How to Format a Biology Lab Report

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If you are taking a general biology course or AP Biology , at some point you will have to do biology lab experiments. This means that you will also have to complete biology lab reports .

The purpose of writing a lab report is to determine how well you performed your experiment, how much you understood about what happened during the experimentation process, and how well you can convey that information in an organized fashion.

Lab Report Format

A good lab report format includes six main sections:

  • Introduction
  • Materials and Methods

Keep in mind that individual instructors may have a specific format that they require you to follow. Please be sure to consult your teacher about the specifics of what to include in your lab report.

Title:  The title states the focus of your experiment. The title should be to the point, descriptive, accurate, and concise (ten words or less). If your instructor requires a separate title page, include the title followed by the name(s) of the project participant(s), class title, date, and instructors name. If a title page is required, consult your instructor about the specific format for the page.

Introduction:  The introduction of a lab report states the purpose of your experiment. Your hypothesis should be included in the introduction, as well as a brief statement about how you intend to test your hypothesis.

To be sure that you have a good understanding of your experiment, some educators suggest writing the introduction after you have completed the methods and materials, results, and conclusion sections of your lab report.

Methods and Materials:  This section of your lab report involves producing a written description of the materials used and the methods involved in performing your experiment. You should not just record a list of materials, but indicate when and how they were used during the process of completing your experiment.

The information you include should not be overly detailed but should include enough detail so that someone else could perform the experiment by following your instructions.

Results:  The results section should include all tabulated data from observations during your experiment. This includes charts, tables, graphs, and any other illustrations of data you have collected. You should also include a written summary of the information in your charts, tables, and/or other illustrations. Any patterns or trends observed in your experiment or indicated in your illustrations should be noted as well.

Discussion and Conclusion:  This section is where you summarize what happened in your experiment. You will want to fully discuss and interpret the information. What did you learn? What were your results? Was your hypothesis correct, why or why not? Were there any errors? If there is anything about your experiment that you think could be improved upon, provide suggestions for doing so.

Citation/References:  All references used should be included at the end of your lab report. That includes any books, articles, lab manuals, etc. that you used when writing your report.

Example APA citation formats for referencing materials from different sources are listed below.

  • Book Name of author or authors (last name, first initial, middle initial) Year of publication Title of book Edition (if more than one) Place where published (city, state) followed by a colon Publisher name For example: Smith, J. B. (2005). Science of Life. 2nd Edition. New York, NY: Thompson Brooks.
  • Journal Name of author or authors (last name, first initial, middle initial) Year of publication Article title Journal title Volume followed by issue number (issue number is in parenthesis) Page numbers For example: Jones, R. B. & Collins, K. (2002). Creatures of the desert. National Geographic. 101(3), 235-248.

Your instructor may require that you follow a specific citation format. Be sure to consult your teacher concerning the citation format that you should follow.

What Is an Abstract?

Some instructors also require that you include an abstract in your lab report. An abstract is a concise summary of your experiment. It should include information about the purpose of the experiment, the problem being addressed, the methods used for solving the problem, overall results from the experiment, and the conclusion drawn from your experiment.

The abstract typically comes at the beginning of the lab report, after the title, but should not be composed until your written report is completed. View a sample lab report template .

Do Your Own Work

Remember that lab reports are individual assignments. You may have a lab partner, but the work that you do and report on should be your own. Since you may see this material again on an exam , it is best that you know it for yourself. Always give credit where credit is due on your report. You don't want to plagiarize the work of others. That means you should properly acknowledge the statements or ideas of others in your report.

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Rice University: AP® Biology - Part 1: The Cell

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AP® Biology - Part 1: The Cell

About this course.

Preparing for the AP Biology exam requires a deep understanding of many different topics in biology as well as an understanding of the format of the AP exam and the types of questions it asks. This course is Part 1 of our AP Biology series designed to prepare you for the AP Biology exam.

