AP U.S. Government and Politics: Concept Application Example

Question 1 of the AP U.S. Government and Politics free-response section will always be the Concept Application prompt. This prompt will begin with a stimulus that is a short paragraph or two describing a political scenario. The paragraph(s) could be an excerpt from news media, a description of a political situation, a summary of information, or something else.
The questions that follow the stimulus require you to apply course concepts to the given scenario. For instance, you could be asked how different branches of government might respond to the scenario, or how a conservative or liberal viewpoint might impact someone’s support of or opposition to the scenario. Whatever you’re asked, you’ll need both a careful understanding of the prompt and your knowledge of government and politics concepts to tackle the Concept Application question.

Concept Application Strategy

Before walking through a sample prompt step-by-step, let’s look at some special considerations for the Concept Application question.

  • When analyzing the stimulus, carefully note relevant details. Paraphrase the political scenario in your own words before looking at the questions.
  • Concept Application questions often build on each other, asking you to use your response for one part to answer another part. Therefore, carefully plan your response before you start writing in order to make sure you choose answers that you can apply to later parts of the prompt if needed.

The following is a step-by-step walk-through of a sample Concept Application question.

Sample Concept Application Question

A new political party, the Health & Wealth Party, forms to focus on those policies which members believe will address the most significant threats to the health and prosperity of the general population. Their key platform favors requiring manufacturers of high-sugar snack foods to produce an equal ratio of low-sugar snack alternatives offered at the same price to consumers. In addition, they advocate using tax money to subsidize low-income families with funds to buy the low-sugar snacks. To increase “wealth,” the party supports significantly lowering taxes on corporations, with the intent of attracting new businesses to the United States. Finally, they also propose drastically reducing income taxes for all Americans, making up the difference in the budget by slashing military spending for foreign affairs.
After reading the scenario, respond to Parts A, B, and C.
(A) The Health & Wealth Party’s platform contains elements that reflect conservative, liberal, and libertarian viewpoints. For each of the three viewpoints, identify one element of the Health & Wealth Party platform that reflects that viewpoint’s typical ideology.
(B) Describe a way in which the Health & Wealth Party’s nominee, if elected to the presidency, could attempt to implement the policy regulating snack manufacturers.
(C) Explain one reason why it is difficult for third-party candidates, like the Health & Wealth Party nominee, to win presidential elections.

Step 1: Analyze the Prompt

Closely read the political scenario (the stimulus), marking important details. When finished, briefly paraphrase the paragraph in your own words, either in your head or in the margins, to solidify your understanding of the scenario before reading the questions. A sample paraphrase for this prompt could be: Party for regulating snack companies, but otherwise supporting businesses, and lowering taxes & foreign military spending. Note that on a detail-heavy scenario such as this, it is especially important to paraphrase the paragraph.
As you did with the stimulus, read all the questions carefully, underlining exactly what each asks for. Box, underline, or otherwise mark the action words in each question (which, for this sample prompt, are identify, describe, and explain). Make sure to respond in a way that fulfills what each action word requires.

Step 2: Plan Your Response

The following showcases a high-scoring writer’s thought process and written notes for planning a response to this prompt.
Part A: Need to ID a detail for each of the three views.

  • Conserv.: traditional values + pro-market policies –> lower taxes on business
  • Liberal: more gov’t involvement for equality –> regulate manuf. & subsidies for poor
  • Libert.: ind. liberty + low gov’t involvement –> lower income taxes & military spending

Part B: Need to think of how a pres. could impact a policy about reg. snack manufacturers, including details to describe my answer.

  • Commerce clause is relevant
  • Pres. could meet w/ Congress, persuade to make committee & draft bill
  • Pres. could endorse candidates who agree on issue

Part C: Need to think about difficulties faced by third-party candidates during elections (not while in office). Need to fully describe the issue, including the why/how, to count as explaining.

  • Hard to win votes in electoral college due to winner-take-all system and entrenchment of major parties
  • But an election based only on popular vote would likely not create a clear majority winner

Step 3: Action! Write Your Response

Now you’ll just write out the information you planned! As you write, remember to keep your para- graphs organized and your writing legible. Refer back to the question’s action words to make sure you’re doing the correct tasks. See the sample high-scoring response and the explanation of what features make it high-scoring at the end of this section. One of the best ways to improve your own free-response answers is to read sample responses, thinking carefully about what makes the responses effective and what features you can copy.

