FRQ it!

Today you are going to learn how to write a world-class Free Response Question (FRQ).

Follow along as we walk you through the 5 Rs of FRQ success!

  1. Relax!

  2. Read!

  3. o(R)ganize!

  4. (w)Rite!

  5. Review!


Relax!

Laughter helps me relax. Speaking of the 5 Rs...

Did you hear about the new Pirate Movie?

It's rated RRRRRRRRRRRR!

You are going to slay this Free Response Question (FRQ)! You are NOT writing an essay, there is no thesis, no introduction, no conclusion, and no need to freak.


Pro Tip: It’s easy, not essay.


So put all your essay anxiety away and get ready to FRQ it! It is true that there are a whole lot of words and numbers in an FRQ, but Instead of treating this like an essay, let’s think of it as a couple of (usually 3 or 4) short answer questions. Easy peasy. Now let’s attack the parts of the Free Response Question one at a time!


Read!

Before we write our non-essay, let's read the FRQ and try to figure out what to do!

Today we will be using the 2017 Free-Response Question #1 as our model for learning how to answer and FRQ. You can find every AP Government and Politics FRQ from 1999-2017 on AP Central.

Screen Shot 2017-10-26 at 9.28.16 AM.png

(o)Rganize!

Time to organize our response!

Our FRQ, like all FRQs, starts with a statement - not a question. We’ll call it the FR Statement. Here it is.

The Framers of the Constitution intended the Supreme Court to be politically insulated. Despite this intent, the Supreme Court is not completely insulated from political influences.

You can pretty much ignore the FR Statement, which is just telling you something you already know: The Supreme Court is insulated from politics. No? Really?!??!?!? OH MY GOLLY GOSH! Piece of cake! On to part (a)!


Pro Tip: If you are easily distracted, you might want to take a piece of paper and cover up all the parts of the question except for the part you are working on! Wait, what did you say?


(a) Describe one Constitutional provision that seeks to insulate the Supreme Court from public opinion.

Let’s start with this nifty little FRQ rule of thumb: CUT! We’re going to be FRQ surgeons and with every part of the FRQ we are going to CUT - Circle, Underline, and Translate!

Circle

The test is going to give you a little bit of help by starting each sentence with a Key Word that tells you both how to write and also how much to write. Thanks test!

Key Words that we find over and over again in the FRQs include

  • Describe
  • Identify
  • Explain

Circle the key word in part (a). Yes, you are going to actually write directly on the test booklet!


Pro Tip: Don’t be a baby. Write all over the actual test paper!!!!!!!


In part (a), the Key Word is Describe.

That’s simple! Describe is just a super-technical-political sciencey way to say - tell about. In the real world, if I said, describe your day, all I would be asking is for you to do is to tell me about your day. Real simple: Who, What, Where, and When stuff! NOT WHY!

Describe your day-

  • Who: I went to the park with Percy.
  • What: We were free-running when an eagle flew over us and when I finished my triple backflip, eagle poop landed on my head,
  • When: At four pm on the dot.
  • Where: My head, in the park.

Pro Tip: Don't Ask, Don't Tell. If they don’t ask for why, don’t tell them why! They’ll ask for it later! Save your strength!


Describe is way easy!

There is no why, no cause, no effect, no thesis statement about eagle poop, no grand statements about the nature of life, the first cause, etc. Just the facts!

In other words, when you are asked to describe you can relax! And here’s some more good news, when we describe we only have to write ONE sentence or TWO at most.


Pro Tip: This isn’t APUS, it’s not AP English Lit, it’s AP GoPo and you do NOT need to write a stupid thesis statement! It’s also NOT a limerick, so don’t write a limerick. Now get to work!


Underline

The Key Word is followed by the Key Number. Underline the Key Number.

In this case the number is one

Now that you have drawn a circle and an underline on your test you know how to write: describe - (tell about) and how much to write (1 thing). Piece of cake!


