AP® Biology Exam Guide

Have you decided to take the AP Exams? Are you now wondering which subjects to choose? Well, if terms like DNA sequence, cladogram, and diffusion and osmosis excite you, then AP Biology might be the subject for you!

While it is one of the more popular courses high school students choose to take, it may not be for everyone. This guide aims to help you decide whether or not the course is right for you. We’ll take a look at what concepts are taught, prerequisites, difficulty levels, and why it may be beneficial to sit for the AP Biology exam.

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

AP Biology is a preparatory college-level course. This course is equivalent to a two-semester introductory course offered in college for biology majors. The AP Biology curriculum covers genetics, cellular processes, ecology, and more concepts that are generally taught at the college level. It also includes laboratory work where you will be required to collect, analyze, and draw conclusions from experiments based on core biological concepts.

Since the course material is at the college level, it can get overwhelming for someone who does not have an acute interest in the sciences — especially biology. The ideal AP Biology student will be someone who is not only interested in the many facets of biology but who also has the aptitude to study it. Since the exam depends heavily on factual recall and concept application, it can be challenging.

Now that’s not to say that you can’t prepare yourself to ace the exam, only that it would be easier for you to successfully complete the course and exam if you already have some experience with biology. So you might be wondering if you can take AP Biology without taking biology at the high school level. Most AP instructors will tell you that taking high school biology and chemistry before signing up for AP Biology is essential to your success in this college-level class. They aren’t wrong. A strong foundation in these subjects at the high-school level will automatically make preparing for the AP Biology exam a tad bit easier.

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The highest score you can get on the exam is 5. Doing well in the AP Biology exam can earn you free college credit! Yes, you read that right. Many colleges offer free credits for students with a score of 3 or above. So if you’re someone who wants to continue studying biology at the college level, it could be beneficial to take AP Biology. In fact, a large percentage of students opt for AP Bio because it is a core part of their college major of choice and, by extension, their career.

In 2021, the total number of points achievable on the AP Biology exam was 120. Your final score, ranging from 1-5, would be a weighted combination of your scores in each section of the exam. Here’s what the AP Bio score and its equivalent college grades look like:

AP Exam ScoreEquivalent College Grade
5A+ or A
4A- or B+ or B
3B- 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 to take note of.

What Is on the AP Biology Exam?

The AP Biology exam is designed to test your skills in concept explanation, analyzing visual representations, and determining scientific questions and methods. Let’s go through some key AP Biology exam information so you know exactly what to expect on the exam.

The exam will test your knowledge of the 4 Big Ideas for the course:

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

While the Big Ideas are the foundation of the course, each of these topics 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 UnitsExam Weightage
Chemistry of Life8–11 %
Cell Structure & Function10–13 %
Cellular Energetics12–16 %
Cell Communication & Cell Cycle10–15 %
Heredity8–11 %
Gene Expression & Regulation12–16 %
Natural Selection13–20 %
Ecology10–15 %

These concepts are designed primarily to ensure that you develop 6 key science practices as you journey through AP Biology. All the questions on the exam will be based on these practices, namely:

  1. Concept Explanation
  2. Visual Representations
  3. Questions and Methods
  4. Representing and Describing Data
  5. Statistical Tests and Data Analysis
  6. Argumentation

More information on the units, topics, and major concepts you will study in AP Biology may be found in our guide to the AP Biology course and exam description.

AP Biology Exam Format for 2022

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 system of negative marking for incorrect answers, so try and make sure you take your best shot at each question regardless.

Question TypeScore Weightage Number of Questions Time
Multiple-Choice Questions50% of the total score60 questions90 minutes
Free-Response Questions50% of the total score6 questions90 minutes

Free-response questions are further divided into two types — 4 short-answer questions and 2 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 you will be tested on, you can check out our page on 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 has consistently been one of the most popular AP courses. In the year 2021 alone, a total of 212,198 students attempted the AP Biology Exam and more than 50% of the students 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 in its own way. There is a lot of memorization involved, but at the same time, AP Bio is one of those few subjects that puts a heavy focus on application of concepts. So it’s not all one big memorization drag; it’s loads of fun. Plus, doing well could equate to some serious street cred with your peers.

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Here’s a breakdown of all the advantages of taking AP Biology. These advantages should help you see why taking AP Bio can be worth your time.

  1. Competitive Transcript for College Admission: Admissions officers are always appreciative of students who have AP courses on their high school transcripts. This shows admissions committees that the student is ready for college-level academics. So, if you take AP Biology in high school and do well, it will definitely give you a leg up during the college admissions process. You will also have a larger pool of colleges to choose from since colleges are more certain of your ability to perform well.
  2. Free Credits: Colleges have an introductory, two-semester biology course designed to get freshmen used to the pace and depth of college biology. However, as we saw earlier, AP Biology is equivalent to the same two-semester college course and covers the same content as well.

    Because of this, many colleges across the country will 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 apply to. Each college will have their own conversion policy which will dictate how many credits you can get based on your score. This is one of the biggest advantages of taking AP Bio in high school. One more thing to keep in mind is that after getting the credits for AP Biology, your college schedule is free to take more advanced courses!

