AP Gov FRQ: Argument Essay Review (2020)

6 min readjune 11, 2020

Fatima Raja

Fatima Raja

AP US Government 👩🏾‍⚖️

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So, you’re reading this article and wondering how to approach the APGOPO and CompGov Argument Essay. First of all, no, this is not like a dinner table argument over politics that happens in every movie at Thanksgiving. Unlike one of those discussions, you have to actually use facts to get your point across (😂), and the reader is more concerned about your line of reasoning than about their own political opinions 👀.  
Let’s break down exactly what you should expect, so you can craft a solid argument:


In total, you have an hour and 40 minutes to finish the entire Free-Response Question section if you're in APGOPO. If you're in APCompGov, you have an hour and 30 minutes It’s important to use your time effectively because the FRQ section is worth half of your score. 
Because of that, you should spend around 25 minutes, give or take a few, on the Argument Free-Response Question. (NOTE: FOR THE 2019-2020 TEST, YOU WILL HAVE 25 MINUTES TO WRITE AND 5 MINUTES TO UPLOAD YOUR RESPONSE.)

This is the nightmare you’re not gonna have before this AP exam.

Image courtesy of Freepik.

Obviously, you want to be able to conserve time and learn how to do these FRQs as effectively and quickly as possible. Here’s the secret to doing that: practice! You have to apply the concepts you’re learning to actual questions, so you understand how to break them down when you’re under pressure.
That way, you can get these skills down to muscle-memory and not be too stressed when you get to test day!

Structure (What does the FRQ look like?)

You’re gonna get a prompt that you have to write about (duh), but here’s the thing the point is not to explain or restate the prompt. The point is to develop an argument based on it.
Don’t just write about the situation that the prompt sets up. You need to explain why we should or should not do whatever the example is. This is an argument essay, so you need to argue a position. It doesn’t have to be the “right” position. It just needs to be logical and supported with evidence.
This is what you’ll be given to do just that:
  1. A prompt. You have to explicitly agree or disagree with it when you state your thesis!
  2. A few foundational documents. You’re required to use at least one example that is listed, so make sure you know them. 
    1. Note for CompGov: Sorry, you don’t get these. Just make sure you include a specific piece of evidence.
But, you also need a few other things to actually get all the points available:
  1. An additional piece of evidence. This can be a different foundational document than the one you initially used or any specific concept from APGOPO or CompGov. 
  2. Analysis. You have to explain why your evidence justifies your line of reasoning (aka your thesis). 
  3. An alternate perspective. Not everyone will agree with the position you take. That’s the beauty of democracy. To show you understand that, you have to refute your point or provide some concession to another POV (NOTE: THIS IS NOT NEEDED FOR THE 2019-2020 TEST.)
Now that you know what to expect, let’s figure out how to tackle the Argument FRQ!

How to Tackle the Argument Essay

Here’s what you need to do to tackle this FRQ thoroughly:
Look at the prompt and start thinking of a thesis. You may have a personal opinion right after looking at the prompt, or you may not. Either way, as you start to look at the provided documents, start brainstorming how you want to write your essay. It’s okay if this changes when you see what evidence is provided or what evidence you come up with on your own. It’s just good to have a jumping board.
Analyze the documents! This means you need to look at each of the foundational documents (again, CompGov, you don’t get any) and figure out how they fit into the context of the prompt. Does the evidence in question agree or disagree with the situation the prompt presents? How can you use it to support or refute your argument?
Create an outline. This is a good way to figure out exactly what you’re going to say, and you know what evidence you’re using. This will help you have a clear, well-thought out essay. Your outline shouldn’t be incredibly detailed, though! You still have to transfer everything to your writing booklet before you run out of time.
State your thesis. This is critical to ensuring you get full points. If the prompt asks whether or not America should switch to being a direct democracy, don’t just give a wishy-washy list of pros and cons. Make your answer explicit: “Yes, America should transition to being a direct democracy because x and y.” or “No, America should not become a direct democracy because of p and q.” Don’t turn your essay into a treasure hunt for your argument, just state it plainly.

POV: you’re reading this article, taking notes, and getting ready to win this FRQ game.

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Provide justification! You already know that you need two pieces of evidence, but that’s not all. You can’t just say something like “The Articles of Confederation show that we should have a strong federal government.” It should be more like, “The problematic Articles of Confederation only further exemplify why we need to have a strong federal government, as expanded federal power is necessary to prevent the dissolution of the Union by dangerous uprisings, such as the Whiskey Rebellion.” You need to explain why each piece of evidence strengthens your argument. Don’t just toss in a vague reference and call it a day.
Consider an alternate perspective. This is critical to ensuring you get full points. Showing that you understand that your argument isn’t the only way to approach a situation shows you understand that every approach has its pros and cons. So, refute your argument or explain a situation in which it may not apply. Pro tip: showing why the example you used to weaken your argument is wrong only strengthens it! (NOTE: THIS IS NOT NEEDED FOR THE 2019-2020 TEST.)

Some Final Tips!

Practice! Practice! Oh, and did I say that you need to practice? Getting familiar with the structure and time constraints you’ll be under when writing the argument essay will allow you to actually get comfortable with it. You’ll understand how to apply the strategies I just talked about and discover some of your own!
Breathe! Don’t freak out. You may be feeling the pressure, but you’ve been prepping for this all year (or all semester). You put in the work, and you’ll be fine! Keeping a cool head will help you get the best score you can.

Practice Prompts!

Here are some prompts to get you started:


The right to free speech for all citizens is protected in America. Though the Supreme Court has limited journalistic expression in some cases and individual states have worked to restrict the right of citizens to assemble, free speech remains a defining pillar of American society.
Develop an argument about whether restrictions on free speech and assembly ultimately help or hinder democracy.
Use at least one piece of evidence from one of the following foundational documents:
  • Bill of Rights
  • Letter from Birmingham Jail
  • Federalist 10

AP CompGov

Since 200, Russian President Vladimir Putin has ensured that he wins Russian presidential elections. The presidential elections are rigged for Putin to win and to demonstrate his hold on Russian society. Russian opposition parties have gained some ground in recent years, seemingly in spite of Kremlin interference.
Develop an argument about whether elections have strengthened or weakened democracy in Russia.

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