Step 4: Proofread

Leave a minute or so for a quick proofread, neatly correcting any errors you catch.

Sample High-Scoring Response

Parts of the Health & Wealth Party’s platform reflect different political ideologies. Their stance on lowering taxes for businesses is a conservative view, as it reflects less government involvement in the economy. The plank about increased regulation of snack manufacturers, however, is a more liberal view about regulating the economy. The goal of lowering overall taxes and foreign military spending reflects a libertarian preference for less government.
The party’s goal of regulating snack manufacturers could be addressed by a president. Since regulating a food company would likely fall under Congress’s authority due to the commerce clause, the president could try to influence Congress. For instance, the president could formally and informally meet with Congress members to persuade them to draft a relevant bill, encourage (or pressure) them to call a special committee to research the issue, and try to influence the committees that handle health and nutrition. In addition, the president could endorse candidates who agree with the regulations during the midterm elections to get agreeable Congress members working on the policy.
However, a third-party candidate winning the Electoral College would be very difficult in our current two-party system. Since most states have a purely winner-take-all system for electoral votes, a third-party candidate would have to beat out both major party candidates in order to earn any electoral votes in a state. And even if a candidate did win a few states’ electoral votes, he or she would still be far from winning the required 270 electoral votes to become president. Still, using a majority of popular votes to win the presidency would also be problematic: with 3 or more candidates running, it would be unlikely that any candidate would win the majority of votes. So, the winner-take-all system might be practical, even if it creates a challenge for third-party candidates.

Sample Response Explanation

The writer of this high-scoring response includes many effective elements:

  • Organization: The response addresses one part in each paragraph. Although this is not required, it makes it much easier for the reader to follow and score your response.
  • Sentences: Although Part A requires only identification, the writer still uses a paragraph for the response, adding just a little explanation to justify his or her classifications of the party planks. Use paragraphs and complete sentences for all parts of your responses; never use just phrases or lists.
  • Addressing each action word: Note that the responses for Parts B and C are longer than the response for Part A. Part A only required identification, while B required description and C required explanation. The response for Part B provides a full description of a presidential action. The response for Part C effectively explains by discussing multiple reasons why the Electoral College is the way it is, including both how the system puts third-party candidates at a disadvantage and why the system is still practical.

Scoring for Question 1: 3 points (1 + 1 + 1)

The following is a general rubric an AP reader might use to grade this free-response question. When you practice FRQs, use both the sample responses and this scoring information to assess your own writing.
Part A (1 point)
One point for identifying a component of the platform for each view: conservative, liberal, and libertarian. Note: Some components could fall under more than one label.

  • Example conservative components: lowering taxes on businesses, lowering income taxes, seeking more balanced budget
  • Example liberal components: regulating snack manufacturers, providing subsidies for lower- income families, lowering military spending
  • Example libertarian components: lowering taxes on businesses, lowering income taxes, lowering foreign military spending, seeking more balanced budget

Part B (1 point)
One point for describing a way the president could impact policy.

  • Example ways include: calling a special committee/commission to research and influence the issue, persuading Congress members to create legislation that addresses the policy, appointing positions to the Food and Drug Administration that support the policy, issuing an executive order to the FDA, endorsing candidates who support the policy, using the “bully pulpit” to rally public support and put pressure on Congress, highlighting the issue in the State of the Union address, proposing a budget that includes provisions for the policy, threatening to veto a bill unless Congress makes provisions for the policy

Part C (1 point)
One point for explaining a difficulty faced by third-party candidates.

  • Example difficulties include: less financing, difficulty of getting onto ballots, heavy political entrenchment of the two-party system, winner-take-all nature of Electoral College makes it difficult to score electoral votes, voter discouragement (wanting to make sure their vote “counts”), major parties’ tendency to adopt platform planks that try to appeal to potential third-party voters

Learn more about the other free response questions on the AP U.S. Government and Politics exam.
Quantitative Analysis  •  SCOTUS Comparison  •  Argument Essay