All of this information is taken from videos, books, Mrs. Dietsch’s notes, my head, a friend who I did a mini-fashion show with, and whatever online resources that I put. The video’s I embedded are from a YouTuber I watch that explains everything well. Like, really well. It’s a summarized version of whatever you need to know. With that in mind, this website is hopefully comprehensive enough to prepare you for a 5 on your exam. Good luck!
What to Bring to the Exam
1. A No. 2 pencil and an eraser are required for the multiple-choice and grid-in section.
2. A pen with black or dark-blue ink is required for the free-response section.
3. A calculator with a 4-function (+, –, ×, ÷) and square-root capability is allowed for the entire exam. Programmable, graphing, and cell-phone calculators are not permitted. A calculator will be especially useful for the grid-in and free-response questions, but may be used for multiple choice questions as well. Buy this calculator as soon as possible so that you can begin using it early in your biology course. Practice with the calculator frequently so that you are as familiar with it as you are with your cell phone. You don’t want to spend time figuring out how to take a square root for the first time during the AP exam.
4. You are not allowed to bring your own scratch paper. For the multiple choice section, you can use the margins of your exam booklet. For the free-response section, scratch paper is provided.
5. Obviously, you are not allowed to use any prepared notes. However, you will be provided with a list of equations and formulas.
The AP Biology exam consists of two parts: Section I and Section II. Section I consists of 63 multiple-choice questions and 6 grid-in questions. Each multiple-choice question provides four answer choices. Grid-in questions require that you enter a numeric answer. You have 90 minutes to complete this section. Section II consists of 8 free-response questions. Two of these questions are long with multiple parts; the other six are short, usually with just one part. Before you begin the free-response section of the exam, you are given a 10-minute reading period to read the 8 questions, organize your thoughts, underline or circle key words, and record notes or create an outline on provided paper. Then you have 80 minutes to write your responses to all 8 questions. In some recent administrations of the exam, the reading period has been optional, and you can begin writing your responses on the lined pages immediately, using the entire 90 minutes. The multiple-choice and grid-in section counts for 50% of the exam, and the free-response section counts for the remaining 50% (25% for the long questions and 25% for the short questions). The exam is administered in May of each year along with AP exams in other subjects.
Exams are graded on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the best. Most colleges accept a score of 3 or better as a passing score. If you receive a passing score, colleges give you college credit (applied toward your bachelor’s degree), advanced placement (you can skip the college’s introductory course in biology and take an advanced course), or both. You should check with the biology department at the colleges you’re interested in to determine how they award credit for the exam. The multiple-choice section is designed with a balance of easy and difficult questions to produce a mean score of 50%. Scores for free-response questions vary significantly with individual questions and from year to year. On recent exams, mean scores ranged from 2.89 to 4.62 for the 10-point free-response questions, 1.18 to 3.34 for the 4-point free-response questions, and 0.43 to 2.19 for the 3-point free-response questions. Clearly, both sections of the exam are difficult. They are deliberately written that way so that the full range of students’ abilities can be measured. In spite of the exam difficulty, however, more than 63% of the students taking recent exams received a score of 3 or better. Therefore, the AP exam is difficult, but most (prepared)
What’s on the Exam
The College Board has developed a curriculum framework that identifies major areas of content that must be included in an AP Biology course. The framework organizes the course around four broad principles, called “Big Ideas,” each of which encompasses a variety of unifying concepts. Within these Big Ideas, the framework outlines “enduring understandings,” with supporting statements of “essential knowledge.” This book reviews every concept included in the AP Biology curriculum framework. It carefully excludes those concepts that are omitted from the framework (but are often included in college biology textbooks). This book is what you need to know—no more, no less. The table that follows illustrates how the major topics taught in a college introductory biology course fall into the four Big Ideas. Note that some of the major topics fall into more than one Big Idea. If the table were expanded to include more detail, you would see considerably more overlap of the topics across the Big Ideas. Theodosius Dobzhansky, a famous geneticist, once wrote an essay entitled, “Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution.” Similarly, many diverse topics in biology cannot be fully appreciated without studying them through the multiple lenses of other biology topics. Biology is not just a set of individual concepts or processes to be studied in isolation. Biology is a web of interconnecting themes. To fully grasp a theme, you must understand how it is shaped and influenced by other themes. This is why many topics appear in more than one Big Idea. But as you probably have already discovered, biology consists of a lot of technical words, concepts, and processes. It is often much easier to study a topic in detail, when the connections among the words, concepts, and processes are presented together, before going on to the next topic. That is why this book, and in all likelihood your textbook, present the topics in an order quite unlike that presented in the four Big Ideas. As you read your textbook and review with this book, it is important to remember that the AP exam will test not just your knowledge of individual topics, but how various topics contribute to overlapping themes. Both multiple-choice and freeresponse questions will evaluate how well you understand this big picture of biology. Keep in mind that the big picture is supported by content. For free-response questions, the quality of your content is often determined by the detail that you provide. That detail is in this book. But the AP curriculum also indicates certain material that you do not need to know for the exam. If that material appears in this book, it does so to help you understand a concept or to connect the material with your textbook. That information, however, what you are not expected to know for the exam, is clearly identified.
