How To Study For Ap Biology Exam

Last Updated on August 28, 2023

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How To Study For Ap Biology Exam

How to Study for AP® Biology: 9 Tips for 4s and 5s

  1. Familiarize yourself with the format of the exam. …
  2. Get your vocabulary down first! …
  3. Make flashcards and study sheets with diagrams. …
  4. Don’t lose track of the big picture when studying AP® Biology. …
  5. Keep on top of your AP® Biology readings. …
  6. Know the 4 Big Ideas.

Are you shooting for a score of 4 or 5 on the AP® Biology exam? If you’re taking the class, you’re probably nodding your head right now or shouting “yes!” Having a comprehensive list of AP® Biology study tips can help.

The first thing you need to know is that the AP® Bio exam will be a challenge for you, no matter what experience you have. In fact, it’s one of the hardest AP® exams out there. Sure, you need to memorize facts and concepts, but you also have to be able to think scientifically and analytically, which is much easier said than done.

Luckily, this list of AP® Biology tips is here to give you the best chance of getting that 5. Whether you’re taking this class in school or self-studying with an AP® Biology review book, these AP® Bio tips will tell you everything you need to know, from how to study, what to study, what the exam consists of, and everything in between.

How to Study for AP® Biology: 9 Tips for 4s and 5s

How to Study for AP® Biology Tips - Familiarize yourself with the format of the exam

1. Familiarize yourself with the format of the exam.

The first step in getting ready to study for the AP® Biology exam is knowing what the exam will look like. The exam is 3 hours long and consists of two sections, each of which comprise 50% of your overall score. The first 90-minute section has 60 multiple-choice questions. Starting with the 2021 exam, the AP® Bio exam will no longer have grid-in questions. 

Section II consists of 6 free-response questions. You’ll have 90 minutes to answer two long free-response questions, one of which will be lab or data-based, and four short free-response questions, which each require a paragraph-length argument or response.

Why is this important? Because you need to know for the sake of pacing. If you aren’t pacing to finish both sections in full, then you’ll need to practice more to ensure you have sufficient time to attempt every problem on the exam. You don’t lose points for getting questions wrong, but you do lose opportunities to score points if you don’t answer every question. 

2. Get your vocabulary down first!

Vocabulary is extremely important in AP® Biology, but understanding concepts and making connections is even more important. Why, then, do you have to focus on vocab first? You don’t stand a chance understanding concepts if you don’t understand key terms. “This thing does this to that and this process works by doing that.” It just doesn’t work. 

Make and use flashcards regularly, learn the Greek and Latin prefixes, suffixes, and roots, and take great notes. When you know vocabulary terms inside and out, it is much easier to think analytically, apply terms to different situations, and make important connections.

3. Make flashcards and study sheets with diagrams.

Diagrams are important in AP® Bio. You’ll have to interpret many of them on the exam. That’s why it’s really beneficial to draw your own diagrams on your flashcards and study sheets. Use different colors, label the important parts, and list the steps. 

Whether it’s the photosynthesis or the nitrogen cycle, find a way to make it stick in your brain. If you’re crunched for time, look for pre-made flashcards, like these from Quizlet. Consider when to use flash cards vs. study sheets because making study sheets requires more active work than flashcards, which helps the information stick in your head. It also refreshes your memory on the definitions in context, which is important for AP® Biology.

4. Don’t lose track of the big picture when studying AP® Biology.

As you’re studying for the exam, you’ll probably find yourself getting hung up on little details. AP® Bio has a way of throwing a lot of facts, specific names, dates, and functions at you. It would be impossible to memorize everything! That’s why it’s essential to remember why you’re reading a certain chapter, what it contributes to the bigger picture, and how all these concepts connect together. Don’t overwhelm yourself with trying to know everything about everything.

5. Keep on top of your AP® Biology readings.

Did you know that AP® Bio is one of the most reading-intensive AP® classes that the College Board offers? Your teacher will likely assign one or two chapters per night, which means 30 to 60 pages of material each evening. AP® Biology material is dense! 

If you miss even one night of reading, you’ll fall behind very quickly. Don’t just passively read the information, either. You have to actively read and make sure you’re actually absorbing the material as you go. Try reading the chapter summary first, highlight important info, take meaningful notes, and explain a concept to yourself out loud if you seem to be struggling with it.

