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Free Response Skills Practice
Teaching at a top-ranked high school in SF
He has been a teacher at Lo High School - a top-ranked high school in San Francisco - for over 20 years.
You’ve got a week or two before the Advanced Placement exam, you’ve done your practice, you’ve done your homework, you’ve taken multiple choice exams, now let’s get ready for the free response section. We’d like to give you a few tools today, that you can use when you take that exam. When you open up the booklet, that’s a process that you can rely on. So let’s take a look.
You did your multiple choice exam, you took your break. You know when you open that booklet, you’re going to see four questions. You know that you’re going to have a hundred minutes to take that test, so far so good. What I like you to do, is to scan the entire document. Read all four questions, and try to asses which one of the questions is going to be the easiest, which one might be just a little bit harder. I’ve got the information, but maybe I need to spend a little more time with it. Then there’ll be that compound question, a little bit more complex, part A, part B. I’m going to leave more time for that. And then the most difficult question, or in the worst case, the 'Oh my God' question. You know that you don’t have to do these questions in the order that they’re presented. So I like the easiest ones first. Let’s get some momentum and makes sure that we have time for the most difficult question.
You’re ready to get started? Let’s take a look at the first question. This is the question that I think is the easiest question. I’m going to start with this one. First thing I’m going to do, scan the question. "American Federal elections are often difficult for challengers to win. Identify and explain four factors that give incumbents the advantage in Congressional elections. Then, explain one way in which the incumbent advantage can be overcome." So I’ve scanned the question, now I’m going to identify the task that they’re asking me to do.
First thing I need to do, is identify and describe four factors here that give incumbents the advantage. I know these things. I remember them from the re-election section in chapter eight. So identify, I’ve just got to name than. So I’ll do that, no problem there. But to describe it, I need to give the AP or the College Board just a little bit more. So, first one, I’m going to talk about gerrymandering. And that I know that gerrymandering is the re-districting for the advantage of one political party or another. I’m going to mention that here.
Second thing I’m going to do, I’m going to talk about the money involved. An incumbent always has money advantage, almost always has money advantage. Often two or three times that of which a challenger would have. More money for media, more money for direct mail, it’s a killer. So I’m going to mention the money, media and direct mail.
The third thing, we’ve got the pork barrel, or ear marks. I can hear John McCain somewhere in the background talking about earmarks. If I’m a congressman, if I have access to public works money, I’m going to bring some of that money home to my district. I’m going to make sure that the people in my district got heard and they’re going to like me. They’re not going to be able to pick up on a challenger.
And the fourth thing is, they’re going to know who I am. Because, I’m going to make sure that I get back, we’re going to have plenty of time to hold meetings. I’m going to use my franking privilege, it’s something that I could also use there. What I have I done here? I’ve identified four things that give incumbents the advantage, and now I’ve began to describe them. Here is my brainstorm, I’m ready to move on to the second part of the question.
Explain one way in which the incumbent advantage can be overcome. We already know what the advantages are, let’s just see if we can turn it around. I’m going to start my brainstorming process. I know that sometimes a person who is independently wealthy, can have access to direct mailing. They can be the ones that can go negative. They might actually have a name that people recognize. So these are the advantages of the incumbent, but they can also be the advantages of the challenger. Imagine if somebody with money, can put out a direct mail and they can tie an incumbent with a failed policies of an incumbent president for example. These are the kinds of things we’re looking for.
You’re ready for something more difficulty? Let’s briefly review the steps. First thing you did, you scanned the question. Second thing you did, you identified what it was that they were asking you to do. Did we do it? We identified, we described and then finally, we did the brainstorm for part one, we did the brainstorm for part two. Let’s try something just a little bit harder now.
Let’s try a question that’s a compound question. But I want you to keep in mind, the steps that you’re going to go through. Go ahead and go to your bonus materials, download the question, and then, we’ll come back here in five minutes and take a look at it. I’ll wait for you.
We’re back. That one was a little bit tougher. Let’s see how you did. First thing you do, let’s scan the question. "Different interest groups will choose different techniques to achieve their objectives based ion their resources, characteristics and goals. Describe two of the following techniques and explain why an interest group would chose that technique." Before I get bogged down in this particular part of it, I’m going to check part B of that to make sure that if my choice is linked to part B, I’d better make the right choice.
