What You Need to Know About the AP Biology Exam - Set Up Your Study Program - 5 Steps to a 5: AP Biology 2017 (2016)

5 Steps to a 5: AP Biology 2017 (2016)


Set Up Your Study Program

CHAPTER 1 What You Need to Know About the AP Biology Exam

CHAPTER 2 How to Plan Your Time


What You Need to Know About the AP Biology Exam


Summary: Learn what topics are tested, how the test is scored, and basic test-taking information.


Key Ideas

Image Some colleges will award credit for a score of 4 or 5.

Image Multiple-choice and grid-in questions account for 50 percent of your final score.

Image Points are no longer deducted for incorrect answers to multiple-choice questions. You should try to eliminate incorrect answer choices and then guess; there is no penalty for guessing.

Image Free-response questions account for 50 percent of your final score.

Image Your composite score on the two test sections is converted into a score on the 1-to-5 scale.

Background of the Advanced Placement Program

The Advanced Placement program was begun by the College Board in 1955 to construct standard achievement exams that would allow highly motivated high school students the opportunity to be awarded advanced placement as first-year students in colleges and universities in the United States. Today, more than a million students from every state in the nation and from foreign countries take the annual AP exams in May.

The AP programs are designed for high school students who wish to take college-level courses. In our case, the AP Biology course and exam are designed to involve high school students in college-level biology studies.

Who Writes the AP Biology Exam

After extensive surfing of the College Board website, here is what we have uncovered. The AP Biology exam is created by a group of college and high school biology instructors known as the AP Development Committee. The committee’s job is to ensure that the annual AP Biology exam reflects what is being taught and studied in college-level biology classes at high schools.

This committee writes a large number of multiple-choice questions, which are pretested and evaluated for clarity, appropriateness, and range of possible answers. The committee also generates a pool of essay questions, pretests them, and chooses those questions that best represent the full range of the scoring scale, which will allow the AP readers to evaluate the essays equitably.

It is important to remember that the AP Biology exam is thoroughly evaluated after it is administered each year. This way, the College Board can use the results to make course suggestions and to plan future tests.

The AP Grades and Who Receives Them

Once you have taken the exam and it has been scored, your test will be graded with one of five numbers by the College Board:

• A 5 indicates that you are extremely well qualified.

• A 4 indicates that you are well qualified.

• A 3 indicates that you are adequately qualified.

• A 2 indicates that you are possibly qualified.

• A 1 indicates that you are not qualified to receive college credit.

A grade of 5, 4, 3, 2, or 1 will usually be reported by early July.

Reasons for Taking the AP Biology Exam

Why put yourself through a year of intensive study, pressure, stress, and preparation? Only you can answer that question. Following are some of the reasons that students have indicated to us for taking the AP exam:

• For personal satisfaction.

• To compare themselves with other students across the nation.

• Because colleges look favorably on the applications of students who elect to enroll in AP courses.

• To receive college credit or advanced standing at their colleges or universities.

• Because they love the subject.

• So that their families will be really proud of them.

There are plenty of other reasons, but no matter what they might be, the primary reason for enrolling in the AP Biology course and taking the exam in May is to feel good about yourself and the challenges you have met.

Questions Frequently Asked About the AP Biology Exam

Here are some common questions students have about the AP Biology exam and some answers to those questions.

If I Don’t Take an AP Biology Course, Can I Still Take the AP Biology Exam?

Yes. Although the AP Biology exam is designed for students who have had a year’s course in AP Biology, some high schools do not offer this type of course. Many students in these high schools have also done well on the exam, although they had not taken the course. However, if your high school does offer an AP Biology course, by all means take advantage of it and the structured background it will provide you.

How Is the Advanced Placement Biology Exam Organized?

The exam has two parts and is scheduled to last three hours. The first section is a set of 63 multiple-choice questions and six grid-in (calculation-based) questions. You will have 90 minutes to complete this part of the test.

After you complete the multiple-choice section, you will hand in your test booklet and scan sheet, and you will be given a brief break. The length of this break depends on the particular administrator. You will not be able to return to the multiple-choice questions when you return to the examination room.

The second section of the exam is a 90-minute essay-writing segment consisting of two long free-response questions and six short free-response questions. This section will be split into a 10-minute reading period followed by an 80-minute writing period. All of the questions will test your understanding of the four big ideas in biology and how science investigators actually work.

Must I Check the Box at the End of the Essay Booklet That Allows AP Staff to Use My Essays as Samples for Research?

