Published February 16, 2024

Everything You Need to get a 5 on AP Biology

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Natasha Potter

MSU Alumni, Creative Advertising Major, Marketing Associate at Knowt 😃

This guide will break down a few of our favorite AP Biology exam tips to getting a 5! AP Biology can be a tough course, but if you're into STEM and want a leg up in college, it's worth the challenge. With the right strategies and resources, it’s definitely possible for you to ace the exam. 

Free AP Biology Resources

To learn how to ace the AP Biology exam, avoid last-minute cramming. Start studying early and pace yourself. After each in-class test, take time to review and reinforce your understanding of the material. These resources and AP Biology exam tips will provide go over pretty much everything you need to know!

  • This comprehensive AP Biology Study Guide goes over the important stuff you actually need to know and how to pass the AP Biology exam – as written by a former AP Bio student!

  • AP Biology Flashcards - this ultimate collection of terms to know for the AP exam, from the cell structures to the the steps of protein synthesis 

  • Finally, check out the Bozeman's collection of AP Biology videos that goes into every diagram and concept you need to know

What Do I Need to Focus on for the AP Biology Exam?

The AP Biology exam is all about these four big ideas that help us make sense of the stuff we're learning: how to prepare for the AP Biology exam and how to study for the AP Biology exam. All the main chapters you’re tested on revolve around these four. Here are the four main ideas :

Idea 1: Evolution

  • Natural selection

  • Artificial selection

  • Population modeling

  • Species classification

  • Biodiversity and ecosystems

  • Origins of cell compartmentalization

  • Genetics

Big Idea 2: Energetics

  • Molecular biology

  • Cell structure

  • Photosynthesis

  • Cellular respiration

  • Thermodynamics and homeostasis

  • Immune response

Big Idea 3: Information Storage and Transfer

  • DNA, RNA, and gene expression

  • Cell cycle (mitosis and meiosis)

  • Viruses

  • Cell communication

  • Endocrine system

  • Nervous system

Big Idea 4: Systems Interaction

  • Plant structure

  • Enzymes

  • Circulatory system

  • Digestion

  • Musculoskeletal system

  •  Ecology

These themes and topics form the foundation of the AP Biology curriculum and are important areas to study and understand for the exam. 

What is on the AP Biology Exam?

Units

Exam Weighting

Unit 1: Chemistry of Life 

8-11%

Unit 2: Cell Structure and Function

10-13%

Unit 3: Cellular Energetics 

12-16%

Unit 4: Cell Communication and Cell Cycle 

10-15%

Unit 5: Heredity 

8-11%

Unit 6: Gene Expression and Regulation

12-16%

Unit 7: Natural Selection 

13-20%

Unit 8: Ecology 

10-15%

AP Biology Exam Format

How many Multiple Choice Questions are on AP Biology?

The AP Biology exam is very straightforward: the AP Biology Exam takes a total of 3 hours to complete. First, you've got a 90-minute multiple-choice section with 60 questions. Then, you get a 10-minute break to catch your breath. After that, it's time for the 80-minute free-response section with 6 questions. In a nutshell, you'll be tackling 60 multiple-choice questions and 6 free-response questions on the AP Biology Exam.

Section 

Sec. I Multiple Choice Questions 

Sec. II Free Response Questions

# of Questions 

60 

Part A. 2 Long Response

Part B. 4 Short Response 

Exam Weight 

50%

50%

Time Allotted 

90 Minutes 

90 Minutes 

How should I prepare for the MCQ section of AP Biology?

1. Familiarize with the unique AP Bio multiple-choice questions: these questions involve extensive reading, analyzing diagrams/data/images, and require applying biological knowledge for the best answer. Becoming familiar with what to expect will help you move a lot faster on exam day.

2. Use standard multiple-choice strategies: Apply elimination, educated guessing, highlighting, and time management. With four options, eliminating two gives a 50% chance of a correct answer. Stick to the 90-second per question guideline.

3. Answer every question and track uncertainties: No penalties for wrong answers, so attempt all questions and mark an answer for each. Note uncertain, guessed, or double-check-worthy questions for later review.

4. Recognize patterns and exceptions: Understand concepts, make connections, and select the "best" or false statement options. Compare enzymes in DNA replication and transcription.

5. Eliminate extraneous information: For lab-set/diagram questions, identify the actual question before analyzing data. Underline key terms, cross out irrelevant details to save time.

6. Regular practice is essential: Enhance skills for complex APÂź Bio multiple-choice questions by practicing frequently. Use recent questions (2013 onwards) and allocate dedicated study time. Utilize online resources, review books, and the College Board's APÂź Biology Course and Exam Description.

What does the AP Biology FRQ look like?

The free-response section of the AP Biology exam consists of paragraph-form answers that are manually graded by AP Readers. There are two types of free-response questions: long-answer questions, which carry 8 to 10 points each, and short-answer questions, which carry 4 points each. The specific structure of these questions on the exam can be further explored.

Long Response FRQ

Short Response FRQ

How many questions?

