- FRQ Fridays - List
- FRQ Fridays (2023)
- FRQ Fridays (2022)
- FRQ Fridays (2021)
- FRQ Fridays (2019)
- FRQ Fridays (2018)
- FRQ Fridays (2017)
- FRQ Fridays (2016)
- FRQ Fridays (2015)
- FRQ Fridays (2014)
- FRQ Fridays (2013)
- FRQ Friday (2012 & earlier)
- Quizizz Game Codes
- Science Practices Topic Tik Tok
- Unit 1 Topic TikToks
- Unit 2 Topic TikToks
- Unit 3 Topic Tik Tok
- Unit 4 Topic Tik Tok
- Unit 5 Topic Tik Tok
- Unit 6 Topic Tik Tok
- Unit 7 Topic Tik Tok
- Unit 8 Topic Tik Tok
- Unit 1 CED Topic Tik Toks
- Unit 2 CED Topic Tik Tok
- Unit 3 CED Topic Tik Tok
- Unit 4 CED Topic Tik Tok
- Unit 5 CED Topic Tik Tok
- Unit 6 CED Topic Tik Tok
- Unit 7 CED Topic Tik Tok
- Unit 8 CED Topic Tik Tok
- MarcoLearning Sessions
- Task Verb in FRQ
- AP Classroom Video Questions
- Additional Resources
- 2019 - 2020 Insta Review
- Q&A Review PowerPoints
- Numeric Response Practice
- 2020-2021 Exam Review
- Insta-Review Daily Review
- Instagram Live Sessions
- FRQ Fridays
- AP Reader Panel
- Mrs. Jones' Responses
- Tik Tok Review
- Peer Penguin Resources
- 10 Days to AP Exam Plan
- CollegeBoard Resources
- Contact Information
- Jones Class Instagram Live Sessions
- Kim Foglia's Resources
- FRQ Notebook
- Insta-Review Notecards
- GaDOE One Day AP Workshop - October 11th 2019
- Practice Exam Data Analysis
- AP Review Notebook
- Useful Websites
- Ga STEM Forum Presentation
- Data Analysis, Feedback, & Mail Merge
AP Biology Review Guide
Instagram Review Calendar
How to answer ap® biology free response questions.
- The Albert Team
- Last Updated On: March 1, 2022
The free response section can make or break any student’s AP® Biology exam score. If you’re wondering what the best tips and tricks for answering AP® Biology free response questions, you’ve come to the right place.
In this article, we extensively cover must know tips for writing effective AP® Biology FRQs, common mistakes made by students when analyzing past AP® Biology scoring guidelines, and how to use past AP® Biology free response questions to start practicing for your exam.
Read on to get the complete scoop when it comes to succeeding on your AP® Biology exam review.
What We Review
5 Steps on How to Write Effective AP® Biology Free Responses
In this section, we’ll give you a strategy to start writing AP® Biology free responses that score you points.
1. Understand how points are awarded by reviewing the AP® Biology rubrics.
The first step to crafting good AP® Biology free responses that score you points is understanding how points are distributed. The easiest way to do this is by going to the College Board’s AP® Central website and navigating to their past released exams .
From here, you’ll want to open up the scoring guidelines — these will detail what points were awarded for different parts of AP® Biology free response questions.
Here’s a screenshot from the 2019 released exam:
Source: College Board
As you can see in this first section 1 (a), students receive two points, one for properly circling the transcription on the template pathway, and another point for properly identifying the molecule.
2. Underline or circle every bolded and capitalized word.
One of the nice parts of the AP® Biology free response section is that the College Board draws attention to what they are asking you to answer. This means you need to make sure you answer it!
Bolded and capitalized words are often the easiest way to figure out the root of the question. Typically you can break down how much each question is worth from the bolded and capitalized words.
One of our best test taking tips is to make sure you check off or star next to the word after you’ve answered it in your free response. This serves as a visual checklist for you to make sure you answered all parts of the question.
3. Understand what the question is asking you and identify common AP® Biology directive words.
One of the easiest ways students get tripped up in their AP® Biology exam review is not actually answering the question that the test makers are asking. It’s a commonly cited piece of advice from the College Board readers.
