AP® Environmental Science Exam Format

If you are planning to take the AP® Environmental Science exam (APES), it is important to familiarize yourself with its structure. Knowing what to expect on the exam, including the AP Environmental Science exam format, will help you create a thorough and effective study plan. It will also help you avoid any last-minute stress. In this comprehensive APES exam breakdown, we will talk about everything you need to know about the AP Environmental Science exam structure, question types, and study units.

What Is the Format of the AP Environmental Science Exam?

The AP Environmental Science exam format consists of two sections and lasts 2 hours and 40 minutes. Section I consists of multiple-choice questions (MCQs), whereas Section II consists of free-response questions (FRQs). On both these sections, you are allowed to use a four-function, scientific, or graphing calculator. The table below provides an APES exam breakdown for each section by their total number of questions, duration, and weight on the exam:

Section Question Types No. of
Time Per
Exam Weight
Section I Multiple-Choice Questions (MCQs) 80 1 hour 30 mins 60%
Section II Free-Response Questions (FRQs) 3 1 hour 10 mins 40%
Keep track of your time!

Be sure not to use up too much time on a tough question, as it might cause you to run out of time for the rest. Instead, make a note of the tricky question and come back to it after you've answered all the others.

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Diagrams showing how greenhouse gasses accumulate impact the Earth’s global warming potential.

Types of Questions on the AP Environmental Science Exam

The APES exam comprises two question types, MCQs and FRQs. These might come as a standalone question or sets, and may be accompanied by informative visuals. These may be tricky, so, let’s explore each question type.

Multiple-Choice Questions (MCQ)

Section I accounts for 60% of your total exam score. It consists of 80 MCQs to be answered in 1 hour and 30 minutes. There are both standalone and set-based questions in this section. While most of these questions are standalone, you will find approximately 9 set-based questions. Out of these,

  • 3–4 sets include quantitative data, such as data tables, charts, or graphs. These questions mostly evaluate Science Practice 5 (Data Analysis), and can also check your knowledge of other Science Practices 1, 4, 6, or 7 (Concept Explanation, Scientific Experiments, Mathematical Routines, or Environmental Solutions).
  • 3–4 sets include qualitative information, such as models, representations, or maps. These questions assess your understanding of Practice 2 (Visual Representations) but can also evaluate Science Practices 1, 4, or 7 (Concept Explanation, Scientific Experiments, or Environmental Solutions).
  • 2 sets include text-based sources. These questions analyze Science Practices 1, 3, 6, or 7 (Text Analysis, Concept Explanation, Mathematical Routines, or Environmental Solutions).

The MCQ section will have questions from the 9 units you learn through the APES course. However, certain units are given more weight in the MCQ section, and you will get more questions from them. The table below lists each unit and its respective weight:

Units MCQ Section Weight
Unit 1: The Living World: Ecosystems 6–8%
Unit 2: The Living World: Biodiversity 6–8%
Unit 3: Populations 10–15%
Unit 4: Earth Systems and Resources 10–15%
Unit 5: Land and Water Use 10–15%
Unit 6: Energy Resources and Consumption 10–15%
Unit 7: Atmospheric Pollution 7–10%
Unit 8: Aquatic and Terrestrial Pollution 7–10%
Unit 9: Global Change 15–20%
Did you know?

There is no penalty for incorrect answers on the MCQ section; so, don't worry if you're not sure about an answer for one of the multiple-choice questions. It's actually a good idea to take a guess, because you have a 25% better chance of getting a point compared to not answering at all!

Need help cracking the APES MCQ section? Our step-by-step guide on how to approach AP Environmental Science multiple-choice questions will help you do just that!

Free-Response Questions (FRQs)

Section ll consists of three free-response questions, with 1 hour and 10 minutes to complete it. This section is worth 40% of your total exam score, and as the name suggests, students have to write their answer/essay/thesis in the blank space provided for each question on the booklet. There are three broad FRQ types in this section:

  1. Question 1 would require students to design an investigation based on an authentic environmental scenario, depicted by a model/visual representation, or quantitative data.
  2. Question 2 would require students to analyze an environmental problem and come up with a solution based on an authentic environmental scenario illustrated by a model/visual representation or quantitative data.
  3. Question 3 would require students to analyze an environmental problem and provide a solution by doing calculations based on an authentic environmental scenario.

