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Ultimate Guide to the Microeconomics AP Exam

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Advanced Placement (AP) courses and exams are administered each year under the oversight of the College Board. Although most students enroll in these courses to prepare for AP exams, many others will self-study for the exams without enrolling in the AP class. The Microeconomics AP exam is one of the APs most commonly taken as a self-study test. While many students do 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.

There is also a good amount of overlap between the Microeconomics AP exam and the Macroeconomics AP exam. As far as core content, you will need to understand the basic principles of both to be successful on either exam. For this reason, it is not a bad idea to take both Econ AP exams as a way of maximizing your time and studying efficiency. If your high school only offers one Econ AP, you may choose to self-study for the other. Forming a study group with other Econ classmates is a great way to motivate and stay on track.

If you are interested in taking the Microeconomics 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 on how you can prepare for it.

About the Exam

The Microeconomics AP exam measures your knowledge of the nature and function of product markets, factor markets, and government in the economy. According to the College Board, the purpose of the Microeconomics AP is to “give students a thorough understanding of the principles of economics that apply to the functions of individual decision makers, both consumers and producers, within the economic system.” Whereas macroeconomics focuses on the economy at the national level, microeconomics focuses on it at the individual, group, or company level.

The Microeconomics AP is currently undergoing review. Though no changes have been announced, and no changes will occur for at least two years following an official announcement, current proposals would clarify the course content and increase its depth while decreasing its breadth of core content. More information about the proposed changes can be found here.

The Microeconomics AP exam is one of the shorter AP exams, consisting of two sections and clocking in at two hours and 10 minutes. The first section takes one hour and 10 minutes to complete and is composed of 60 multiple choice questions worth 66% of your score. The second section, worth 33%, takes one hour and is comprised of three free-response essays. Of these, there is one longer question worth 50% of your section score, and 2 shorter questions each worth 25% of your section score.

In 2016, 67.3% of students who took the Microeconomics AP received a score of 3 or higher. This makes it among the higher scoring AP tests, with scores only falling below those of Physics, Calculus, Studio Arts, and foreign languages. Only 17.8% of students received the top score of 5, while 19% scored a 1 on the exam. 

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

Read on for tips on preparing for the exam.

Step 1: Assess Your Skills

Take a practice test to assess your initial knowledge. This is called a formative assessment. 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?

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. You can also find previously released exams with scoring explanations to guide your studying. The 1995 exam can be found here, the 2008 exam can be found here, and the 2012 exam can be found here.

Step 2: Study the theory

In the case of the Microeconomics AP, you will need to master the basic economic principles along with specific microeconomic theory. This includes the following broad concept areas:

  • Basic economic theory
  • Nature and functions of product markets
  • Factor markets
  • Market failure and the government’s role

For a more specific breakdown of the content above, check the College Board’s Course Description.

You will likely need some study resources to help you as you tackle this content. 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 if you consider it more of a textbook rather than a concise study guide. For information that is presented more concisely, you might consider the AP® Microeconomics Crash Course Book. Though it has not been updated since 2011, it continues to receive strong reviews for its clarity and precision.

There are also tons of study resources available online, including many from AP teachers who have posted comprehensive outlines and study guides. One 18-page comprehensive study guide can be found here. Another is available here.       

Additionally, a 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 a practice exam. Many samples questions with answers and explanations can be found in the official course description. Try to keep track of which concepts and vocabulary are still tripping you up, and go back over this material again.

Step 4: Practice Free Response Questions

To effectively master the free response section of your Microeconomics AP, you should have a good understanding of what task verbs you will commonly encounter, and precisely what each is asking you to do. The College Board provides the following task verbs and definitions:

“Show” means to use a diagram to illustrate your answer. Correct labeling of all elements including the axes of the diagram is necessary to receive full credit.

“Explain” means to take the reader through all of the steps or linkages in the line of economic reasoning. Graphs and symbols are acceptable as part of the explanation.

“Identify” means to provide a specific answer that might be a list or a label on a graph, without any explanation or elaboration.

“Calculate” means to use mathematical operations to determine a specific numerical response, along with providing your work.

Keep in mind when writing your free-response answers that these are not comprehensive essays and you have limited time for completing them. The Microeconomics AP exam tests specific theory and your ability to apply it; as such, it is unnecessary to write lengthy introductions or to verbosely restate the question. 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 them off as you answer them. Many students lose points by forgetting to answer 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 note each section of your answer.

Another common tripping point on the free-response section of the Microeconomics AP exam is student-produced diagrams or graphs. You will need to make produce graphs and diagrams that clearly show what you’re being asked to produce. 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 you’ve accumulated, 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 Microeconomics AP Exam will be administered on Friday, May 12 at 8 AM.   

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)?


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For more about APs, check out these CollegeVine posts

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.