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Ultimate Guide to the Macroeconomics AP Exam

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It’s no secret to most high school students that Advanced Placement (AP) courses and exams are administered each year under the oversight of the College Board, representing the equivalent of a college-level course. While the majority of students enroll in these courses to prepare for their AP exams, many other students self-study for the exams without enrolling in the actual AP classes.

The Macroeconomics AP exam is one of the APs most commonly taken as a self-study test. Although many students enroll in the actual class, this particular exam is also well-suited to self-studying due to its heavy emphasis on vocabulary and highly specific theory. If you are interested in taking the Macroeconomics AP exam, whether you have taken the class or are planning to self-study, read on for a breakdown of the test and CollegeVine’s advice for how you can prepare for it.

About the Exam

The Macroeconomics AP exam measures your knowledge of macroeconomics principles. These include your economic content knowledge and ability to reason within the discipline. You should be able to analyze hypothetical situations, graphic representations, and unique scenarios using core course concepts. The most successful students will use correct and precise terminology and have in-depth knowledge of effective graph use with particular attention to labeling graphs clearly, correctly, and fully.

There is a good amount of overlap between the Macroeconomics AP exam and the Microeconomics AP exams. In terms of core content, you will often need to understand the principles of one to explain the principles of the others. For this reason, it is a good idea to take both AP exams if you can. If your high school only offers one econ AP, you can self-study for the other if you have good study habits and the right study materials. Forming a study group with other econ classmates is also a great idea. Keep in mind, credit and advanced standing based on AP scores varies widely from school to school. Regulations regarding which APs qualify for course credits or advanced placement at specific colleges and universities can be found here

The Macroeconomics AP exam is one of the shorter AP exams, clocking in at just 2 hours and 10 minutes. It is comprised of two sections. The first section takes 1 hour and 10 minutes, contains 60 multiple choice questions, and account for 66% of your total score. The second section takes an hour, contains three free-response questions, and accounts for 33% of your score. In the free-response section, there will be one longer question worth 50% of your section score, and 2 shorter questions each worth 25% of your section score.

In 2016, 55.7% of students who took the Macroeconomics AP received a score of 3 or higher. Only 16.1% of students received the top score of 5, while 26.8% scored a 1 on the exam. These results are highly skewed by a particularly difficult free-response question about loans/demand deposits, on which 40% of test takers earned zero points. Typically, the average free-response answer receives at least half the available points on any given prompt.   

A full course description that can help to guide your studying and understanding of the knowledge required for the test can be found in the College Board course description, located here.

Read on for tips for preparing for the exam.

Step 1: Assess Your Skills

It’s important to start your studying off with a good understanding of your existing knowledge. To learn more about the importance of formative assessments and how you can use one to get your studying off on the right foot, check out the CollegeVine article What Is a Formative Assessment and Why Should I Use One to Study?

Although the College Board Macroeconomics AP website provides a number of sample test questions, it does not provide a complete sample test. There are, however, two complete practice tests with scoring guides provided on the College Board Macroeconomics AP teacher website. One is a released exam from 1995, available here, and the other is a released exam from 2012, available here. You can find a practice test in many of the official study guides, and some even include a diagnostic test to act as your initial assessment.

Step 2: Study the material

The material on the Macroeconomics AP exam includes basic economic theory and the greater principles of economics that apply to the economic system as a whole. The exam covers the following major content areas:

  • Basic Economic Concepts
  • National Income and Price Determination
  • Financial Sector
  • Stabilization Policies
  • Economic Growth
  • Open Economy

This is not an exhaustive summary of everything you’ll need to know, but it should give you a good idea of the foundational theory for which you’ll be held responsible on the exam.

For a more specific idea of where to focus your studying, consider using a formal study guide. Princeton Review’s Cracking the AP Economics 2017 is a very comprehensive guide and potentially saves you some money by including both macro and microeconomic AP theory, since many students go on to take both. Some criticize this guide for having too much information, but it can be used effectively as a textbook rather than a concise study guide. For information that is presented more concisely, you might consider using the AP® Macroeconomics Crash Course Book. Although it has not been updated since 2011, the book continues to receive strong reviews for its clarity and precision and the exam has not been changed since then.

There are also a number of free study resources available online. Many AP teachers have posted complete study guides, review sheets, and test questions. You can find one such comprehensive study guide available here and another one here. If you are more of visual learner, there is also a series of YouTube videos produced by high school econ teachers that cover many of the basic principles on the exam. You can access those online here.    

Another new, fun way to study is to use one of the recently developed apps for AP exams. These range in price from $0.99 to $4.99, but they provide a fun and easy way to quiz yourself. Make sure you read reviews before choosing one – their quality varies widely.

Step 3: Practice Multiple Choice Questions

Once you have your theory down, test it out by practicing multiple choice questions. You can find these in most study guides or through online searches. You could also try taking the multiple choice section of another practice exam.

The College Board Course Description includes many practice multiple choice questions along with explanations of their answers. As you go through these, try to keep track of which areas are still tripping you up, and go back over this theory again. Focus on understanding what each question is asking and keep a running list of any vocabulary that is still unfamiliar.

Step 4: Practice Free Response Questions

When writing your free-response answers, keep in mind that these are not comprehensive essays, and you have limited time for completing them. Therefore, it is not necessary to write introductions or to restate the question in your response. Instead, clearly label your answers and each part of them, and write in complete, concise sentences.

Most of the free-response prompts will have multiple parts to them. Underline each section of the question and check the sections off as you answer them. Students often lose points by forgetting to include one part of a multipart question. Also, be sure that each part is explicitly labeled in your answer. For example, write 1(a), 1(b), 1(c), etc. to denote each section of your answer.

Another common area where students lose points on the free-response section of the Macroeconomics AP exam is student-produced diagrams or graphs. You will need to make produce graphs and diagrams that clearly indicate the information you are conveying. Be sure to label all axes and curves clearly and show directional changes. 

For more information about how free-response questions are scored, and to see where points are commonly lost, be sure to check out the College Board’s extensive collection of student samples and scoring explanations.

Step 5: Take another practice test

As you did at the very beginning of your studying, take a practice test to evaluate your progress. You should see a steady progression of knowledge, and it’s likely that you will see patterns identifying which areas have improved the most and which areas still need improvement.

If you have time, repeat each of the steps above to incrementally increase your score.

Step 6: Exam day specifics

In 2017, the Macroeconomics AP Exam will be administered on Wednesday, May 12 at 12 PM.   

For complete registration instructions, check out CollegeVine’s How to Register for AP Exams (Even If You Didn’t Take the Class).

For information about what to bring to the exam, see CollegeVine’s What Should I Bring to My AP Exam (And What Should I Definitely Leave at Home)?

For more about APs, check out these CollegeVine posts


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Kate Sundquist
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.