AP Biology Course and Exam: Everything You Need to Know

16/03/202410 minute read
AP Biology Course and Exam: Everything You Need to Know

Taking AP Biology offers a chance to earn college credit and demonstrate academic rigor to top college admissions officers. In the course, you’ll take a deep dive into the scientific principles that govern living organisms and ecosystems. You'll also get hands-on with lab work. You'll learn crucial skills like designing experiments, analyzing and interpreting data, and backing up scientific claims with solid evidence.

If you're considering taking the AP Biology exam, read on to learn more about:

  • Course Overview
  • Exam Overview
  • Exam scoring
  • Exam Preparations

AP Biology Subject Overview

In the AP Biology course, you’ll explore the scientific concepts that control living things. You’ll also do practical lab activities to investigate the natural world.

Skills you’ll learn in AP Biology

  • Designing experiments to test a prediction
  • Collecting and analyzing data
  • Interpreting data to draw conclusions
  • Supporting a scientific claim with evidence

The content of the AP Biology course is outlined below:

UnitTopics CoveredOn The Exam
Unit 1: Chemistry of Life- The structure and chemical properties of water - The makeup and properties of macromolecules - The structure of DNA and RNA8% - 11% of exam score
Unit 2: Cell Structure and Function- Cellular components and functions - Cell interaction with its environment - Cell membrane structure and function - Cell regulatory mechanisms like osmosis and selective permeability - Cellular compartmentalization10% - 13% of exam score
Unit 3: Cellular Energetics- Structure and function of enzymes - Role of energy in living systems - Photosynthesis - Cellular respiration - Molecular diversity and cellular response to environmental changes10% - 13% of exam score
Unit 4: Cell Communication and Cell Cycle- Mechanisms of cell communication - Signal transduction - Cellular responses and feedback mechanisms - Events in a cell cycle10% - 15% of exam score
Unit 5: Heredity- Meiosis - Genetic diversity - Mendel’s laws and probability - Non-mendelian Inheritance - Factors affecting inheritance and gene expression8% - 11% of exam score
Unit 6: Gene Expression and Regulation- The roles of DNA and RNA - Mechanisms of gene expression - How genotype affects phenotype - Mutations, genetic diversity, and natural selection - Genetic engineering and biotechnology12% - 16% of exam score
Unit 7: Natural Selection- Evidential support for evolution and common ancestry - Mechanisms of natural selection and speciation - Environmental and human-caused factors in evolution - Charting species ancestry through phylogenetic trees and cladograms - Extinction - Models of the origin of life on Earth13% - 20% of exam score
Unit 8: Ecology- Communication and responses to environmental changes - Energy flow within and across ecosystems - Factors in the growth, density, and success of populations - Factors in community and ecosystem dynamics - Invasive species, human interaction, and environmental changes10% - 15% of exam score

Prerequisites and Equivalencies

You are expected to have already taken high school biology and chemistry courses. The course is equivalent to a two-semester college introductory biology course for biology majors.

If your school doesn’t offer AP Biology, don't worry! You can learn everything you need to ace your AP Biology exam with Crimson's online AP Biology class.

AP Biology Exam Overview

The AP Biology Exam tests your understanding of the biology concepts covered in the course. It also tests your ability to use the scientific method and analyze data. 

You are allowed to use a four-function calculator (with square root), scientific, or graphing functions on this exam.

You are also allowed to use this AP Biology Equations and Formulas Sheet on the exam.

AP Biology Exam Sections

The AP Biology Exam lasts 3 hours total and consists of two sections:

Section I: Multiple Choice

  • 60 questions, 1 hr 30 minutes. 
  • This section includes individual questions as well as sets of questions with 4–5 questions per set.

Section II: Free Response

  • 6 questions, 1 hr 30 minutes
  • There are 2 long questions and 4 short questions. Long questions are worth 8–10 points each; short questions are worth 4 points each.
  • The long questions ask students to interpret and evaluate experimental results, with and without graphing.
  • The short-answer questions assess students’ understanding of scientific investigation, conceptual analysis, analysis of a model or visual representation, and data analysis.

AP Biology Exam Scoring

The AP Biology Exam is scored on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest score possible. The scoring breakdown is as follows:

  • Multiple Choice: 50% of the total exam score
  • Free Response: 50% of the total exam score

Once all raw scores are calculated, they are converted into scores on a scale of 1 to 5. Converting the scores takes the difficulty of each exam into account and allows for fair comparison of scores across different years.

The average AP Biology Exam score varies from year to year. In 2023, the average score was ​​3.04. Typically, a score of 3 or higher is considered passing. 

The 2023 AP Biology exam score distribution is outlined below:

2023 AP Biology Exam Score Distribution
543213 or Above

Trying to decide whether you should submit your AP Biology score along with your college application? Check out this article.

How to Prepare for the AP Biology Exam

The AP Biology exam covers a huge range of information, so it's important to start preparing sooner rather than later. Below are some expert tips to help you prepare effectively:

  1. Download the AP Biology Course and Exam Description
  2. Print this AP Biology Equations and Formulas Sheet, which you are allowed to use on the exam. 
  3. Download free-response questions from past AP Biology exams here.
  4. Thoroughly review each unit covered in the course. Make sure you have a solid understanding of key concepts
  5. Practice answering multiple-choice questions to familiarize yourself with the format and content of the exam.
  6. Consider taking advantage of Crimson's online AP tutoring services to get personalized support from experienced tutors.


The AP Biology exam is a rigorous test of your knowledge and skills in understanding complex biological concepts and applying scientific methods. It's split into multiple-choice and free-response sections and challenges you to think critically about experimental results and theoretical questions. Scoring on a scale from 1 to 5, the exam demands thorough preparation. 

While the task may seem daunting, resources like Crimson's online AP Biology class and online AP tutoring services give you the guidance you need to ace it. By starting your preparation early and using all available resources, you can approach the exam with confidence and earn a top score.

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