AP® Biology Exam Guide

As one of the most popular AP® courses, AP Biology appeals to a range of high-achieving students, from science enthusiasts to those with broader intellectual interests. This guide aims to help you understand what to expect in class and on the exam. We’ll look at what concepts are taught, prerequisites, difficulty levels, and why taking the AP Biology exam may be beneficial. Whether you’re exploring which AP courses are right for you or you’re ready to dive into your AP Bio exam prep, we’ve got you covered with our comprehensive AP Biology course and exam guide.

What Is AP Biology Equivalent To & Who Can Take It?

AP Biology is equivalent to a two-semester introductory course offered in college for biology majors. The AP Biology curriculum includes a broad range of concepts typically taught in freshman-level collegiate biology classes, including molecular biology, genetics, natural selection, anatomy, and ecology. Like college-level courses, students learn through both lecture and lab practicum - which allows you to collect, analyze, and draw conclusions from hands-on experiments based on the core biological concepts you learn in class. Doing well on the AP Biology exam could earn you free college credit. Many colleges offer free credits for students with a score of 3 or above.

The ideal AP Biology student is interested in the many facets of biology and has the aptitude to study it. Most AP instructors and guidance counselors recommend taking high school biology and chemistry before signing up for AP Biology. A strong foundation in these subjects is essential to success in both the AP Biology course and exam. Because this content is rigorous, AP Bio students should prepare to dedicate a significant amount of time to mastering concepts, completing assignments, and studying for the AP Bio exam.

Many students opt for AP Bio because it aligns with their intended college major and, by extension, their career goals such as medicine or scientific research. For students who are naturally curious about biology or wish to pursue a biology-related career, AP Biology offers an excellent opportunity to sharpen critical thinking and hone practical skills crucial for collegiate and career success. For other high-achieving students interested in pursuing a liberal arts major or non-science-related career, a solid AP Biology exam performance could score credits toward core general studies requirements.

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The AP Biology exam depends heavily on factual recall and concept application. The highest score you can get on the exam is 5. Your final score, ranging from 1-5, is a weighted combination of your scores in each exam section.

The below AP Biology score table shows an estimated score conversion for each final grade.

Final AP Biology Score College Grade Equivalent
5 A+ or A
4 A- or B+ or B
3 B- or C+ or C
2 -
1 -

Understanding what to expect on the exam is also crucial. So, here’s some essential AP Biology exam information.

What Is on the AP Biology Exam?

The AP Biology exam tests your skills in concept and process mastery, as well as your understanding of biological systems on different scales. Let’s go through some essential AP Biology exam information so you know what to expect on the exam.

The exam will test your knowledge of four main concepts for the course:

  1. Evolution
  2. Energetics
  3. Information Storage & Transfer
  4. Systems Interactions

While these main concepts are the foundation of the course, each topic is divided into commonly taught units to make teaching and learning efficient and comprehensive. Let’s look at what these 8 units are and their relative weightage in the exam.

Instruction Units Exam Weightage
Chemistry of Life 8–11%
Cell Structure & Function 10–13%
Cellular Energetics 12–16%
Cell Communication & Cell Cycle 10–15%
Heredity 8–11%
Gene Expression & Regulation 12–16%
Natural Selection 13–20%
Ecology 10–15%

AP Biology Exam Format for 2023

The exam format is divided into two major sections — multiple choice and free response. There are a total of 60 multiple-choice questions and 6 free-response questions. The AP Biology Exam lasts for 3 hours in total. There is no penalty for incorrect answers, so take your best shot at each question.

Question Type Score Weightage Number of Questions Time
Multiple-Choice Questions 50% of the total score 60 questions 90 minutes
Free-Response Questions 50% of the total score 6 questions 90 minutes

Free-response questions are divided into two types — four short-answer questions and two long-answer questions. In other words, these answers require paragraph-form answers. Unlike the multiple-choice section of the exam, which is computer-graded, this section is graded manually by AP teachers and college professors called AP Readers. They review and score each free-response answer individually.

If you would like to know more about the exam format and the topics on which you will be tested, check out our overview of the AP Biology exam format. Now, let’s get to the most important part of this AP Biology Guide — Why AP Biology? Should you take the AP Biology Exam? Let’s find out!

Why Take AP Biology?

AP Biology is consistently one of the most popular AP courses each year. In the year 2023 alone, 239, 470 students attempted the AP Biology exam, and 64.5% scored 3 or above. So, not only is it a course that enjoys some fame, but it’s also one that you can score big on!

If there’s one thing that students who took AP Biology will tell you, it’s that it was challenging. But remember, challenging yourself can be exciting. Unlike other subjects, this course is one of the few classes that allows students to apply the concepts they learn in real life. AP Bio provides an opportunity to learn concepts through hands-on lab work rather than being centered solely on memorization.

Let’s break down some of the advantages of taking AP Biology to help you decide whether taking AP Bio is right for you:

  1. Competitive Transcript for College Admission:

    Admissions officers tend to look favorably at students who have AP courses on their high school transcripts. Strong performance in the AP Biology course and on the exam shows admissions committees that you are ready for college-level academics. So, taking AP Biology in high school and doing well will likely give you a leg up during the college admissions process.

