AP® Environmental Science Free-Response Questions (FRQs)

The AP® Environmental Science exam consists of two sections. Section I includes 80 multiple-choice questions (MCQs), and Section II includes 3 free-response questions (FRQs). In order to do well on the exam, you need to learn the strategies for specific skills associated with each section of the exam. The following AP ES FRQ guide will provide tips and strategies to set you up for success on your exam.

Format of AP Environmental Science FRQ section

There are 70 minutes allotted for the FRQ section, allowing approximately 23 minutes for each question. Since Section II makes up 40% of the overall score, performing well on it is necessary to receive a high score on the AP ES exam. You will encounter the following types of questions in this section:

Question Question Type Points
FRQ 1 Design an Investigation 10
FRQ 2 Analyze an Environmental Problem and Propose a Solution 10
FRQ 3 Analyze an Environmental Problem and Propose a Solution doing Calculations 10
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Illustration of sulfur dioxide released from coal burning

How to Answer AP Environmental Science FRQs

Here are some tips and strategies on how to answer the APES FRQs:

  1. Writing techniques to receive the most points

    When answering the FRQs, keep the grading criteria in mind. An AP reader will score each answer using predetermined rubrics called the scoring guidelines. Your answer should be easy to find and read, including the required information and specific examples. Follow these tips:

    • Label each part of the question you are answering (Ai, Aii, Bi, etc.) instead of writing in one long paragraph.
    • Leave space between each labeled part of the question in case you need to add more information later.
    • Practice writing FRQs in blue or black pen to make sure your handwriting is legible.
    • If the question asks for one example, do not provide more than one example. If you provide more than one example, you’ll only get a score on the first example you provide, even if a later example is correct. Also, if your other examples contradict the first correct example, you can lose your points instead.
    • Do not restate the question. You do not get points for mentioning what’s already written in the question. Write unique points with specific examples to show your knowledge and understanding of the subject. Do not be vague while answering any question. Avoid phrases such as “is good for the environment,” “is greener,” or “is toxic” without explaining the “why” behind them. This means that writing something like “DDT is toxic to organisms,” without mentioning “why” it is toxic will gain you no points. Instead, try providing specific details, such as “DDT is an endocrine disruptor that thins the eggshells of birds of prey,” to show that you understand the concepts covered in class.
    • Relate your answer to money, jobs, or tourism for questions that ask for an economic factor. For questions looking at a societal factor, relate your answer to people. For questions related to an environmental factor, write about the living and nonliving portions of the environment, but do not include people.
  2. Know how to answer questions based on the task verbs1

    Each question on the APES FRQ section has task verbs that are bolded. Below is a list of the most common task verbs on the FRQs and how to write your responses to each.

    • Identify

      When writing your response to the “identify” task verb, only answer the question in a single sentence. If you are identifying an answer from a graph, include the specifics of the question. For example, only provide a single number if the question asks you to identify a value. Do not include a range or an approximate value. A starting and ending value should be provided if the question asks for a range.

    • Describe

      When writing a response to the “describe” task verb, answer in one or two sentences by answering the question and providing the details associated with the topic. For example, for a question that asks about a specific process, provide information related to the process, such as products formed from the process or conditions necessary for the process to occur.

    • Explain

      When writing a response to the “explain” task verb, answer in two or three sentences by answering the question and including the reason for how or why the situation from the question occurs.

    • Calculate

      When writing a response to the “calculate” task verb, answer the question by showing mathematical routines. Do not write out the answer in words. Write out the equation used to solve the question and the values used in the equation, including units. Remember to show your answer clearly, including units. If you do not do so, you will receive no points for these questions. Go through our AP Environmental Science formula sheet to learn all the important formulas and equations you need to memorize for the exam.

    • Make a Claim

      When writing a response to the “make a claim” task verb, answer the question in one sentence. For this question, you need to make a prediction based on the content knowledge and data provided.

    • Justify

      When writing a response to the “justify” task verb, answer the question in two or three sentences. The answer to this question needs to be linked to the claim or proposed solution in the previous answer. Make sure to provide a reason for how or why the claim is correct using evidence from the data provided or content knowledge.

    • Propose a Solution

      When writing a response to the “propose a solution” task verb, answer the question in one or two sentences. Make sure the solution to the environmental problem in the question is realistic. Typically, banning an activity and passing laws are not considered realistic solutions because of the feasibility and time frame required for these to occur.

  3. Read the questions carefully

    Each question will provide information on what to include and what not to include in your answers. As you read a question, underline important information, such as task verbs, values, units, or the information you need to exclude. When you finish writing your answer, re-read the question to make sure that you included all the important details and avoided writing unnecessary information.