In Part 1, you will learn about the cell, its structure, its functions, and the chemistry that drives all of the processes cells carry out on a daily basis.

As you work through this course, you will find lecture videos taught by expert AP Biology teachers, practice multiple choice questions and free response questions that are similar to what you will encounter on the AP exam and tutorial videos that show you step-by-step how to solve problems. By the end of the course, you will be prepared to take on the AP exam!

This course is authorized as an Advanced Placement® (AP®) course by the AP Course Audit. The AP Course Audit was created by the College Board to give schools and students the confidence that all AP courses meet or exceed the same clearly articulated curricular expectations of colleges and universities.

By taking an AP course and scoring successfully on the related AP Exam, students can:

  • Stand Out in College Admissions
  • Earn College Credits
  • Skip Introductory Classes
  • Build College Skills

Advanced Placement® and AP® are trademarks registered and/or owned by the College Board, which was not involved in the production of, and does not endorse, these offerings.

At a glance

  • Institution: RICEx
  • Subject: Biology & Life Sciences
  • Level: Introductory
  • Prerequisites: None.
  • Language: English
  • Video Transcript: English
  • Associated skills: Chemistry, Biology, Auditing

What you'll learn

  • Prepare for the AP Biology Exam
  • Learn about Biochemistry, Cell Processes and Cell Communication
  • See how biological systems interact with each other
  • See how biological systems untilize free energy to maintain dynamic homeostasis
  • Participate in inquiry-based lab investigations and discussions

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AP® Biology

How to answer ap® biology free response questions.

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  • Last Updated On: March 1, 2022

how to answer AP® Biology free response questions

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: 

AP® Biology scoring guidelines

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.

how to answer AP® Biology frqs

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.

common AP® Biology free response 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

AP® Biology frq summary

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 .

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Advanced Placement (AP)

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If you're taking AP Biology, it's a good idea to familiarize yourself with the exam before you get too far into the course. Preparing ahead of time for the AP exam format and fully understanding what concepts are covered on the AP Biology test can go a long way toward earning a high score (and potentially getting college credit!).

This article will take you through the structure and scoring of the AP Bio exam and give you some key tips on the best ways to study for AP Biology.

How Is the AP Biology Exam Structured?

The AP Biology test is three hours long and has two sections: a multiple-choice section and a free-response section.

The next AP Biology exam will take place on Wednesday, May 11, 2022, at 12 p.m. If there are widespread school closures due to COVID around this time, the College Board will offer digital testing like they did in 2021.

Differences Between the Paper and Digital AP Biology Exams

As of 2022, the College Board has returned to paper-and-pencil testing in most instances. Digital exams will only be available on a case-by-case basis if there are school closures due to COVID-19 this spring.

If you& ; do end up taking a digital exam due to COVID-19, here's what you need to know:

Of the differences between the two exam versions, the College Board states , " On the digital exam, students will answer free-response questions with a keyboard, rather than by hand. Students taking digital exams will not be asked to draw or graph as part of their response—rather, these skills will be assessed with questions about given graphs or other stimuli. The digital exam app will include any symbols students would need to type their responses."

Again, digital examinations will be very limited in 2022, so it's a good idea to prepare for a paper-and-pencil test!

Multiple-Choice Section

The first section on AP Bio consists of all multiple-choice questions. Here's an overview of what to expect:

  • 60 multiple-choice questions , each with four answer choices (A-D)
  • 90 minutes long
  • Worth 50% of your score

You'll get a mix of both stand-alone questions and questions in sets , with four to five questions per set.

Until 2020, the AP Bio test also included grid-in questions in its multiple-choice section, but these have since been removed. This means that you don't need to worry about not being able to come up with the right answer—it'll always be one of the four answer choices given to you!