6. Know the 4 Big Ideas.

The College Board divides the AP® Biology curriculum into 4 Big Ideas. This means that all the key concepts and content you need to know for the exam are organized around four main principles:

  • Big Idea 1: The process of evolution drives the diversity and unity of life.
  • Big Idea 2: Biological systems utilize free energy and molecular building blocks to grow, to reproduce and to maintain dynamic homeostasis.
  • Big Idea 3: Living systems store, retrieve, transmit and respond to information essential to life processes.
  • Big Idea 4: Biological systems interact, and these systems and their interactions possess complex properties.

As you learn and review new concepts, connect them back to these four big ideas. Use them to structure FRQ responses. To find out more about the 4 Big Ideas and the information you need to know for each, check out the AP® Biology Course and Exam Description.

7. Invest in an AP® Biology review book.

AP® Biology textbooks are heavy, thick, and full of details that are sometimes beyond the scope of the exam. How do you know, then, which information you actually need to know? Buy an AP® Biology review book! Many of these AP® Bio review books come with practice exams, chapter reviews, and helpful hints. It’s important to only buy a review book that has been published in 2013 or later, since the exam was completely redesigned in 2013.

We recommend you complement any review book with online practice resources like Albert’s AP® Biology practice problems.

8. Watch the Crash Course Biology series on YouTube.

Sometimes, reading to review can get tiring. When you find yourself bored and unmotivated, try watching biology videos. The Biology Crash Course on YouTube has 40 videos dedicated to teaching you all the most important biology concepts. Injected with humor, fast-paced, and entertaining, these videos make it feel like you’re not actually studying at all. Still, make sure to actively watch, take notes, pause if you don’t understand something, or make a flashcard for a new term you hear about. 

There are other great YouTubers, such as Mr. Anderson, the teacher behind Bozeman Biology, who focus on AP® Biology content.

9. Participate in the “Dirty Dozen” labs.

Odds are, you’ll be able to participate in these 12 important labs in class. If not, you should research them for yourself. Check them out on the AP® Central website or review them with Albert’s help.

Return to the Table of ContentsStart your AP® Biology test prep here

AP® Biology Multiple-Choice Review: 6 Tips

1. Know what the multiple-choice questions look like.

The multiple-choice questions on the AP® Bio exam are probably different from those on other AP® exams you’ve taken. They involve a lot of reading and analyzing diagrams, data, and images. They aren’t simple “What do plants release during photosynthesis?” fact-recall type questions. For each question, you will have to read a paragraph or interpret a graph or diagram, then use your knowledge of biological concepts to choose the best answer. Note that some questions may even have you read a paragraph and interpret a graph or diagram. Let’s look at a few examples:

Example #1.

AP® Biology Multiple-Choice Review - Sample MCQ1

Answer: B.

Example #2.

AP® Biology Multiple-Choice Review - Sample MCQ2 part1
AP® Biology Multiple-Choice Review - Sample MCQ2 part2

Image Source: College Board

Answer: D.

As you can see from these two example questions, there is more to think about than just simply recalling facts. Often, several questions will be based on the same data sets and diagrams. For more questions like these, check out Albert’s AP® Biology practice.

2. Use standard multiple-choice strategies.

Using multiple-choice techniques, such as the process of elimination, making educated guesses, highlighting important information, and budgeting your time are important for any multiple-choice test. Let’s look at how these apply to the AP® Bio exam. On the multiple-choice section, you will have four options, rather than five. This means that if you can eliminate two choices, you have a 50% chance of getting the answer correct. 

When it comes to budgeting your time, it’s important to remember that you have an average of 90 seconds for each multiple-choice question. Try and stick to that time limit for each question, otherwise you may run out of time and have to leave some questions unanswered. Even better, if you pace so that each question takes less than a minute, you will have time to go back to any questions you skipped or guessed on.

3. Answer every question, and keep track of the ones you want to go back to.

You won’t lose any points for incorrect answers, but you potentially miss out on points if you leave a question blank, so as you work through the multiple choice section of the AP® Bio exam, mark an answer for every question. Keep track of the questions that you are uncertain about, guessed on, or need to double check. If you have time at the end, you can go back to these, but even if you run out of time, there is an answer down that might earn you points.