Want to score high on this section? Our expert guide on how to approach AP Environmental Science free-response questions is here to help!

What is tested on the AP ES exam?

In addition to the question types, you also need to know what skills and topics are tested on this exam. Broadly speaking, the exam evaluates student knowledge of environmental concepts and how they can be applied as solutions to real-world problems. The questions on the APES exam test students on two components:

  1. Science Practices:

    Science practices play a crucial role in the learning and application of environmental science course concepts. Students are expected to apply these practices and skills while answering exam questions. There are seven science practices that you need to master for the MCQ and FRQ sections of the APES exam. These are:

    Science Practice MCQ Section Weight FRQ Section Weight
    Practice 1: Concept Explanation 30–38% 13-20%
    Practice 2: Visual Representations 12–19% 6-10%
    Practice 3: Text Analysis 6–8% Practice 3 is not explicitly
    assessed in the
    free-response section.
    Practice 4: Scientific Experiments 2–4% 10–14%
    Practice 5: Data Analysis 12–19% 6–10%
    Practice 6: Mathematical Routines 6–9% 20%
    Practice 7: Environmental Solutions 17–23% 26–34%

    Note that questions related to science practices carrying higher weights will appear more frequently on the exam. For example, you are most likely to get more questions related to Practice 1 in Section I and Practice 7 in Section II than in other parts of the test. Keeping these weights in mind will help you decide what to focus on and how to create an effective study plan based on your strengths and weaknesses.

  2. Course Content:

    The APES course content is based on four overarching themes, called big ideas, along with 9 study units. You need to have a thorough knowledge of the course content to be able to answer the questions correctly and earn a good APES score..If you’re planning to take the APES course or exam, it is important to have a thorough understanding of the course curriculum. Wondering where to find it? Our guide to the AP Environmental Science Course and Exam Description is here to help you with everything you need to know about this course.

How is the APES exam scored?

The AP Environmental Science exam is graded on a scale of 1 through 5. A score of 3 or higher is required for advanced placement and/or college credit. Since every college has its specific credit requirements, it is a good idea to check the AP credit policy of your prospective colleges well ahead of time. Now, let's take a closer look at the AP Environmental Science exam format to see what each component looks like:

Use proper units.

Include the appropriate units for each number whenever applicable. If you keep track of units during a calculation, it will ensure that your final answer is expressed in the appropriate units. If the units are wrong or absent from the final response, you may lose out on points.

Will the AP Environmental Science Exam be Administered through Paper or Digital Mode?

As of 2024, the AP Environmental Science exam is administered exclusively through the paper-and-pencil mode.

Now that you understand how the AP ES exam is structured, it’s time to set your goals and get ready. You can use our AP Environmental Science practice exam to find hundreds of exam-like questions and detailed answer explanations. Not just this, but our performance indicators will help you improve on your weak areas and achieve your target score. And the best part? It is a free trial!

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Illustration of sulfur dioxide released from coal burning


  1. AP Environmental Science. (n.d.). Collegeboard.org. Retrieved July 13, 2023, from https://apcentral.collegeboard.org/courses/ap-environmental-science/exam
  2. 2021 AP Course Overview - AP Environmental Science. (n.d.). Collegeboard.org. Retrieved July 13, 2023, from https://apcentral.collegeboard.org/media/pdf/ap-environmental-science-course-overview.pdf
  3. Guide to the AP Environmental Science Exam. (n.d.). Princetonreview.com. Retrieved July 13, 2023, from https://www.princetonreview.com/college-advice/ap-environmental-science-exam
  4. The Best AP® Environmental Science Review Guide for 2023. (March 18, 2023). Albert.io. Retrieved July 14, 2023, from https://www.albert.io/blog/ap-environmental-science-review/

Read More About the AP Environmental Science Exam

Looking for an overview of the AP Environmental Science Course Description? From the units to the key course skills, this article has everything you need to know about the APES course and exam.
Trying to figure out how to predict your AP exam results? Here is a detailed article on the AP Environmental Science scoring system, along with a score calculator to help you estimate scores easily.
Aspiring to achieve the best possible grade in the AP Environmental Science exam? Check out our study guide and resources prepared by subject matter experts to help you master the APES exam.
Want to familiarize yourself with the ins and outs of the AP Environmental Science exam? Check out this link to learn what to expect on the exam, test requirements, structure, and rubrics.
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