Strategies for Multiple-Choice Questions
On the AP exam, questions for the multiple-choice section are provided in a booklet. While reading the questions in the booklet, feel free to cross out answer choices you know are wrong or underline important words. After you’ve selected the answer from the various choices, you carefully fill in bubbles labeled A, B, C, or D on an answer sheet. Mark only your answers on the answer sheet. Since unnecessary marks can produce machine-scoring errors, be sure to fill in the bubbles carefully and erase errors and stray marks thoroughly. Some specific strategies for answering the multiple-choice questions follow:
1. Don’t leave any answers blank. There is no penalty for guessing. You get 1 point for each correct answer. If you leave it blank or if you get it wrong, you get 0 points. If you’re not sure of the answer to a question, eliminate any answers you think are wrong and then select one of the remaining answers. If you can’t eliminate any wrong answers, you still have a 25% probability (1 chance in 4) of choosing the correct answer by guessing. If you can eliminate one or more wrong answers, your probability of getting it right increases.
2. Don’t let easy questions mislead you. The multiple-choice questions range from easy to difficult. On one exam, 92% of the candidates got the easiest question right, but only 23% got the hardest question right. Don’t let the easy questions mislead you. If you come across what you think is an easy question, it probably is. Don’t suspect that it’s a trick question.
3. Budget your time. You have 90 minutes to answer 63 multiple-choice and 6 grid-in questions; that’s about 1¼ minutes per question. Read the question and consult any diagrams or graphs. Read all the answer choices, crossing out any you think are wrong. Then choose or, if necessary, guess the correct answer and mark your answer sheet. Remember, there’s no penalty for wrong answers! It’s better to move on to the next question so that you will have the opportunity to try all of the questions.
4. Skip hard questions. If you come across a hard question that you can’t answer quickly, skip it, and mark the question to remind you to return to it if time permits. If you can eliminate some of the answer choices, mark those also so that you can save time when you return. It’s important to skip a difficult question, even if you think you can eventually figure it out, because for each difficult question you spend 3 minutes on, you could have answered three easy questions. If you have time at the end of the test, you can always go back. If you don’t have time, at least you will have had the opportunity to try all of the questions. Also, if you don’t finish the section, don’t be overly concerned. Since the test is designed to obtain a mean score of 50%, it is not unusual for a student to run out of time before reaching the end of the section. But don’t leave any answers blank
5. Judge time requirements for questions. Some multiple-choice questions begin with a long description followed by three or four associated questions. These questions make good use of your time because once you’ve read the introduction, you’re ready to answer all of the associated questions. On the other hand, some multiple-choice questions with long introductory descriptions are followed by a single question. These questions require proportionately more time than if followed by multiple questions. Skip these questions with long introductions and a single question if you think you’re running low on time. Return if time is available.
6. Carefully answer reverse multiple-choice questions. In a typical multiple-choice question, you need to select the choice that is true. On the AP exam, you may find a reverse multiple-choice question where you need to select the false choice. These questions usually use the word “EXCEPT” in sentences such as “All of the following are true EXCEPT . . .” or “All of the following occur EXCEPT. . . .” A reverse multiple choice question is more difficult to answer than regular multiple-choice questions because it requires you to know three true pieces of information about a topic before you can eliminate the false choice. It is equivalent to correctly answering four true-false questions to get 1 point; and if you get one of the four wrong, you get them all wrong. Reverse multiple-choice questions are also difficult because halfway through the question you can forget that you’re looking for the false choice. To avoid confusion, do the following: After reading the opening part of the question, read each choice and mark a T or an F next to each one to identify whether it is true or false. If you’re able to mark a T or an F for each one, then the correct answer is the choice marked with an F. Sometimes you won’t be sure about one or more choices, or sometimes you’ll have two choices marked F. In these cases, concentrate on the uncertain choices until you can make a decision.
7. Return to difficult questions only if you have time. Here’s one thing to consider when skipping a question: If you return to a question, you will need to read the question, read the answer choices, and consult the diagrams. This is a costly strategy because you already spent time doing that once. Only do this if you’ve already tried to answer all of the other questions in Section I.