4. Learn to recognize patterns as well as their exceptions.

Multiple-choice questions often require you to choose the “best” answer or the one “false” answer. Strive to know about concepts and to make connections to other concepts. For example, know which enzymes are similar and different in both DNA replication and transcription. 

5. Eliminate extraneous information.

Lab-set and diagram questions can be tedious since you’ll have to do so much reading and analyzing. Find the question they’re asking you, and then go back to the data to find the answer to that question. It’s a simple technique, but when you have 60 multiple-choice questions to read, analyze, and answer in such a short time, pinpointing the actual question first can be helpful. Consider underlining important terms in the question and crossing out sentences or phrases that are not helpful.

6. Practice!

The only way to get better at answering complicated AP® Bio multiple-choice questions is to practice as much as possible. Practicing helps you become familiar with the format of the questions and gain some much-needed confidence. You will also learn which topics are frequently tested. You can find practice questions online, in review books, and in the College Board’s AP® Biology Course and Exam Description. Make sure you’re practicing questions from 2013 and later because older exams use the old, fact-recalling multiple-choice format and won’t help you for future AP® Bio exams. Consider making a plan to ensure that you are working on practice problems regularly.  For example, maybe you want to set time aside each day to work on practice problems.  Start with twenty minutes and build up by ten minute increments.  Eventually you will be able to focus and efficiently answer practice problems for the full 90 minutes.  Check out Albert’s biology resources for an extensive bank of practice questions.

AP® Biology Free Response Review: 11 Tips

We wrote a comprehensive guide complete with videos on how to answer AP® Biology free response questions here.

1. Know the FRQ format.

At the start of the AP® Bio free-response section of the exam, you will be given a 10-minute reading and planning period. After that, you’ll have 80 minutes to answer 6 essay questions, broken down like this:

 Long Free-ResponseShort Free-Response
How many?24
How much time?20 minutes for each10 minutes for each
How much value?8 to 10 points each4 points each 

For more information, see the exam Information section in the AP® Biology Course and Exam Description.

2. Use the entire 10-minute reading period.

Don’t underestimate the importance of the planning period! It’s given to you for a reason. Read through each of the questions, re-read them, and use the “planning space” to start putting your thoughts on paper. Draw diagrams, underline keywords, make notes, outline your responses, or whatever else you need to do to start formulating your answers. Ten minutes will feel like a long time, but use the entire time. Make sure you really know what the question is asking you; take the time to fully digest the question.

3. Explicitly define your terms.

Never write down a biological term without defining it. For example, you probably won’t get the point if you just write osmosis without mentioning “movement of water down a gradient across a semipermeable membrane.” Always incorporate a definition of some shape or form to show the AP® readers that you know what you’re talking about. In other words, don’t just inject fancy vocab words into your essays if you don’t know what they mean; the AP® readers will know.

If you don’t make this clear, your AP® grader will not reward you with full points. Reread your AP® Biology practice responses to make sure that you are defining terms as you use them.

4. Connect biological concepts to larger big ideas.

Your main focus in studying for the AP® Biology exam should be making connections. Knowing your vocabulary and labs is not useful if you can’t connect them to larger big ideas. On the FRQs, you’ll have to make claims and defend them, providing evidence to support your reasoning. How can you do this, while still making insightful connections across big ideas? The College Board has a few suggestions:

StrategyExample Question
Relate a proposed cause to a particular biological effect.What is the evidence that a single mutation caused the phenotypic change seen in an organism?
Identify assumptions and limitations of a conclusionIf a nutrient has a positive effect on one plant, can you appropriately conclude that it is effective on all plants?
Connect technique/strategy with its stated purpose/function in an investigationIdentify the control from a list of experimental treatments.
Identify patterns or relationships (and anomalies) from observations or a data setIs the behavior of an organism the same in different environments?
Rationalize one choice over another, including selection and exclusionWhich question from this list of questions can best be investigated scientifically?

5. Know the types of questions.

The table below outlines some of the most common free-response question types, how to answer them, and real example questions from past AP® Bio exams.

You can click on the links included in the example questions column to see sample responses we were able to find..