AP Environmental Science FRQ examples

Although each FRQ will use the same task verbs like identify, describe, or explain to check your knowledge related to the given prompt, they will require different types of approaches while answering the answer. Below are examples of each AP Environmental Science free-response question that you will see on the exam.

Directions: Answer all three questions, which are weighted equally; the suggested time is about 22 minutes for answering each question. Write all your answers in the Free Response booklet. Where calculations are required, clearly show how you arrived at your answer. Where explanation or discussion is required, support your answers with relevant information and/or specific examples. You may plan your answers in this orange booklet, but no credit will be given for anything written in this booklet. You will only earn credit for what you write in the separate Free Response booklet.

Below is FRQ 1 on Set 1 from the released 2023 APES exam questions on the College Board® website.

  1. Researchers interested in sustainability developed three new varieties of genetically modified green beans designed to produce higher yields in arid regions. Four plots (A–D) were set up on a floodplain of a river to grow beans. Plots A, B, and C were each planted with seeds of different types of genetically modified strains of green beans. Plot D was planted with seeds of unmodified green beans. Each plot was given equal amounts of fertilizer, which contains phosphorus and nitrogen, and water and was irrigated using spray irrigation for one hour per day. Throughout the growing season, researchers measured the amount of green beans harvested within each plot. The plots with genetically modified beans had higher crop yields than the plot with unmodified beans.

    1. Identify the control group in this experiment.
    2. Identify the scientific question for the investigation.
    3. Researchers repeated the experiment by modifying the length of time for the spray irrigation to 20 minutes per day. Explain how the results of the experiment could be altered with this modification.

    Researchers also monitored the amount of sediment and fertilizer washing into the river from each plot in the original study. The soil temperature was also measured in each plot at the same depth and at the same time each day, approximately 0.05 meters below the surface of the soil.

Plot Sediment Runoff
Phosphorus Runoff
Nitrogen Runoff
Soil Temperature
A (Type 1 GMO beans) 2.4 0.11 1.07 18.6
B (Type 2 GMO beans) 2.1 0.02 0.56 18.3
C (Type 3 GMO beans) 0.9 0.04 0.68 18.3
D (Unmodified beans) 3.5 0.15 1.24 17.6
    1. Based on the data in the table, identify the plot with the lowest soil temperature.
    2. Describe how sediment runoff and fertilizer runoff compare between the unmodified green beans and the genetically modified green beans.
    3. The Type 2 GMO beans in Plot B were developed to grow more quickly than the unmodified beans in Plot D. Researchers have hypothesized that the Type 2 beans would use fertilizer more completely than the other varieties. Based on the data in the table and the experimental design, explain whether the researchers’ hypothesis was supported or refuted.

    Once the experiment was concluded, the researchers burned the plots to remove the crops that had been planted. After a few years, the researchers returned to the plots and observed a variety of plants, insects, and bird species living there.

    1. Describe the ecological process that occurred on the plots after the crops were burned.

    A survey indicated that one of the plots had twice the plant diversity that the other plots had. Over the next five years, the river occasionally flooded the plots, killing off many of the species that inhabited the plots.

    1. After each flooding event, the plot with twice the plant diversity returned to its prior level of biodiversity more quickly than the other plots did. Explain why a community with more plant diversity will recover more quickly from the flooding.
    2. After the last flooding event, a beetle not previously known in the area appeared in one of the plots with less plant diversity. Over a period of a few months, the new beetle population increased, whereas the existing beetle species in the plot had declining populations. Explain why the new beetle species could be better able to successfully populate this plot than the existing beetle species could.
    3. Describe one realistic method to prevent the new beetle from spreading beyond the experimental plot.

Source: CollegeBoard

Below is FRQ 2 on Set 1 from the released 2023 APES exam questions on the College Board® website.

  1. The diagram shows the movement of one adult manatee over a 12-hour period across an active shipping channel during the winter. Manatees are large, aquatic, herbivorous mammals that primarily eat seagrass. Manatees can travel several miles to graze. Manatees mature slowly, have low biotic potential, and inhabit warm coastal waters. They cannot survive in water below 20°C for extended periods of time.

