AP Macroeconomics Tips

The Ultimate List of AP Macroeconomics Tips

GDP, national budget, loanable funds market, macroeconomics equilibrium… if these terms fill you with dread or anxiety, you might be studying for the AP Macroeconomics exam. Even if you haven’t started studying yet, AP Macro may seem overwhelming at first. There are so many terms, graphs, and concepts you have to develop a deep understanding of. So how should you actually study? What should you focus on?

First, let’s take a look at the AP Macro exam’s 2015 score distributions to understand the level of difficulty of the exam a little better:

– 8% of test-takers earned a score of 5

– 22% received a score of 4

– 3% got a score of 3

– 5% earned a score of 2

– 4% received a score of 1

– (Fun fact: 18 test-takers out of 127,000 worldwide got a perfect score on the exam)

As you can see, a large portion of students (29.4%) only received a score of 1. However, over half (53.1%) of test-takers passed the exam. This means that although the AP Macro exam will be difficult, it is definitely doable. It will require dedication, motivation, and inspiration, but if you set out to pass the exam, you have a good chance of doing just that.

This ultimate list of 40 AP Macroeconomics tips will give you a crash-course on how to get the best possible score on the AP Macro exam. Read on for tips, strategies, hints, and important information you need to know to conquer the exam.

AP Macroeconomics General Exam Tips

1. Know the format of the AP Macroeconomic exam. You will have two hours and 10 minutes to complete the two parts of the exam: a 70-minute multiple-choice section and a 60-minute free-response section. The multiple-choice section is worth two-thirds of your final score and the free-response is worth one-third.

2. Watch macroeconomic review videos. Mr. Clifford from ‪ACDCLeadership has five units of macroeconomics videos covering everything from the production possibilities curve to the Phillips Curve, and from the money multiplier to international trade. These videos are fun, engaging, fast-paced, and humorous. If you ever need a break from reading, check out a few of his videos for a change of pace. Watching videos on certain topics is a great way to reinforce the concepts you’ve already learned, or show you a new way of looking at a concept you previously struggled with. Khan Academy also has several macroeconomics videos on topics covered in a traditional college level introductory macroeconomics course.

3. Be aware of the common mistakes. Learn from the mistakes of past test-takers! Over the course of several years, the most common errors students have made on the AP Macroeconomics exam include:

– Confusing the change in demand with the change in quantity demanded

– Mixing up change in supply with change in quantity demanded

– Not labeling graphs correctly, or not labeling them at all

– Not understanding the effects of Monetary Policy and Fiscal Policy on Interest Rate

– Not having a full understanding of:

— Money and Banking

— Long-Run Aggregate Supply

— International Economics

– Not knowing the difference between Real and Nominal

– Confusing comparative advantage calculations

– Not being able to distinguish between demand-pull inflation and cost-push inflation

4. Invest in a review book. If you haven’t bought an AP Macroeconomics review book yet, do it now! A common mistake is to wait until the weeks leading up to the exam to buy and use a review book. Don’t do this. AP review books are comprehensive, concise, and quick to flip through. Start using them at the beginning of the year. Most come with practice tests, helpful test-taking strategies, study guides, study plans, and more. Try 5 Steps to a 5, Barron’s, or REA’s Crash Course. Review books don’t just teach you what you need to know for the exam, but also what you need to know to pass the exam (which most textbooks ignore)!

5. Review all of the important graphs. On the AP Macro exam, you will have to interpret a wide variety of economic graphs on the multiple-choice section and draw them during the free-response section. Understanding these graphs is essential. Make sure you know how to correctly label, draw, and analyze each of these graphs:

– Production Possibilities Curve

– Supply and Demand

– Loanable Funds Market

– Money Market

– Foreign Exchange Market

– Aggregate Supply and Demand

– Phillips Curve

– Investment Demand

– Domestic/World Tariff

6. Review all the formulas you need to know. For the free-response and multiple-choice sections, you will need to know certain macroeconomic formulas, ranging from Real GDP to the unemployment rate, and from the tax multiplier to the GDP deflator. You can find a full, detailed list of all the formulas you need to know on The Economics Classroom website. Memorize these formulas and practice using them in the context of the AP Macro exam.