Question TypeWhat To DoExample Question
CalculatePerform mathematical steps to arrive at a final answer, including algebraic expressions, properly substituted numbers, and correct labeling of units and significant figures.Calculate the probability that the male offspring will have PDC deficiency. (2019 AP® Bio Exam Q3)
Construct/DrawCreate a diagram, graph, representation, or model that illustrates or explains relationships or phenomena.  Labels may or may not be required.Construct a cladogram on the template to represent a model of the evolutionary relatedness among the bear species based on the differences in LYST protein sequences.  (2018 AP® Bio Exam Q1)
DescribeProvide relevant characteristics of a specified topic.Describe how the mutation in the lyst gene became common in the polar bear population.  (2018 AP® Bio Exam Q1)
DetermineDecide or conclude after reasoning, observation, or applying mathematical routines/calculations. 
EvaluateJudge or determine the significance or importance of information or the quality or accuracy of a claim. 
ExplainProvide information about how or why a relationship, process, pattern, position, situation, or outcome occurs, using evidence and/or reasoning to support or qualify a claim.  Explain “how” typically requires analyzing a relationship, process, pattern, position, situation, or outcome; whereas explain “why” typically requires analysis of motivations or reasons for the relationship, process, pattern, position, situation, or outcome.Explain how gasdermin pore formation AND interleukin release contribute to an organism’s defense against a bacterial pathogen. (2018 AP® Bio Exam Q2)
IdentifyIndicate or provide information about a specified topic without elaboration or explanation.Identify the population of brown bears to which polar bears are most closely related based on the mitochondrial DNA sequence comparison. (2018 AP® Bio Exam Q1)
JustifyProvide evidence to support, qualify, or defend a claim, and/or provide reasoning to explain how that evidence supports or qualifies the claim.Use the means and confidence intervals in Figure 1 to justify the claim that Abc8 is effective at providing resistance to beta-cyfluthrin.  (2018 AP® Bio Exam Q4)
Make a claimMake an assertion that is based on evidence or knowledge.Make a claim about how clearing inactive caspase-1 results in activation of caspase-1. (2018 AP® Bio Exam Q2)
Predict/Make a predictionPredict the causes or effect of a change in, or disruption to, one or more components in a relationship, pattern, process, or system.Predict the percent of phenotypic males among the F1 offspring of the cross shown in the Punnett square if the offspring are raised at 22oC. (2018 AP® Bio Exam Q7)
RepresentUse appropriate graphs, symbols, words, illustrations, and/or tables of numerical values to describe biological concepts, characteristics, and/or relationships. 
State (the null/alternative hypothesis)Indicate or provide a hypothesis to support or defend a claim about a scientifically testable question. 
Support a claimProvide reasoning to explain how evidence supports or qualifies a claim. 

Source: AP® Biology Course and Exam Description

Many times, a single free-response question on the AP® Bio exam will include several of these key terms, while some only include one key term. Pay attention to exactly what the question is asking you to do and be sure to answer every part. An example of a question that asks you to do several things in one would look like this:

“Based on the data in the table below, draw a phylogenetic tree that reflects the evolutionary relationships of the organisms based on the differences in their cytochrome c amino-acid sequences and explain the relationships of the organisms. Based on the data, identify which organism is most closely related to the chicken and explain your choice.”

6. Claim + Evidence + Reasoning.

This model of scientific argumentation can be helpful to keep in mind when writing your AP® Biology FRQs. Essentially, you have to read and understand the question asked, directly answer with a claim statement, back up your claim with detailed examples of evidence, then use reasoning to explain how this evidence justifies your claim. Just remember claim, evidence, reasoning when you’re writing your essays.  See how the use of this structure affected the scores in these sample responses on question 3 part b from the 2019 AP® Biology exam.

AP® Biology Multiple-Choice Review - CER part 1
AP® Biology Multiple-Choice Review - CER part 2

Full credit response: “A PDC deficiency does not change the amount of NADH produced by glycolysis, but it decreases the amount of NADH produced in the Krebs cycle.  This occurs because the PDC-catalyzed reaction to make acetyl-CoA occurs after glycolysis, leading to no impact, and before the Krebs cycle.  Without acetyl-CoA, the Krebs cycle cannot occur, so a PDC deficiency would halt all NADH production in this step.”

7. Answer the parts of the question in the order called for.

Try not to skip around too much when answering your FRQs. If you do, you might accidentally miss a part of a question. Instead, use the question’s labels (a, b, c, d, etc.) to stay organized and clear. Make it as easy as possible for the AP® readers to follow your answer. Consider having a friend or parent read over one of your AP® Biology practice responses to see if they can clearly identify where each piece of your response is.  If they cannot, assume that the AP® scorer will not either.

