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The Complete Guide to AP Macroeconomics FRQs

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Posted by Christine Sarikas | Feb 10, 2022 4:00:00 PM

Advanced Placement (AP)



Most students who take AP Macroeconomics find the free-response section to be the hardest part of the exam. You need to be able to write thoughtfully about economic concepts, analyze data, and create clear and accurate graphs--all with a tough time crunch. The good news is that, once you know what to expect from AP Macroeconomics free-response questions, this section is actually fairly straightforward. Read this guide to learn everything you need to know about AP Macro FRQ, including what the questions cover, what sample AP Macro questions look like, and exactly what you need to study to be well prepared on exam day.


What’s the Format of the AP Macro Free Response Section?

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 free-response section lasts 60 minutes and consists of three open-ended questions: one long free-response (containing about 5-8 parts to answer) and two short free-response questions (each containing about 3 questions to answer).

The free-response section makes up 33% of your total exam score. You can earn a total of 20 points in this section. The long free-response question is worth ten points, and the short free-response questions are each worth five points. 

The College Board states that the AP Macroeconomics FRQ require students to complete four main tasks:

  1. Make assertions about economic concepts, principles, models, outcomes, and/or effects
  2. Explain economic concepts, principles, models, outcomes, and/or effects
  3. Perform numerical analysis
  4. Create graphs or visual representations

You can learn more about the test format by reading our in-depth guide to the AP Macroeconomics exam.


Sample AP Macroeconomics Free-Response Questions 

Here are two examples of the types of free-response questions you'll see on the AP Macro exam. For each question, we'll go through the answers so you can see exactly how points are earned. All sample questions come from the 2019 AP Macroeconomics exam.


Long Free-Response Question

long question

This long AP Macroeconomics free-response question has five main parts, some with additional sub-questions. Remember, because this is a long FRQ, it is worth 10 ten points.


Part A (worth 2 points)

You need to draw a graph for this part (the first of many for this question). The graph must clearly show the long-run aggregate supply, short-run aggregate supply, aggregate demand curves, current equilibrium real output current price level, and employment output. Got all that? That's six things, properly labeled, that your graph must include. From the info given, you know that Canada is an open economy in a recessionary output gap. You'll use your econ skills to create a graph, which should look similar to this:


You'll earn one point for your graph showing:

  • a downward sloping aggregate demand (AD) curve
  • an upward sloping short-run aggregate supply (SRAS) curve
  • the equilibrium output level labeled Y1
  • the equilibrium price level labeled PL1

You'll earn the second point for your graph showing a vertical long-run aggregate supply (LRAS) curve with full employment output labeled Yf to the right of the short-run equilibrium output level (Y1).


Part B (worth 2 points)

In part B, you learn that neither the central bank nor the Canadian government takes any steps to close the output gap. You'll earn one point for explaining that nominal wages, input prices, or expected inflation will decrease, and this will cause the SRAS curve to shift to the right until real GDP reaches full employment at Yf. You'll earn the second point for creating a graph that shows a rightward shift in the SRAS curve where it intersects the AD curve and LRAS curve at Yf. It should look like this:




Part C (worth 2 points)

For part C you earn one point for correctly calculating the minimum change in government spending required to change aggregate demand by the amount of the output gap as an increase of $8 billion = ($40 billion/5).

You earn another point for correctly calculating the minimum change in taxes required to change aggregate demand by the amount of the output gap as a decrease of $10 billion = ($40 billion/-4).


Part D (worth 2 points)

Time for another graph! You earn one point for correctly showing the money market and another point for showing the money supply curve shifting to the right, resulting in a lower nominal interest rate. The graph should look like this:




Part E (worth 2 points)

Last graph! You earn one point for the graph properly showing the foreign exchange market for the Canadian dollar and another point for both showing a shift to the left of the demand curve for Canadian dollars (or a shift to the right of the supply curve of Canadian dollars) as well as showing Canadian dollars will depreciate against the peso. Your graph should look like ONE of the below.



Short Free-Response Question

This short FRQ is worth five points and contains four parts.



Part A (worth 2 points)

You'll earn one point for drawing a graph that correctly shows the short-run Phillips curve and one point for doing each of the following: drawing a correct long-run Phillips curve, showing and labelling as "x" the short-run equilibrium, and plotting the numbers correctly on the graph. Your graph should look like this:




Part B (worth 1 point)

You'll earn this part's single point for stating that the actual inflation rate is less than the expected inflation rate.


Part C (worth 1 point)

You earn one point for stating that lenders will be better off and for explaining EITHER that the real value of the loans that will be repaid will be higher than expected OR for explaining the relationship between nominal and real interest rates using the Fisher equation.


Part D (worth 1 point)

You earn one point for stating that the natural rate of employment won't change in the long run.




Tips for Answering Free-Response Questions

The AP Macro free-response questions often trip students up, and for most questions, the average score is just 30-40%. Below are three tips to keep in mind while studying as well as when you’re taking the test to help you improve your chances of scoring well on this section.