Free-Response Section

The second section on AP Bio is the free-response section, which looks like this:

  • Two long-response questions , both with a focus on analyzing experimental results
  • Scientific Investigation
  • Conceptual Analysis
  • Analysis of a Model or Visual Representation
  • Data Analysis

Long questions are worth 8-10 points each , whereas short-answer questions are worth 4 points each . Note that the second long question will require you to graph something as well.

Until 2020, the AP Bio exam had six short-answer questions (instead of the current four).

Expectations of the AP Biology Exam

Here's what both sections on the AP Biology test expect you to know how to do:

  • Understand how graphical and mathematical models can be used to explain biological principles and concepts
  • Make predictions and justify events based on biological principles
  • Implement your knowledge of proper experimental design
  • Interpret data

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What's Tested on the AP Biology Exam? 4 Big Ideas

The AP Biology test doesn't include a set number of questions that deal with each topic area, but you should note that the exam is centered around four major themes (or "Big Ideas," as the College Board calls them ) . Here's a list of these themes, followed by some of the topics that fall beneath each of them.  

Big Idea 1: Evolution

The process of evolution drives the diversity and unity of life. Topics that fall into this category include the following:

  • Natural selection
  • Artificial selection
  • Mathematical modeling of populations
  • Species classification
  • Biodiversity and Ecosystems
  • Origins of cell compartmentalization
  • Genetics 

Big Idea 2: Energetics

Biological systems use energy and molecular building blocks to grow, reproduce, and maintain dynamic homeostasis. Topics that fall into this category include the following:

  • Molecular biology
  • Cell structure
  • Photosynthesis
  • Cellular respiration
  • Thermodynamics and homeostasis
  • Immune response

Big Idea 3: Information Storage and Transfer

Living systems store, retrieve, transmit, and respond to information essential to life processes. Here are the main topics in this category:

  • DNA, RNA, and gene expression
  • Cell cycle ( mitosis and meiosis )
  • Communication between cells
  • Endocrine system
  • Nervous system

Big Idea 4: Systems Interaction

Biological systems interact, and these systems and their interactions exhibit complex properties. The topics that fall into this category include the following:

  • Plant structure
  • Circulatory system
  • Musculoskeletal system

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AP Biology Sample Questions

Now that you have a basic content outline, here are some examples of the types of questions you'll see on the AP Biology test so that you can get an even better idea of what to expect.

Multiple-Choice Sample Question

Here is an example of a multiple-choice AP Biology exam question:

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This question looks kind of complicated, but let’s break it down. The first sentence is background information that isn’t really necessary for answering the question , besides the fact that it tells us we’re talking about sickle cell anemia. This is helpful if you can remember basic facts about the disease that you can use to contextualize the question.

The main part of the question asks what will be affected when you replace a hydrophilic amino acid with a hydrophobic one on a hemoglobin protein. Based on your knowledge of sickle cell anemia and molecular properties, you should be able to eliminate choices B and C , which don’t have much to do with the abnormality described in the question.

Choice D can also be eliminated because the internal secondary structure of the protein is not altered by the existence of the hydrophobic group.

This would only affect how the molecule interacts externally with other hemoglobin molecules, as in choice A (the correct answer) .

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Bacteria gettin' it on.

Free Response: Long Sample Question

Here’s an example of a long free-response question you might see on the AP Biology exam:

body_apbio_long_free_response_sample_1

That's one long question! Now, this AP Bio question is worth a total of 8-10 points (the AP Biology Exam Description doesn't specify exactly how much this particular sample question is worth).

As you can see, there are four distinct parts: A, B, C, and D . Each part asks you to do something different and is worth a certain number of points:

  • Part A is worth 1-2 points. To earn these points, you must describe and explain the specific biological process or concept at play (here, that would be the amino acid substitution and its effect on the mosquitoes).
  • Part B is worth 3-4 points. You must identify experimental design procedures (in this case, that would be the dependent variable and the positive control).
  • Part C is worth 1-3 points. To get these points, you must analyze specific data given to you. In this example, that would be the data in Figure 2 (the second image in the problem) and in Table 1.
  • Part D is worth 2-4 points. You have to make and justify your predictions to earn full points here; this means you must provide clear evidence for your claim. In this sample problem, for example, you would have to write about how susceptible you think the mosquitoes will be to the insecticides while also backing up your claim with evidence from Table 1 and other data.