8. Know how to answer “Design an Experiment” questions.

Sometimes, you’ll be asked to design an experiment as part of your FRQ. This is where your knowledge of the “Dirty Dozen” labs comes in. You need to be familiar with lab procedures and terms. In your response, make sure to include:

  • Hypothesis (using the “if…then” structure)
  • Independent and dependent variables
  • Control, stating directly, “Controls are…”
  • Explanation of the data you will collect and how you will measure it
  • Materials list
  • Procedure list (what you will actually do)
  • Description of how the data will be graphed and analyzed
  • Conclusion (what you expect to happen and why, compare your results to your hypothesis)

Remember that your experiment should be at least theoretically possible and that your conclusions should stay consistent with the way you set up your experiment.

9. Know how to answer “Draw a Graph” questions.

If you’re asked to draw a graph based on data, be sure to include the following in your response:

  • Labeled x-axis (independent variable) and y-axis (dependent variable)
  • Equal and proportional increments
  • Name and units
  • Smooth curve
  • Appropriate title
  • If more than one curve is plotted, label on each curve instead of using a legend

Hint: Most of the points for a graphing question come from proper setup!  Check out this example from the 2017 AP® Biology Exam:

AP® Biology Multiple-Choice Review
AP® Biology Multiple-Choice Review
AP® Biology Multiple-Choice Review

The scoring rubric specifies that this graph is worth 3 points:

AP® Biology Multiple-Choice Review

10. Be specific and thorough.

Avoid flowery and vague language in your AP® Bio FRQs. You don’t want to say something like: “Many parts of a cell are important in cell respiration.” This sentence is way too general and doesn’t really say anything at all. Whenever you use a biology term in your essay, offer specific examples of that term, such as “The electron transport chain (ETC), located in the inner membrane of the mitochondria, powers cellular respiration.” Remember that your goal is to convince an AP® bio exam reader that you know what you’re talking about.

11. Manage your time.

It can be easy to get carried away when writing your FRQs. Remember that you have to write 6 essays in only 80 minutes. You need to spend more time on the two long free-response questions than on the six short free-response questions. You should be spending approximately 20 minutes on each long FRQ and 10 minutes for each short FRQ. Time yourself  taking a practice exam. Consider how long it takes you to answer the FRQs fully, and where you spend the most time. 

Reflect on what strategies you can use to streamline your writing process, and use this information to adjust how you approach the exam: for example, it’s ok to spend more time on the outline if it helps you write out your final answers more quickly. Be aware of where you might lose track of time, and wear a watch during the exam. 

You can check the time when you feel that you might be falling behind your pacing and adjust how much time you can spend on the remaining questions. You don’t want to end up with no time to answer a question and miss out on 10 points.

Tips by AP® Biology Teachers and Students

General AP® Biology Tips from Teachers: 

1. Look for “real life” examples of what you’re learning.

2. Know the “how” and “why” of a topic.

If you can’t explain how something works, knowing it is pointless. Stop and quiz yourself about something you just learned. How does that process work? If you can’t explain it in your own words, you need a better understanding of it.

3. It helps to memorize things.

AP® Bio is less memorization than it used to be, but it still helps to memorize things. You should still be able to recall things at the drop of a hat, but you don’t need to know all 12 of the reactions involved in glycolysis.

4. Do lots of genetics practice problems.

Practice working with Hardy-Weinberg formulas, Punnett Squares, and Chi-Square tests. Also, memorize the common crosses, like dihybrid monocross.

5. For test prep, use the released exams!

Work through all the available multiple choice and FRQs on the College Board website and practice the questions your teacher provides you with. This can go a long way in helping you figure out the type of questions the exam asks, the common material on the exam, and how to manage your time. Also, check out the student answers to released FRQs, as well as the FRQ answer keys to get an idea of what kind and how much information is needed to get full credit.

AP® Biology Free Response Tips

1. Know how to set up your essays.

When you’re planning your essays, follow this structure:

  • Introductory sentence
  • Several broad points
  • Examples to prove your points
  • Closing sentence to summarize

Fill in this general structure with details and specifics. Write in short, declarative sentences. Thanks to Mr. C. from Alliance Cindy & Bill Simon Technology Academy High School for the tip!

