AP® Biology Multiple Choice Questions

In this article, we will discuss how to use key strategies, provide tips on how to tackle multiple choice questions, and an overview of each type of multiple choice questions you will see on the AP Biology exam. Using these tips and skills, you will be equipped to do well on the MCQ section of the AP Biology exam.

Format of AP Biology MCQ section

The first section of the AP Biology exam consists of 60 multiple-choice questions and is worth 50% of your final exam score. This is a huge percentage, but if you know how to approach the different kinds of multiple-choice questions the exam will throw at you, you’ll be able to pass this section with flying colors.

Following is a list of all multiple choice question types you will encounter on the Section I of AP Biology exam:
  1. Text-based questions
    1. Short-form text
    2. Long-form text
  2. Diagram-based questions
  3. Data table-based questions
  4. Graph-based questions
  5. Calculations required questions
  6. Image answer choice questions
    1. Graph answer choice questions
    2. Diagram answer choice questions
  7. Passage-based questions

How to Approach AP Biology Multiple-Choice Questions

Each question type you encounter will be unique, and so, each one must be approached differently to get the right answer. Below, we define each question type, provide tips to help you confidently tackle and select the correct answer, and also give you an example of each question type, which you will likely see on the AP Biology exam. Our UWorld question bank has hundreds of these questions, so we will also include an example of how we walk you through these question types using our illustrated explanations.

Text-Based Questions

For this type of multiple-choice question, you will be required to only analyze text information in the question to choose the correct answer. Short-form text questions generally test your knowledge-based skills. However, you should not assume that short-form questions are easy; you could be tested on a fairly difficult concept with a question from this category.

In contrast, long-form text questions generally give some background information that you will have to combine with your existing knowledge to pick the right answer. Similarly, you should not assume that long-form text questions are more difficult. Sometimes an exam question can overwhelm you with its lengthy text but ask a very simple concept. So, you should approach short- and long-form variations of text-based questions with equal focus.

Tips for Answering Text-Based Questions:

  • Read the question carefully, circle or underline critical information
  • Mentally review what you know about the question topic
  • Read the answers and cross out any that are obviously incorrect
  • If you are not sure about the answer, select the answer that seems best, but mark the question so that you can return to it if time permits at the end of the test

This type of question is generally one or two sentences long and will generally require you to use your content knowledge to answer. Below is an example of this question type.

MCQ 1 Example

The combined expression of several genes has been shown to influence the production of unique fingerprint patterns in each human being. These fingerprint patterns are fully formed approximately two months before birth. Which of the following would confirm that fingerprint pattern is an example of a trait exhibiting phenotypic plasticity?

  • A) Fingerprint patterns always differ when comparing two individuals that are not related.
  • B) Identical twins sharing all their DNA sequences still express different fingerprint patterns.
  • C) If the genes responsible for coding fingerprint patterns are inhibited, fingerprint patterns will not form before birth.
  • D) Each gene that codes for fingerprint patterns is transcribed at a different time point during embryonic development.

What You Must Know:
To answer this question, you will need to know the definition of phenotypic plasticity, a term that will be tested on the exam, and apply it to the given question scenario.

This type of question gives more information (2-6 sentences) in the question stem. You will often need to combine this information with your understanding of scientific processes to choose the best answer.

For questions like these, you can make diagrams and create a short-hand summary of key information quickly in the margin of the test booklet. This will help you to rapidly tie in the connections without being overwhelmed by all the text. Check out an example of this question type below.

MCQ 2 Example

Many species of ants live together in large groups, called colonies, which contain fertile males and either fertile or sterile females. The fertile females, called queens, lay eggs and mate with males. The queen stores male sperm in an internal pouch and selectively uses the sperm to determine the sex of her offspring.

Eggs are fertilized when the queen allows for the deposition of the male’s sperm into her reproductive tract. If there is no deposition of sperm, her eggs remain unfertilized. Unfertilized eggs develop as fertile males whereas fertilized eggs develop as either fertile or sterile females. The queen produces mainly sterile female offspring that work for the colony but when some fertilized eggs are given proper nourishment, fertile queen offspring are produced. Which of the following best explains why evolution has led to the continued presence of sterile females in these various ant species?

