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.
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 Score||College Grade Equivalent|
|5||A+ or A|
|4||A-, B+, or B|
|3||B-, C+, or C|
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 Score||Qualification|
|5||Extremely well qualified|
|4||Very well qualified|
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.
|Score||No. of Students||% of Students|
“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|
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 Number||Mean||Total Number of Points|
AP Biology Minimum Score Requirement for College CreditsAs 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|
Frequently Asked Questions
ReferencesSource: College Board® Score Distribution Report