2. Apply the language of science.

FRQs require that you show depth, elaboration, and give examples. You need to loop together your ideas and show how they connect. Don’t just rely on factual regurgitation. Thanks to Mr. Jeremy M. from Blue Valley Northwest High School for the tips!

3. Remember that the AP® graders are looking for certain statements to award points.

If an FRQ asks you to describe mutualism, for example, you need to both define it and elaborate on it to receive full points. As a general rule, always support your definitions with at least one example. Thanks to Dr. L. from Framingham High School for the tip!

4. Answer the question as concisely as possible.

Avoid writing down everything you know about a certain topic. If you do, you might contradict yourself or write down something which is wrong. You can be penalized for this. Thanks to Mr. F. from Dauphin Regional Comprehensive Secondary School for the tip!

5. Answer something for every question.

If you don’t know how to answer a free-response question, don’t panic. Begin with defining some terms related to the topic. Elaborate with an example or more detailed explanation of the things you can remember about the core biology topic. Some of the most common topics on the AP® bio exam are:

  • Evolution (as a whole)
  • Genetics/genetic regulation (transcription, translation, etc.)
  • Population ecology
  • Animal function/physiology
  • Muscular System
  • Nervous System
  • Endocrine System
  • Immune System

Don’t just memorize the parts, but understand the processes and relationships. For example, know how an antibody attacking postsynaptic receptors leads to certain responses. If you have a great detailed and conceptual understanding of these topics, you will be able to get some points! Thanks to Mrs. S. from North High School and Ms. Kelly O. from Colleyville Heritage High School for the tips!

6. No detail is too small as long as it is to the point and on topic.

For example, if a question asks about the structure of DNA, talk about the helix, the bases, the hydrogen bonds, introns, exons, etc. Do not waste time talking about RNA, expression, Mendelian genetics, etc. Thanks to Ms. Louise H. from Friedrich Von Steuben Metropolitan Science Center for the tip!

Wrapping Things Up: The Ultimate List of AP® Biology Tips

The AP® Biology exam may be one of the hardest AP® exams out there, but with practice and preparation, you will be able to score a 5. Build a strong foundation for deep understanding of concepts by focusing on key terms, definitions, and diagrams.

Practice multiple choice and free-response questions, making sure to read the questions carefully and answer them fully. Remember to clearly show your knowledge in FRQs by defining any scientific terms you use and making connections between concepts. When in doubt, ground your answers in the four big ideas: 

  • Big Idea 1: The process of evolution drives the diversity and unity of life.
  • Big Idea 2: Biological systems utilize free energy and molecular building blocks to grow, to reproduce and to maintain dynamic homeostasis.
  • Big Idea 3: Living systems store, retrieve, transmit and respond to information essential to life processes.
  • Big Idea 4: Biological systems interact, and these systems and their interactions possess complex properties.

ap biology study plan

Option 1: 10-Hour AP Biology Study Plan

  • Analyze your mistakes on the diagnostic test: 1.5 hours.
  • Study relevant content areas and revise test-taking strategies: 2 hours.
  • Take and score another practice test: 4 hours.
  • Analyze your mistakes on the second practice test: 1.5 hours.
  • Final study session: 1 hour.

Once you take and score your practice test, you can think more critically about how much time you’ll need to spend studying for AP Biology. I’ll give you examples of two study plans.

The 10-hour plan is if you’re hoping to improve by 1 AP point or just hone your skills so that you’re more solidly in the 5 range. The 20-hour plan is for students who want to improve by around 2 AP points.

Each plan has the same four components, which we introduce below.

#1: Take Practice Tests

After taking a diagnostic test, you will need to continue taking practice exams as you study for AP Biology. This is a way to check your progress and get familiar with the format of the test so that you aren’t caught off-guard on exam day.

Remember that the test format changed in 2020, so be sure to familiarize yourself with the specific changes. You can read more about the redesign in the AP Bio Course and Exam Description.

#2: Analyze Mistakes on Practice Tests

This is a critical component of AP Biology studying. After you take a practice test, you should sit down and go through your mistakes to see which content areas gave you the most trouble. This will help you avoid studying irrelevant concepts and neglecting the areas in which your knowledge is weakest.