7. Study using flashcards. There are a lot of key terms you need to know for the AP Macro exam. Simply reading your textbook is not enough to learn and memorize these terms. You need to be actively and consistently looking at this words and gaining a better understanding of them. To do this, try flashcards! The Economics Classroom has great macroeconomics e-flashcards – 150 in all! You can study flashcards for a specific unit and shuffle through them. The definitions for each key term even include links to further definitions. Quizlet also has a list of 144 AP Macroeconomic vocabulary terms you need to know. Hand-write out your own flashcards to carry with you wherever you go. You can never be too busy for flashcards; you only need to go through a few for 10 to 15 minutes each day.

8. Follow macroeconomic blogs and social media accounts. It’s important to incorporate macroeconomics into your everyday life. However, this doesn’t mean you need to have your nose in a book all day everyday! Try following a few macroeconomics accounts on social media and read a few blogs on a daily basis. The simple act of seeing information in a different way can help you learn more than if you just read your textbook. “Like” Economy Watch on Facebook, follow AP Macroeconomics boards on Pinterest, track the #macroeconomics tag on Twitter, and follow blogs like Mr. Karmin’s AP Economics Blog or Steve Latter’s AP Macroeconomics Blog.

9. Use online study guides. Many teachers and students have created comprehensive AP Macro study guides that highlight the key information you should know for the exam, such as Charles Feng’s AP Macroeconomics and Dave Forrest’s AP Macroeconomics Study guide. Print these out and keep them in your binder or notebook. Make sure you review the information in these study guides regularly. Even if you’re already comfortable with a topic, don’t disregard it entirely. You should spend less time on topics you’re confident about, but still revisit those concepts from time to time.

10. Check out AP Macroeconomics Apps. Since you probably have your phone with you 24/7, why not download study material onto it? You can pull out your phone while on the bus, when sitting in waiting rooms, or whenever you have spare time and don’t want to drag your textbook or flashcards out. The best apps are not free, but you can get great apps for as low as $1.99. Try Jacob Clifford’s AP Macroeconomics Review (which has great reviews from past AP test-takers) or Double Bottom Line Partner’s AP Macroeconomics Exam Prep. Both come with a huge amount of multiple-choice questions, answer keys, explanations, and exam tips and strategies.

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AP Macroeconomics Multiple-Choice Tips

1. Know the format of the AP Macro multiple-choice section. You will have 70 minutes to answer 60 multiple-choice questions. This section counts for 66% of your entire exam score, so it is an extremely important part of the exam. You will be tested on your economic content knowledge, your economic reasoning skills, and how well you analyze different hypothetical situations.

2. Know the concepts covered on the exam. The College Board offers a topic outline in their AP Macroeconomics Course Description. The concepts in the table below are general, but the course description gives a more detailed outline, which you can look over for more specific information. Keep in mind what content areas make up the highest percentage on the multiple-choice section and what make up the lowest percentage. Plan your studying time wisely.

Content Area

Specific Concepts

Percentage of Multiple-Choice Section of Exam

Basic Economic Concepts – Scarcity, choice, and opportunity costs
– Production possibilities curve
– Comparative advantage, specialization, and exchange
– Demand, supply, and market equilibrium
– Macroeconomic issues: business cycle, unemployment, inflation, growth
Measurement of Economic Performance – National income accounts
– Inflation measurement and adjustments
– Unemployment
National Income and Price Determination – Aggregate demand
– Aggregate supply
– Macroeconomic equilibrium
Financial Sector – Money, banking, and financial markets
– Loanable funds market
– Central bank and control of the money supply
Stabilization Policies – Fiscal and monetary policies
– The Phillips Curve
Economic Growth – Definition of economic growth
– Determinants of economic growth
– Growth policy
Open Economy: International Trade and Finance – Balance of payments accounts
– Foreign exchange market
– Imports, exports, and financial capital flows
– Relationships between international and domestic financial and goods markets

Source: College Board’s AP Economics Course Description

3. Budget your time wisely. Since you must answer 60 multiple-choice questions in 70 minutes, you have just over a minute to spend on each question. As a general rule, there will be about 10 to 20 “easier” questions that you can spend less time on. The rest require analysis and synthesis which can make things much more complex. Answer the “easy” questions quickly to save time for the “harder” questions.