Here are nine common AP® Biology question stems (directive words) to make sure you know cold:
- Calculate: This is where you’ll be asked to solve a problem. Two points are typically awarded for these parts, one for the right answer and one for showing your work.
- Compare: This is where you must outline similarities between two or more things. It’s important you specifically only outline similarities; don’t get this confused with contrast!
- Contrast : This is where you must show the differences between two or more things.
- Discuss: This is where you’ll want to outline pros and cons on a topic, process, theory or technique.
- Describe: This sort of question assesses your ability to characterize something; for example: the functions of a certain part of a cell.
- Explain: This is where you need to demonstrate your ability to make something understandable.
- Identify: This is where you will need to give a direct answer to the question. It’s usually closely related to reading a diagram or graphical representation.
- Interpret: This is where you need to analyze something critically or explain something that isn’t clear.
- Justify: This is where you must explain why something may happen. This is testing similar skills to interpret and explain.
Stems like calculate, explain, and justify are often associated with two-point problems.
Notice how some of these stems are open-ended. For example, discuss, describe, explain, and interpret are all generally pretty-open ended. Typically, this should clue you in that your answer should be thorough for this part of the problem. For example, if you’re asked to explain why a certain result may occur from an experiment — you would need to exhaustively cover the set up of the experiment, as well as what makes that particular experimental design an effective way to measure the dependent variable.
Make sure you do not make the mistake of only providing a single sentence answer when so many points are at stake!
AP® Biology students most often lose 5+ points when it comes to the first and second problems in the free response section. These are points you can’t get back, and can dramatically impact the way you score.
There are a handful of other common stems — be sure to review the past AP® Biology released exams to familiarize yourself with them.
4. Be succinct in your AP® Biology free responses.
This isn’t an AP® English Language free response essay. One of the most common mistakes AP® Biology students make when answering free response questions is thinking if they just write a lot, they can score more points. This is not true.
For example, if the question asked you to identify four properties of something and you list out nine, you will only get points for the first four you stated.
It is not the responsibility of your AP® reader to figure out what you meant. It is your responsibility as the AP® Biology test taker to communicate clearly through your writing.
A few principles to remember when writing your AP® Biology free responses:
- Don’t restate the question. This is unnecessary and will not score you points.
- Write in complete sentences.
- If doing a calculation, make sure you clearly identify your final answer (this is most easily done by boxing your answer), AND show your work. A point is typically awarded for showing your work.
- Once you answer the question, move on. One of the most common mistakes AP® Biology students make is by making a contradicting statement after they stated the right answer. If there is a contradicting statement made, you can lose out on points.
- Remember the prior tip for graphing as well. If it asks you to plot, put the data points in the graph. If the question asks you to graph, draw a line or curve. Do not extend beyond the provided data unless you’re explicitly asked in the question to predict or extrapolate a result.
- When graphing, make sure you follow graphing conventions. This means titling your chart, labeling your axes, scaling appropriately, and selecting the right type of graph.
- Be mindful of your handwriting. While it’s not formally part of the grading process, if your AP® Reader cannot decipher your handwriting in the limited amount of time they have grading your exam, you are making it harder for them to give you points.
A final overarching principle is to make sure you practice completing your thoughts within a prompt. This has been called “closing the loop” and it is one of the most frequent mistakes students make here is when they’re asked for example to state the direction something is changing in the prompt, but then fail to do so.
5. Practice, practice, and then practice some more.
Mastering the AP® Biology free response section comes down to two things: understanding how the free response is graded, and then learning how to answer questions that fit those expectations.
Sometimes students do a great job of learning the rubrics, but don’t practice enough on actually writing sample responses or vice versa. When you’re starting your AP® Biology free response review, it’s helpful to first try out a past set of released questions, then grade yourself with the scoring guidelines.
See how long it took you to answer each question, how effective you were at answering the actual question posed, and where you missed out on points.
After a few times of doing this, you’ll begin to be more mindful of what the test makers are looking for in your responses.
