AP Biology Exam Tips

The following strategies for answering the free-response questions will help you on exam day.

  • Before beginning to solve the free-response questions, it is a good idea to read through all the questions to determine which ones you feel most prepared to answer. You can then proceed to solve the questions in a sequence that will allow you to perform your best.
  • Monitor your time appropriately on the free-response section. You want to ensure that you do not spend too much time on one question that you do not have enough time to at least attempt to answer all of them.
  • Show all the steps you took to reach your solution on questions involving calculations. If you do work that you think is incorrect, simply put an "X" through it, instead of spending time erasing it completely.
  • Many free-response questions are divided into parts such as a, b, c, and d, with each part calling for a different response. Credit for each part is awarded independently, so you should attempt to solve each part. For example, you may receive no credit for your answer to part a, but still receive full credit for part b, c, or d. If the answer to a later part of a question depends on the answer to an earlier part, you may still be able to receive full credit for the later part, even if that earlier answer is wrong.
  • Organize your answers as clearly and neatly as possible. You might want to label your answers according to the sub-part, such as (a), (b), (c), etc. This will assist you in organizing your thoughts, as well as helping to ensure that you answer all the parts of the free-response question.
  • You should include the proper units for each number where appropriate. If you keep track of units as you perform your calculations, it can help ensure that you express answers in terms of the proper units. Depending on the exam question, it is often possible to lose points if the units are wrong or are missing from the answer.
  • You should not use the "scattershot" or “laundry list” approach: i.e., write as many equations or lists of terms as you can, hoping that the correct one will be among them so that you can get partial credit. For exams that ask for TWO or THREE examples or equations, only the first two or three examples will be scored.
  • Be sure to clearly and correctly label all graphs and diagrams accordingly. Read the question carefully, as this could include a graph title, x and y axes labels including units, a best fit line, etc.

Task Verbs

Pay close attention to the task verbs used in the free-response questions. Each one directs you to complete a specific type of response. Here are the task verbs you’ll see on the exam:

  • Calculate: Perform mathematical steps to arrive at a final answer, including algebraic expressions, properly substituted numbers, and correct labeling of units and significant figures.
  • Construct/Draw: Create a diagram, graph, representation, or model that illustrates or explains relationships or phenomena. Labels may or may not be required.
  • Describe: Provide relevant characteristics of a specified topic.
  • Determine: Decide or conclude after reasoning, observation, or applying mathematical routines (calculations).
  • Evaluate: Judge or determine the significance or importance of information, or the quality or accuracy of a claim.
  • Explain: Provide information about how or why a relationship, process, pattern, position, situation, or outcome occurs, using evidence and/or reasoning to support or qualfiy a claim. Explain “how” typically requires analyzing the 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.
  • Identify: Indicate or provide information about a specified topic, without elaboration or explanation.
  • Justify: Provide evidence to support, qualify, or defend a claim, and/or provide reasoning to explain how that evidence supports or qualifies the claim.
  • Make a claim: Make an assertion that is based on evidence or knowledge.
  • Predict/Make a prediction: Predict the causes or effects of a change in, or disruption to, one or more components in a relationship, pattern, process, or system.
  • Represent: Use 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 claim: Provide reasoning to explain how evidence supports or qualifies a claim.