Taking no more than five (5) minutes to brainstorm, organize, and complete a brief list or outline will help a candidate focus on the essentials of the question. Most of the free-response questions will begin with a statement that identifies the topic of the response then will proceed to inform the candidate of the task(s) they are to perform.

  • Read the question carefully and underline/highlight the directives. Directives are statements that identify what the candidate must do in addressing the topic provided. Hints of directives and the tasks to be performed will most likely contain these words:

o Identify

o Explain (how and why)

o Identify and explain

o Describe/discuss

o Give two specific explanations (or some other number)

§ Focus on the words/language that follows the directives. This will be the specific task(s) that the candidate will be assessed on. In other words, this is what the candidate is to write about. A candidate may be asked to write about trends, patterns, relationships, demographics, institutions, obstacles, characteristics, impact, and/or significance. A candidate may also be asked to provide or support their explanations with specific examples.

§ Brainstorm- Candidates should make a list of everything that comes to mind associated with the topic.

§ Organize and outline- This does not have to be formal or complete. Keep in mind that no more than five (5) minutes should be spent on this entire process.

§ Re-read the question and re-examine the outline to be sure that none of the tasks required have been omitted


Because of the time limits, one-hundred (100) minutes total for the four questions, a candidate will be instructed to spend approximately one-fourth of their time (25 minutes) on each question. In many cases, a candidate will be able to recognize and quickly respond to two or three. RESPOND TO THESE QUESTIONS FIRST!! This will enable a candidate to acquire and use more time for those questions that are more difficult and/or less familiar.

Taking an AP Government Exam - Cram for the Exam


In order to maximize a candidate’s potential to receive the highest possible score on each free-response question, a list of DO’s and DON’Ts follows. Keep in mind that a candidate’s free-response answers will usually be looked at by no more than one or two readers when final assessment is determined. By following these reminders, a candidate can minimize or eliminate any potential physical or psychological distractions to a reader that can result in a lower score.

  • DO use correct grammar, sentence and paragraph structure- although readers will be instructed not to consider these items when grading, a well organized and written response is psychologically better to read than one that is poorly organized, disjointed, and poorly worded.
  • DO answer all four questions- Credit can only be earned by responding. Leaving a free-response question blank only lowers an overall score.
  • DO respond to all parts of the question- In order to obtain the highest possible total on each rubric design, a candidate has to do this. It does not matter that a candidate is able to discuss, explain, identify, etc. only one part of the question adnauseam and omit another part hoping that the reader will be impressed and forget about the omission.
  • DO support your explanations, identifications, etc. with specific evidence to demonstrate competence with the topic. General textbook information may not always suffice.
  • DO write in a style that you are comfortable with. Trying to be too sophisticated, wordy, or using impressive, yet unfamiliar, vocabulary takes too much time, is distracting to the reader, and often results in omitting parts of the question.
  • DO NOT editorialize. Respond to what the question is calling for without injecting phrases like, “I believe, it’s my opinion that, or I think that.”
  • DO NOT “data dump” by dropping as many names, facts, dates, events, etc. A candidate only needs to respond to what the question is calling for in order to maximize points. Going beyond and trying to impress the reader with your overwhelming knowledge of a subject can be distracting.
  • DO NOT use historical examples. The questions a candidate are to respond to deal with contemporary political institutions and processes. Examples and evidence to support should come from as many contemporary political institutions and processes as possible.