Return to the Table of Contents
25 AP® Biology FRQ Tips to Scoring a 4 or 5
Now that we’ve covered how to write effective AP® Biology free responses, we’ll shift gears to cover some tips and tricks to maximizing your FRQ score.
- When interpreting data, make sure you provide reasoning to support a claim. In recent years of exams, students have struggled in understanding the two-part nature of questions that ask to explain or justify something.
- Interpreting and constructing models are different skills. It is not enough just to be able to create a phylogenetic tree. A student needs to understand what the model they construct actually says.
- Practice applying fundamental knowledge of basic biology to giving an explanation for why you chose to present data in a certain way.
- Be specific but with purpose ! Sometimes students include unnecessary specificity that doesn’t actually answer what the question is asking. Provide your reasoning — don’t just repeat something given in the prompt.
- Use “claim-evidence-reasoning”. This is where you break down an argument into these parts to make your point more clear.
- When asked to make a comparison, make sure to answer the before and after state of the comparison.
- When reviewing commonly tested topics such as the modeling of a cell signaling pathway, make sure you are able to describe each step of the pathway and anticipate what might happen if a particular step was activated or inhibited.
- Practice reading multiple types of tables, then make sure you also practice creating your own tables with data. Remember the earlier tip to follow standard graphing conventions. Students have missed points in recent years for mistakes like forgetting to have units in their axes or missing labels.
- Building on the prior tip, practice creating graphs from different sources of information — for example, you may have to draw a diagram from a narrative description. You should feel comfortable with creating different types of graphs like bar, dual Y axes, line, semi-log, etc.
- Practice incorporating evidence from your own knowledge of biology — this can help in thoroughly answering questions that ask you to justify or interpret something.
- Always be thinking about how to apply prior things you’ve learned to a new situation — the College Board is known for asking AP® Biology questions that cover something you’ve never directly learned before, but they are often questions that require you to apply one or two concepts you have previously had exposure to. This was a common mistake made by students in the 2019 exam on question 1 when students often missed points for not applying changes in molecular processes to ecological relationships.
- Remember that natural selection has two notions: survival AND reproduction. This was a commonly missed point over the course of the last few years.
- When answering experimental design questions, make sure you practice being specific in stating the change that may occur in an experiment. It’s not enough just to say that a change will occur. Make direct comparisons to the control group. When you fail to explain the different parts of an experiment and how it is designed, it makes it difficult for the reader to believe that you truly understand how to build a meaningful experiment.
- Questions that test you on experimental design should always have a control, a variable to test in a few ways, a hypothesis, expected results, and clear graphs.
- Know the difference between a dependent variable and an independent variable. There can be several independent variables but there can only be one dependent variable in a well-constructed experiment.
- Remember that hypotheses (predictions) should compare the experimental group to a control group. It is not enough just to say something like “X will change” — it is better to say “X will change by being more Y” — notice how in this latter response, we’re being intentional and specific with directionality of the change.
- If you don’t remember the exact name of a concept or how to spell it, try describing it or giving your best shot at spelling it. You can sometimes earn points for defining relevant terms.
- Answer the AP® Biology free responses questions any way you’d like. All you need to do is make sure you’re making clear which question you are answering. Taking this approach is a common strategy for managing your time effectively.
- Keep your opinion out of your free response answer. Your AP® Bio free responses should be backed by things you learned in class and actual science.
- Wear a watch when practicing and taking the actual AP® Biology exam. You need to be familiar with how to pace yourself in different parts of the FRQs. It’s common sense, but longer questions deserve more time while shorter questions should take you less time.
- If you’re given a parameter, follow it…when questions ask you to state something in a sentence or two, you should not write four sentences. Follow directions!
- Make sure you explain terms when you use them — assume your grader knows little about AP® Biology.
- Use a black or blue ink pen. Doing so makes it easier for your AP® Biology exam to be graded.
- Try every question. One of the most common pieces of advice from AP® Biology teachers is to make sure you put something down for every question. You do not lose points for getting things wrong, but you miss out entirely on points for not answering a question at all.
