What to Expect in AP Biology

By Luke Palmer

(Head of Math and Sciences, Biology, Chemistry, Environmental Science and ESS tutor at The Edge Learning Center)

The American stream schools will offer the chance for students to take College Boards Advanced Placement (AP) subjects. The objective of AP courses is to prepare student both academically and earn credit for college. It also shows admissions officers the student has endeavored to challenge himself or herself to discover the most in the topics.

In this blog we will be focusing on the AP Biology course, this will cover a large range of biological concepts and ideas to give student idea of the level expected at the college level. Yet do not let this put you off taking Biology, this syllabus has great range and depth to be accessible to students how are willing to work to get results. The design is not just focused on learning the theory but its practical demonstration and application, which is excellent preparation for working in a college environment.

The Biology syllabus is divided into four core scientific principles called Big Ideas, with different areas that incorporate essential concepts in how living organisms govern themselves and form biological systems. The following are the four Big Ideas:

AP BiologyBig 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, reproduce and maintain dynamic homeostasis.

Big Idea 3: Living systems share, 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.

These are broad concepts that contain the major topics to establish a good understanding and knowledge to discuss the ideas. The topics areas covered range from evolution, organism systems, biological molecules and genetics to name but a few. The way the subject is assessed is in a single three-hour exam with two sections, section I: Multiple-Choice Questions and Grid-In Items and section II: Free Response Questions.

The first sections Multiple-Choice Questions (MCQs) are the standard idea of these type of questions, with a question and four possible answers. Some variation occurs with data or diagrams to analyses that can link a few questions together. There are a total of 63 MCQs in this section and will be followed by 6 Grid-In Items. Grid-In questions are showing the ability to use mathematical skills and critical thinking. These although tend to scare students it can be dealt with relativity simply as there are common topics that will be used.

The second section is made up of Free Response Questions (FRQs); these challenge the student to be able to apply their knowledge on a larger scale with a justification of the response to gain all the marks. This section is made up of 8 questions, 2 long response (one will be data-based) and 6 short response questions. The long response score 10 marks each and the short response score 3-4 marks each. The diversity of these questions is relatively large and could cover any topic or mixed topics, especially long response.

Each section is given 90 minutes to be completed and each section is worth 50% of the marks. This makes timing an issue for the second section as spending the right amount of time on long response to gain full marks but leaving enough time to attempt the six short response. As with many tests, practice mocks are key to achieve and learn the balance of time/effort on these questions. The first section time is pretty good, although some questions do have lengthy information to wade through; at about 1.5 minutes per question, it should be achievable with time for review.

The MCQs are marked by machine; expert AP teachers and college faculty mark the FRQs. The scores are weighted and combined to give a raw score, that score is converted to a score of between 1-5. The aim of this exam is to score between 3-5, this displays the student being qualified to extremely well qualified.

In essence, this AP Biology is a challenging course but with effort and hard work, the result is well worth it. We offer a comprehensive course that hits the full range of topic areas with practice in all styles of question. The course is finished off with a full mock and detailed review of areas that need improvement. If you have questions about AP biology or want help in concept revision just contact us and sure we will be able to help.

 Read more from Luke in his previous blog “SAT Biology Subject Test Overview”

Need help with your AP coursework? The Edge is offering a FREE Trial Lesson*(English/Math/Physics/Biology/Chemistry/History) to new students, so join our class and learn how to apply the knowledge you learn in school to your AP/IB/IGCSE examinations. SIGN UP HERE!

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