4 How to Approach Each Question Type
STEP 3 Develop Strategies for Success
IN THIS CHAPTER
Summary: Knowing and applying question-answering strategies helps you succeed on tests. This chapter provides you with many test-taking tips to help you earn a 5 on the AP Psychology exam.
Read the question carefully.
Try to answer the question yourself before reading the answer choices.
Guess, if you do not know the answer. You are not penalized for guessing.
Drawing a picture may help you.
Don’t spend too much time on any one question.
Think PEST! Paragraph, Examples, Stay in order, and Time.
Write clearly and legibly.
Answer the question!
Segment the question into parts that will earn a credit.
Leave out complex introductions and summary paragraphs.
Allot about 20 minutes for each question.
Section I: Multiple-Choice Questions
You’ve undoubtedly taken final exams before. What did you do that enabled you to succeed on the exams where you earned your highest scores? Probably doing similar preparation for your AP Psychology exam will pay off. If you relaxed the night before the exams, watched TV, or spent time with friends, that may be most productive for you. I always found it most productive for me to review note cards I made with important definitions, important themes, major issues, key research studies, and notable names written in small letters on them. As you use this review book, you may want to make your own note cards—or not!
Every multiple-choice question has three important parts:
1. The stem is the basis for the actual question. Sometimes this comes in the form of a fill-in-the-blank statement, rather than a question.
Example: Psychometricians are psychologists who:
Example: How do SSRIs work?
2. The correct answer option. Obviously, this is the one selection that best completes the statement or responds to the question in the stem. Making good use of this book will help you choose lots of correct answer options.
3. Distractor options. Just as it sounds, these are the four incorrect answers intended to distract the person who doesn’t know the concepts being assessed.
Some students who do well on multiple-choice exams are so well prepared that they can easily find the correct answer, but other students do well because they are savvy enough to identify and avoid the distractors. Much research has been done on how to best study for, and complete, multiple-choice questions. There are no foolproof rules for taking the exam, but here are some heuristics (“rules of thumb”) that are usually helpful:
1. Carefully read the question. This sounds pretty obvious, but you would be surprised how often test takers miss words that can change the meaning of a question, such as not, all, always, never, except, least or least likely, and rarely.
Example: Which of the following is least likely to be part of a reflex arc?
(A) an afferent neuron
(B) a sensory receptor
(C) a voluntary muscle
(D) cells of the adrenal glands
(E) cells from the occipital cortex
Someone who misses the word least might choose the first answer without looking any further. Over half the students who answered this question on a class test got it wrong because they did just that.
2. Words like never and always are called absolute qualifiers. If these words are used in one of the choices, it is rarely the correct choice. If you can think of even a single instance where the statement is untrue, then you have discovered a distractor and can eliminate it as the correct answer.
3. Before looking at the answer options, try to visualize the correct answer. Then look for that answer among the distractors. If that answer isn’t there, see if you can find an answer option that means the same as your answer.
4. Write in your booklet. Make notes to yourself in your question booklet whenever you think it would be helpful. Highlight or underline words that can change the meaning of a question. Jot down words or draw a quick sketch in the margin.
5. Answer the questions in order if you can do them in a reasonable amount of time. Multiple-choice questions on AP exams are arranged in order of difficulty according to pretest data. If you spend a ridiculous amount of time on one question, you will feel your confidence and your time slipping away. Mark any question you skip in your booklet so that you can easily come back to it after you’ve finished all of the other questions. Be sure to skip the corresponding answer row on your answer sheet. You have an average of about 45 seconds to answer each question. Perhaps a question later in the exam will provide information or a retrieval cue that will enable you to answer the question you originally skipped. Go back to questions you skipped after doing all the other questions. Put your answers on the answer sheet.
6. Don’t “overthink.” Some of the questions may be easy for you to answer. Answer them and move on. Don’t think that they are too easy. What is easy for you may be difficult for other people.
7. Yes, you absolutely should guess. Students who took the AP Psychology exam used to get penalized for wrong answers, but this is no longer the case. Because your Section I raw score equals the number of correct responses, you might improve your score by guessing on the questions you aren’t sure of. You will probably have some idea about the concept being tested, so the odds are that you’ll be able to eliminate at least some of the answer choices and improve your chances of guessing correctly. Even if you don’t know anything about the concept and can’t eliminate answer choices, you should still guess. You can’t get any credit for an answer you leave blank, so don’t leave any blanks on your answer sheet.