4. Be aware of the calculator policy. Calculators are NOT allowed on any part of the AP Macro exam. You will only be required to use basic math skills on the exam, so don’t even touch your calculator when working through practice multiple-choice questions.

5. Keep in mind standard multiple-choice strategies. Since the multiple-choice section on the AP Macroeconomics exam is so important, you should know some general techniques and tips on answering multiple-choice questions. Keep the following in mind:

– Answer EVERY question (no points are deducted for wrong answers)

– Use the process of elimination to narrow down the answer choices

– Pick a letter you will fill in (a, b, c, d, or e) if you have absolutely no idea what the answer is. Use this letter each time you cannot make an educated guess, or use the process of elimination. Odds are you will get at least some of these random selections right.

– Use other questions and answer choices to give you hints, or jog your memory, for questions you’re stuck on.

– Watch out for “EXCEPT” or “NOT” questions

– Don’t be afraid to underline, circle, and cross out

– Try to answer the question before reading the answer choices given.

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AP Macroeconomics Free Response Portion Tips

1. Know the format of the free-response section. On the AP Macro FRQ section, you will have three questions to answer in 60 minutes. This 60 minutes includes a 10-minute mandatory reading/planning period. You will have one long essay that makes up 50% of your free-response score, and two shorter essays which each count for 25% of your FRQ score. For all three of these essays, you will need to use your analysis and evaluation skills to connect different content areas. You may be asked to incorporate graphs or diagrams to show macroeconomic principles. Keep in mind that the free-response section counts for 33% of your entire AP Macroeconomics exam score.

2. Plan your answers! You will be given a 10-minute reading period to plan the answers to all three FRQs. Use this time wisely. Read and re-read the questions, analyze the problems and how you can solve them or explain them, then jot down a few points you want to touch on. Don’t spend time writing out a rough draft, but use these 10 minutes to understand the question and come up with a rough idea of what you want to say.

3. Label your graphs as clearly and fully as possible. Label, label, label. There should always be labels on your graphs. Be sure to label each axis, identify the curve on the graph, title your graph, show changes in curves with arrows, and whatever else you need to make sure your graph will be clear to the AP readers. You will lose points for not including correct, clear labels!

4. Label your answers according to the question prompt and answer them in the same order. Don’t make things confusing for you or the AP readers. Many of the AP Macroeconomics free-response questions are multi-part. This means that for one question, there will be parts (a), (b), (c), etc. If this is the case, label your answers as (a), (b), (c), etc. This will keep you on track and make sure that you don’t leave anything out or miss a question. It will also make it quicker and easier for the AP grader to look at your work. It’s also important to realize that each individual part is awarded credit independently, so you should, at least, attempt every part. If you can’t answer part (a) or if you give a wrong answer, you can still receive full credit for your answers to part (b) and part (c). Make sure to answer the parts in the correct order as well.

5. If the question asks you to draw a graph, draw a graph! You should always pay close attention to what the question is asking you to do. If the question explicitly tells you to draw a graph, you need to do this in order to receive full credit. However, if a question does not say anything about drawing a graph, you still can! Many test-takers struggle to explain their economic reasoning using the written word, especially when it comes to economic terminology. If you include a graph that shows that you know what you’re talking about, you could receive partial credit for showing that you understand the concept, even if the written word fails you. That being said, graphs are not meant to be a stand-alone answer. Don’t rely on drawing graphs to answer FRQs without offering written answers; this will not get you a high score!

6. Do not restate the question. You’ve probably spent a majority of your school life being told by teachers to always restate the question in your answers. Ignore this idea for the AP Macro exam. The AP graders know the questions inside and out; they don’t need to be reminded of what you are answering. Do not waste your valuable time restating the question in your answer. Get to the point right away.