Translate

So far we know that we are going to tell one thing about something. But what exactly is that something? Let’s dig a little deeper. It’s time to Translate! Right now the question is dressed up in fancy-smancy politics test maker lingo to impress other test makers. Let’s tidy the question up and rewrite it in the vernacular (words you can actually understand)!

(a) Describe one Constitutional provision that seeks to insulate the Supreme Court from public opinion.

On the test paper, right below the question, rewrite part (a) in English! Yes, you are going to write right on the test paper! Don’t worry!

You might rewrite the question like this: Tell me 1 thing in the Constitution to keep people from having too much power over the Supreme Court.

And if you were Donald Trump, tweeting out the question in 140 characters you might write:

Failing Framers tried to stop the people from controlling my Court. BAD! #fakenews #Covfefe #potuswiththemostus

Now hold your horses. We’re not going to write our entire FRQ yet. We’re still just organizing and planning. On the actual test sheet, yes that test sheet, next to the actual part (a) list ONE thing in the Constitution keeping the people from having too much power over the Court. For example:

Supreme Court members serve for life.

And remember, we’re not explaining this or writing about how the Framers wanted to defeat the tyrannical King George or how, thanks to this constitutional provision, democracy has flourished for hundreds of years, or how the Athenians created the world’s first democracy! We’re going to just stick to the facts and keep it simple!


Pro Tip: the College Board counts on for what’s right, not off for what’s wrong. This is called value added grading. Worry more about what is right than what is wrong!


Now, let’s say you are kinda sure your answer is correct, but you are not 100% absolutely positively sure it’s right. When I go on a trip, I always take a spare tire, just in case I have a blowout or my car wheels are attacked by a prairie shark. So just in case our answer for part (a) is not right, let’s take a spare tire with us and add a second thing that keeps the people from having too much power over the Court:

Members of the Supreme Court are appointed instead of elected.

There, doesn’t that feel better. We’ve hedged our bets. If you want to keep yourself organized or get real fancy and impress your date you could (not required) make a cool little chart here:

Wow. Lookin’ good! But wait, do we add another spare tire - just in case?

Heck NO! We don’t have time, the trunk is already full, and I just ate! After all, we wouldn’t take 27 spare tires in our car, would we?! Where would we put the baby llamas??? Okay. We’re done for now with part (a). I feel better already.


Now let’s do the old Circle, Underline, Translate trick on part (b). Here’s the original hard-to-read part of the question/test maker pick up line.

(b) Identify a power exercised by the Supreme Court that acts as a check on another branch of the federal government.

Whatever!

CUT it out!

On the actual test paper Circle the Key Word.

Can you identify the Key Word? That’s right: Identify. On the actual test paper Circle Identify.

But wait, what does identify mean?

For example, could you identify the car in front of your house?

Sure you could: the car is purple (I hope not!); the car has four wheels (I hope so!); the car is full of baby llamas (road trip!) Identify simply means to tell about or describe. We all know how to do that!!  

And what is the Key Number in part (b)?

Yep, 1. Underline 1. And don’t forget, we’re going to take 1 spare tire with us again!

Now it’s time to Translate!

Imagine we wanted to translate from sad boring old-person-English into teenager speak (no emojis please). How would our google translate app translate the question from part (b)? Take a second and write it down on the test sheet right below the original part (b).

(b) Identify a power exercised by the Supreme Court that acts as a check on another branch of the federal government.

Here’s the Teenglish (Teen English) translation for you:

Name ONE Supreme Court power to check any part of the US government.

That’s easy!


Pro tip: whenever you see the term federal government, just rewrite it as: U.S. government.


Now that you have a question you can actually read, on the test paper right beside part (b) write down one check the SCOTUS has on the rest of the US government:

The Supreme Court has the power to declare a US government law unconstitutional

And don’t forget your spare tire.

The Supreme Court has the power to overrule presidential actions.

Okay, stop showing off! That’s enough.

If you are feeling super-motivated, you could (NOT required) make a nifty little chart here:

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Bravo, you nailed the landing! I’ve added a little flavor with my examples here. If you can think of an example that’s great. Unless specifically asked though, your answer is not required to contain an example, but if you have time, why not add a little flavor? That was easy. Now let’s move on to part (c) ya later!