2

4

How much time for each?

20 Minutes each question 

10 Minutes each question 

Value per question:

8-10 Points each 

4 Points each 

What is on the AP Biology short answer questions?

Each of the four short-answer questions corresponds to a different one of the four major concepts and assesses your understanding of content from one of the eight instructional units.

What is on the AP Biology long answer questions?

These questions generally focus on data representation through tables and graphs. Each question consists of four sub-questions that assess specific scientific practices.

What types of questions are on the AP Biology FRQ?

The FRQ section of the AP Biology exam consists of different types of questions. 

  • The first two FRQs involve working with experimental results, analyzing data, and making predictions.

  •  The third question focuses on describing a lab investigation and making predictions about the results. 

  • The fourth FRQ requires analyzing a disrupted biological concept and justifying predictions. 

  • The fifth question involves analyzing a model or visual representation of a biological concept. 

  • The final FRQ requires data analysis, evaluating a hypothesis, and explaining how the data relate to broader biological concepts. 

Practicing with AP-level questions and mastering the necessary skills will help you excel in this section of the AP Biology exam.

What are the best Tips and Tricks for answering the AP Biology FRQs?

Here are some tips for the AP Biology exam free-response questions (FRQs):

1. Know the FRQ format: The FRQ section consists of 6 essay questions with a 10-minute reading and planning period followed by 80 minutes to answer the questions.

2. Use the entire 10-minute reading period: Take advantage of the planning time to carefully read and understand each question. Use the planning space to outline your answers, define terms, and make connections.

3. Explicitly define your terms: Always provide definitions for biological terms to demonstrate your understanding. Don't use fancy vocabulary without knowing their meanings.

4. Connect biological concepts to larger big ideas: Focus on making connections between concepts and big ideas. Provide evidence and reasoning to support your claims.

5. Know the types of questions: Familiarize yourself with the different types of FRQs you may encounter on the exam.

6. Use the Claim + Evidence + Reasoning model: Structure your answers by making a claim, providing evidence, and explaining the reasoning behind your claim.

7. Answer the parts of the question in order: Stay organized and clear by addressing each part of the question in the designated order. Ensure your response is easy for readers to follow.

8. Know how to answer "Design an Experiment" questions: Familiarize yourself with lab procedures and terms to effectively design an experiment when required.

9. Know how to answer "Draw a Graph" questions: When asked to draw a graph based on data, include labeled axes, equal increments, name and units, smooth curves, and an appropriate title.

By keeping these AP Biology test tips in mind, you'll be better prepared to tackle the APÂź Biology FRQs and demonstrate your knowledge effectively.

When do AP Biology scores come out?

AP exam scores taken in May are typically released in early to mid-July of the same year. The exact date may vary, but historically, scores are made available during the second week of July. The release is usually staggered over a few days, with scores being distributed by geographic region. Students receive all their test scores together, and the order of score releases may follow a regional pattern, with some areas receiving scores earlier than others.

Is AP Biology Hard?

AP Biology is a rigorous course that requires dedicated studying and careful planning on the best way to study for the AP Biology exam in order to earn college credit. It's particularly well-suited for students who already have a solid understanding of biology, chemistry, and physics, and who possess effective study habits such as time management and attention to detail. 

For students who may easily feel overwhelmed or lack prior science experience, AP Biology may not be the best fit. It's important to note that attempting to cram AP courses for the sole purpose of earning "easy" college credit is not advisable, as it may lead to frustration and potential academic struggles. While some students may perceive AP Biology as challenging compared to other subjects, it's essential to remember that difficulty is subjective and varies from person to person. Seeking insights from teachers and former students who have taken the course at your specific school can provide valuable perspectives on the level of difficulty you can expect.

Ultimately, it's crucial to carefully evaluate your own abilities, interests, and goals before deciding to take on AP Biology or any other advanced course.

Is getting a 5 on the AP Biology Exam easy?

So, here's the deal when it comes to getting a 5 on AP Biology—it's no walk in the park, but it's definitely doable. Let's start with the good news: in 2021, the AP Bio exam had a pass rate of 59.2%, which puts it right in the middle 50% range for AP exams. That means more than half of the students who took the test passed it.

Now, here's the not-so-great news: many people have experienced how hard the AP Biology exam is. Only 7.4% of students managed to snag that perfect score. Yep, that's one of the lowest rates among all AP exams. Just four subjects had lower 5 rates, so you can see why it's considered one of the toughest tests to ace. But don't let that discourage you!

While the AP Biology class and exam may present their fair share of challenges, scoring a 5 is absolutely within reach. It all comes down to practice and preparation. Start by building a solid foundation of understanding, focusing on AP Biology exam tips, and knowing what is on the AP Biology exam. Focus on key terms, definitions, and diagrams—these will be your best friends when it comes to tackling those tough questions.

Remember, it's all about deep understanding of the concepts. With dedication and the right approach, you'll be on your way to that coveted 5 on the AP Biology exam. So, roll up your sleeves, get ready to put in the work, and show that test who's boss!

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