  • A) Sterile and fertile ants within the same colony exhibit different phenotypes, causing increased genetic diversity of the colony.
  • B) The large number of sterile females drastically increases competition for resources among ants within the colony, allowing only some individuals to survive.
  • C) Sterile females devote most of their energy to feeding and protecting fertile individuals and their offspring, increasing the chances that genes within the colony are passed to future generations.
  • D) The genes of sterile females are unaffected by natural selection, causing their genetic material to never be passed to the next generation.

What You Must Know:
This question is a lot to read through, but the key terms you need to know are evolution and natural selection. You can apply your knowledge of these terms to the information presented in the question stem to arrive at the correct answer choice.

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Illustration from UWorld AP Biology explanation showing cell cycle checkpoints

Diagram-Based Questions

This type of question provides a diagram in the question stem and text either above or below the diagram, and sometimes in both locations. This may be a type of diagram you are familiar with (eg, a cladogram or a signaling pathway) or you may encounter an unfamiliar diagram (eg, a particular type of animal mating behavior). Either way, you will need to analyze the diagram in order to select the correct answer for the question.

Tips for Answering Diagram-Based Questions:

  • Read the question carefully, circle or underline critical information
  • Carefully examine the diagram and mark any parts of it that seem especially relevant to the question
  • Read the answers and cross out any that are obviously incorrect
  • If you are not sure about the answer, select the answer that seems best, but mark the question so that you can return to it if time permits at the end of the test

Don’t be intimidated or scared by diagrams you are not familiar with; all the information you need is provided! Below is an example of this question type.

MCQ 3 Sample

The diagram above depicts endocytosis of cellular debris by a cell. The arrow indicates the movement of the vesicle that was derived from the plasma membrane during this process. If the engulfed cellular debris is to be digested to allow the materials to be recycled by the cell, which of the following will most likely occur following endocytosis?

  • A) The vesicle will expel the debris via exocytosis.
  • B) The vesicle will move to the Golgi apparatus.
  • C) The vesicle will fuse with a lysosome.
  • D) The vesicle will synthesize hydrolytic enzymes.

What You Must Know:
To tackle this question, you need to understand the process of endocytosis and the function of different cellular organelles (eg, Golgi, lysosomes). You will then apply your knowledge of these concepts to the diagram in the question stem to choose the best answer.

Data Table-Based Questions

Questions of this type involve a table in the question stem in addition to text. You will need to use the data from the table, along with any other information given in the question text, to select the right answer. Sometimes, you may also need to recall content knowledge to answer this type of question.

Tips for Answering Data Table-Based Questions:

  • Read the question carefully, circle or underline critical information
  • Carefully examine the information in the table, pay attention to the row and column headings and the table’s title (if present)
  • Look for patterns in the data, circle any data that seems especially relevant to the question
  • Read the answers and cross out any that are obviously incorrect
  • If you are not sure about the answer, select the answer that seems best, but mark the question so that you can return to it if time permits at the end of the test

You will encounter both small and large data tables, but don’t be afraid of these. You just need to identify the relevant portion(s) for answering the question. You will find an example of this question type below.

MCQ 4 Sample

Cell Deficient in
1 Simple carbohydrates
2 rRNA
3 Nucleotides
4 Amino acids

In an experiment, four cells are being assessed for the efficiency at which they perform transcription. These four cells have each been experimentally manipulated to be deficient in one specific molecule. However, all cells still contain enough molecules to function at levels necessary for survival. The table above lists the cells and their molecular deficiencies. Assuming all other conditions in the cells are equal, which experimental cell is predicted to be the LEAST efficient at performing transcription?

  • A) Cell 1
  • B) Cell 2
  • C) Cell 3
  • D) Cell 4

What You Must Know:
To approach this question, you need to have a basic understanding of the process of transcription and the molecules involved in this process. Using this knowledge, you will be able to select the correct answer choice from the options presented in the table.