  2. Free Credits:

    Earning college credits is one of the most significant advantages of taking AP Bio in high school and acing the exam. Since AP Biology is designed to be equivalent to an introductory college-level biology course, many colleges offer free credits to those who have scored 3 or higher on their AP Biology exam. The number of credits you can earn will depend on your score and the college you attend. Each college maintains its own conversion policy, which dictates how many credits you can get based on your score.

  3. Save on Time & Tuition:

    Depending on the credit hour requirements of your college or university, you may save both time and money by earning a 3+ or higher on your AP Bio exam. Suppose your college determines tuition by the number of credits you take each semester. In that case, scoring college credit for acing the AP Bio exam means saving both time and money, which you can put towards goals such as graduating early. One more thing to consider is that after getting the credits for AP Biology, your college schedule is free to take more advanced courses! Many colleges have an introductory, two-semester biology course designed to get first-year students used to the pace and depth of collegiate-level biology. This course is often a mandatory prerequisite for biology majors or one of the suggested courses to fulfill the general science requirement for non-science majors. Once you crush the AP Bio exam, you can sign up for other coursework and skip the basics.

  4. An In-Depth Introduction to Biology:

    The AP Biology course is designed to cultivate your understanding of biology and science practices at the college level. While some topics may be similar to what you have in high school, AP Biology offers a more in-depth study. It encourages students to develop an analytical, inquiry-based approach to studying biology.

  5. Fun Lab Experiments:

    AP Biology provides the opportunity to work hands-on in the laboratory on experiments that illustrate the concepts covered in the course. The course requires 25% of the instructional time to be dedicated to hands-on laboratory work. This will help you develop advanced practical skills in the scientific method that will help you succeed in college lab work.

  6. Community:

    There’s nothing better than finding like-minded people with whom you can discuss your favorite topics. Taking AP Biology will open a window to a world of biology enthusiasts like you! Many platforms help AP Biology students connect from around the world. You might even find many students in your city who have opted into these groups. Interacting with your peers allows you to discuss your latest lab experiment, collaboratively study for the exam, discuss college admissions, or even help you decide on career paths.

  7. Strong Foundation for College:

    The concepts you will study in AP Biology align with what is covered in a foundational course in college. Taking AP Bio before college will give you a strong foothold in college-level biology. Apart from this, it will also expose you to the levels of difficulty you can expect with college-level biology. The pace at which AP Biology progresses is similar to what you will experience in college. You will have already adjusted your study methods to suit collegiate-level pace, giving you a leg up when you begin college.

  8. Decide Whether Biology Is Right For You:

    Is biology for you? Taking AP Biology is the perfect way to get a feel of what studying biology at higher levels would be like. It could help you figure out whether or not you are ready for or want a biology-focused career.

As you can see, many perks come with tackling AP Biology and acing the exam, especially if you’re a science enthusiast or high achiever looking for a challenge.

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Illustration of proton gradient in chloroplasts

Should I Take AP Biology?

The course is designed to be challenging, so acing the AP Biology course plus achieving a score of 3+ is an impressive accomplishment that may be more attainable for students who can answer “yes” to one or more of the following questions:

  1. Have You Studied Biology in High School?

    It is recommended across the board that students intending to opt for AP Biology should study biology at the high school level. It is even better if students take Chemistry, as well. Many concepts in AP Biology require an understanding of chemical compounds and reactions. While you can still take AP Biology without taking biology as a subject in high school, it isn’t suggested. It can be very challenging to grasp concepts and do well because the foundation you would’ve otherwise built from studying high school biology would be lacking.

  2. Are You Passionate About Biology?

    If you are naturally drawn to biology and find the subject matter interesting, you will likely enjoy this course. This course will allow you to explore various advanced biology concepts in a new way allowing you to delve deeper into exciting topics like molecular biology, natural selection, genetics, and ecology. You’ll explore the intertwined nature of biological systems from a microscopic scale to a macroscopic scale. If this excites you, AP Biology is a good fit for you.

  3. Do You Want To Study Biology in College?

    For students who are 100% certain they want to pursue a biology major in college, taking AP Biology and crushing the exam is a no-brainer since it’s a great way to knock out a foundational prerequisite course. Suppose you are considering a biology major vs. another science major. In that case, AP Biology allows you to see whether you like biology over the other sciences, so your academic and career goals are clear early in college. High-achieving students who lean more toward other subjects also take AP Biology and achieve big things by demonstrating to colleges that they are academically well-rounded, plus scoring credit toward their general education requirements.

  4. Has Biology Been a High-Scoring Subject in the Past?

    If you're considering AP Biology, you should know how well you can do in biology based on your previous science coursework. While being passionate about the subject is important, it’s equally essential to be able to study and ace the exams. If one of your academic strengths has been biology, then AP Biology is a good fit for you.

We also recommend that you talk to people you know who have taken AP Biology and the exam at your school. They can help you understand what to expect so you can decide whether the course is right for you.

Going through the course curriculum is another excellent way to explore whether the topics covered in AP Biology interest you.

