How to Approach Each Question Type - Develop Strategies for Success - 5 Steps to a 5: AP Biology 2017 (2016)

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


Develop Strategies for Success

CHAPTER 4 How to Approach Each Question Type


How to Approach Each Question Type


Summary: Become familiar with the types of questions on the exam: multiple-choice and free-response. Pace yourself and know when to skip a question that you can come back to later.


Key Ideas

Image On multiple-choice questions, you no longer lose any points for wrong answers. So you should bubble in an answer for every question.

Image On multiple-choice questions, don’t “out-think” the test. Use common sense because that will usually get you to the right answer.

Image Free-response answers must be in essay form. Outline form is not acceptable.

Image Free-response questions tend to be multi-part questions—be SURE to answer each part of the question or you will not be able to get the maximum possible number of points for that question.

Image Make a quick outline before you begin writing your answer.

Image The free-response questions are graded using a positive-scoring system, so wrong information is ignored.

Multiple-Choice Questions

You have approximately 90 seconds per question on the multiple-choice section of this exam. Remember that to ensure a great score on this exam, you need to correctly answer approximately 42 multiple-choice questions or more. Here are a few rules of thumb:


1. Don’t out-think the test . It is indeed possible to be too smart for these tests. Frequently during these standardized tests we have found ourselves overanalyzing every single problem. If you encounter a question such as, “During what phase of meiosis does crossover (also referred to as crossing over ) occur?” and you happen to know the answer immediately, this does not mean that the question is too easy. First, give yourself credit for knowing a fact. They asked you something, you knew it, and wham , you fill in the bubble. Do not overanalyze the question and assume that your answer is too obvious for that question. Just because you get it doesn’t mean that it was too easy.

2. Don’t leave questions blank . The AP Biology exam used to take off one-fourth point for each wrong answer. This is no longer the case. You should bubble in an answer for each multiple-choice question.

3. Be on the lookout for trick wording! Always pay attention to words or phrases such as “least,” “most,” “not,” “incorrectly,” and “does not belong.” Do not answer the wrong question. There are few things as annoying as getting a question wrong on this test simply because you didn’t read the question carefully enough, especially if you know the right answer.

4. Use your time carefully . Some of these questions require a lot of careful reading before you can answer them. If you find yourself struggling on a question, try not to waste too much time on it. Circle it in the booklet and come back to it later if time permits. Remember that to ensure a great score on this exam, you need to correctly answer approximately 42 multiple-choice questions or more—this test should be an exercise in window shopping.

It does not matter which questions you get correct. What is important is that you answer enough questions correctly. Find the subjects that you know the best, answer those questions, and save the others for review later on.

5. Be careful about changing answers! If you have answered a question already, come back to it later on, and get the urge to change it . . . make sure that you have a real reason to change it. Often an urge to change an answer is the work of exam “elves” in the room who want to trick you into picking a wrong answer. Change your answer only if you can justify your reasons for making the switch.

6. Check your calculations! The math required in the grid-in section isn’t overly complicated. That said, it would be unfortunate to lose points because of a silly calculation error. Make sure to work carefully and check your math. Happily, any equations you need will be provided for you.

Free-Response Questions

The free-response section consists of eight broad questions. It is important that your answers to these questions display solid reasoning and analytical skills. The two long essays together carry approximately the same weight as the six short-response questions combined. Expect to often use data or information from your laboratory exercises as you answer some of the questions.

Answers for the free-response questions must be in essay form. Outline form is not acceptable. Labeled diagrams may be used to supplement discussion, but in no case will a diagram alone suffice. It is important that you read each question completely before you begin to write. Write all of your answers on the pages following the questions in the booklet.

Free-Response Tips

Some important tips to keep in mind as you write your essays:


• The free-response questions tend to be multipart questions. You can’t be expected to know everything about every topic, and the test preparers sometimes throw you a bone by writing questions that ask you to answer two of three parts or three of four parts. This gives you an opportunity to focus in on the material that you are most comfortable with. It is very important that you read the question carefully to make sure you understand exactly what the examiners are asking you to do.

• You are given 80 minutes to complete eight free-response questions. The two long free-response questions should take 20 minutes each, and the six short questions should take about six minutes each. This may not seem like a lot of time, but if you write a bunch of practice essays before you take the exam and budget your time wisely during the exam, you will not have to struggle with your timing. Below are suggestions for budgeting your time:

• Read the question carefully and make sure you know what it is asking you to do.

• Construct an outline that will help you organize your answer. Don’t write the world’s most elaborate outline. You won’t get points for having the prettiest outline in the country—so there is no reason to spend an excessive amount of time putting it together. Just develop enough of an outline so that you have a basic idea of how you will construct your essay. Your essay is not graded based on how well it is put together, but it certainly will not hurt your score to write a well-organized and grammatically correct response.

• If the long essay is a two-part question, spend 10 minutes on each part. If it is a three-part question, spend 6–7 minutes on each part. Keep your eye on the clock and make sure you give yourself enough time to address each part of the question.

• Both of the long free-response questions on the AP Biology exam are worth the same number of points. But each question is not created equal. Some questions ask you to answer two sub-questions. Some questions ask you to answer three sub-questions, and some questions ask you to answer four sub-questions. The free-response questions are graded in a way that forces you to provide information for each section of the question. There are a maximum number of points that you can get for each subsection. For example, in a question that asks you to answer three sub-questions, most likely the grader’s guidelines will say something along the lines of:

Part A — worth a maximum of 3 points

Part B — worth a maximum of 4 points

Part C — worth a maximum of 3 points

This is a very important thing for you to know heading into the exam. This means that it is far more important for you to attempt to answer every part of the question than to try to stuff every little fact that you know about part A into that portion of the essay at the expense of part B. Based on the grading guideline above, no matter how well you write your answer for part A, you can receive at most 3 points for that section. At the risk of being repetitive, we’ll say it again because it is so important: no matter how great your essay may be, the grader can only give you the maximum possible number of points for each subsection.

• The free-response section is graded using a “positive scoring” system. This means that wrong information in an essay is ignored. You do not lose points for saying things that are incorrect. (Unfortunately you do not get points for saying things that are incorrect either . . . if only!) The importance of this fact is basically that if you are unsure about something and think you may be right, give it a shot and include it in your essay. It’s worth the risk.