A lot of high school students interested in science may have the opportunity to take AP Biology, an interesting but tough course. AP Biology is a survey course, covering topics from the beginnings of evolution to body systems to ecology. Because the class and exam covers such a broad wealth of information, it can be kind of intimidating; here’s a quick lowdown on what to expect on the exam.
Strategies for the Entire Year
In the course description The College Board puts online, they list four big ideas and then detail the main knowledge needed to understand each idea. The problem a lot of students have is that they think AP Bio is only all about the memorization, and they miss the importance of understanding each concept, linking the ideas together, and forming a big picture. As you cover each topic in class, the most important thing to focus on is the understanding of concepts rather than simply memorizing information.
Types of Questions
Just like most AP tests, the AP Biology exam is three hours long, with half the time allocated for 63 multiple choice questions and 6 grid-in questions, and the other half allocated to 2 long free response questions and 6 short answer questions (ten of these minutes are specifically for reading over these questions).
Section I: Multiple Choice and Grid-In Questions
In my opinion, the multiple choice questions are probably the most difficult to prepare for. A lot of the questions are very specific and challenge your ability to both dig into their understanding of concepts and what they’ve memorized along the way. Because there is so much information (let’s face it…re-reading your textbook is probably not going to get done), writing out the information in flowcharts, tables, and/or outlines helps organize the content in your mind. By re-creating the information in the textbook in these ways, your ability to recognize and recall certain things when they come up in questions will go far in helping you choose the right answer. Also, needless to say, practicing questions and strategies using past tests is also extremely helpful, but before that, what is most important is understanding the concepts.
The grid-in questions are all numerical. To answer these questions, the learning strategy is not much different from the multiple choice questions; however, remember to follow directions in writing and bubbling in these answers, or even practice. (This might seem kind of dumb, but if you’re rushing for time, you don’t want to use it worrying about how you wrote your answers.)
Section II: Free Response
Before you’re allowed to answer the eight free response questions, you have a 10 minute period of time in which you can read through the questions and plan your answers. Ten minutes is a short period of time to be able to think about eight questions, so rather than trying to make a messy outline for each answer, I would suggest skimming the questions and circling buzz words that evoke material you’ve learned or that simply seem important in answering the questions the test is asking.
Then, begin by answering the questions that seem easiest to you. Because free response questions are so broad, you have a good chance of being able to answer at least part of each question. On AP Central (a part of The College Board’s website), you can find practice free response sets from previous years as well as scoring guides for the questions. As you practice, the scoring guides may be of great use so you know what the test graders are looking for!
Right Before the Test
Lastly, if you’ve prepared well, you will feel more confident before taking the test. Words of advice from some of my own professors about battling nervousness before a test are to drink an extra amount of water, eat a banana (potassium!), pack a drink and some fruits for the break period during the exam, and don’t try to cram information for at least 30 minutes before an exam. Taking that time to just breathe, listen to some music, or close your eyes for 20 minutes will definitely help clear your head. Above all, relax before and during the test and just let all that biology in your head flow!