Here’s the original stupid question

(c) explain how each of the following can limit the independence of the Supreme Court.

  • Congress

  • President

Now get out your imaginary scissors (even fake scissors should always be pointed down!), It’s CUT time. Let’s Circle, Underline and Translate.

Circle the key word. In part (c) the key word is Explain.

Explain tells you that you are going to have to write at least two sentences, maybe even three, because you are going to have to connect two things - we’ll call them Thing 1 and Thing 2. This is what we call, closing the loop.

  • How does Thing 1 connect to Thing 2?
  • How does Thing 2 impact Thing 1?

That’s going to take a couple of sentences to do!


Pro Tip: The College Board does NOT count off for spelling or grammar. They don’t count on for it either! Still, you don’t want to anger your FRQ scorer too much! “i no how to spill reel gud and eye alwys thenk meye A and P Engish techer!”


Now let’s Underline the Number Word.

In part (c) we also have been given a number word, EACH, which means we must write about BOTH Thing 1 (Congress) AND Thing 2 (President)!

Now, we know how we are going to write (explain) and how much we are going to write (2 or 3 sentences) and we also know we are going to write about both parts of part (c).

Now, it’s time to Translate

(c) explain how each of the following can limit the independence of the Supreme Court.

  • Congress

  • President

Below the actual words on the actual test, write your actual translation. For example:

How does Congress check the Court AND

How does the President check the Court

Remember part (b)? I don’t think I’ll ever forget it! In part (b) we identified how the Court can check the US government, now we’re going to explain how the US government can check the Court! No problemo. We’ll start with just the facts, and get around to the explaining part later. Go ahead and write your list on the test page.

Congress can Propose Constitutional Amendments

Let’s take a spare tire

Congress can impeach Supreme Court Justices.

And what about the President, you might ask?

President can refuse to enforce judicial decisions

And our spare tire

President can make public statements against court

Or, if you are feeling cocky, you could make a handy dandy little (completely optional) chart:

Screen Shot 2017-10-26 at 9.55.34 AM.png

And like in part (b) you could jot some examples down here on or beside the chart. Mic Drop!


Pro(noun) Tip: Don’t use pronouns! They can be confusing. If you are writing about Congress, write Congress, not it! If you are writing about the President, write the President, not him! Don’t be lazy. Remember: When in doubt, throw it (that pronoun) out! Pronouns are FAKE NEWS!


It’s part (d)-o’clock!

(d) Explain how the Supreme Court protects its political independence.

Time to CUT!

Circle the Key Word: Explain

Underline the Number Word: No quantity is indicated, so one should be enough

Translate: How does SCOTUS keep the public off its back?

You’re getting good at this! Ever think about being a seamstress or a surgeon?

On the honest-to-goodness, actual, real-life test paper, beside part (d) write a translation of the question:

How does SCOTUS stay independent from the public?

Then list two ways (one way plus one spare tire) SCOTUS stays independent:

Secret Deliberations

Spare Tire

No public recordings of Court proceedings

Awesome! Now remember, in our final draft we are going to explain how secret deliberations or the lack of public recordings of Court proceedings keep the Court independent. That’s going to take some thinking, and closing of the loop, and a bunch of sentences, but for right now, all we have to do is list or describe these things. Whoot!
 


(w)Rite!

At long last, it's time to write the actual answer on the actual test answer page!

So we just did a whole lot of stuff and it took some time but that’s okay! We don’t need to worry. We’ve done all the organizing and we’ve gotten down all the facts we need. Now all we have to do is to write our information down in sentences. Write Time is the Right Time! Let’s start with part (a). Remember the question from part (a)?

The Question

(a) Describe one Constitutional provision that seeks to insulate the Supreme Court from public opinion.

Remember the answers from part (a)?

The Facts

Supreme Court members serve for life

The Spare Tire

Members of the Supreme Court are appointed instead of elected.