- Know your commonly tested diagrams cold. Concepts that often have related diagrams like cell signaling pathways, or Punnett squares are topics to make sure you understand when given different forms of information. For example, with Punnett squares you should be comfortable describing all outcomes in a variety of ways (such as in percentages and ratios, as phenotypes or genotypes). You should be comfortable creating Punnett squares when given information about the parent generation, or the F1 generation.
Wrapping Things Up: How to Write AP® Biology FRQs
We’ve covered a lot of ground when it comes to answering AP® Biology free response questions. Here are a few key things to remember:
- Know how AP® Biology FRQ points are rewarded.
- Build the habit of identifying the sources of points in questions. Circle or underline these to figure out how valuable different parts of a question are.
- Understand the question being asked — learn the directive words the College Board often uses and what they are asking for.
- Master commonly tested skills such as experimental design and graphing (including interpretation of graphs).
- Review commonly tested AP® Biology topics. Refer to the curriculum and exam description to see the percentage breakdown of different units.
- Be specific and succinct in your responses. This is not an AP® English Language essay.
- Try every question and be intentional in the order in which you answer each one. Tackle the questions you feel most confident in first.
We hope you’ve found this extensive guide helpful for your AP® Biology exam review. If you’d like additional free response or multiple choice practice, check out Albert for hundreds of original standards-aligned practice questions.
If you found this post helpful, you may also like our AP® Biology tips here or check out our AP® Biology score calculator here .
We also have an AP® Biology review guide here .
Need help preparing for your AP® Biology exam?
Albert has hundreds of AP® Biology practice questions, free response, and full-length practice tests to try out.
Interested in a school license?
AP® Score Calculators
Simulate how different MCQ and FRQ scores translate into AP® scores
AP® Review Guides
The ultimate review guides for AP® subjects to help you plan and structure your prep.
Core Subject Review Guides
Review the most important topics in Physics and Algebra 1 .
SAT® Score Calculator
See how scores on each section impacts your overall SAT® score
ACT® Score Calculator
See how scores on each section impacts your overall ACT® score
Grammar Review Hub
Comprehensive review of grammar skills
Download updated posters summarizing the main topics and structure for each AP® exam.
Interested in a school license?
Bring Albert to your school and empower all teachers with the world's best question bank for: ➜ SAT® & ACT® ➜ AP® ➜ ELA, Math, Science, & Social Studies aligned to state standards ➜ State assessments Options for teachers, schools, and districts.
Excel at Science
- Feb 16, 2021
AP Biology Past FRQs by Topic
Updated: Sep 22
**Updated on 11/19/22 to include the 2020-2022 exams!**
If you are looking for past AP Biology free-response questions (FRQs) that are organized by topic, then you have come to the right place. In this post, we have linked every freely available past FRQ there is and organized it into the following major topics of AP Biology :
Metabolism & Energetics
Plants (note that this topic will not be tested on the official AP Biology exam this year in 2021, although some questions about plants also cover concepts that will be tested)
Physiology (note that this topic will not be tested on the official AP Biology exam this year in 2021, although many questions about physiology could also cover concepts that will be tested)
Need more AP-style practice problems?
Intensively doing and reviewing practice questions is proven to be much more effective than spending hours studying. Check out our AP Bio Practice Portal , which is an easy-to-use database of 300+ AP-style MCQ and FRQ practice questions. Students love the Practice Portal because it includes answers and explanations for every problem, tracks progress, saves time from Googling practice problems.
Try the Practice Portal >
How to make the most of past frqs from college board.
As noted above, the diversity of organisms, plants, and physiology will not be on the 2021 AP Biology exam. However, the exam could include questions about topics or hypothetical situations that are related to those topics. One great example is cell communication, which is used in multiple systems inside our bodies. Let’s say an FRQ was to appear about the immune system and how the immune cells communicate. That would be fair game as long as the question focuses on the cell signaling part, not the details of the immune system. If the question requires some background knowledge about the immune system, it will be provided.
If you want to do a whole practice FRQ set just like the ones on the real exam (which we highly recommend), all the freely available past FRQs by year are available here on the College Board website. Tip: time yourself and take the practice FRQ set in an environment that mimics how you imagine your actual testing environment to be.
