MAST Master-Tutor, Karen D. has come up with some tips for the AP Biology exam. She is an experienced teacher with 10+ years, teaching AP Biology, Biology, and Forensic Science, so she knows the in's and out's of the AP Biology Exam. We hope these tips will help your understanding and preparation for the exam!

AP Biology Exam Tips

Posted by:
Karen D.
May 9, 2018

1. AP Biology is focused on FOUR Big Ideas

  • 1) Evolution2) Energy 3) Genetic4) InteractionsWhich the understanding of is assessed through application of SEVEN Science Practices: use of;1) Representations/models2) Mathematics3) Scientific questioning4) Data collection5) Data analysis6) Evaluation of evidence7) Scientific explanations/theories, and the ability to connect and relate knowledge across domains.  The exam questions assess content knowledge through application of these skills. These questions are therefore mentally draining.  The MOST important tip is to get plenty of sleep, eat healthy, and stay hydrated the days leading up to the exam so that your brain is functioning at its optimum level!

2. Identify and use study methods (see below) that work best for you and devise a study plan.

  • Choose methods that are comprehensive (that overview ALL major topics)
  • Identify areas YOU are weaker in and study those more!

AP Biology “Must Know” Topics:

→ While all material in the course is fair game for questions, below are topics to prioritize in your study plan:

Big Idea 1: The process of evolution drives diversity and unity of life

  • The main ideas of the mechanism of natural selection.
  • Explanation and application of Hardy-Weinberg Equation.
  • Interpretation/creation of phylogenetic trees and cladograms.
  • Conserved core processes as evidence of evolutionary history.
  • Reproductive isolation mechanisms which result in speciation and extinction events.
  • The events leading up to the origin of life on earth.

Big Idea 2: Biological systems utilize free energy and molecular building blocks to grow, to reproduce and to maintain dynamic homeostasis.

  • The transfer of free energy through ecosystems, including; the laws of thermodynamics, photosynthesis, and cellular respiration.
  • The structural roles of the chloroplast in photosynthesis and the mitochondria in cellular respiration.
  • The cycling of matter throughout ecosystems, including the following cycles: C, N, H2O, P
  • Cell membrane structure and major transport mechanisms across, and their role in homeostasis.
  • Cell signaling including both local and long-distance signaling, and signal transduction pathways.
  • In regards to organism structure and function, review the following:
  • systems: immune, nervous, excretory, circulatory, endocrine
  • structures: neuron, villi, nephron
  • events/homeostatic mechanisms: blood sugar control, fight or flight response, blood volume, thermoregulation, childbirth, immune response
  • positive and negative feedback loops
  • plant defenses, hormones, and responses (tropisms)
  • Prokaryotic and eukaryotic cell comparison, specifically the endomembrane system and theory of endosymbiosis.

Big Idea 3: Living systems store, retrieve, transmit and respond to information essential to life processes.

  • Cell cycle regulation, mitosis, and meiosis.
  • DNA replication during the S phase of the cell cycle.
  • Expression of genes through the protein synthesis including the role of gene regulation in cellular differentiation during embryological development.
  • Genetic engineering including bacterial transformation and gel electrophoresis.
  • Chromosomal basis of inheritance including sex-linked traitslinked genes, and linkage (genetic)maps.
  • Repressible and Inducible Operons found in bacteria (trp and lac operon).
  • Basic genetic concepts; phenotype, genotype, dominant, recessive, monohybrid cross, Punnett squares, pedigree interpretation

Big Idea 4: Biological systems interact, and these systems and their interactions possess complex properties.

  • Species interactions including; predation, herbivory, symbiotic relationships (mutualism, commensalism, parasitism).
  • Population dynamics including r vs. K strategists, mark and recapture methods, carrying capacity, and exponential vs. logistic growth.
  • Animal behavior concepts including; innate versus learned behaviors, taxis and kinesis, and proximate versus ultimate causation.
  • The four biological molecules, lipids, carbohydrates, proteins, nucleic acids; including their structure and functions (be able to connect these molecules to their roles in organisms).

Study Tips:

1. Come up with a study plan

  • No matter how much time you have left before the exam, break that time into chunks and plan WHAT topics you will study and HOW you will study them.

2. Review the 13 required College Board lab investigations

  • It is estimated that approximately 25% of the exam includes information related to these labs.  (Suggestion; watch the Bozeman Biology AP Bio Lab review videos).

3. Review the 13 required College Board lab investigations

  • Read through the summaries in an AP review book.
  • Complete practice exams as an active study tool, meaning stop and look up topics as you go.
  • Take a “mock” exam, meaning you take a practice exam under exam day conditions; 90 minutes for 69 Multiple Choice/Grid-in Questions and 90 minutes for 8 Free Response Questions (2 long and 6 short).  Some of studying should be about building test-taking stamina; being able to answer a lot of challenging questions in a short period of time.
  • Make a one page concept map/flow chart for each major topic area.  This should include the concept at the center and arrows, words, and lines showing connections to relevant content.
  • Watch review videos on topics you are less comfortable with such as; Bozeman Biology or Khan Academy (which also has practice questions).
  • Reread class/reading notes highlighting key points and using post-it notes to tag the most important.

Exam Day Tips:

1. Go to bed early the night before.

2. Wake up early the day of and eat a good breakfast 

  • Rich in protein and complex carbs that will maintain your energy level through the exam.

3. Remember your calculator, pen, pencil, good eraser, watch

4. Take a deep breath or two before you begin

  • Enter the exam with a relaxed mindset
  • At this point you have done all you can, be confident in what you know and do your best!

5. Pace yourself!

  • Multiple Choice/Grid-in: 90 minutes for 69 questions which is a little over one minute per question.
  • - In recent exams, 79% correct has been required for a 5 which means missing only 1 out of every 5 questions.
  • FRQ: 90 minutes for 8 questions.  Use 10 minutes to read through all questions.  Start with the questions you feel MOST confident with.  22 minutes for each long FRQ (2 of these) and 6 minutes per short FRQ (6 of these).  Write with pen using complete sentences, being concise yet providing clear explanations.

6. Be an active reader.  As you READ questions on the exam:

  • Underline key words and jot down notes to yourself in the margin.
  • Use the process of elimination – cross out answers you are certain are not right.
  • For graph-based questions, begin by analyzing the information given to determine what it is showing and then read through the questions.
  • If unsure of a question, choose your best answer and move on.  Circle it and go back to it if you have extra time at the end.  Trust your intuition on questions you are unsure of.  If there is one choice you are leaning towards a little more than others, choose it!

Keep working hard! We are almost there :)

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