#3: Study Weak Content Areas

Based on the information you learn from analyzing your mistakes, you can focus on the content areas that need the most work. Your goal is to patch up all the holes before you take another AP Biology practice test.

#4: Revise Test-Taking Strategies

This is another step you need to take after analyzing your mistakes on your AP Bio practice test. If you made mistakes due to time pressure or careless errors, think about changing your test-taking strategies to avoid this in the future. Try not to linger for more than a minute on difficult questions. Underline the most important parts of each question to help you understand what you should be concentrating on.

Below are the two AP Biology study plans broken down into their different components, with some rough guidelines for how much time you should spend on each step.

Option 1: 10-Hour AP Biology Study Plan

  • Analyze your mistakes on the diagnostic test: 1.5 hours
  • Study relevant content areas and revise test-taking strategies: 2 hours
  • Take and score another practice test: 4 hours
  • Analyze your mistakes on the second practice test: 1.5 hours
  • Final study session: 1 hour

Option 2: 20-Hour AP Biology Study Plan

  • Analyze your mistakes on the diagnostic test: 1.5 hours
  • Study relevant content areas and revise test-taking strategies: 3 hours
  • Take and score another practice test: 4 hours
  • Analyze your mistakes on the second practice test: 1.5 hours
  • Study content areas that are giving you trouble and revise test-taking strategies: 3 hours
  • Take and score a third practice test: 4 hours
  • Analyze your mistakes: 1.5 hours
  • Final study session: 1.5 hours

When I do crossword puzzles, I sometimes grade myself, so they’re similar to AP practice tests except with no reward beyond the satisfaction of knowing arcane information that is usually completely irrelevant to my life. Fun fact: the apostrophe in Hawaiian words is called an okina.

4 Essential AP Biology Study Strategies

AP Biology is a tough class that covers tons of complex information. If you want to use this guide to prepare effectively for the AP test and other exams throughout the year, you’ll need to use study strategies that complement the material. Here are four recommendations.

#1: When in Doubt, Draw It Out

If you’re feeling shaky on your knowledge of a process or system in AP Biology, one helpful strategy is to draw it. This will both reinforce what you know and highlight what you still need to work on learning. Once you’re able to draw an accurate diagram of a system or process without looking at your notes, you can feel confident that you know exactly how it works.

For example, you could challenge yourself to draw a diagram of a cell membrane, label its different components, and explain their significance. You could also draw a process like mitosis that happens in clear visual stages, or a more complex process like cellular respiration where you might focus on one aspect at a time (glycolysis, Krebs cycle, electron transport chain).

This advice ties into the next strategy on this list. If you can draw a diagram, you haven’t just memorized facts—you’ve connected them to their place within a larger context.

#2: Don’t Just Memorize—Make Connections

The focus of AP Biology questions is asking students to demonstrate a deeper understanding of complex biological concepts. Memorization is important for the test, but it won’t get you a good score if you do it in isolation.

Each term or concept in AP Biology is connected to a larger theme, and it’s your job to understand those connections and their implications. This will enable you to answer questions on the test that ask you to analyze hypothetical scenarios based on your biology knowledge.

So if you’re studying DNA structure and replication, you shouldn’t just memorize the names of the nucleotides and the enzymes that aid in DNA replication. These things are important, and you should know them—but you need to go beyond this type of knowledge.

How does DNA go from just a chain of molecules inside a cell to the foundation of every organism’s individuality? How does it relate to reproduction and gene expression? How is it translated into the formation of other systems in the body? Each fact that you memorize should lead you to ask yourself questions like this to ground your understanding.

Biology is not a collection of random tidbits of information but rather a web of interrelated concepts. The clearer this becomes to you, the better!

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#3: Know Lab Procedures

Labs make up a significant portion of the AP Biology course, and the test reflects this fact. Review all your labs and make sure that you understand their outcomes and methodologies.

The more familiar you are with your labs, the more likely you’ll be able to answer these questions easily based on your memory of similar experiments in class.

It’s especially important that you familiarize yourself with the fundamental building blocks of a good experiment. There are often questions on the test that ask about different experimental variables or require you to predict the outcome of an experiment.

#4: Use Practice Tests Strategically

This tip is evident in my study plans in the previous section, but it’s worth mentioning again. You shouldn’t just study the material and expect to do well, especially on a test like AP Biology, which requires a significant amount of analysis in its questions.