Graph-Based Questions

The question stem of graph-based questions will provide you with a graph displaying data of some sort and a text description of what is being shown. You will have to use your graphing knowledge to analyze the graph and select the best answer for the question. Like table-based questions, graph-based questions can be intimidating at first because sometimes they display a lot of information.

Tips for Answering Graph-Based Questions:

  • Read the question carefully, circle or underline critical information
  • Carefully examine the graph, pay attention to the labels on the axes, the legend (if present), and the information given in the caption below the graph (if present)
  • Mark any parts of the graph that seem especially relevant to the question
  • Read the answers and cross out any that are obviously incorrect
  • If you are not sure about the answer, select the answer that seems best but mark the question so that you can return to it if time permits at the end of the test.

If you follow the tips above, you will have no reason to be scared of this type of question! You can see an example below.

MCQ 5 Example
Scientists are studying cell division in two different eukaryotic cell types. For each cell type, they record the number of chromosomes present in the parental cell prior to cell division, and then record the number of chromosomes present in one of the daughter cells after the completion of cell division. The results of this study are shown in the graph below.

Which of the following processes most likely occurs during cell division in cell type II but not in cell type I?

  • A) Condensation of chromatin
  • B) Pairing of homologous chromosomes
  • C) Production of genetically identical daughter cells
  • D) Distribution of cellular organelles to daughter cells

What You Must Know:
This question relies on your understanding of mitosis and meiosis, along with key similarities and differences between the two processes. Using the graph in the stem, you will apply your understanding to select the best choice.

Calculations Required Questions

This type of question involves taking information provided in the question stem and performing a calculation of some kind to get the right answer. Sometimes, the information you need in order to do the calculation is in the text; other times, it will be found in a table or graph.

Tips for Answering Calculations Required Questions:

  • Read the question carefully, circle or underline critical information
  • You may use blank space in your test booklet as scratch paper (make sure not to make any stray marks on the answer sheet)
  • Read the answers and cross out any that are obviously incorrect
  • If you are not sure about the answer, select the answer that seems best, but mark the question so that you can return to it if time permits at the end of the test.

Remember that you have an Equations and Formulas sheet to refer to on the exam, and you may also use an approved calculator to arrive at the best answer for the question. Below is an example of this question type.

MCQ 6 Example
The polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is an experimental technique in which DNA segments are amplified. Each round of PCR causes the amount of DNA present to double. Assuming the rate of amplification remains consistent, how many copies of one double-stranded DNA segment will be present after five rounds of PCR?

  • A) 8
  • B) 16
  • C) 32
  • D) 256

What You Must Know:
In addition to basic math skills, you must also understand the polymerase chain reaction to perform the calculations required to answer this question.

Image Answer Choice Questions

This type of question is a bit more complex because instead of choosing a sentence or numerical option as the best answer choice, you will have to choose an image, such as a graph or diagram, that best represents the answer. The stem may or may not contain an image as well. Either way, you will have to apply information given in the stem and sometimes your content knowledge to select the best image choice. This type of question can be a little scary because it is much more common to pick a text-based answer. However, if you follow the tips below, you will be able to answer this type of question with ease!

These questions will require you to select the answer choice with the best graphical representation of the question. Tips for Answering Graph Answer Choice Questions:

  • Read the question carefully, circle or underline critical information
  • Carefully examine each answer choice graph. Pay attention to the labels (and units) on the axes and to the legend (if present). Mark any parts of the graphs that seem especially relevant to the question.
  • Cross out any choices that are obviously incorrect
  • If you are not sure about the answer, select the answer that seems best but mark the question so that you can return to it if time permits at the end of the test.

Keep reading to see an example of this type of question.

