AP Biology Exam

Do you understand the differences between DNA and RNA? Can you rattle off the phases of meisosis? The AP® Biology exam tests topics and skills discussed in your high school Advanced Placement Biology course. If you score high enough, your AP Biology score could earn you college credit!

Check out our AP Biology Guide for what you need to know about the exam:

What’s on the AP Biology Exam?

The AP Biology exam is three hours long and consists of two sections: a multiple-choice/grid-in quantitative section and a free-response section.

AP Bio Section

Timing

Number of Questions

% of Exam Score

Multiple Choice

90 min

  • 63 multiple-choice, including:
    • Discrete questions
    • Questions in sets

  • 6 grid-in quantitative
50%

Free Response

90 min

  • 2 long-form free-response questions

  • 6 short-form free-response questions
50%

AP Biology Multiple Choice

The multiple choice-questions test your grasp of the fundamentals of biology and your ability to apply biological concepts to help solve problems. The grid-in quantitative questions require the integration of science and mathematical skills. They require using information presented in the question to calculate an answer and enter it in a grid. Answers can be in the form of integers, decimals, or fractions.

AP Biology Free Response Questions

The free response section consists of two long-form free-response questions, one of which is lab or data-based, and six short-form free-response questions that require a paragraph-length argument/response. You will have 80 minutes to answer all 8 questions and a 10-minute reading period, giving you a total amount of 90 minutes for this section. Unlike the multiple-choice section, which is scored by a computer, the free-response section is graded by high school and college teachers. They have guidelines for awarding partial credit, so you may still receive partial points should you not correctly respond to every part of question in your essay.

Topics for AP Biology Review

The College Board is very detailed in what they require your AP teacher to cover in his or her AP Biology course. These are the official Big Four Ideas:

  • Big Idea 1: The process of evolution drives the diversity and unity of life.
  • Big Idea 2: Biological systems utilize free energy and molecular building blocks to grow, to reproduce, and to maintain dynamic homeostasis.
  • Big Idea 3: Living systems store, retrieve, transmit, and respond to information essential to life processes.
  • Big Idea 4: Biological systems interact, and these systems and their interactions possess complex properties.

To fully understand the four big ideas, a solid grasp of the following topics is required. These topics include the following:

  • Chemistry of Life: Important properties of water; pH; Carbohydrates; Proteins; Lipids; Nucleic acids; Origins of life
  • Cells: Prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells; Organelles; Membranes and transport; Cell junctions; Cell communication
  • Cellular Energetics: Change in free energy; Enzymes; Coupled reactions and ATP; Photosynthesis; Cellular respiration (glycolysis, Krebs, oxidative phosphorylation); Fermentation
  • Cell Reproduction: Cell cycle; Mitosis; Meiosis
  • Molecular Biology: DNA and genome structure; Transcription; Translation; Gene regulation; Mutation; Biotechnology
  • Heredity: Mendelian genetics; Inheritance patterns
  • Evolutionary Biology: Natural selection; Evidence of evolution; Phylogenetic trees; Impact of genetic variation; Speciation; Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium
  • Structure and Function of Living Things: Embryo development and body plan; Immune system; Viruses and bacteria; Nervous system; Endocrine system
  • Ecology: Behavior and communication; Food webs and energy pyramids; Succession; Communities and ecosystems; Global issues
  • Quantitative Skills: Types of data; Use of mathematical formulas; Descriptive statistics; Graphing; Hypothesis testing

Check out our Cracking the AP Biology Exam and ASAP Biology books for a comprehensive content review.

 Interpreting AP Biology Scores

AP scores are reported from 1 to 5. Colleges are generally looking for a 4 or 5 on the AP Biology exam, but some may grant credit for a 3. Learn more about AP credit policies. Each test is curved so scores vary from year to year. Here’s how AP biology students scored on the May 2017 test:

AP Bio Score

Meaning

2017 Percentage of Test Takers

5

Extremely qualified

6.4%

4

Well qualified

21%

3

Qualified

36.7%

2

Possibly qualified

27.5%

1

No recommendation

8.4%

Source: College Board

What's the Calculator Policy for the AP Biology Exam?

Students are allowed to use a basic four-function calculator (with square root), scientific, or graphing calculator throughout the entire AP Biology exam. Students will also be supplied with a formula list as part of their testing materials.

How can I prepare?

AP classes are great, but for many students they’re not enough! For a thorough review of AP Biology content and strategy, pick the AP prep option that works best for your goals and learning style.

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