7. Budget your time. Learning to budget your time on the AP Macro exam can mean the difference between a score of 3 and a score of 5. You need to spend an adequate amount of time on each FRQ since each of them is important. The first free-response question is the longest and counts for 50% of your FRQ section score. For this reason, you should spend half of your FRQ time on this essay. Use 5 or 10 minutes to read the question and understand the meaning, then devote 25 minutes to writing your answer. The remaining two FRQs are short and count for 25% of your free-response score. Spend a few minutes reading each question, then devote about 12 minutes to writing each of these FRQs.

8. Know the AP Macro buzzwords. The key buzzwords to look out for on the AP Macroeconomics free-response section include: Show, Identify, Calculate, and Explain. But how exactly should you answer each of these questions? Let’s find out:


How to Answer

Show For this type of question, you will need to diagram or graph a macroeconomic effect to illustrate your answer. Add as many correct labels as you can! (If you don’t add labels, you will not receive full credit for your answer.)
Identify If you are asked to identify something, you will need to provide a short, direct response. Do not add further explanations or elaboration. An “identify” response might be as simple as a list, a label on a graph, or a short sentence like “unemployment will rise.”
Calculate For “calculate” questions, you must apply a formula or mathematical operation to come up with a numerical response. Be sure to show your work!
Explain To answer an “explain” question, walk the reader through your economic reasoning. Include what will happen, and describe why or how it happens. You can include graphs and symbols in your answer. A good tip here is to make sure you include the word “because” in your answer.

9. Get your economic lingo down. You need to convince the AP Macro graders that you know what you’re talking about. This means that you absolutely must have your economic vocabulary down, especially for the FRQ section. What does this mean? Well, let’s take a look at a few examples:

– Instead of saying “went up,” say “increased.”

– Instead of saying “went down,” say “decreased.”

– Do not say that curves “move.” Say that curves “shift.”

– Curves do not shift up or down, they shift left or right.

– Use “money” correctly:

— “Money” should only be used when discussing Money Creation and Money Supply.

— Do not write “money” when you mean “income.”

— Do not write “money” when you mean “currency.”

Incorrect Lingo

Correct Lingo

“People bought more things with their money.” “Consumer spending increased.”
“People made more money.” “Households earned increased income.”
“The federal reserve made more money.” “The Federal Reserve increased the money supply.”
“The government spent more money to help the economy.” “The federal government pursued expansionary fiscal policy by increasing government spending in response to a recession.”

Source: JB’s Advanced Placement Macroeconomics

10. Practice, practice, practice. You will struggle on the AP Macro exam if you don’t practice. You must learn how to take the exam in order to maximize your score. The College Board website provides past AP Macro free-response essay questions, along with sample student responses, grading rubrics, and score distributions from 2003 to 2015. Start by reading through a few questions and their sample responses. Look at why a certain essay received a higher score than another essay. Then, try a few questions on your own without looking at the rubric or sample responses. Once you’re finished, compare your answers to the scoring guidelines and past student responses. What score would you give yourself? How can you improve? Did you leave anything out that you should’ve included? Did you over-complicate your answer? Check out Albert.io for practice FRQs with sample answers and a wide variety of practice multiple-choice questions.

Tips From AP Macroeconomics Teachers

1. Simplify the question. AP question writers will try to wrap simple concepts in unfamiliar language. For this reason, try to find out the question’s true meaning. Simplify it in your own words to get a better grasp of what the question is asking you.

2. Draw graphs to help with multiple-choice questions. Many of the multiple-choice questions will be complex. If you need to, draw a graph in the question booklet to help visualize a problem and find the solution, especially when it comes to multi-element questions. Thanks to Mr. T. from Spartanburg High School for the tips!

3. Aggregate Demand (AD) and Aggregate Supply (AS) are the heart of the exam. It is nearly impossible to pass the AP Macroeconomics exam without having a firm understanding of the AD/AS model. You will have to interpret, use, and draw graphs to prove your knowledge on the exam. The long FRQ will almost always require an AD/AS diagram. It’s also important to understand the relationship between the Keynesian model and the AD/AS models. Thanks to Mr. K. from East High School for the tip!

