About the AP Biology Exam

August 1, 2021

What’s Tested on the AP Biology Exam? 

Below is the list of four Big Ideas followed by the six Science Practices: 

  • BIG IDEA 1: The process of evolution drives the diversity and unity of life. 
  • BIG IDEA 2: Biological systems use energy and molecular building blocks to grow, reproduce, and 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 exhibit complex properties. 
  • SCIENCE PRACTICE 1: Describe and explain biological concepts, processes, and models.
  • SCIENCE PRACTICE 2: Analyze drawings, graphs, and charts that show biological processes and concepts. 
  • SCIENCE PRACTICE 3: State the null hypothesis, or predict the results of an experiment, and identify testable questions based on an observation. 
  • SCIENCE PRACTICE 4: Construct a graph or chart from a data table. 
  • SCIENCE PRACTICE 5: Use mathematical calculations appropriately, and use and interpret confidence intervals and/or error bars. 
  • SCIENCE PRACTICE 6: Support a scientific claim with evidence from biological principles and concepts.

What are the AP Biology Exam questions like?

Sample AP Biology question: 

Hermaphrodites are animals that serve as both male and female by producing both sperm and eggs. Hermaphrodites are often animals that are fixed to a surface (sessile) and are less often motile (free-moving) animals. Which of the following statements is the best explanation for this phenomenon?

A. As in all examples of asexual reproduction, large numbers of offspring can be produced. 

B. This is a novel adaptation that evolved to meet the challenge of finding a mate without having the ability to move. 

C. Both the male and the female can produce offspring simultaneously. 

D. Hermaphroditism is a degenerate form of sexual reproduction and is found in primitive animals such as parasites. 

The answer is choice B. This question style: 

  • Does not focus on rote memory. 
  • Focuses on reasoning and analysis, evaluation, synthesis, and application; not only on vocabulary. 
  • Contains basic information in the body of the question so that students do not have to recall details, but can demonstrate an understanding of a concept. In this case, the concept being tested is evolutionary adaptation, not reproduction. 
  • Contains only four answers from which to choose. 
  • Takes time to read, think about, and answer. That’s why there are only 60 multiple-choice questions on the AP Biology exam.

AP Biology Exam Format

The AP Biology exam is approximately 3 hours in length and is made up of two sections.

ap-biology-exam-format-what's-tested-on-the-ap-bio-test

Math on the AP Biology Exam

Math is included on the exam. A table of equations and formulas, including standard deviation or chi-square, is part of the exam. In previous exams, a Hardy-Weinberg question might have required that you take the square root of 16 to find the value of q. Of course, you calculated that answer in your head. Now, you might actually have to use a calculator to find the value of q when q² is 23. No big deal, since a four-function, scientific, or graphing calculator is allowed on both sections of this exam.

AP Biology Exam Scores

Advanced placement and/or college credit is awarded by the college or university you will attend. Different institutions observe different guidelines about awarding AP credit. Success on the AP exam may allow you to take a more advanced course and bypass an introductory course, or it might qualify you for 8 credits of advanced standing and tuition credit. The best source of specific up-to-date information about an institution’s policy is its catalog or website. 

Exams are graded on a scale from 1 to 5, with 5 being the best. The total raw score on the exam is translated to the AP’s 5-point scale.

AP Grade

Qualification

5

Extremely Well Qualified

4

Well Qualified

3

Qualified

2

Possibly Qualified

1

No Recommendation

Here are the grade distributions for all the students who sat for the AP Biology exam in May 2019. These numbers tend to be consistent from year to year.

AP Grade

Students Scoring that Grade

5

7.02%

4

22.01%

3

35.35%

2

26.71%

1

8.89%

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