How Is the AP® Biology Exam Scored?

The AP Biology exam has two sections. The first section has 60 multiple-choice questions, and the second section contains four short-answer and two long-answer free-response questions. Each section makes up 50% of the overall score.

Questions in the multiple-choice section are worth 1 point each. Your answers will be computer graded for this section. The free-response questions section, however, is graded manually by AP Readers. The questions in this section are worth between 8 to 10 points for long-answer questions and 4 points for short answer questions.

Now, it may not always be that the total score for each section equals an exact 50% of the total exam score itself. Sometimes, the multiple-choice section or the free-response section could add up to more than 50%. That’s why your scores are translated into a weighted combination. Let’s take a look at how that works. Once your total score from each section is calculated they are combined to make up a composite raw score. This raw score is then translated into a weighted combination and then equated to a number on the AP score scale which ranges from 1 to 5. In other words, a predefined range of weighted combination scores will equate to a particular scaled score on the table.

For example, the AP Biology exam in 2021 was for a total score of 120 points. If the total score after calculating the weighted combination of scores from both sections was 120, then the student would get a scaled score of 5. This is what’s called a perfect score. Say however, the final weighted combination score was 80, then the scaled score would be 4. The College board® does not release the score ranges and their related scaled score. So this is just an approximation to help you understand how AP Biology scoring works.

You will not be able to see your weighted combination score on the final results or even the individual score for each section. You will only be able to see your scaled score or a score between 1 to 5.

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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

AP Biology Scoring Table

As we mentioned earlier, your total score on the exam is translated as a weighted combination into a final score of 1 to 5. Each score is equivalent to a certain level of performance. Based on these scores, colleges decide which candidates are eligible for free college credit and placement. Currently, students need to score 3 and above to qualify.

These scores are developed after a lot of research that the AP Program conducts. The main aim of AP Biology is to teach you foundational biology at the college level right in high school. Hence, the board ensures that a student’s performance measured by their final score on the AP Biology exam can be correlated to a college student’s performance in a college-level biology course.

The AP Biology score table shows the score conversion for each final grade. Let’s take a look!

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

As you can see, scores below 3 do not equate to a good college grade. Here’s how each score translates to how well-qualified you might be for placement and free credit.

AP Biology Exam ScoreQualification
5Extremely well qualified
4Very well qualified
3Qualified
2Possibly qualified
1No recommendation

If you score a 4 or 5 on the AP Biology exam, that is considered an excellent score. As you saw in the table above, scores between 3 and 5 indicate that you are qualified to receive free credits during your college placement. However, you may want to check with the colleges you intend to apply to on their minimum requirements.

“Fun Fact: Only one student got a perfect score on the AP Biology exam in 2021”

AP Biology Score Distributions

Every year thousands of students from around the world take the AP Biology exam. In May 2021, a total of 230,527 students took the exam, and over 130,000 students scored 3 and above. That’s almost 60% of test-takers. As you can see, the majority of students got a final score of 3 and above. Let’s take a look at the AP Biology score distribution for May 2021.

ScoreNo. of Students% of Students
517,04807.4%
444,76619.6%
374,68332.4%
269,16530.0%
124,86510.8%

“Around 60% of students achieved a final score of 3 and above!”

However, a pass rate of 60% is still not as high as other AP courses and reflects the hard work required to earn college credit by taking up AP Biology.

Let’s also take a look at how students did on the exam over the last two years.

Final Score% of Students in 2020 Exam% of Students in 2019 Exam
509.5%07.2%
422.7%22.2%
336.9%35.3%
224.1%26.6%
106.9%08.8%

As you can see, it’s gotten a little more difficult to pass the exam with more students scoring below 3 in 2021 when compared to 2019 and 2020. But don’t fret! With the right study plan, study materials and guides, and review tools you’ll be well on your way to scoring a 5 in AP Biology. Most students pass and so will you!

You can try UWorld’s online AP Bio practice tests to help you get better acquainted with the exam format and test your knowledge of the units and concepts you’ve studied. Taking practice tests regularly will help you track your progress. You can also make quick notes to refer back to when you’re reviewing for the exam.

Since the second section of the exam requires written answers, has varying total points for each question, and is graded by AP Readers, it can be a little more complex to score. However, you can rest assured that if you prepare well, you’ll be able to pass the course with the best results. Here are some stats on how AP Biology test-takers did in this section in 2021.

Free-Response Question Scoring Statistics for 2021:

Question NumberMeanTotal Number of Points
13.6810
23.178
31.544
41.604
51.624
61.264

AP Biology Minimum Score Requirement for College Credits

As we mentioned earlier, most colleges require a minimum score of 3 to qualify for free credit and placement. However, you should also know that just taking AP Biology can also make your transcript look good to the college admissions committee, even though it would qualify you for free credits. If you’re gunning for those free credits, here’s a list of some colleges and their minimum AP Biology score requirements.
University AP Biology Score Requirement
Harvard, Cambridge, MA 5
Duke University, Durham, NC 5
Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 5
Brown University, Providence, RI 4
Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN 4
University of Texas, Brownsville, TX 3
University of Massachusetts, North Dartmouth, MA 3
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Illustration of 2 chickens explaining incomplete dominance of mutation causing feather curling in chickens from UWorld AP Biology explanations

Frequently Asked Questions

Scoring a 5 is the absolute best score. However, scoring between 3 to 5 also qualifies you for placement and free credits in college.
In the exam conducted in May 2021, the average score was 2.83.
The scores are curved to ensure standardization and maintain consistency across AP Biology exams administered at various times in the year. It also helps in ensuring the AP exam scoring properly translates into equivalent college grades.
Investing in the right study materials and chalking out an efficient study plan are the best ways to ensure a high score. You can read our study guide to pick up more tips on how to achieve a 5 on the AP Biology exam.
The scores will be released in July 2022. You can check your scores online through your College Board account.
A perfect score or perfect 5 is when a student gets all answers on both sections of the exam correct. In the 2021 exam held in May, only one test-taker managed to achieve a perfect 5 on the exam. This means that this student managed to score all 120 out of the possible 120 points in the exam.

References

Source: College Board® Score Distribution Report

Read More About AP Exams

Are you wondering if AP Biology is right for you? Learn from our AP Biology Course and Exam guide on what concepts are taught, prerequisites, difficulty levels, and why it may be beneficial to sit for the AP Biology exam.
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.
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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