8. Save the last minute to mark all unanswered questions. Because the test is designed to obtain a mean score of 50%, some students may not have enough time to read all of the questions. Should this happen to you, be sure to mark answers for all of your remaining unanswered questions. Remember, there’s no penalty for wrong answers!
Strategies for Grid-In Questions
The six questions on the grid-in section of the exam require that you enter a numerical answer into the machine-scored answer sheet. Grid-in questions have the same value as multiple-choice questions. Note the following suggestions:
1. Use your calculator when necessary. But don’t expect all grid-in questions to require the use of a calculator. Some do not.
2. Enter appropriate negative signs and operators. If your answer has a negative value, be sure to enter a negative sign. If the question requires that an answer be expressed as a fraction, be sure to enter the division operator (“/” as in “¼”).
3. Provide the correct level of accuracy. Grid-in questions will ask you to provide your answer with a specific level of accuracy. For example, answers may require that you calculate your answer to the nearest whole number, to the nearest tenth, or to the nearest hundredth. Because of rounding, some questions allow a range of correct answers. Depending on the type of question, a correct answer can vary by 1% to 5%, sometimes even more. In other cases, where rounding does not occur, only a single value is accepted. If the question asks for an answer expressed to the nearest whole number, that is usually a clue that the answer has only one accepted value.
4. Consult the equations and formulas pages. If you are initially baffled after reading a grid-in question, try consulting the provided equations and formulas pages to help you recall how to answer the question.
5. Write your answer in the provided space. Then carefully fill in the bubbles. This is both faster and more accurate than just filling in the bubbles.
6. Know that there is more than one way to correctly fill in a grid-in answer. You may begin your answer in any column as long as you can fit your entire answer in the provided spaces. Also, a leading zero in a decimal is optional (0.3 and .3 are both scored the same way). Some examples follow.
Strategies for Free-Response Questions
The free-response questions are provided in a separate booklet. During the 10-minute reading period, read the questions thoroughly, circling key words. Next, write a brief outline using key words to organize your thoughts. When the writing period starts, begin writing your answer on the answer sheets that are provided separately. If for some reason you don’t write an outline, go back and reread the question halfway through writing your answer. Make sure that you’re still answering the question. It’s easy to get carried away, and by the end of your response, you might be answering a different question. The two long free-response questions are each worth a maximum of 10 points. The maximum number of points awarded for each of the six short free-response questions varies, but is usually 3 or 4 points. Strategies for answering the free-response questions follow:
1. Don’t approach the free-response section with apprehension. Most students approach the free-response section of the exam with more anxiety than they have when approaching the multiple-choice section. However, in terms of the amount of detail in the knowledge required, the free-response section is easier. On these questions, you get to choose what to write. You can get an excellent score without writing every relevant piece of information. Besides, you don’t have time to write an entire book on the subject. A general answer that addresses the question with a limited number of specifics will get a good score. Additional details may (or may not) improve your score, but the basic principles are the most important elements for a good score. In contrast, a multiple choice question focuses on a very narrow and specific body of knowledge, which you’ll either know or you won’t. The question doesn’t let you select from a range of correct information.
2. Keep your answers brief for the short free-response questions. Short questions are typically worth only 3 or 4 points (as compared to 10 points for a long question). Some short questions will be very general and seem to be asking for a whole lot of information, as if it were a long question. If you get a short question like this, don’t freak out because you think that it will take 20 minutes to write down everything you know. Instead, you only need to provide three or four pieces of information. Come back and add more if you have time. Other short questions will be more specific, asking for an explanation to a particular question.
3. Give specific information in your answer. You need to give specific information for each free-response question. Don’t be so general that you don’t really say anything. Give more than just terminology with definitions. You need to use the terminology to explain biological processes. The combination of using the proper terminology and explaining processes will convince an AP exam reader that you understand the answer. Give some detail when you know it—names of processes, names of structures, names of molecules—and then tell how they’re related. The exam reader is looking for specific information. If you say it, you get the points. You don’t have to say everything, however, to get the maximum 10 points.
4. Answer each part of a free-response question separately. The freeresponse questions, especially the long ones, ask several related questions in multiple parts. A single question, for example, might have two to four parts, each requesting specific information. You should answer each part of the question in a separate paragraph, which helps the exam reader recognize each part of your answer. Some questions are formally divided into parts, such as a, b, c, and d. Again, answer these questions separately, in paragraphs labeled a, b, c, and d.