MCQ 7 Example Differentiation is the process by which less complex, immature cells develop into their mature, complex forms. Fibroblasts are a type of cell specialized for synthesizing and secreting fibers of the protein collagen. Nerve cells are characterized by their ability to be excited, that is, to change their membrane potential in response to stimuli. In their differentiated states, fibroblasts and nerve cells have different patterns of gene expression. In a research study, a team of investigators introduced the genes for three nerve cell–specific transcription factors into fibroblasts. They hypothesized that changing the pattern of gene expression in fibroblasts by this means would cause them to develop characteristics of nerve cells. To assess this possibility, they measured the membrane potential and capacitance (charge separation across the membrane) 8 days and 20 days after the expression of nerve-specific transcription factors was initiated in fibroblasts. The results were compared with values from a control set of nerve cells. Which of the following best predicts the results if the investigators’ hypothesis is correct?
  • A)
  • B)
  • C)
  • D)
What You Must Know:

This question has a long stem and requires you to choose a graphical representation as the correct answer, but don’t be intimidated! You will apply your knowledge of cell differentiation and transcription factors to choose the best answer.

These questions will require you to select the choice with the best diagrammatic representation of the answer.
Tips for Answering Diagram Answer Choice Questions:

  • Read the question carefully, circle or underline critical information
  • Carefully examine each answer choice diagram. Mark any parts of the diagrams that seem especially relevant to the question.
  • Cross out any choices that are obviously incorrect
  • If you are not sure about the answer, select the answer that seems best but mark the question so that you can return to it if time permits at the end of the test.

Below is an example of this type of question.

MCQ 8 Example Which diagram below best represents the synthesis of ATP by ATP synthase in chloroplasts?
  • A)
  • B)
  • C)
  • D)
What You Must Know:

This question relies on your knowledge of ATP synthesis and how ATP synthase is involved in this process in chloroplasts. Using this, you will be able to choose the best image representing ATP synthesis from the options provided.

MCQ 7 Example
Differentiation is the process by which less complex, immature cells develop into their mature, complex forms. Fibroblasts are a type of cell specialized for synthesizing and secreting fibers of the protein collagen. Nerve cells are characterized by their ability to be excited, that is, to change their membrane potential in response to stimuli. In their differentiated states, fibroblasts and nerve cells have different patterns of gene expression.

In a research study, a team of investigators introduced the genes for three nerve cell–specific transcription factors into fibroblasts. They hypothesized that changing the pattern of gene expression in fibroblasts by this means would cause them to develop characteristics of nerve cells. To assess this possibility, they measured the membrane potential and capacitance (charge separation across the membrane) 8 days and 20 days after the expression of nerve-specific transcription factors was initiated in fibroblasts. The results were compared with values from a control set of nerve cells. Which of the following best predicts the results if the investigators’ hypothesis is correct?

  • A)
  • B)
  • C)
  • D)
What You Must Know:
This question has a long stem and requires you to choose a graphical representation as the correct answer, but don’t be intimidated! You will apply your knowledge of cell differentiation and transcription factors to choose the best answer.

Diagram Answer Choice Questions

These questions will require you to select the choice with the best diagrammatic representation of the answer.

Tips for Answering Diagram Answer Choice Questions:

  • Read the question carefully, circle or underline critical information
  • Carefully examine each answer choice diagram. Mark any parts of the diagrams that seem especially relevant to the question.
  • Cross out any choices that are obviously incorrect
  • If you are not sure about the answer, select the answer that seems best but mark the question so that you can return to it if time permits at the end of the test.

Below is an example of this type of question.

MCQ 8 Example
Which diagram below best represents the synthesis of ATP by ATP synthase in chloroplasts?
  • A)
  • B)
  • C)
  • D)
What You Must Know:
This question relies on your knowledge of ATP synthesis and how ATP synthase is involved in this process in chloroplasts. Using this, you will be able to choose the best image representing ATP synthesis from the options provided.

Passage-Based Questions

This type of question is a little different from the standalone question types, because passage-based questions are tied to a particular passage on the exam. Passages may be short or long, and sometimes they contain multiple figures, including drawn images, data tables, and/or graphs. A few passages may contain text only. In addition, passages may introduce one or more experiments or describe a biological process.

