AP Biology Exam

Do you understand the differences between DNA and RNA? Can you rattle off the phases of meiosis? 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

  • 60 multiple-choice questions, both alone and in sets of four to five, including:
    • Concept explanations
    • Visual representations
    • Questions and methods
    • Representing and describing data
    • Statistical tests and data analysis
    • Argumentation
50%

Free Response

90 min

  • 2 long-form free-response questions

  • 4 short-form free-response questions
50%

AP Biology Multiple Choice

The 60 multiple-choice questions test your grasp of the fundamentals of biology and your ability to apply biological concepts to help solve problems.

AP Biology Free Response Questions

The free response section consists of two long-form free-response questions, both of which require data analysis, and four short-form free-response questions that require a paragraph-length response that covers your ability to describe, explain, predict, justify, or represent a given scenario. You will have 90 minutes to answer all 6 questions. 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
  • Cell Structure and Function: 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 Communication and Cell Cycle: Mitosis; Meiosis
  • Heredity: Mendelian genetics; Inheritance patterns
  • Gene Expression and Regulation: DNA and genome structure; Transcription; Translation; Mutation; Biotechnology
  • Natural Selection: Evidence of evolution; Phylogenetic trees; Impact of genetic variation; Speciation; Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium
  • Ecology: Behavior and communication; Food webs and energy pyramids; Succession; Communities and ecosystems; Global issues

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 2020 test:

AP Bio Score

Meaning

2020 Percentage of Test Takers

5

Extremely qualified

9.5%

4

Well qualified

22.7%

3

Qualified

36.9%

2

Possibly qualified

24.1%

1

No recommendation

6.9%

Source: College Board

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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