"Select one of the following groups and identify the primary technique it uses from the list above. Explain why the group you selected would employ that technique more than any one from the above list." So now I know they’re independent. I get to make my choice in part A.
What’s our process, we’ve scanned the question, now let’s identify what they want us to do. Describe two of the following techniques. So we know that it’s going to be two, the techniques that we want to them to explain; why the interest group would chose the technique. Maybe I’m not sure what Amicus Curiae is, and I know a little bit about financial campaign contributions. I do like litigation, I like grassroots lobbying, I like the initiative.
I’m going to start with the one that I thing is the strongest. The grassroots lobby. I’m going to make sure that they know that I know the difference between lobbying from an interest group or a pack and grassroots lobbying, where a large number of citizens are going to try to influence a piece of legislation. I’m going to start with that. Two of the following techniques and explain why they would choose that technique.
First of all, in grassroots lobbying, maybe I’m trying to influence a piece of legislation. It’s possible in a very large group, in a very large membership, that we can bring to bear 10, 20, 30 thousand emails in a single day. The national rifles association for example, has been known to boast that they could get a 100 thousand emails to a particular congress man on a particular day. Think about the pressure that that would exert, in order to exert their influence. We’ve identified our group, we’ve told them why we we’ve done it.
Second one, litigation. I like this one because I know that litigation is a law suit and these are completely different circumstances. Somebody who file a suit, is going to be probably not have access to any of the other ways to influence here. They’re going to have a smaller membership; they’re not going to have as much money. They might not be in the popular majority, and this is the term, how they’re going to make the social change. I like litigation, so litigation means filing suit. I’m going to do that. It’s the most effective way to get my interest met, to create social change.
Now let’s take a look at the second part of the question. "Select one of the following groups and identify the primary techniques it uses from the list above." We’re going to take one of the following groups and look at the primary technique from the list above. "Explain why the group you selected would employ that technique more than any other from the list."
I’m going to look at these groups right here and I know something about each one of these groups. But, the one I really like is, the National Association for The advancement of Colored People, (N.A.A.C.P). I know some court cases, I know a little bit of the history, and I know that I picked litigation at the top and maybe I can tie those two things together. What am I going to chose here? I need to identify what they’re asking me to do. So I’ve selected my group, and I’m going to identify the primary technique that it uses from above. The N.A.A.C.P they’re going to litigate. They have a relatively small membership. N.R.A. is going to have thirty times more members and that much more access to money. So how is the N.A.A.C.P. going to get their needs met? Through the courts, and we know that historically. We’ve chosen that, that’s the best way to go.
Ballad Initiative, they don’t necessarily represent a majority, so it’s not going to be the ballad initiative. Grassroots lobbying, I don’t think so. Membership basically very small. Campaign contributions, same as the above, not going to be able to do that if we have a very limited membership. And a friend of the court, Amicus Curiae, not going to be nearly as effective as litigation. What do we know about litigation? How about Brown versus Board of Education, 1954? It changed an entire way of thinking, and ended de jure segregation in the United States as we know it. So I’m going to include Brown versus Board of Education in my answer here.
Now I think I’ve answered the question, so let’s review. What do we do here? We read the problem, we scanned the entire problem. We realized that part A and part B weren’t linked. I hope you did the same thing. Secondly, we identified what they asked us to do. You just did the same thing as well. I made my choice of litigation, you may have chosen something else. But I hope that you were able to make sure that you could eliminate the other choices there, do exactly what they asked us to do and provide a salient example as well.
Now we’ve done these two. Here’s what I’d like you to do. I’d like you to go to the College Board Website, and I’d like you to open up one of the practice tests. The free response test, somewhere between 2002 and 2008. And I’d like you to repeat the process that we started from the very beginning. So open it up, scan the four questions, asses the relative difficulty. Find the one that’s the easiest, the second easiest, then all the way to the most difficult. And then I’d like you to start that process; scan the question, identify what they’re asking you to do and then finally, do your brainstorm. Try one, try two. Once you get this process in your head, you’re going to feel like there’s no problem when you open up that test on the AP exam date.
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