How Hard Is AP Biology?

One of the most frequently asked questions has been — Is AP Biology hard? Just like trying to decide whether AP Biology is the subject for you, figuring out if it's hard or not is also subjective. Each student's aptitude for biology varies, as does their ability to prepare for a highly challenging and competitive exam. But remember that in 2022, over 67% of students1 who attempted the exam got an overall score of 3 to 5.

We've put together a few pointers to help you gauge how easy or difficult you might find the course in this AP Biology exam guide.

  1. If math and science have always been your strong suit, you may find tackling the AP Biology exam easier than others. The course requires a basic understanding of high school biology, math, and chemistry.
  2. To succeed in AP Biology, you will need to learn and apply concepts demonstrating enhanced scientific reasoning and cultivate strong writing skills. You will have to prepare for each class and the exam while dedicating time to reflect on what you learned through executing labs. Because the AP Bio exam questions are primarily application-based, you will need to master a deep understanding of concepts and then use that knowledge to draw scientific conclusions.
  3. Consider your academic and extracurricular schedule to decide if you will have the time to accommodate AP classes and prep work. If your time after school is heavily committed to activities, plus you are preparing for other competitive exams, balancing a challenging AP course like AP Biology may be overwhelming. Be sure to reflect on your weekly schedule to see if taking the course is a good choice for your overall well-being.
  4. Talking to your guidance counselor is always an excellent way to decide whether you can manage AP Biology. They can advise you on whether you have the aptitude to take on the course and if it's a healthy choice when balanced with your overall course load.

AP Biology Exam Review Tips

AP Biology may be challenging, but we have a few quick exam review tips to help you ace the exam!

  1. Make a schedule:

    A well-planned program is the best way to keep track of the topics you've covered and those you have yet to work on. Some students review practice test questions as they work through each unit in class. Others choose to review the material in time blocks - weekly or monthly. Because the AP Bio exam requires you to demonstrate applied knowledge, preparing over time is the best path to success. A few weeks before the test, set aside a little time each day to refresh your knowledge on material covered earlier in the year.

  2. Get familiar with the exam's format:

    Knowing the exam's structure will help you know what to expect on test day. Use practice questions to get a feel for applying the concepts you learn through lectures and labs. Remember that half of the test is multiple choice, and half is written. Set aside some time to review sample questions for the written portion, so you have an outline structure for your answers to demonstrate your grasp of the material and ability to draw scientific conclusions.

  3. Test prep toolkit:

    Build a quality toolkit of review resources beyond your textbook and class notes. As you learn through the year, create your formula sheet. This sheet is excellent for quick reviewing before tests, plus organizing the material as you go through helps you soak in the concepts at a deeper level.

    Invest in good AP Bio test prep material, such as UWorld's online AP Bio practice tests and flashcards, to boost your chances of a good score. Our practice tests allow you to set the number of questions you want to attempt and track your progress with detailed answer explanations for your reference. The explanations also have tons of educational illustrations for the answers, so it's an interactive way to learn the concepts. We design our material to be challenging so you can get comfortable answering complex questions. By the time you take the test, you'll be able to dominate the exam!

Check out our guide on How to Study AP Biology for more AP Biology exam review tips.

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Illustration from UWorld AP Biology explanations showing how exocytosis uses energy to transport molecules out of cells via vesicles

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

For the AP Biology exam, you would need to carry the following:
  • A four-function, graphing, or scientific calculator2
  • No. 2 pencils to use in Section 1 of the exam
  • Dark blue or black inked pens
You can find previous AP Biology released questions on the College Board website.
The AP Biology exam in 2024 will be held on May 16 at 12 PM local time.

Note that while you are permitted to retake the exam, and there is no restriction on how many times you can retake it, the College Board offers advanced placement exams once a year. For a graduating senior, it may be impractical to retake the exam.

Don’t be discouraged if you don’t achieve the score you hoped for on the AP Biology exam. Research from the College Board shows students who take AP courses but score below a 3 perform better than their non-AP peers in introductory college courses. Reflect on what study skills you may need to cultivate for future academic and career success. Use that knowledge to help you as you move forward in your studies.

Most students take the AP Bio exam in their junior or senior year of high school.
The AP Biology exam costs $98 for students residing in the U.S, Canada and U.S. territories and $128 for everyone else. You can learn more about this from our AP Exam Eligibility & Registration page.
No, but taking a high school chemistry course before taking AP Biology is highly recommended.


1(2024). STUDENT SCORE DISTRIBUTIONS. AP Central Retrieved February 07, 2024 from https://apcentral.collegeboard.org/media/pdf/ap-score-distributions-by-subject-2023.pdf 

2(2024). AP Calculator Policy and Equations and Formulas Sheet. AP Biology. AP Central Retrieved February 07, 2024, from https://apcentral.collegeboard.org/courses/ap-biology/exam

Read More About AP Biology

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This article has everything you need to know about how the AP Biology exam is scored, the distribution of scores, and the average score you will need to gain college credit.
A comprehensive guide for expert tips and guidance on how to study and ace AP Biology using the right course materials with different schedules.
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