You can use practice tests to judge which content areas need the most work and whether you need to revamp your test-taking strategies. The best AP Bio practice exams are available online through the College Board website and in highly reviewed prep books.

Although there aren’t yet any full practice tests that reflect the newest version of the AP Biology exam, you can still use older exams to drill concepts and hone your time-management skills. Be sure to prioritize more recent practice exams over older ones.

AP Biology Content Review: Notes, Outlines, and Videos

In this section, I’ll give you notes for each AP Biology topic area, followed by a list of videos that cover these same general topics. Most students should probably start with the notes to gather a solid foundation of knowledge. If you’re reading the notes and feel as if you’re going to fall asleep, try switching to a video explanation instead.

The notes are more in depth than the videos, so you should probably read them all at some point, but you can alternate between the different formats depending on how you feel and which learning style works best for you.

You can even take your own notes to reinforce the information as you watch the videos, or print out the notes below and use them as a guide when watching a video explanation.

Don’t feel pressured to commit to one type of resource over the other—switching it up every once in a while will keep things from getting boring!

AP Biology Prep: 3 Study Resources to Test Your Knowledge

In this section, we give you some of the best resources you can use for your AP Biology prep.


This site has many different user-created sets of terms that you can use to review for the AP Bio test or any other in-class tests.

Check out this Ultimate AP Biology Vocabulary Review; there are more than 1,000 terms to help you review what you’ve learned. You can study them in flashcard form and then quiz yourself all in one place!

Quizlet also has tons of other AP Biology study sets that will help you review all the details you need to know for different units. You can sign up for free.

There are some good practice questions here that cover the main concepts within each big idea of the AP Biology curriculum. I like that they include many questions about lab procedures to ensure that you don’t lose out on the lab aspect of biology studying. Questions within the quizzes are organized by difficulty level (easy, medium, or difficult), allowing you to determine what kinds of topics and questions you struggle with the most. Note that many of the materials require you to create a paid account to access them.

Varsity Tutors

There are tons of mini practice quizzes on this site for all the AP Biology topics, and they’re rated by difficulty level, so you’ll know whether you really have a topic down. Diagnostic tests are also available for a more holistic look at your strengths and weaknesses.

Wow, those were some XTREMEly awesome study tools! I don’t know why I’m trying to relate to AP Biology students with a vague sports reference. But I’m sure some of you do the sports ball playing.

Conclusion: The Benefits of Using This AP Biology Study Guide

With the tips and tools in this AP Biology study guide, you should be able to formulate a comprehensive approach to your studying. You can use these resources throughout the year as you build up your knowledge, or you can use them in the month(s) before the AP exam, depending on how you learn best.

Let’s quickly review everything we’ve covered here in this in-depth AP Biology study guide.

Your AP Biology study plan should consist of the following:

  • Taking practice tests
  • Analyzing mistakes
  • Studying weak content areas
  • Revising test-taking strategies

In addition, be sure to remember these key study tips:

  • Draw out systems and processes so you can understand them better
  • Don’t just memorize facts—make connections to larger themes
  • Make sure you’re familiar with your labs and the principles of experimental design
  • Take practice tests frequently

You can use notes from your AP Biology class as well as the notes in this guide to help anchor your studying. If you learn better by watching videos, check out the video explanations of different concepts that I’ve listed above. And don’t forget to go over your labs!

AP Biology is a tough subject, and there’s a lot to remember, but if you give yourself enough time to absorb it all and are conscious of where you need the most improvement, you can master the skills you need to be successful in your class and on the test!

What’s Next?

If you’re taking AP Biology, you probably have big plans for higher education. Find out how many AP classes you should take in high school if you’re looking at highly selective colleges.

What does a high score on an AP test get you exactly? Learn more about how AP credit works at colleges.

You’ve got AP Biology covered, but what other science classes should you be taking? Read our guide on the high school science classes you should take for all the answers!

One of the single most important parts of your college application is what classes you choose to take in high school (in conjunction with how well you do in those classes). Our team of PrepScholar admissions experts have compiled their knowledge into this single guide to planning out your high school course schedule. We’ll advise you on how to balance your schedule between regular and honors/AP/IB courses, how to choose your extracurriculars, and what classes you can’t afford not to take.

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