AP® Biology Labs
Labs are an important part of what you learn in AP® science classes, and knowing how to write an AP Biology lab report is a skill that will serve you well not only on the AP Biology exam but in helping you think like a scientist. Why does this matter? Well, scientists must be able to communicate their findings to other scientists, and lab reports are one way in which to accomplish this.
Conducting AP Biology labs can be challenging for both students and teachers as it requires a significant amount of time to conduct the experiments. To help students, we developed a list of biology labs, lab materials, and important information to consider for AP Biology lab investigations.
Why are AP Biology Labs Important?
The AP Biology curriculum is geared toward helping students like you understand important biological concepts as well as the scientific evidence that supports these concepts. The AP Biology course focuses on developing your conceptual understanding of biology, scientific reasoning, and quantitative skills.
To that end, the College Board® requires that AP Biology teachers spend at least 25% of their instructional time doing lab investigations in the course. A minimum of 8 labs is expected, so about 2 from each of the four big ideas that connect topics in the AP Biology curriculum. The AP Biology lab manual provides 13 inquiry-based labs that give students practice in designing experiments, collecting and analyzing data, and refining scientific explanations. The experience of “doing science” that students receive by conducting these kinds of labs plays a crucial part in preparing them for the AP Biology exam, which assesses students’ science practice skills as well as their content knowledge.
AP Biology Lab Materials
The equipment and materials required for AP Biology lab investigations are generally similar to those used in typical high school-level biology courses. However, access to some specialized equipment (eg, gel electrophoresis equipment, spectrophotometers, etc) may be needed to conduct certain investigations.
What labs are in AP Biology?
There used to be 12 labs (called the “Dirty Dozen”) that every AP Biology student was supposed to do. However, that is no longer the case. The AP Biology lab manual that is now used includes 13 inquiry-based lab investigations that are aligned with the AP Biology curriculum framework. However, teachers may substitute other labs that are inquiry-based and cover content within the curriculum framework (as long as a minimum of 2 labs are done for each of the four big ideas in AP Biology).
The list of AP Biology labs consists of the following 13 labs (grouped by big idea) from the lab manual:
The process of evolution explains the unity of life as well as its diversity.
Investigation 1 – Artificial Selection
In this lab, students design and carry out an experiment using Wisconsin Fast Plants®. After collecting and analyzing data on plant characteristics over two generations of plants, students explain the effect humans had on the diversity of the plant population and explain the relationship between environmental changes and evolutionary changes in the plant population. This lab allows students to gain experience measuring, counting, and conducting statistical analysis of data. Students also gain experience describing data in tables and graphs.
Investigation 2 – Mathematical Modeling: Hardy-Weinberg
This investigation allows students to design and build a computer spreadsheet to model how the frequencies of alleles in a hypothetical gene pool change over time. Students should be able to describe conditions that affect allele and genotype frequencies in a population and explain what happens when the conditions of the Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium model are not met by a population. This lab provides students with an opportunity to develop skills in the use of spreadsheet software and to practice mathematical calculations using Hardy-Weinberg Equilibrium equations.
Investigation 3 – Comparing DNA Sequences to Understand Evolutionary Relationships with BLAST
In this investigation, students use an online bioinformatics tool called BLAST (Basic Local Alignment Search Tool) to analyze DNA sequences obtained from an animal fossil. Students use the resulting data to determine this animal’s evolutionary relationship to other organisms and construct a cladogram depicting these relationships. After completing the lab, students should also be able to explain how molecular variation within organisms affects their ability to survive and reproduce.