8. Change an answer only if you have a good reason for the change.
9. Time flies. Keep an eye on your watch as you pass the halfway point. If you are running out of time and you have a few questions left, skim them for the easy (and quick) ones so that the rest of your scarce time can be devoted to those that need a little extra reading or thought.
Other things to keep in mind:
• Take the extra half of a second required to clearly fill in the bubbles.
• Don’t smudge anything with sloppy erasures. If your eraser is smudgy, ask the proctor for another.
• Absolutely, positively, check that you are bubbling the same line on the answer sheet as the question you are answering. I suggest that every time you turn the page you double-check that you are still lined up correctly.
Section II: The Free-Response Questions
Free-response questions on the AP Psychology exam may differ from the essay questions you’ve answered in other subjects. High interrater reliability, the extent to which two or more scorers evaluate the responses in the same way, is very important on the AP exam because you should get the same score no matter who reads your paper. Because only your own teacher ordinarily grades your classroom tests, this is not usually of importance. One aspect of ensuring high interrater reliability is by creating questions that have specific, correct answers that raters look for in scoring. The scoring guidelines are rubrics that are written and followed for each free-response question.
When approaching each FRQ, think of the acronym PEST. It stands for
• Paragraph. Always write in paragraph format; no bullet points or incomplete sentences.
• Examples. Always support your definition with clear examples that are comprehensible to the reader. Do not use examples like “the time in class when my teacher did . . .” Often the definition alone won’t give you a point; you’ll need an example or application to score the point.
• Stay in order of the question. If you don’t know all the parts of the question, leave a space for the part(s) you aren’t answering. This will enable the reader to follow your train of thought; you can still get a point if you miss naming a term but describe it. Your answer will be scored in the context of how the question was ordered.
• Time. Be aware of how much time you have for each question. Read both questions first and allocate approximately 22 minutes for each question. The 22 minutes should include a 5-minute window at the end to check your answer and add supporting evidence or make any final changes.
Although there are no magic pills to enable you to answer the free-response questions perfectly, let’s look at some possible strategies for maximizing your score:
1. Read both essay questions to get a quick idea of the topics you’ll need to recall. Directly jot down some key terms that serve as retrieval cues for you.
2. Note the time and allot about half the remaining minutes to each question. Stick to the time you’ve allotted for your first question so that you’ll have adequate time to answer the second one.
3. Read the question again carefully. Underline or highlight key words. Say the question to yourself in your own words. Be sure you know what the question is asking. (If you are not sure, read the question again.)
4. See if you can segment the question into parts that will earn a credit. Generally, each question has 6 to 12 segments which each earn a credit. For example, if you are asked to differentiate between proactive and retroactive interference and give an example that illustrates each, you can segment the question into four points:
Point 1—Define proactive interference.
Point 2—Define retroactive interference, indicating clearly how it is different from proactive interference.
Point 3—Give an example of proactive interference.
Point 4—Give an example of retroactive interference.
5. No matter how much you write, you cannot get more than the one point allotted for any segment. Scorers look for an adequate answer for the point and move on. So should you!
6. No matter how brilliant an introduction you write, or what a great closing paragraph you create, if it doesn’t answer a segment of the question, you will not earn credit for it. So, do NOT spend any time writing an introductory paragraph or a concluding paragraph. Do NOT spend time rewriting the question as an introductory statement. Start by answering the first question segment, and finish by answering the last question segment.
7. Write complete sentences. You cannot earn any points for a list or an outline. Unless you are specifically told that you can provide a graph, table, or diagram in your answer, you will NOT earn any credit for one.
8. Even if you are not sure of something that you think might possibly earn a credit, write it. You may get credit for it. Unless you are contradicting something else that you said, you will not have points subtracted for saying something wrong.
9. Write your answers clearly and legibly in dark blue or black ink. If you are equally comfortable printing or writing in script, print your answers. Readers appreciate easy-to-read answers. Put a line through anything you want to cross out. Do NOT waste time blackening out, erasing, or “whiting” out.
10. You don’t need to get full credit in order to get a 5 on the AP exam. The better you do on the multiple-choice section, the more leeway you have for your essays.
“I was so ’time-tied’ by the time I finished the first essay that if I hadn’t scribbled some thoughts for the second question as soon as I got my paper, I’m sure I wouldn’t have gotten that 5 on the exam!”
—Jessica, former AP student
“Vocabulary is the key to doing well. If you know the right terms, define them, and apply them to the question, you’ll probably get most of the points. That’s how I got a 5.”
—Amanda, former AP student