Are you about to embark on the Advanced Program curriculum (AP classes)? As an AP high school student, you’ll probably end up taking the AP Bio course, and it’s probably why you landed on this page. If you’ll be taking biology this or next year, or even if your AP Biology exam is already coming up, this article is for you.

Students usually have many questions regarding the level of difficulty of AP Biology. Everyone wants to know how hard the course really is, being considered, along with AP Math, one of the hardest courses of the Advanced Program. Many students think AP Biology is only about cell structure, this is not the case.

With that in mind, we are here to help you see and learn exactly how demanding this class will be, how you’ll be graded, what is expected of you, if this course is the best choice, what’s the content and material you’ll be studying, how difficult (or easy) will the exam be, and every step you’ll take throughout the school year.

So, continue with this short read, which works as a good guide, one that might help you a lot the moment you make it to class and to ace your exams, just be sure to take things step by step. If you want a broader understanding check this article: An introduction to AP Biology.

Also, keep in mind that this is not like a History class (where you mostly do reading and writing), but more like Physics, where you learn how to perform procedures, understand structures, solve equations, and more.

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Students have a lot to learn before college, and they need to score a high grade in AP courses. Photo by Alexis Brown on Unsplash
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About AP Biology

According to the College Board, students in AP Bio will “study the core scientific principles, theories, and processes that govern living organisms and biological systems. You’ll do hands-on laboratory work to investigate natural phenomena.”

In a nutshell, you’ll spend your time in this science course doing both, classwork (lectures, taking notes, PowerPoint presentations) and labs (where you’ll get your hands dirty).

You’ll be expected to develop certain skills, like:

  • Learning to design experiments to test a hypothesis
  • Collecting and analyzing data
  • Interpreting data to draw conclusions
  • Based on the evidence, develop accurate scientific claims

cells, biology, microscope
Biology is unique because of the complexity of living things and how they interact with each other and the environment. (Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash)

How will I be tested?

If you are looking to ace your final exam, the first step is knowing what you’ll be tested on, how it is designed, how much time there is, and how many questions you’ll have to answer.

AP exams are usually taken sometime in May and according to the College Board, the AP Bio exam is normally scheduled for the 14th of May at 8 AM (check the exact date and time of other exams here). Make sure you review and practice for everything before this date.

You will have three hours to complete this test, which is designed to see your comprehension of scientific (especially biological) concepts. You will also have to show your understanding and proper use of the scientific method and how to analyze data; you’ll be allowed a four-function calculator.

The exam is divided into two sections, multiple choice and free response, as do all the AP courses.

Section 1: Multiple Choice

Every student will have 1 hour and 30 minutes to complete this part of the exam and as the title suggested, each question comes in multiple-choice format. You’ll have to answer 60 questions that count for 50% of your score.

Each question is designed to see if you can:

  • Define concepts, processes, and models of biology
  • Analyze visual representations like diagrams and flow charts
  • Use the scientific method properly
  • Apply maths to help analyze data
  • Use evidence to support a scientific claim

Section 2: Free Response

Every student will have 1 hour and 30 minutes to answer six questions that make up 50% of the score. If you want to ace this part be sure to understand every step you’ll have to take. Two questions are asking for a long free-response and four questions are designed for a short free-response.

The questions are designed to test if you can:

  • Understand and analyze experiment results
  • Graph the data
  • Preform lab investigations
  • Predict the causes of change in a biological system

Before the Exam

Make sure you read all the instructions in the exam carefully, this way you won’t miss any step or requirement for a response. Preparing will help you do well and even ace your exam, so don’t forget to practice, practice, practice!

Keep in mind that you’ll have to do some extra reading on each subject or unit to be 100% sure of what you’ll be tested on during the exam (what will the questions ask). This way you’ll know what to study and practice for during your free time to make sure you score a good grade.

If anything you see here isn’t clear, be sure to write down the question you might have so you can ask your teacher later.

During the exam, even if it sounds silly, don’t forget to put your name on the test, you don’t want all your effort to become anonymous!

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There are a lot of challenges before students can score a good grade on a test. Photo by Avery Evans on Unsplash

About the Units

AP Biology is made up of 8 different units that you’ll explore and learn about throughout the school year. Your teacher is required to hand out a syllabus about the course for you to review the content of the classes.

Remember this is a science course, which means there’s going to be hands-on work, lab experiments, and more. It can sound like a lot of work but all the content you review during the school year is super useful during the exam. So if ever you feel like the classes are pointless or not very good, keep in mind that they are designed to provide you with material that’s going to help during your final exam.

For a better and easy understanding of the course, check the list below on what is the content of the course:

  • Unit 1 Chemistry of life: you’ll learn about the basics of life.
  • Unit 2 Cell structure and function: you’ll be studying the cell and evolution.
  • Unit 3 Cellular energetics: you’ll understand how a cell interacts with its environment.
  • Unit 4 Cell communication and cell cycle: the topic here is cell reproduction.
  • Unit 5 Heredity: you’ll be studying traits passed from one generation to the other.
  • Unit 6 Gene expression and regulation: the topic continues on heredity.
  • Unit 7 Natural Selection: you’ll learn about Darwin’s theory.
  • Unit 8 Ecology: you’ll analyze how populations interact.

There you have it, those are (on brief terms) the topics you’ll learn about in your biology class. For a more detailed explanation of the units check our guide on what to expect from AP Bio.

Keep in mind that this is not like a History or English class (where you mostly do reading and writing), but more like a Physics or Chemistry, which means you’ll have to learn to perform procedures, structures, equations and more, definitely not only learning the cell structure!

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College has courses like physics, history, and biology for students to pick from. Photo by Jeswin Thomas on Unsplash

Summary

Studying for AP Biology can become easy if you know how to do it properly. A common mistake students make while they study for an AP Bio exam (and during their high school years) is trying to memorize the content instead of understanding each concept. If you learn everything by memory you’ll only be hurting yourself and by the time you make it to college, you won’t remember anything.

Science classes are designed to make you think, not to work automatically without using your brain. So remember, this class is going to be hard, or better yet, challenging. It is only up to you whether you ace the exam or you fail the class.

Some final tips we can give you are to follow the instructions and advice of your teacher during class and put extra effort outside of it. Also, know that there are some resources you have available to help you study.

High school is a huge challenge and it's best if you just roll with the punches, study and work hard, and pay attention in class. If you do so, there is no reason for you to do poorly, contrary, you’ll do very well.

Remember this is not like your English or History classes (where you mostly do reading and writing), but more like Physics or Chemistry, which means you’ll have to learn to perform procedures, structures, equations, and more, definitely not only memorizing the cell structure!

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