5. Answer all required parts of a free-response question. It is extremely important that you give a response for each part of the question. Don’t overload the detail on one part at the expense of saying nothing in another part because you ran out of time. Each part of the question is apportioned a specific number of points. If you give abundant information in one part, and nothing in the remaining parts, you receive only the maximum number of points allotted to the part you completed. In a four-part question, that’s often only 2 or 3 points. You won’t get any extra points above the maximum 2 or 3, even if what you write is Nobel Prize–quality.
6. Don’t answer more parts than required. Some long free-response questions give you a choice of parts to answer or even choices within a single part. Choose the parts that you know the most about and answer only those parts. Do not answer extra parts. There is no extra credit on this exam! In general, an exam reader will not read beyond the required number of answers. In cases where the exam reader does read the extra parts, you may lose points if you contradict something you said correctly in an earlier required part.
7. Budget your time. You have 90 minutes (including the reading period) to answer eight free-response questions. Allow 20 minutes for each of the two long questions (40 minutes total) and 6 minutes for each of the six short questions (36 minutes total). During the reading period, identify those questions you think you can answer the best and answer those questions first. However, just as it’s most important to answer all parts of a question, it’s best to respond to ALL of the free-response questions rather than to answer five or even six of them extremely well, with no responses on the remaining two or three. You’ll probably know something about every question, so be sure you get that information written. If you are nearing the end of the 90-minute period and you still have several questions to answer, use that time to write something for each of the remaining questions. One point, especially on a short free response question, is a lot better than zero.
8. Don’t worry if you make a factual error. What if you write something that is incorrect? The AP exam readers look for correct information. They search for key words and phrases and award points when they find them. If you use the wrong word to describe a process, or identify a structure with the wrong name, no formal penalty is assessed. If you’re going to get any points, however, you need to write correct information. Also, you’ll lose points if you contradict something you said correctly earlier.
9. Don’t be overly concerned about grammar, spelling, punctuation, or penmanship. The AP exam readers don’t penalize for incorrect grammar, spelling, or punctuation or for poor penmanship. They are interested in content. However, if your grammar, spelling, or penmanship impairs your ability to communicate, then the exam readers cannot recognize the content, and your score will suffer.
10. Don’t write a standard essay. Don’t spend your time writing a standard essay with introduction, support paragraphs, and conclusion. Just dive right in to your outline and answer the question directly. On the other hand, your response cannot be an outline; it must have complete sentences and be written in paragraph form.
11. Don’t repeat the question in your answer. Or do so only briefly. The exam reader knows the question.
12. Improve your score by incorporating drawings. Drawings and diagrams may sometimes add as much as 1 point to your free-response score. But the drawings must be explained in your response, and the drawings must be labeled with supporting information. If not, the AP exam reader will consider them doodles, and you will get no additional points. 13. Pay attention to direction words. A direction word is the first word in a free-response question that tells you how to answer the question. The direction word tells you what you need to say about the subject matter that follows. Here are the most common direction words found on the AP exam: Discuss means to consider or examine various aspects of a subject or problem. Describe means to characterize or give an account in words. Define means to give a precise meaning for a word or phrase. Explain means to clarify or make understandable. Compare means to discuss two or more items with an emphasis on their similarities. Contrast means to discuss two or more items with an emphasis on their differences. Specialized direction words are used for the free-response and grid-in questions that evaluate your quantitative skills. These words include design (an experiment), calculate (a value), and construct and label (a graph).
Taking the Practice Exams
For each of the practice exams, a scoring template is provided for the multiple-choice questions. Each exam is followed by an answer key for the multiple-choice and grid-in questions, explanations for these questions, and scoring standards for the free-response questions (often called a rubric). To get the full benefit of simulating a real AP exam, set aside at least 3 hours for each practice exam. Begin with the multiple-choice and grid-in section (Section I), and after 90 minutes, stop and move on to the free-response section (Section II). Spend 10 minutes outlining your answers to each freeresponse question, and then allow yourself 80 minutes to write out your full answers. By using the actual times that the real AP exam allows, you will learn whether the time you spend on each multiple-choice, grid-in, and freeresponse question is appropriate. When you’re done taking a practice exam, score your exam using the multiple-choice and grid-in answer key and the free-response scoring standards. Then go back and answer any multiple-choice questions that you were unable to complete in the allotted 90 minutes. When you are done, read all of the multiple-choice explanations, even those for questions you got right. The explanations are thorough and provide you with information and suggestions. Even if you know the answers, reading the provided explanations is good review. Although you’ve heard it so many times, practice will improve your test performance (although it’s unlikely to make you perfect). So be sure to complete both practice exams and review all of the answer explanations. Good luck.
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