If you would like to focus on a particular topic, then the section coming up is for you. Some FRQs will show up under multiple topics because they truly do test students’ understanding of multiple different topics.
Tip : Whether you are doing individual free-response questions or doing a full problem set in one go, it is extremely important and effective to do test corrections! Don’t only consult the scoring guidelines and model responses when you have no clue how to answer a question. You should be checking them for all the FRQs you do. When you find a difference between your answer and the scoring guidelines, it is important that you pause and analyze why your response is incorrect. Take the time to understand your mistakes and see how your answer could have been better. This will help you boost your scores the most efficiently.
AP BIOLOGY FRQs BY TOPIC
Basic and organic chemistry concepts do not come up often on the FRQs (but of course, it’s better to be prepared). The properties of water and macromolecules come up occasionally.
2017 #7 and 8
Includes cell structure and function, cell transport and the proteins involved.
2019 #3 and 8
2018 #2, 6, and 8
2006 #1, 3, and 4
2001 #1 and 4
Metabolism & Energetics:
This topic includes enzymes, cellular respiration, and photosynthesis.
2021 #3 (cell respiration)
2019 #3 (cell respiration)
2018 #2 (cell respiration)
2017 #7 (cell respiration)
2017 #5 (photosynthesis)
2015 #2 (cell respiration)
2013 #2 (photosynthesis) and 4 (cell respiration & photosynthesis)
2012 #2 (cell respiration) and 4 (cell respiration & photosynthesis)
2010 #2 (enzymes)
2007 #3 (photosynthesis)
2006 #4 (photosynthesis)
2005 #1 (cell respiration & photosynthesis)
2004 #3 (photosynthesis)
Cell cycle & cell signaling:
This topic has shown up more frequently and in more difficult FRQs in recent years, especially cell communication. The trend will most likely continue.
2021 #1 (cell communication)
2019 #4 (cell communication)
2018 #8 (cell communication)
2017 #8 (cell communication)
2016 # 7 (cell division)
2015 # 4 (cell division)
2015 #5 and 7 (cell communication)
2013 #8 (cell communication)
2011 #1B (cell division)
2010 #1 (cell communication)
2006 #1B (cell division)
2004 #1 (cell division)
Genetics, Gene Expression and Regulation
This section includes the classic Mendelian genetics, with Punnett squares, crosses, and Mendel’s laws. It also includes DNA replication, protein synthesis, and gene expression regulation for both eukaryotes and prokaryotes.
2021 #6 (gene expression)
2021 #2 (heredity + pedigrees)
2020 #1 parts a-b
2019 #1 and 3
2018 #1, 4, and 7
2016 #4 and 7
2020 #1 parts f-j
2015 #3 and 6
2014 #2 and 4
2015 #2 (nervous system)
2014 #2 (immune system) and 6 (musculoskeletal system) and 7
2017 #2 and 3
2011 #2 and 4
2017 #2, 4, and 7b
2016 #3 and 5
2014 #3 and 4
This is an additional section that isn’t focused on any particular topic or has significant data analysis involved. While most FRQs do pertain to a specific topic(s), some are simply there to test your knowledge of experimental design and understanding of statistical concepts such as performing Chi-Square tests and interpreting error bars on graphs. These types of questions have become more and more common on the AP exam, so it is important to feel comfortable and confident with them.
2020 #1 parts c-e
2016 #2 , 6 and 8
2014 #1 and 5
2013 #1 and 7
Hope these organized FRQs saved you some time so you can focus more on actually doing them and practicing! You can easily share this post with friends who may find it helpful as well.
How to Improve AP Biology FRQ Scores, Fast
Do a lot of FRQ practice problems and review the answers! Practice is key, especially for a subject as dense as AP Bio. Check out the AP Bio Practice Portal , which is our popular vault of 300+ AP-style MCQ and FRQ problem sets with answers and explanations for every question. Don't waste any more time Googling practice problems or answers - try it out now!
How to Study for AP Biology Finals: Tactical Strategies for Success
How to Interpret Diagrams and Graphs on AP Biology Exams
How to Get a 5 on the AP Biology Exam: A Comprehensive Study Guide