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Getting Comfortable with FRQ Types

Updated: Apr 21

As you're entering the last month before the AP Exam, your students are probably feeling pretty good about the multiple choice questions, but the FRQs are still causing that knot of worry in their stomachs. What if they don’t know what to write? At this point, you know you’ve covered the content in the CED, but what can you do to alleviate this stress they’re feeling? Here’s my solution: FRQ Focus Studies!

So what is a focus study exactly? If we look through the past AP exam questions on AP Central, we as teachers tend to notice that there are certain “types” of FRQs that tend to appear each year: 1) Rate In/Rate Out, 2) Graphical Stem, 3) Tabular, and 4) Differential Equations to name a few. While we have years of seeing these same types of questions, our students are facing these for the first time. So, let’s share the benefit of our experience with them and give them a look from our perspective.

Here we go…


It doesn’t really matter which type you choose or the order that you explore them. If you notice that your students seem to struggle with FRQs that involve tables, start there! Once you have made this decision, it’s time to find some FRQs for them to analyze. The Calc Medic FRQ Search Tool is the perfect way to find 3-4 FRQs that fit the bill! Organize these into a document and it’s time to practice!


At this point, students are craving any insight you can give them for exam day. So be transparent and tell them that the type of FRQ they are about to see has shown up on the exam ____ of the last 10 years! These confidence boosters will do wonders! I usually start the study by pretending they have never seen an FRQ of this type before. We walk through the question step by step, and I allow them to talk to each other about what they would write if this were the “real thing”. Within 15-20 minutes, we have constructed a strong response that would earn a 9 at the reading! Now that they have some confidence, move on to your second practice FRQ. Have them complete it with a partner and let them discuss each step. When they’re ready, turn them all into AP readers and reveal the scoring guideline! They will begin to notice that the second FRQ is not identical to the first but certainly has some commonalities. This is a strong foundation to build on! In addition to the insight gained by comparing and contrasting the two questions, your students will also start to recognize patterns in what earned points and what did not. That is the true gold nugget in this experience! The third FRQ can be done the same day or you could wait a day or so to continue. This one they should do on their own, ideally timed for 15 minutes. Again, when it’s over, let them be the AP readers that score their own (or each other’s) responses and learn from their mistakes. The fourth (and final) FRQ is a practice one for them to complete on their own in preparation for the quiz that is to come.


This final step is where the deal is sealed! Choose one more FRQ to determine if they have learned how to handle this type of question on their own. You could use another released FRQ or better yet, go to AP Classroom and find one that is housed there (along with the scoring guidelines). If you’re feeling it, try writing your own! I usually wait to give this assessment for a few days after completing the study, just to let the ideas percolate in their minds. Also, these mini-quizzes usually are only worth 9 points–not a significant grade changer–but seeing the improvement that has happened over the course of a few days will build confidence in your students for the real thing!

All done? Now repeat with another “type” until the AP exam arrives! One caveat…this process will become tedious to your students very quickly if you don’t sprinkle in other activities not related to FRQs along the way (see the Calc Medic review guide for great ideas!). In this way, there will always be an undercurrent of FRQ study while you are keeping them interested with card sorts, Desmos activities, and other fun review tools. And when exam day arrives, you will see smiling students emerging from that exam room because they will know that they rocked their FRQs!

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