Top 5 Study Topics and Tips for the AP Biology Exam

August 1, 2021

Studying for the AP Biology exam can feel overwhelming if you don’t know where to start. Developing a strong knowledge of the following five content areas and the tips below will help you get on the path to a 5 on the AP Biology exam. 

AP Biology Exam Study Topic #1: The process of evolution drives the diversity and unity of life.

  • Darwin’s theory of natural selection is evolution’s major driving mechanism. 
  • Evolutionary theory is supported by evidence from many scientific disciplines. 
  • Phylogenetic trees and cladograms graphically represent evolutionary history.
  • The genetic code is universal because all living things descend from a common ancestor. 
  • Evolution explains how all life is so similar and also why so much diversity exists.

AP Biology Exam Study Topic #2: Biological systems utilize free energy and molecular building blocks to grow, to reproduce, and to maintain dynamic homeostasis. 

  • Reciprocal processes of cellular respiration and photosynthesis cycle H²O, O², and CO2
  • Surface-to-volume ratios affect the capacity of a biological system to obtain resources and eliminate wastes. 
  • Selectively permeable plasma membranes regulate the movement of molecules across them, and maintain internal environments that differ from external ones.
  • Negative and positive feedback mechanisms maintain dynamic homeostasis.

AP Biology Exam Study Topic #3: Molecules, cells, and organs coordinate activities for the fitness of the organism as a whole.

  • Cells communicate by generating, transmitting, and receiving chemical signals. 
  • Signal transduction pathways link signal reception with cellular response. 
  • Nervous systems sense, transmit, and integrate information. 
  • Cells of the immune and endocrine systems interact in complex ways.

AP Biology Exam Study Topic #4: Living systems store, retrieve, transmit, and respond to information that is essential to life processes.

  • Genetic information is passed from parent to offspring via DNA with a high degree of accuracy, although some mutations do occur. 
  • DNA directs the production of polypeptides at the ribosome by an elaborate process. 
  • The cell cycle is complex with highly regulated checkpoints. 
  • Most traits derive from gene interactions that are more complex than what Mendel described. 
  • The expression of genes is controlled by cell signaling, transcription factors, alternative splicing of pre-RNA, and environmental factors.

AP Biology Exam Study Topic #5: Biological systems interact, and these systems possess complex properties. 

  • Populations, communities, and ecosystems interact and respond to changes in the environment. 
  • Mathematical operations can be used to quantify interactions among living things in the environment. 
  • Interactions between living organisms and their environments result in the recycling of matter and the movement of energy through food chains.

Study Tips for the AP Biology Exam

AP Biology Section I Prep Tips

Section I consists of 60 multiple-choice questions. It takes 90 minutes to complete.

  • Be Neat. Improperly erased pencil marks can cause the machine to misgrade your paper. On the other hand, you may write or draw anywhere in the question booklet. 
  • Pace Yourself. Every multiple-choice question is worth the same number of points. Skip lengthy or difficult questions at first; go back to them if you have time. Bring a watch and budget your time. 
  • Answer Every Question. Your score on the multiple-choice questions is based on the number of questions that you answer correctly. There is no penalty for incorrect answers or for leaving an answer blank. So always guess—even if you don’t know the answer.

AP Biology Section II Prep Tips

Section II consists of 6 questions. Questions 1 and 2 are long free-response questions that should take about 25 minutes each to answer. Questions 3–6 are short free-response questions that should take about 8 to 10 minutes each to answer. 

Just as an Olympic athlete must anticipate what the judges want to see, you must be prepared to give the exam readers what they want to read. If you can do that on the AP exam, you will get a high score. 

Here are things the readers do not particularly care about: 

  • Spelling 
  • Penmanship (unless they cannot read the paper) 
  • Grammar 
  • Wrong information—You do not get points off for incorrect statements, unless you contradict yourself. 

Here are the things the graders do care about: 

  • The answer must be in essay form, not an outline. 
  • Label the parts of the question that you are answering in each section of your response. 
  • The readers want to see lots of correct information that answers the question asked—so write, write, and write!

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