No. This is simply a way for the College Board to make certain they have your permission if they decide to use one or more of your essays as a model. The readers of your essays pay no attention to whether or not that box is checked. Checking the box will not affect your grade.

How Is the Multiple-Choice Section Scored?

The scan sheet with your answers is run through a computer, which counts the number of correct answers. The AP Biology questions usually have four choices. A question left blank receives a zero. The very complicated formula for this calculation looks something like this (where N = the number of answers):


N right = raw score rounded up or down to nearest whole number

OK, that is not complicated at all.

How Are My Free-Response Answers Scored?

Each of your essays is read by a different, trained AP reader called a faculty consultant . The AP/College Board members have developed a highly successful training program for their readers, providing many opportunities for checks and double checks of essays to ensure a fair and equitable reading of each essay.

The scoring guides are carefully developed by a chief faculty consultant, a question leader, table leaders, and content experts. All faculty consultants are then trained to read and score just one essay question on the exam. They actually become experts in that one essay question. No one knows the identity of any writer. The identification numbers and names are covered, and the exam booklets are randomly distributed to the readers in packets of 25 randomly chosen essays. Table leaders and the question leader review samples of each reader’s scores to ensure that quality standards are constant.

Each essay is scored on a scale from 1 to 10. Once your essay is graded on this scale, the next set of calculations is completed.

How Is My Composite Score Calculated?

This is where fuzzy math comes into play. The composite score for the AP Biology exam is 138. The free-response section represents 50 percent of this score, which equals 69 points. The multiple-choice section makes up 50 percent of the composite score, which equals another 69 points.

Take your multiple-choice results and plug them into the following formula (keep in mind that this formula was designed for a previous AP Biology exam and could be subject to some minor tweaking by the AP Board):

Number multiple-choice correct + number of grid-in correct = _______________

Take your essay results and plug them into this formula:

Total free-response points × 1.57 = _______________


Your total composite score for the exam is determined by adding the score from the multiple-choice section to the score from the essay section and rounding that sum to the nearest whole number.

How Is My Composite Score Turned into the Grade That Is Reported to My College?

Keep in mind that the total composite scores needed to earn a 5, 4, 3, 2, or 1 change each year. These cutoffs are determined by a committee of AP, College Board, and Educational Testing Service (ETS) directors, experts, and statisticians. The same exam that is given to the AP Biology high school students is given to college students. The various college professors report how the college students fared on the exam. This provides information for the chief faculty consultant on where to draw the lines for a 5, 4, 3, 2, or 1 score. A score of 5 on this AP exam is set to represent the average score received by the college students who scored an A on the exam. A score of a 3 or a 4 is the equivalent of a college grade B, and so on.

Over the years there has been an observable trend indicating the number of points required to achieve a specific grade. Data released from a particular AP Biology exam show that the approximate range for the five different scores are as follows (this changes from year to year—just use this as an approximate guideline):

• Mid 80s to 138 points = 5

• Mid 60s to lower 80s points = 4

• Upper 40s to lower 60s points = 3

• Mid 20s to upper 40s points = 2

• 0 to mid 20s points = 1

What Should I Bring to the Exam?

Here are some suggestions:

• A simple calculator

• Several pencils and an eraser

• Several black pens (black ink is easier on the eyes)

• A watch

• Something to drink—water is best

• A quiet snack, such as Lifesavers

• Your brain

• Tissues

What Should I Avoid Bringing to the Exam?

You should not bring:

• A jackhammer

• Loud stereo

• Pop rocks

• Your parents

Is There Anything Else I Should Be Aware Of?

You should:

• Allow plenty of time to get to the test site.

• Wear comfortable clothing.

• Eat a light breakfast or lunch.

• Remind yourself that you are well prepared and that the test is an enjoyable challenge and a chance to share your knowledge. Be proud of yourself! You worked hard all year. Once test day comes, there is nothing further you can do. It is out of your hands, and your only job is to answer as many questions correctly as you possibly can.

What Should I Do the Night Before the Exam?

Although we do not vigorously support last-minute cramming, there may be some value to some last-minute review. Spending the night before the exam relaxing with family or friends is helpful for many students. Watch a movie, play a game, gab on the phone, and then find a quiet spot to study. While you’re unwinding, flip through your notebook and review sheets. As you are approaching the exam, you might want to put together a list of topics that have troubled you and review them briefly the night before the exam. If you are unable to fall asleep, flip through our chapter on taxonomy and classification (Chapter 13 ). Within moments, you’re bound to be ready to drift off. Pleasant dreams.