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Free Response: Short-Answer Sample Question

Here’s an example of a short-answer question you might see on the AP Biology test free-response section:

body_apbio_short_answer_sample_1

This short-answer free-response AP Bio question is an example of an Analysis of a Model or Visual Representation problem (always #5 out of your six free-response questions). It is worth a total of 4 points (as are all short-answer questions).

Like the long-form question above, each short-answer question consists of four parts: A, B, C, and D . You must answer all of these to get full points.

  • Part A is worth 1 point. To get this first point, you'll need to describe the characteristics of the biological process, concept, or visual model in the problem. With this particular question, you must understand the process of fertilization and how chromosomes do not double.
  • Part B is worth 1 point. For this point, you'll have to explain the relationships between two biological concepts or processes in the problem. In the sample above, this means you must explain the genetic relationship between individual 16 and individuals 1 and 2.
  • Part C is worth 1 point. To earn this point, you must represent biological relationships in a model. For this problem, you would need to simply fill in the blanks in the template.
  • Part D is worth 1 point. To get this final point, you would need to draw a clear connection between the biological concept/process in the problem and a larger biological principle or theory. For the question above, you would have to understand the intricacies of inheritance patterns and what role chromosomes play in them.

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How Is the AP Biology Exam Scored?

As mentioned, on the AP Bio test, the multiple-choice section makes up 50% of your score and the free-response section makes up the other 50% .

For the multiple-choice section, it’s easy to calculate your raw score: you just get 1 point for each question you answer correctly. There are no point deductions for incorrect or blank answers.

Scoring is a bit more complicated on the free-response section, which is scored by actual graders rather than a computer. Each of the four short-answer questions is scored out of 4 points , and each long free-response question is scored from 8 to 10 points .

To figure out your final AP Bio score on a scale of 1-5 , you’ll need to do a couple more calculations. This can change from year to year based on the performance of students.

This is the most recent info regarding the methodology behind AP Bio scoring . You can also use our calculations below: 

  • Multiply the number of points you got on the multiple-choice section by 1.03
  • Multiply the number of points you got on the two long free-response questions by 1.5
  • Multiply the number of points you got on the short free-response questions by 1.43
  • Add all these numbers together to get your raw AP Biology score

Here's a conversion chart you can use to see how raw score ranges (generally) translate into final AP scores.  

We've also included the percentage of students who earned each score in 2021 to give you an idea of what the score distribution looks like:

For example, if you got 40 points on the multiple-choice section (on the old AP Bio exam), 13 points on the long-response questions, and 14 points on the short-response questions, your AP Bio score would be (40 * 1.03) + (13 * 1.5) + (14 * 1.43) = 80.72. This indicates that you'd likely earn a 4 on the AP Biology test.

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The Best Way to Prep for the AP Biology Exam: 4 Key Tips

Now that you know all about what's on the AP Biology test, it's time to learn how to ace it . Follow these four tips so you can get a great score!

Tip 1: Review Your Labs

Labs make up 25% of the AP Biology course, and for good reason. It’s important to understand how labs are conducted and how the principles behind them relate to the main ideas of the course. This will help in answering both free-response and multiple-choice questions that deal with lab scenarios on the test.

Many free-response questions ask you to identify the components of a proposed experiment (dependent and independent variables) or to design a lab to test a certain hypothesis. You might have forgotten about the labs you did toward the beginning of the year, so take extra care to go over them . Make sure that you understand exactly how they were conducted and what the results mean.