Finally, let’s write. And here’s the beautiful thing. We don’t have to write much at all. We just have to put the question and the answers together!

All we are going to do is simply restate the question and supply the facts to answer it. This will take all of 1 sentence.

The Answer

Restate the Question + Supply the facts

Restated Question: One Constitutional provision that insulates the Supreme Court from public opinion is

+

Fact: Supreme Court members serve for life

The Winning Sentence

  • One Constitutional provision that insulates the Supreme Court from public opinion is the fact that Supreme Court members serve for life.

That wasn’t hard! Now you’re cooking with gas!


On to part (b).

The Question

(b) Identify a power exercised by the Supreme Court that acts as a check on another branch of the federal government.

The Facts

Court has the power to declare a US government law unconstitutional

The Spare Tire

The Court has the power to overrule presidential actions.

The Answer

Restate the Question + Supply the facts

Restated Question: One power of the Supreme Court that checks another branch of the US government

+

Fact: The Court has the power to declare a US government law unconstitutional and the Court has the power to overrule presidential actions

This time, because we are not 100% sure of our facts we are going to add in a spare tire.

+ Spare Tire: The Court has the power to overrule presidential actions.

The Winning Sentence

  • One power of the Supreme Court that checks another branch of the US government is that the court has the power to declare a US law unconstitutional and also the fact that the Court has the power to overrule presidential actions.

That wasn’t hard! And since we weren’t 100% sure, we added a spare tire, and it took all of an extra 20 seconds. Yay! 


Now let’s slay part (c). There are two parts of part (c) so let’s make sure we answer both parts!

The Question

(c) explain how each of the following can limit the independence of the Supreme Court.

  • Congress

  • President

Let’s start with the Congress part first!

The Facts

Congress can Propose Constitutional Amendments

The Spare Tire

Congress can impeach justices.

Our work will be a little harder this time because when you answer an EXPLAIN question you must write 2 of 3 sentences and you must make the connection (close the loop) between Thing 1 and Thing 2, by using one of the following words: because, which, therefore, thus, or a synonym - showing a connection between Thing 1 and Thing 2. This is what I call solving for why! Our job is to build a bridge connecting the two sides of the question!

The Answer

Restate the question: Congress can limit the independence of the Supreme Court

+

Connect Thing 1 and Thing 2: Congress → Court independence

+

Close the loop - using the word because, therefore, etc. build a bridge between the thing Congress does and the way it limits the Supreme Court’s independence to solve for why: By impeaching Justices, the Congress can limit the independence of the Court and stop them from doing exactly whatever they want, and hold them responsible to the will of the people. (And you can throw in an example to make your answer shine!)

The Winning Sentence

  • Congress can limit the independence of the Supreme Court by impeaching Justices which limits the court and stops the Court from doing exactly what they want. With the threat of impeachment, the Court may limit itself from making more radical rulings, and thus answers to the will of the people.

Now the President Part

The Facts

The President can refuse to enforce judicial decisions.

The Spare Tire

The President can make public statements to exert pressure on the Court

The Answer

Restate the question: The President can limit the independence of the Supreme Court

+

Connect Thing 1 and Thing 2: President → Court Independence

+

Close the loop - using the word because, therefore, etc. to build a bridge between the thing the president can do and the independence of the Supreme Court, thus solving for why: by refusing to enforce judicial decisions, the President can limit the independence of the Court and stop their ruling from actually being enacted. Famously, in the 1832 Court Case, Worcester v. Georgia, President Andrew Jackson refused to enforce the Marshall Court’s ruling on Indian removal, saying, “John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it!”

The Winning Sentence

  • The President can limit the independence of the Supreme Court by refusing to enforce judicial decisions. If the president does not enforce a Court ruling, it will not actually be enacted and thus has no real power. Famously, in the 1832 Court Case, Worcester v. Georgia, President Andrew Jackson refused to enforce the Marshall Court’s ruling on Indian removal, saying, “John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it!”