Each passage will contain 4-5 questions pertaining to that passage. Any of the previously introduced question types (with the exception of long-form, text-based questions) may be found as a passage-based question. Usually, these questions will rely on information given in the passage in order to select the best answer. Sometimes, you will also need to apply your content knowledge in addition to the passage information to arrive at the best choice.

Tips for Answering Passage-Based Questions:

  • Read the passage fairly quickly and examine any figures (eg, graphs, tables, diagrams) present. Don’t spend too much time trying to figure out everything about the passage until you have read the questions. Underline information you may feel is important.
  • Read the question carefully, circle or underline critical information. Pay attention to information given in the question about where to look in the passage to find the answer (eg, “Based on Figure 2…”).
  • Go back to the passage as directed by the question and focus on the relevant part of the passage
  • Read the answers and cross out any that are obviously incorrect
  • If you are not sure about the answer, select the answer that seems best, but mark the question so that you can return to it if time permits at the end of the test

Although passage-based questions can seem more complex, there is no reason to be frightened by these questions if you follow the tips here! Keep reading to see an example of this type of question.

MCQ 9 Example
Passage
First, read the passage and take a shot at answering the associated question below.

Figure 1. Percent of cells in different phases of the cell cycle in relation to ursolic acid concentration

Figure 2. Percent of cells undergoing apoptosis in relation to ursolic acid concentration

Figure 3. Expression of Bax and Bcl-2 proteins in relation to ursolic acid concentration Ursolic acid is a compound known to affect human cells, but its mechanism of action is uncertain. In an experiment, human gallbladder cancer cells growing in culture were exposed to different concentrations of ursolic acid. After 48 hours, the percent of cells in the different phases of the cell cycle was determined. The data are shown in Figure 1. Scientists also determined the percent of cells undergoing apoptosis (Figure 2) as well as the expression of two intracellular proteins, Bax and Bcl-2 (Figure 3).

A scientist hypothesizes that ursolic acid could be used as a drug to slow the growth of some kinds of cancerous tumors. Based on the data in Figure 2, which of the following best evaluates the scientist’s hypothesis?

  • A) The hypothesis is not supported because the percent of cells undergoing apoptosis decreased with increasing ursolic acid concentration.
  • B) The hypothesis is not supported because a large percentage of gallbladder cancer cells did not undergo apoptosis when exposed to ursolic acid.
  • C) The hypothesis is supported because a small percentage of gallbladder cancer cells underwent apoptosis without being exposed to ursolic acid.
  • D) The hypothesis is supported because the percent of cells undergoing apoptosis increased with increasing ursolic acid concentration.

What You Must Know:
This question requires knowledge of hypotheses and the experimental method. You will use this knowledge to analyze data in a passage figure and choose the best evaluation of the hypothesis.

Now that you know the types of multiple choice questions you will encounter on the AP Biology exam, you will be prepared with the specific skills to tackle any question you encounter. The key to success on the AP Biology exam is preparation, and knowing these question types is just one more way you are prepared to do your best and score high!
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Illustration from UWorld AP Biology explanations detailing the anatomy of eukaryotic cells
Illustration from UWorld AP Biology explanations detailing the anatomy of eukaryotic cells
Illustration from UWorld AP Biology explanation showing cell cycle checkpoints

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

60 questions – Includes individual questions as well as sets of questions with 4-5 questions per set.
Your answers will be graded by computer. Questions in the multiple-choice section are worth 1 point each. The total points earned on the multiple choice section can account for up to 50% of the overall score.
The total time allotted for the Section 1 – multiple choice questions of the exam is 1 hour 30 minutes.
Since 2012, there have been no official practice tests or released questions for the multiple choice component of the AP Biology test.

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Learn how to tackle AP Biology Free-Response Questions with UWorld. You’ll find sample FRQs, AP Biology study tips, and key strategies to do your best in this section of the AP Biology Exam!

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 receive college credit.
Understanding the format of the exam gives you a huge 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.
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