If you’re coursing your junior or senior year in high school and soon you’ll start AP Biology classes, you probably have a ton of questions about the subject. Students don’t really know what to expect from the Advanced Program but we’d like you to know exactly what’s ahead. This way, you can take this step and be prepared, organized, ready to learn, practice a lot, and do your best.

Students will argue that you’re probably better off without AP Biology since it is considered one of the most challenging courses in the program. And they’re not entirely wrong, this course is designed to test you, but you’re not better off without it. You just need to prepare beforehand and answer each question you might have along the way.

These classes are here to challenge you on a level that school has never done before. But with proper preparation, time management, and organization, your time in AP Biology can become simpler and easy. It’s just best if you’re ready for class and up for the challenge.

Many of the skills you’ll learn in this class will serve you one day in the future, even outside of college. If you’re not thinking to pursue a career in science, you will still appreciate learning to study hard, work long hours, overcome challenges, and much more.

Remember that finding a tutor can always be a solution. Tutoring can be an amazing tool that can help you achieve more than higher grades.

Be sure to check our Introduction to AP Biology article.

lab, microscope, biology
Learning biology is not only good for your future college career, but it can always be helpful after your student life. Photo by Jaron Nix on Unsplash

About the units

AP Biology is made up of 8 units that each student will learn about throughout the school year. Remember that your teacher is required to hand out a syllabus about the course for each student to review the content of the classes.

Remember this is a science course, which means there’s going to be hands-on work, step by step 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 the final exam.

For a better and easy understanding of the course and its systems, below is a detailed list of each unit of the course:

Unit 1 Chemistry of life: you’ll learn about the role of water in life and the structure of macromolecules, like proteins. It will account for 8%–11% of the exam score.

Specific topics:

  • Chemical properties of water and its structure
  • DNA and RNA

Unit 2 Cell structure and function: as a student, you’ll be studying the cell and fundamentals of evolution. It will account for 10%–13% of the exam score.

Specific topics:

  • Components - and their functions - of the cell
  • Membrane structure and function
  • Regulatory systems of a cell

Unit 3 Cellular energetics: you’ll understand how a cell interacts with its environment and some basic biological processes (at a cellular level). It accounts for 12%–16% of the exam score.

Specific topics:

  • Function and structure of an enzyme
  • Photosynthesis and its process
  • Cellular respiration

Unit 4 Cell communication and cell cycle: you’ll learn how cells grow, reproduce, and communicate. It accounts for 10%–15% of the exam score.

Specific topics:

  • Cell cycle
  • Mechanisms of cell communication
  • Feedback mechanisms and responses
study time, school, work
You might have a test during a lab period, be sure to prepare for different tests, and know-how to answer big questions, always check the class material. Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Unit 5 Heredity: you’ll be studying how traits passed from one generation to the other. Accounts for 8%-11% of the exam score.

Specific topics:

  • Process and function of miosis
  • Genetic diversity concepts
  • Factors that affect inheritance and gene expression

Unit 6 Gene expression and regulation: you’ll understand how information is passed from parent to offspring (heredity). It accounts for 12%-16% of the exam score.

Specific topics:

  • The role and function of DNA and RNA
  • Gene expression mechanisms
  • Genetic diversity, natural selection, and mutations

Unit 7 Natural Selection: you’ll learn about Darwin’s theory, what is natural selection, and evolution theory. It accounts for 13%-20% of the exam score.

Specific topics:

  • Natural selection and its mechanisms
  • Human-caused and environmental factors for evolution
  • Extinction

Unit 8 Ecology: you’ll analyze how populations interact with their ecosystem and learn more biological concepts at an organism level. It accounts for 10%-15% of the exam score.

Specific topics:

  • Responses to environmental change
  • Energy flow in and outside an ecosystem
  • Populations and factors about their growth, density, and success

Although many of these look like big words, just trust that you’ll learn about them eventually and have the opportunity to understand what they are. Just remember to practice the basics of all the systems during your free time and approach your teacher with each question or doubt that pops into your head.

Remember that understanding the content of each unit will take you a step closer to getting an A on the day of the final exam.

If the content seems too hard to tackle, you can always consider tutoring, which is a good way to stay or get back on track.

science, insect, biology
Biology tests your ability to comprehend biological processes from very basic life forms to more complex populations. Photo by Timothy Dykes on Unsplash

How will I be tested?

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

AP exams are usually taken sometime in May and 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 3 hours to complete the final exam, which will test 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.

For the first section (multiple choice) students will have 1 hour and 30 minutes to complete it. You’ll have to answer 60 questions that count for 50% of your score. This section is designed to see if you can define concepts, use the scientific method, and other things.

For the second section (free response) students will have 1 hour and 30 minutes to answer six questions that make up 50% of the score. Two questions ask for a long free-response and four questions designed for a short free-response.

For a more detailed explanation of the exam check our article: How hard is AP Biology?

test, exam, quiz
To understand the big picture of this class, check out the units and material you’ll be learning about. Photo by Nguyen Dang Hoang Nhu on Unsplash


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.

Don’t skip class or homework reading. Teachers usually take exam questions from the textbook, so reading is very important and you should take it seriously.

Science classes are designed to make you think, not to work automatically. 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 and during your free time. 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.

Follow these steps and if you feel like you are falling a little behind, you can always reach out to the teacher or even look into private tutoring. This way you can get back on track and enjoy this bio course. Feel free to check our AP Bio resources article too.

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