BOOOM! Now remember, the example is nice, but not necessary to get the point. What is necessary is that you explained how and why the thing the president does can limit the court. Yay! Now let’s finish this puppy with part (d)!


(d) Explain how the Supreme Court protects its political independence.

The Facts

The Court has secret deliberations

The Spare Tire

The Court controls its docket

Explain time: connect these facts to the independence of the court, close the loop, build a bridge between The thing the Supreme Court does and their independence, and write a couple of sentences to really solve for why. So think about it a second. If you were on the Supreme Court and no one had a video recording of your questions and comments about a case, and your deliberations were never broadcast on television or the internet, and there was no recording of how you reached your conclusion, wouldn’t that increase your independence and decrease the ability of the public to hold you responsible? I think it would. But for now we just want to jot down the basic ideas. Later, we’ll take those ideas and write them down in a couple of sentences.

The Answer

Restate the question: The Supreme Court stays independent from the government and the people

+

Connect Thing 1 and Thing 2: Court independence → from the government and people

+

Close the loop - using the word because, therefore, etc. build a bridge between the two sides of this question and solve for why: by having secret deliberations the Supreme Court can maintain its independence because it can limit the flow of information to the other branches and to the people and thus is more able to do what Court wants and limits the influence of others.

The Winning Sentence

By having secret deliberations the Supreme Court can limit the flow of information to the other branches and to the people, not revealing which justice voted which way, and maintaining its independence, and limiting the influence of others.

That was easy!!!!! Now let’s put all our winning sentences together into one big FRQ answer and we write it in our test booklet!!!!!! The End!


The Total Answer!

 

  • One Constitutional provision that insulates the Supreme Court from public opinion is the fact that Supreme Court members serve for life.

 

  • One power of the Supreme Court that checks another branch of the US government is that the court has the power to declare a US law unconstitutional and also the fact that the Court has the power to overrule presidential actions.

 

  • Congress can limit the independence of the Supreme Court by impeaching Justices which limits the court and stops the Court from doing exactly what they want. With the threat of impeachment, the Court may limit itself from making more radical rulings, and thus answers to the will of the people.

 

  • The President can limit the independence of the Supreme Court by refusing to enforce judicial decisions. If the president does not enforce a Court ruling, it will not actually be enacted and thus has no real power. Famously, in the 1832 Court Case, Worcester v. Georgia, President Andrew Jackson refused to enforce the Marshall Court’s ruling on Indian removal, saying, “John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it!”

 

  • By having secret deliberations the Supreme Court can limit the flow of information to the other branches and to the people, not revealing which justice voted which way, and thus is able to maintain its independence, limiting the influence of others.

 


Pro Tip: You should put a bullet point at the start of each section of your FRQ or you can write the letter at the beginning of each section. This is NOT mandatory, but I recommend you do this to increase your organization and make the reader’s job easier!


Review!

Before you turn in your FRQ let's answer some questions, review our pro tips, and make sure we've got all our ducks in a row!

That wasn’t so hard. Now answer some questions

  1. How long did it take you to plan:

  2. How long did it take you to write:

  3. How long did it take toal?

  4. How many sentences did you write?

  5. How many introductions, conclusions, and thesis statements did you write?

  6. Did you solve for why?

  7. How easy was that?

  8. Are you proud of yourself?

  9. What did you learn about writing a GoPo FRQ?


Before you turn in your FRQ make sure you followed all these pro tips!

  • Don’t rush

  • Plan and organize extensively!

  • Write all over that dagum test page!

  • CUT

  • When you explain - close the loop, build the bridge, and solve for why!

  • Don’t write an essay! No introduction, thesis, or conclusion!

  • Get to the point.

  • Restate the question.

  • Answer the question.

  • Give examples (if possible) and add a spare tire.

  • Bullet or letter your final FRQ.

  • Win!

Okay, Champion! Turn that FRQ in!

Check out the rubric (Scoring Guidelines) for the 2017 FRQ #1 to see how well you did!

And just for fun you can even check out actual student Sample Responses Q1 for the 2017 FRQ!