Free-Response Questions

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The AP Psychology National Exam

Essay Questions Guide

You’ll be asked to do two “Free-Response Questions” on the National AP Psy Exam. The following are important tips to remember when writing your responses.

  • Write in complete sentences!

  • Write in paragraph form and follow the order of the question.

  • Use the appropriate terms.

  • Underline prominent terms, helps the reader know you know it.

  • Don’t assume anything. Explain fully.

  • Pretend reader knows nothing about the subject.

  • Better to write more than less, but don’t overkill.

  • No points taken off for wrong statements.

  • Points given for correct statements.

  • Only one reader will read your essays

  • It’s not enough just to identify terms/concepts, explain them.

  • Grammar and spelling don’t count.

  • If you want a 4 or 5, you’ve got to do better than average on the objective and nail at least one essay and get partial credit on the other essay. (Or gain some points on both essays).

  • Every essay has a very strict rubric (scoring guide) that awards points for various information.

Sample Questions & Analysis: 1998

Question 1: Read the following abstract of a student research project on bystander intervention and then answer the questions that follow. (12 points)
The ten participants in the study were unaware of its purpose. The first five who signed up to be tested were assigned to the Alone condition and the next five were assigned to the With Others condition. The Alone condition was run in the morning and the With Others condition in the afternoon.
In the Alone condition, each of the five participants was asked to wait alone in a room. While the participant waited, a female voice in the next room screamed out, asking for help. In the With Others condition, each one of the five participants was asked to wait in a room with several confederates of the researcher. During this period, a male voice in the next room screamed out, asking for help.
In each condition, the percentage of participants who responded to the cry for help was recorded.

  1. Identify the independent and dependent variables in this study.

  1. Identify four flaws in the design of this study and the recommendations you would make to correct these flaws.

  1. Discuss an ethical issue raised by the design of this study.

  1. Use your knowledge of research in social psychology to describe the likely results of this study if correct methodology had been used.


Sample Response (Billy’s)
The independent variable is the variable which is manipulated by the experimenter to produce an effect on the dependent variable, which is the variable being measured. In this experiment, the independent variable is the condition of the participant when the cry for help is heard: either alone or with others. The dependent variable is the percentage of participants who respond to the cry for help.

One experimental flaw is in the assignment of conditions by the experimenters. Since the first five participants were assigned to one group and the second five to another, the two different groups may not be entirely random. Factors such as proximity to testing center, availability of transportation, tendency toward punctuality, or interest in the experiment may have led some participants to arrive earlier, and by placing all these participants in one group the group may tend to have certain characteristics not representative of the general population. To correct this, each participant could have drawn a paper from a hat to randomly determine his group, or else the participants could have been assigned groups on an alternating basis.

The second flaw is that the two conditions were run at different times during the day. Factors such as fatigue or hunger or comfort due to temperature may cause different outcomes, thus providing a confounding variable which must be removed to firmly establish a relationship between the independent and dependent variable. Also, information from the morning group about the experiment may be passed onto the afternoon group, thus altering the results. To correct this, both groups should be tested at the same time of day.

A third flaw is that the Alone condition responded to a female voice while the With others group responded to a male voice. Different genders may respond differently to each other; for example, males may be more inclined to help females. To correct this, the cry for help should always be male (or female) for all participants. Alternately, an equal number of male and female cries could be used, with the gender of the cries being randomly chosen for each participant.

The final flaw in this experiment is in the small sample size. Only ten subjects were tested, meaning that results may not be generalizable to the whole population because these few subjects may have individual differences from the general population that affect the outcome . To correct this, a much larger sample should be used.

An ethic issue missed by this study is the feelings of guilt a participant who did not respond may feel upon learning the purpose of the experiment, which is not told in advance to the participants. This person may feel inferior to those who did respond, respond to his/her actions with feelings of self-reproach or blame. Such psychological trauma may lead to serious disorders, such as depression. Thus, care must be taken by the experimenter to carefully debrief the participants and monitor their mental health following the experiment.

The likely results of this study would be that those participants tested in the Alone condition would be more likely to respond to the cry for help than those in the With others condition. This is known as the bystander effect. In a group, diffusion of responsibility occurs in which each individual doesn’t take action because s/he assumes another member of the group will. Such tendencies were evidenced in the murder of Kitty Genovese, a woman who was raped and murdered in new York City while several bystanders in an apartment building took no action to help her.


ample Response (Mary’s)
The excerpt from an abstract of a student research project on bystander intervention outlines the procedures used in the experiment noting a random assignment by which the first five people who volunteered were labeled as the “Alone” condition whereas the next five were assigned to the “with others” condition. The independent variable that could be manipulated in this experiment would be the number of people assigned to be “Alone” or “with others”. The dependent variable would be the recorded percentage of the participants who responded to the cry for help. This experiment is laced with many flaws, including volunteer biases and the basis that it is not a representative sample, that is, not representative of the population in regard to such elements as race and gender. The student failed to recognize the need for a representative sample, the need for more trials is also present, as well as there being no control group. There also could be some experimenter effects interfering as well, with the “with others” condition being grouped with several confederates of the researcher. Also a larger sample, versus just ten participants would have aided in seeing a possible correlation between the “Alone” or “with others” condition and the pleas for help. All in all, there were too many confounding variables in this experiment, with a nonrepresentative sample, possible volunteer biases, not enough trials, as well as the questions that arise as a result of the gender of the person crying for help, all this with the nonexistence of a control, ultimately will lead to a disastrous consequences. Some might say that the experiment was doomed from the start. The experimenter effects branching off of the researchers confederates could be enacted through the use of a single-blind study, which would ensure that neither the “with others” or “alone” conditions would know which experimental group that they were in. The possible ethical issue raised by the design of this study would be the obvious gender dispute. Which gender, male or female pleas would be responded to more often? The obvious stereotype that comes to mind is the woman’s cries received more attention because of her vulnerability. If the correct methodology had been used in this experiment, based on the knowledge present in social psychology, one might expect the percentage of women responded to, to be significantly higher than that of the men due to the stereotype about women’s vulnerability.


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