  3. Save on Tuition: It goes without saying that with free credits comes a lowered tuition fee. If you do well enough on your AP Biology exam, you can get a few free credits. This will significantly reduce your final tuition cost.
  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 of these topics. It encourages students to develop an analytical, inquiry-based approach to studying biology.
  5. Fun Lab Experiments: If you decide to take AP Biology, you will get the chance to enjoy working in the laboratory on various investigations related to the course material. This will help you develop advanced science practices that will help you in college. The course requires that 25% of the instructional time be dedicated to hands-on laboratory work. That should excite any young biologist.
  6. Community: There’s nothing better than finding like-minded people with whom you can discuss your favorite things. Taking AP Biology will open a window to a whole world of biology enthusiasts just like you! There are many platforms that help connect students taking AP Biology from around the world. You might even find many students in your city who have opted for it. Interacting with your peers can help you prepare for the exam, college admissions, decide career paths, or simply discuss your latest lab experiment.
  7. Strong Foundation for College: As we said earlier, the concepts you will study in AP Biology are the concepts that are taught as a foundational course in college. Taking AP Bio before entering 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. This means that you will have already adjusted your study methods to suit this pace, giving you a leg up when you begin college.
  8. Decide Whether Biology Works 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 even help you figure out whether or not you are ready for, or want a career that is biology-focussed.

These are just a few of the many advantages of taking AP Biology in high school. It’s because of these unmatched benefits that many students choose to take it.

Although, the next question to ask yourself is, Should you take APBiology? Here are a few things to evaluate before choosing to take AP Biology.

Should I Take AP Biology?

Choosing to take AP Biology is not an objective decision. Each student is different and will have a different aptitude for studying biology. So it can’t be said for sure that everyone can take AP Biology and achieve a passing score of 3 or above. You can make it easier to decide by asking yourself some 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. In fact, it is even better if students take Chemistry as well. There are many concepts in AP Biology that 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?
    Now we know you probably wouldn’t even be considering AP Biology if you weren’t already certain of your love for biology. However, given how challenging the course can be, it is important to ask yourself if you’re ready to give it your 100%. When preparing for the AP Biology exam gets overwhelming, you should be able to take a step back and remind yourself of why you chose to do it. So be sure that you are passionate about all things biology.
  3. Do You Want To Study Biology in College?
    AP Biology makes the most sense to take when you are certain to continue studying biology at the college level. Given that it doubles as a foundational course and a credit saver, most students take it only when they want to continue in the field.
  4. Has Biology Been a High-Scoring Subject in the Past?
    If you’re taking biology in high school, you should have a fair idea of how well you can do in biology. While being passionate about the subject is important, it’s also equally important to be able to study and ace the exams. If one of your academic strengths has been biology, then you will definitely enjoy AP Biology.

Apart from asking these questions, you could also talk to your peers who have already started the course or to seniors who have completed it. They can help you get an idea of what to expect so you can decide whether you are ready for it or not. Going through the course curriculum is also another great way to determine whether AP Biology will really be your jam.

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 2021, over 50% of students who attempted the exam got an overall score of between 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, then you should find it a lot easier to tackle the AP Biology exam than others. The course requires a basic understanding of high school biology, math, and chemistry.
  2. Study methods for AP Biology involve a fair amount of memorization but the questions are primarily application-based. So you will have to dedicate proper time to prepare for each class and the exam. It’s always beneficial to know whether you prefer subjects that depend solely on analytical thinking over something like history, which is all about memorization. Mainly, to achieve success in this course, you will need a combination of memorization skills, concept application abilities, and enhanced scientific reasoning.
  3. Go through the curriculum for a better idea of what to expect. Doing this will give you a clear idea of whether you have the required knowledge to tackle the exam. Since AP Biology material is at the college level, if you are unaware of some of the core concepts being taught, you might find it hard to cope.
  4. Consider your high school schedule to see if you will have the time to accommodate AP classes and prep work. If you are enrolled in a number of extracurricular activities and are preparing for other competitive exams, it could get difficult to manage your time. So go through your schedule and see if taking the course is something you can do without burning yourself out.
  5. Talking to your guidance counselor is always a good way to decide whether you will be able to manage AP Biology. They can advise you on whether you have the aptitude to take on the course or if you might find it difficult to manage.

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: Having a well-planned schedule is the best way to keep track of the topics you’ve covered and the ones you have yet to work on.
  2. Get familiar with the format of the exam: Knowing the format of the exam will help you know exactly what to expect on the exam. That way you won’t be caught off guard in the middle of the examination.
  3. Review material: Invest in good review material such as UWorld’s online practice tests and flashcards. You can also create your own formula sheet for quick reviewing closer to the exam.

To get more such exam review tips for AP Biology, check out our AP Biology Study Guide. You can also get familiar with the concepts and format of the exam by trying out online AP Bio practice tests at UWorld. 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 for you to learn the concepts.

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Illustration from UWorld AP Biology explanation showing cell cycle checkpoints

Frequently Answered Questions (FAQs)

For the AP Biology exam you would need to carry the following:
  • A four function, graphing, or scientific calculator
  • 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 2022 will be held in two sessions May 2nd – 6th and May 9th – 13th.
If you do fail the AP Biology exam, you can always retake it. In fact, you can retake the exam any number of times.
Most students take the AP Bio exam in their junior or senior year of high school.
The AP Biology exam costs $96 for students residing in the U.S, Canada and U.S. territories and $126 for everyone else. You can learn more about this from our AP Exam Eligibility & Registration page.
No, but it is highly recommended that you take a high school chemistry course before taking AP Biology.

Read More About AP Exams

Understanding the format of the exam gives you an advantage. So we’ve put together an easy-to-read guide that breaks down the exam format, types of questions on the exam, and more!
Check out our guide to the AP Biology curriculum for more in depth information on the units, topics and key concepts you will study in the course.
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 study guide for tips and guidance on how to study and ace AP Biology using the right course materials with different schedules.
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