond to individual tasks within a given free response question. 

For example, a long FRQ is worth a total of 10 points, but the question will be broken up into individual tasks that are worth a set number of points. So a long free response question might be broken up into five tasks, each worth two points apiece. You’ll earn points for each portion of the FRQ that you answer correctly. 

And the same is true for the two short FRQs, which are each worth a total of five points. A short free response question might be broken up into three tasks, worth two points and one point to make a total of five points. 

AP exam scores are reported on a scale from 1 to 5. We’ve provided a conversion chart to help you understand how raw score ranges generally translate into final AP scores. We’ve also included the percentage of students who earned each score in 2020 to give you an idea of what the score distribution looks like for the AP Macro exam. 

Raw Score
AP Score
% of Test Takers Earning Score (2020)




How To Prepare for the AP Macro Exam: 4 Tips

Now that you know what to expect from AP Macro, let’s talk about what you can do to put your best foot forward on the exam. Here are our four best tips for how to prepare for the AP Macro exam. 


#1: Brush Up On Your Graphing

For many students, conveying information in the form of a graph or other visual feels like one of the scarier parts of the exam. If you spend time practicing with the graphical representations that are included in your AP Macro course content and complete practice free response questions, you’ll be prepared to do well on this part of the exam. 


#2: Do a Vocab Review

You may have noticed when you read about the AP Macro “Big Ideas” that there is a lot of terminology involved. The concepts in macroeconomics may be totally unfamiliar to many students. That means that comprehending and memorizing the economic principles and models you’ll be tested on will require some serious studying!

But don’t be too intimidated. The topics in each unit of the AP Macro course build on each other as they’re taught, so you’ll have many chances to get familiar with the course concepts you need to know. 

Before you take the AP Macro exam, though, it’s important to review the core topics that were covered in the class. Consider using the waterfall flashcard method (which is also recommended for studying SAT vocab) to review of the toughest course concepts. 


#3: Connect Course Concepts

Many questions on the AP Macro exam ask you to analyze unique scenarios by synthesizing and applying course concepts. “Synthesizing” basically means that you need to be able to identify and explain the connections between different concepts and ideas. 

It’s important to use your time in your AP Macro course to your advantage here. The course is designed to help you develop your synthesis skills by assigning Personal Progress Checks for each content unit in the course. These progress checks pose practice multiple choice and FRQs that will show you the types of connections you need to be thinking about.

To improve your chances of achieving a top score on the AP exam, you’ll want to take these practice questions seriously. Do your best on them in class, and hang on to them. You can use them to review!

#4: Use Good Time Management

Effective time management is one of the things you should definitely learn as you prepare for the AP Macro exam. You’re on the clock with a limited amount of time for each section. You’ll need to have a solid plan for managing your time to ensure you answer the most questions correctly when taking the exam. 

To develop healthy time management skills, plan to take at least one practice AP Macro exam. At present, an AP Macro exam from 2012 is the only official practice exam made available by the College Board online. You can use that practice test to get a feel for how much time you’ll need to allocate to reading, thinking, planning, and writing your responses on the real exam. 

To use the practice exam to your advantage, you need to know upfront how much time you’re allowed for each section.. There are 60 questions on the multiple choice section of the AP Macro exam, and you’ll have 70 minutes to complete it. That means you should spend no more than about a minute and 15 seconds on each multiple choice question. If you find yourself taking extra time on a question during your practice test, skip it and return to it later. Moving on to the next question when you get stumped will give you some leeway if you encounter more tough questions later on. 

For the free response section, you’ll have 60 minutes to complete three total questions, and 10 minutes of that total time is dedicated to reading the instructions for each question. Therefore, it makes the most sense to allocate about 25 minutes for the long free response question and about 12.5 minutes to each of the two short free response questions. 

If you can’t work this fast right away, don’t panic! As long as you plan ahead to take the practice exam a few times, you’ll be able to work out your timing and get a strategy down before the real AP Macro exam. You can also do additional practice free response questions until you feel comfortable with the time constraints.




What's Next? 

Are you thinking about taking more AP classes next year? Here are the hardest ones for you. 

Not all AP classes are hard for everyone, though. Someone who's good at science may find that AP Bio is a breeze...but really struggle with AP English Literature. This guide will help you figure out which AP courses may be easier for you. 

If you love Macro, you may enjoy majoring in Economics. Here's how to decide if that major is right for you. 


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Ashley Robinson
About the Author

Ashley Sufflé Robinson has a Ph.D. in 19th Century English Literature. As a content writer for PrepScholar, Ashley is passionate about giving college-bound students the in-depth information they need to get into the school of their dreams.

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