4. Know the best bets for the two short FRQs. More than likely, the two short free-response questions on the AP Macro exam will include one of the following topics:

– Exchange rates, foreign exchange markets, determinants of exchange rates

– Effect of a change in deposits in the banking system, using the money multiplier

– Causes and effects of changes to the nominal and real interest rates, highlighting the money market and loanable funds market

– Money market showing the effect of monetary policy

– Phillips Curve diagram showing the relationship between inflation and unemployment

Thanks to Mr. T. from Spartanburg High School for the tip!

5. Know the common topics for FRQ #1. The long free-response question could include topics from multiple units. You might see:

– AD/AS Model – 95% of the time.

– The Phillips Curve -55% of the time.

– Fiscal Policy- 55% of the time.

– Monetary Policy – 55% of the time.

– Loanable Funds – 25% of the time.

– FOREX – 25% of the time

– Growth Policy – 25% of the time.

6. Never use the words “maybe,” “probably,” or “might” in your FRQ response. You need to make a stand in your FRQs. Don’t try and cop your way out of making a choice by using wishy-washy words. You run the risk of contradicting yourself or appearing unsure if you do this. Thanks to Mrs. W. from Chatfield Senior High for the tips!

7. Explain concepts to yourself on paper. While you’re reading your textbook, review books, or watching videos, you should take notes. However, and this is going to sound like a broken record to many of you, make sure you’re writing notes in your own words. You need to be able to come up with explanations that speak your language so that you can re-process the information when you go back and study your notes. If you can’t explain a concept to yourself in writing, then you need to study the material further. Thanks to Mr. N. at Klein Oak High School for the tip!

8. Draw LARGE graphs. If you’re asked to draw a graph, make sure your “correctly labeled” graph is drawn large enough so that the AP graders can see your labels and the shifts and effects you’re trying to show.

9. You do NOT need to write paragraphs or even full sentences for your FRQ response. You should try and stay concise, clear, and succinct with your AP Macroeconomics free-response answers, so it’s not always necessary to include full sentences. However, use your best judgment and make sure to address the verb prompts (“identify,” “explain,” “calculate,” etc.). Thanks to Mr. E. from Fountain Valley High School for the tips!

Are you a teacher? Do you have an awesome tip? Let us know!

Tips From Previous AP Macroeconomics Students

1. Read Naked Economics. While this book won’t necessarily get you a 5 on the exam, you’ll gain a solid intuitive understanding of important economic concepts. It’s a really interesting read and helps break up the monotony of dry textbooks.

2. Practice over and over again. I found that practicing multiple-choice questions and FRQs over and over again made me better at answering them. The exam can only ask you so many questions in so many ways, so you may see familiar questions on the exam.

3. Watch No Bull Economics Lessons on YouTube. They have detailed, yet simple, explanations of all the graphs you need to know for AP Macro. If you study anything for the exam, study the graphs!

4. Videos are helpful! I had a really hard time digesting information that I was reading from the textbook. I feel that AP Macroeconomics is a course that really needs to be learned visually. Reading from a book and trying to interpret graphs after that is difficult. That’s why videos are so helpful. Search YouTube for macroeconomics concepts you’re struggling with; this can be a lifesaver!

5. Don’t be afraid to draw AD/AS graphs in the test booklet to help answer multiple-choice questions. Visualizing the problem is really helpful when trying to answer a tricky question.

6. Know the recurring themes. As I skimmed over all the past free-response questions, I found a few recurring themes that you should definitely go over before the exam:

– Price level

– Output

– Comparative/Absolute advantage

– Interest rates

– Exchange Rates

– Aggregate Supply & Demand Graph

– Fiscal policy


– Long-run & Short-run aggregate supply

Are you a student? Do you have an awesome tip? Let us know!

The AP Macroeconomics exam will not be a walk in the park. In fact, you will have to have a firm understanding of macroeconomics terms and know how to connect them together, know how to draw and analyze several different types of economics graphs, and be able to answer complex word problems in both multiple-choice and free-response formats. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and frustrated, especially when you’re in the midst of preparing for the exam. However, if you learn the material, gain a deeper understanding of it, and know how to apply this knowledge to different situations, you will be ready to conquer the AP Macro exam. If you keep in mind these 40 tips when studying and taking the exam, and put in the hard work, you are set to earn that coveted score of 5!

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