    Satellite Track and Water Temperature Log of the Movement of One Adult Manatee Over a 12-Hour Period

    1. Based on the information in the diagram, identify the temperature range of the water through which the majority of the adult manatee’s daily movement occurs.
    2. Large groups of manatees are often observed in shallow waters near the waste water released by the electrical power plant during the winter. Based on the information in the diagram, identify a characteristic of the power plant waste water that would attract the manatees.
    3. Based on the information in the diagram, describe a potential negative impact of the waste water released by the power plant on other aquatic species.
    4. Seagrass beds have declined significantly over the last several years. In 2021, manatee mortality was three times higher than the previous five-year average.
      1. Describe a characteristic of the manatees that increases their vulnerability to the recent decline of seagrasses.
      2. Describe the change in energy flow through the trophic levels that occurs when there is a significant loss of seagrasses.
    5. Research has shown increased nutrient and sediment runoff can cause seagrass beds to decline.
      1. Propose a solution to reduce nutrient or sediment pollution in an estuary that is surrounded by urban development.
      2. Justify the solution proposed in part (e)(i) by providing an additional advantage of reduced nutrients in an estuary other than one related to manatees.

    Urban areas have a heavy dependence on automobiles and often experience photochemical smog.

    1. Describe how summertime weather conditions can increase the frequency of photochemical smog.
    2. Identify one ecological problem that results from exposure to photochemical smog.
  1. A potential solution to reduce photochemical smog in urban areas with high automobile traffic is to replace gasoline-powered cars with cars powered by hydrogen fuel cells.

    1. Describe a potential disadvantage of using hydrogen fuel cells to power automobiles.

Source: CollegeBoard

Below is FRQ 3 on Set 1 from the released 2023 APES exam questions on the College Board® website.

  1. Crude oil is extracted, transported, and refined for various uses by humans.

    1. Describe one environmental impact on marine ecosystems associated with extraction or transportation of crude oil.
    2. Identify an atmospheric pollutant released during the combustion of refined oil products.
    3. Propose a solution an individual can use to reduce their reliance on refined oil products for transportation.
    4. Justify the solution proposed in part (c) by providing a benefit to human health.

    Other natural resources, such as gold and silver, are also extracted. These resources can be used to make components for the electronics humans use. One metric ton of gold ore contains 5.0 grams of gold.

    1. A deposit is estimated to contain 260 million metric tons of gold ore. Calculate the number of grams of gold that could be extracted from the deposit. Show your work.
    2. Assuming the price of gold is $62.56 per gram, calculate the value of the gold that could be recovered from 1,000 metric tons of gold ore in the deposit. Show your work.
    3. A typical cell phone contains 0.034 grams of gold. Calculate how many metric tons of gold ore would need to be mined to extract enough gold to manufacture 100,000 cell phones. Show your work.

Source: CollegeBoard

How Can I Practice AP Environmental Science Free-Response Questions?

Practicing the AP ES FRQs is important to develop the skills required to perform well in this section and to understand what types of questions you can expect to see on exam day. Here are some online resources as well as mini-lessons you can use for your AP ES FRQ practice and content knowledge.

  1. College Board past released exams2

    The College Board releases past exam questions that you can use for your AP ES FRQ practice and understanding the scoring guidelines, student samples, as well as scoring distributions. Students who understand the FRQ section’s scoring guidelines tend to perform better on the exam. Refer to the scoring guidelines to know all the details regarding the scoring structure of the exam. Here's a helpful tip: find a pre-graded student sample response sheet and assign scores. Ask your teacher for guidance if the score you assigned to each question does not match the scores the College Board gave. This will help you understand the scoring guidelines better.

  2. UWorld APES practice tests

    Online test prep is also a great way to increase your understanding of content and perform better on both sections of the AP exam. UWorld is an online learning platform with a question bank of over 300 AP ES questions. For each question, there is a mini-lesson and an image that provides a visual explanation. You will also find descriptions to help you understand the tricky part of each wrong answer choice and a summary of the most important topics that you need to focus on for your exam.

Be sure to read our blog on how to approach AP Environmental Science multiple-choice questions to learn strategies for Section I of the APES exam.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

High school AP Environmental Science teachers and college professors grade the AP Environmental Science free-response questions. These graders are provided with a rubric, called the scoring guidelines, to give a score of 0 to 10 on each FRQ.

There will be 70 minutes to complete the FRQ section of the AP Environmental Science exam.

You can find the past AP Environmental Science free-response questions with their scoring guidelines on the College Board Website.

There are 3 FRQs on the AP Environmental Science exam that you need to complete in 70 minutes.

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


1(2024). Task Verbs. AP Environmental Science Exam Tips. AP Students. College Board. Retrieved February 13, 2024, from

2(2024). Free-Response Questions. AP Environmental Science Past Exam Questions. AP Central. College Board. Retrieved February 13, 2024, from

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