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How to Study for the AP Biology Exam

How to Study for the AP Biology Exam

Organelles and ATP and Evolution, oh my! We know how daunting AP Biology can seem. Preparing for the exam requires a tremendous amount of memorization, which in turn requires remarkable discipline. The information below is meant to help you create a framework for your studying, allowing you to break the exam down into digestible parts.

Alejandro V.
Alejandro V.
Advanced Placement

Organelles and ATP and Evolution, oh my! We know how daunting AP Biology can seem. Preparing for the exam requires a tremendous amount of memorization, which in turn requires remarkable discipline. The information below is meant to help you create a framework for your studying, allowing you to break the exam down into digestible parts.

What’s Tested on the AP Biology Exam?

One of the biggest challenges in preparing for the AP Biology exam is that it deals with an immense amount of content. The most commonly tested subjects are: Evolution and natural selection, Genetics and the transfer of biological information, Cellular processes, and Ecosystem interactions.

The breakdown of topics on the exam are as follows:

  • Unit 1: Chemistry of Life - 8-11%
  • Unit 2: Cell Structure and Function - 10-13%
  • Unit 3: Cellular Energetics - 12-16%
  • Unit 4: Cell Communication and Cell Cycle - 10-15%
  • Unit 5: Heredity - 8-11%
  • Unit 6: Gene Expression and Regulation - 12-16%
  • Unit 7: Natural Selection - 13-20%
  • Unit 8: Ecology - 10-15%

For each of these content areas, you will be tested on your recall ability, data analysis skills, and ability to form a scientific argument. Although these are the broad topics tested on the exam, we suggest looking at the exam description from the Collegeboard to make sure all your bases are covered.

How Many Questions Does AP Biology Have?

There are 60 multiple choice and 6 free-response questions on the AP Biology Exam.

How Long Is the AP Biology Exam?

Total 3 hours: 90-minute multiple-choice section (60 questions) followed by a 10-minute break and an 80-minute free-response section (6 questions).

What Do You Need to Pass the AP Biology Exam?

The exam is scored on a scale of 1-5 with 5 being the best score. Last year, only the top 7.4% of exam takers earned a 5.

Scoring well on the exam (usually 4-5) can earn you college credit depending on the college that you attend. This will get you ahead in your college academics.

How to Get a 5 in AP Biology

The first thing that you should do is create a study schedule. Since you are taking AP Biology and you are apparently still reading this article, we assume you are an ambitious high school student that has responsibilities outside of this exam. You need to plan around those responsibilities at least one month before your exam date. We suggest dedicating at least one of your weekend days (Saturday or Sunday) towards the AP bio exam. You should also see when you will have time during the week to sprinkle more studying in.

Furthermore, you should plan which topics will be covered on certain days. For example, if genetics is a weakness for you, you may want to dedicate a Saturday or Sunday to transcription and translation as these are large topics. Throughout the week, you should supplement your genetics studying with practice Punnett square or Hardy Weinberg equilibrium problems. The more specific your plan is, the better.

After you design a diligent study plan that accommodates for your other responsibilities, you have to be proactive by constantly modifying it. Returning to the previous example about reviewing genetics: If you spend all Sunday reviewing transcription and translation but there were some aspects of translation that didn’t resonate with you, then you must make time throughout the week to come back to this material to master it. Modifying and adhering to your study schedule is essential for succeeding on the exam.

Can I Self Study AP Biology?

You can absolutely self-study for the AP Biology exam. As mentioned before, We suggest that you start by making a study schedule.

Is AP Biology Tough?

Yes. Only the top 5-7% of test-takers get a 5.

That said, this is a test that is heavy on memorization. It is truly a place where “hard work beats talent." If you stick to the study tips mentioned above, you will do well.

AP Biology Test Strategies

  • Triage: It is important to do the easier questions at the beginning and save the more difficult questions for the end. As you take your practice tests, you should work on skipping the questions that look like they will require 1.5 minutes or more to figure out. You should mark these questions and come back to them at the end so that you can put more time into them. Time management is key for the exam.
  • Know your pace: As you take your practice exams, be mindful of how long each question is taking you and how much time you feel comfortable with. If you know you usually like having at least 10 minutes left over at the end of a multiple-choice section, then you should know if you are falling behind on this goal throughout the section.
  • Process of elimination: Does the question look unfamiliar and unnecessarily complicated? Do not panic! The test writers love to present students with unfamiliar information which will inevitably intimidate and throw off many, if not most students. In these situations, process-of-elimination is useful. You don’t always have to know why the correct answer is correct. Rather, knowing that the other responses are incorrect is sufficient. The only way to become good at this is by taking many practice exams.

How Do You Memorize for AP Biology?

Repetition is key.

As previously mentioned, there is a tremendous amount of memorization on this exam. One of the most effective strategies for mastering the memorization required for the exam is repetition. Which enzyme unwinds DNA during transcription? Did you know that it was helicase? If you did great! However, review the action of helicase and the subsequent steps in transcription at least 5 more times before the exam. Each time you review it, please question the information and think about it from multiple perspectives.

Flashcards can be your best friend when it comes to memorization. Although there are pre-made sets available online, the process itself of creating your own physical deck (and handwriting the cards) can be a great way to get those terms and definitions firmly lodged into your memory.

When is the AP Biology Exam in 2023?

The AP Biology Exam will take place on Wednesday, May 10, 2023.

What to Bring to the AP Biology Exam

Here's what you should bring to the AP Biology Exam:

  • two sharpened No. 2 pencils with erasers (for the multiple-choice section)
  • two black or blue ink pens (for the free-response section)
  • an approved calculator (see here for the offical AP calculator poilcy)
  • a government-issued of school-issued photo ID (if you are not taking the exam somewhere other than your school)
  • a watch (but not a smart or Apple watch)
  • College Board SSD Eligibility letter, if you have approved testing accomodations

Final Exam Preparation

Whether you’re looking for help keeping up in AP Biology Class, or need support studying for the exam, Ivy Tutors Network is here to help. Many of our AP Biology exam tutors hold PhDs, do professional research, or are currently enrolled in medical school. We've helped countless students score 4s or 5s on their APs, excel in AP courses, and earn college credit!

One of the ways our tutors help students is by constantly questioning their understanding of the content. Even if you prepare for this exam on your own, information is more likely to be retained when it is discussed and challenged. Our tutors can also help you establish a study plan and hold you accountable to it.

That’s it! Best of luck in your studies, and please reach out to Ivy Tutors if you need help.

AP Biology Study Review Notes and Resources





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