#1: Label Your Graphs!

If you look through enough FRQ answer explanations, you'll quickly notice a pattern: all graphs must be "correctly labelled" in order for you to earn points. So, label your graphs! This includes the x- and y-axes, each line you draw, important points on the graph, and any direction of movement you're being asked to explain. If you're missing this information (or it's difficult to read), graders won't hesitate to take off points. 

Look at the graphs in the sample problems above for an idea of what to aim for. Each of these graphs is neat, clearly labelled, and easy to read. This is what you want each of your graphs to look like. Graphing is often one of the most intimidating parts of the AP Macroeconomics exam, but if you make sure to label your graphs well, you're more than halfway there.


#2: Know Your Vocab

AP Macro is full of terms you likely have never heard before. Just in the example questions above we have "short-run Phillips curves," equilibrium real output," "aggregate demand curve," and more. Most AP Macroeconomics FRQ are fairly straightforward, but if you don't have a good handle on the vocab, you'll be lost. This means you should make learning economics terms a priority in your studying.

We recommend creating a sort of dictionary of important terms early on in the year, and every time you’re introduced to a new concept in class, write it down and describe what it means. Also try to provide a brief example and/or use the term in a sentence. This will benefit you in two ways: the act of writing it down will help you remember, and you’ll create a document that you can reference during your AP Macroeconomics review sessions.


#3: Keep Track of Time

You can be an absolute expert on macroeconomics and still lose points if you can't complete the problems in time. Therefore, it's critical to have good time management skills when answering AP Macro free-response questions.

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 (although you can begin working on problems at any time during the reading period). We recommend  spending about 25 minutes on the long free response question and about 12.5 minutes each on the two short free response questions. 

As soon as the free-response section starts, check the clock and write down when you should finish each problem. This will give you an easy reference you can check regularly throughout the section to make sure you're on time. If a question is giving you a lot of difficulty, don't be afraid to move on to a different question and come back to the first question if you have more time remaining. Don't let a particularly difficult problem cause you to waste a lot of time and miss out on many more points because you didn't get to those questions.


How to Practice Free-Response Questions

You can know all about the format and types of questions you'll see on AP Macroeconomics FRQ, but the way to really test and improve your skills is by answering practice problems. Doing so helps you become even more familiar with AP Macroeconomics FRQ question types and helps you see more clearly which types of questions are easy for you and which you need to study more.

Choosing high-quality practice questions is key to ensuring you're really practicing what you'll be seeing on the exam. Fortunately, the College Board (who designs AP exams) has dozens of old, official AP Macro free-response questions easily available.

Currently, the College Board has AP Macroeconomics FRQ from 2021 as well as 1999-2019. That's dozens of free-response questions for you to review and try out! The AP Macro exam was updated in 2019, so we recommend focusing on the most recent FRQ, but the free-response question format and topics didn't change all that much, so even older questions are still valuable.

Here are some questions and answer keys for easy access:

2019 Free-Response Questions Set 1--- Set 1 Score Guide

2019 Free-Response Questions Set 2--- Set 2 Score Guide

Because there are so many free-response problems, you can begin completing practice problems a few months into your class (say, around November) and continuing up until the AP exam in May.

At the beginning of the school year, when you're still learning a lot of the main course material, you can read through the questions to find the ones that focus on topics you've already covered. In order to get the most out of these practice problems, make sure to use a timer and give yourself the same timing limitations the real exam will have.


Summary: AP Macroeconomics FRQ

AP Macroeconomics free-response questions are often the most challenging part of the AP Macro exam. However, by knowing what to expect from this section, you'll give yourself the best shot at getting a high score. The free-response section contains three questions:

  • 1 long free-response question (worth 10 points)
  • 2 short free-response questions (worth 5 points each)

You’ll have 60 minutes to complete this section, and it’s worth 33% of your total exam score. To maximize your chances of doing well keep these three tips in mind:

  • Label your graphs
  • Know your econ terms
  • Be aware of the time

Taking practice tests is one of the best ways to prepare for AP exams, and you should absolutely take advantage of the many official AP Macroeconomics free-response questions that the College Board has released.


What's Next?

Not sure how to prepare for your AP Macro exam? We've compiled all the best study materials in our in-depth AP Macroeconomics study guide.

Is AP Macroeconomics hard? How does it compare to other AP exams? What are your chances of passing the exam or getting a 5? Read our guide on how hard AP Macroeconomics is for everything you need to know!

Want to know more about the entire AP Macro exam? Our expert guide has everything you need to know to ace your AP Macroeconomics exam.


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Christine Sarikas
About the Author

Christine graduated from Michigan State University with degrees in Environmental Biology and Geography and received her Master's from Duke University. In high school she scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT and was named a National Merit Finalist. She has taught English and biology in several countries.

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