Tip 2: Learn to Connect Small-Scale Terms With Large-Scale Themes

As we discussed above, the AP Biology test covers four major themes, or Big Ideas :

  • Information storage and transfer
  • Systems interactions

Under each of these umbrella topics are many terms and ideas you'll need to review.

Memorization can be a big part of studying for AP Biology. However, memorizing the definitions of terms will only get you so far . You'll also need to understand how they relate to one another and to the four themes listed above.

The exam emphasizes making connections between biological terms, corresponding biological systems, inputs and outputs of these systems, and the overall impact on living organisms and the environment. You should be able to follow a chain of reasoning from the specific to the broad, and vice versa .

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Tip 3: Practice Eliminating Irrelevant Information

Both multiple-choice and free-response AP Biology questions include lots of scientific terminology and visual aids, and this kind of format might be intimidating if you’re not used to it. It’s important to practice sorting through this jumble of information so that you can quickly get to the root of the question rather than obsessing over small details you don’t understand.

Try underlining important words and phrases in the question to help you stay focused on the main points and avoid misleading distractions.

You should also practice responding to free-response questions in a straightforward way without any unnecessary fluff . Remember, this isn’t an English test; the graders are just looking for clear facts and analysis. Make it easy for them to give you points!

Tip 4: Learn Good Time Management

The AP Bio exam is pretty long (even for an AP test), and many of the questions require quite a bit of thought. You need to ensure that you have a good handle on time management before exam day. The best way to do this is to take at least one AP Biology practice test .

The most recent one available is from 2013 , so it's a little out of date and follows the old format of the AP Bio exam; however, it should still be pretty useful overall. There are 58 questions in total on the multiple-choice section (including five grid-ins, which you can skip as these aren't on the AP Bio test anymore), and you have 90 minutes to answer them. This comes out to about one minute and 40 seconds for each question.

Therefore, you should spend no more than a minute and 15 seconds on each multiple-choice question when you go through this practice test. If you find yourself spending extra time on a question, skip it and come back to it later. It’s best to give yourself some leeway in case you run into any difficult questions later on.

You also have 90 minutes for the free-response section, but you'll spend different amounts of time on the long and short questions. Go ahead and skip two of the short-answer questions because now the AP Bio exam only has four instead of six.

Next, be sure to limit your time on the long questions to about 20 minutes each (40 minutes total), and your time on the short questions to eight or nine minutes each or less. If you can’t work this fast right away, try doing some additional practice free-response questions until you feel comfortable with the time constraints.

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Summary: How to Do Well on the AP Biology Exam

The AP Biology exam is three hours long, with two sections that take up an hour and a half each. The multiple-choice section has 60 questions , and the free-response section has six questions .

The content of the exam spans four major themes, or Big Ideas , that are central to the course. These include the following:

Questions ask you to connect specific terms and concepts to these central topics. They'll test your ability to interpret data, make predictions and inferences based on evidence, and analyze different experimental scenarios.

Overall, AP Biology is a tough test, but as long as you study hard and know what to expect, you're perfectly capable of getting a great score ! You can also head on over to the College Board's AP Classroom tool for AP Biology , which has tons of resources and information.

What's Next?

Review key biology ideas and facts with our subject-focused guides. You'll learn about cell theory and the functions of the cell membrane and endoplasmic reticulum , what the distinction is between homologous and analogous structures , how enzymes work , and when and how to use the photosynthesis equation .

Still planning out your class schedule? Find out how many AP classes you should take in high school based on your college goals .

The difficulty level of different AP classes might play a role in your decision whether or not to take them. Check out these articles for more info on which AP classes are the hardest and which are the easiest .

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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:

  • AP Biology Exam Overview

Topics for AP Biology Review

  • AP Biology Scoring
  • How to Study

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 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.

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.

Read More: Review for the exam with our AP Biology Crash Courses

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 2022 test:

Source: College Board

How can I prepare for the AP Bio Exam?

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.

  • AP Exams  

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