Top AP Biology Exam Strategies

August 1, 2021

Getting a good score on the AP Biology exam takes more than just knowing the content; it’s important to answer questions strategically, as well. The following eleven strategies will help you do well on the AP Biology exam.

AP Biology Exam Section II Testing Strategy #1: You Do Not Lose Points for Giving Incorrect Information

You begin with zero points, and you gain points as you make correct statements that answer the question. The reader is like the person who stands at the entrance to a concert and uses a clicker to count the number of people entering. Every time you state a correct piece of information that answers the question, you get a click; that is, you get a point. 

However, there is one exception! If you contradict yourself, you wipe away all points that you earned in that one part. Here is an example: A 4-point part of a question asks you to “Describe how ATP is produced during cellular respiration.” As part of your answer, you state that “most ATP is produced by oxidative phosphorylation,” which is correct. However, toward the end of your response, you then state that “most ATP is generated by the citric acid cycle,” which is not correct. Thus, you have contradicted yourself within your response. To the reader, this demonstrates that you may not have a real understanding of the process of cellular respiration. Therefore, in this scenario, you would have lost all of the points that you had earned on this part of the question.

AP Biology Exam Section II Testing Strategy #2: Watch the Point Count!

On the AP Biology exam, each free-response question will state the point value next to each part of the question. For example, a long free-response question may be divided into four parts, where Part A is worth 1–2 points, Part B is worth 3–4 points, Part C is worth 1–3 points, and Part D is worth 2–4 points. If you spend 25 minutes writing a 10-page masterpiece on Part A and have no time left for Parts B, C, and D, the maximum that you could earn for that question is only 2 points. Therefore, don’t waste time writing too much; just be sure to answer every part of each question completely and correctly in order to maximize your points.

AP Biology Exam Section II Testing Strategy #3: Bring a Watch and Budget Your Time

You have 90 minutes total for Section II. The exam proctors will not announce when it is time to move from one question to another. You must monitor the time.

AP Biology Exam Section II Testing Strategy #4: Pay Attention to Special Words

Read the question and determine what you must do: “Describe,” “Explain,” “Compare,” or “Contrast.” Be especially mindful of the word or. If you are asked to discuss “either the nitrogen cycle or the carbon cycle,” answer one. Ignore the other! The reader grades only the first answer written.

AP Biology Exam Section II Testing Strategy #5: Organize Your Thoughts

Before you begin answering the questions in Section II of the exam, you may want to spend the first 10 minutes (of the 90 minutes total that are allotted for Section II) thinking, analyzing, making notes, and generally preparing to write your responses. Although you are allowed to begin writing immediately, this is unwise. The most successful students take the first 10 minutes to organize their thoughts. 

Brainstorm and write down all key words you can think of that relate to each topic. Then, look over the key words, eliminate the ones that are not relevant, and prioritize the ones you will be writing about. Present your ideas, in order, from the general to the particular. After you’ve spent the first 10 minutes brainstorming, begin to write your responses.

AP Biology Exam Section II Testing Strategy #6: Do Not Leave Out Basic Material

Many students think that a college-level response should contain only the most complex ideas. This is incorrect. Include everything you can think of that is related to the topic and that answers the question. Remember, you are trying to accumulate points by presenting relevant, correct statements.

AP Biology Exam Section II Testing Strategy #7: Do Not Contradict Yourself

No points will be given if you give contradictory information. For example, you will receive no credit if you state, “The Calvin cycle occurs in the stroma of chloroplasts,” and you also write, “The Calvin cycle occurs in the grana of chloroplasts.”

AP Biology Exam Section II Testing Strategy #8: Label Your Answers

Number each response and label all parts, such as 1a, 1b, 1c, and 1d. For readability, leave at least one line between your responses. If the reader cannot find your answer, you cannot get any credit.

AP Biology Exam Section II Testing Strategy #9: Include Drawings If You Want

Drawings must be titled and labeled and must be near the text they relate to. However, you may not use drawings (or an outline) instead of writing a response.

AP Biology Exam Section II Testing Strategy #10: Do Not Write Formal Literary-Style Essays

You do not need to include an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. Doing so is not expected and may take up too much time. Jump right in and answer the question.

AP Biology Exam Section II Testing Strategy #11: Answer the Question, Then Move On

You do not have to include every piece of information about the topic to get full credit. Usually, each free-response question is very broad, and there are plenty of ways to get full credit. Remember the reader with the clicker, so just write, write, write!