To our students currently enrolled in AP Biology:
In light of testing facility closures because of Covid-19, the College Board has announced changes to this year’s AP Exams. This year’s exams will be administered exclusively online, starting May 11th and will be OPEN BOOK and FREE-RESPONSE. There will be NO MULTIPLE CHOICE items on this year’s tests. Instead, each AP exam will feature 1-2 open-ended, essay-type questions. You will have 45 minutes for the test. Each question you answer will be timed separately.
How should you prepare for these changes? Here are a few tried and true recommendations.
Before the Exam:
1. Prepare: Although the exam is “open book,” this does not mean you do not need to prepare. It is tempting to think of open-book exams as easier than closed-book exams. They are not. You will not have time during the exam to look things up you don’t already know. You should prepare just as you would for any other exam by reviewing all of the concepts and facts from your notes. Solidify your understanding of things you weren’t clear on earlier.
2. Create a Study Schedule: Studying for an exam is a skill and one that you can master. The first step is creating a study schedule. Figure out how many study days you have until the exam and divide the course content among those days. If you envision stages for your studying, mark when each of those will start. If you have multiple exams you are studying for, include them all in the study schedule.
3. Outline Your Notes: How do I study? One effective way to study is progressive outlining of your notes. It’s old school, but this method works best if you write your outlines by hand, even if you took the raw notes on your computer. Start with the raw notes you made and make a new set of notes that summarize these in an outline format. Keep important headings, subheadings, lists, and the brief explanations you need to understand the ideas in a topic. During this pass revisit the things you don’t understand in your notes, go back to the lecture that discussed them, check other sources until you really get it. From this second set of notes, make a new, even more compact, outline. Each time you make an outline you are organizing and repeating the important ideas of the course —and learning them. It might be possible to distill the essentials of a course onto one or two pages, but really what is happening is that you are committing the background to memory.
If you did not make a set of notes while you were progressing through the course, we suggest doing so as a part of the process for studying. Consider stepping through the lectures or using the printed notes to guide you through the content. Identify important concepts and key facts and processes and make sketches of important structures and ideas. Organize your notes using a hierarchy of headings and subheadings.
4. Review Questions from Previous Exams: A second useful way to prepare is to know what will be on the exam. Review the released questions and understand the subject areas they address and the skills they assess. Practice those skills.
5. Understand What They Want: It is worth pointing out what the AP Biology exam wants you to be able to do. There are four basic skills you need and you should expect the questions on the exam to assess these skills.
- Interpret data (tables, graphs, cladograms, etc.)
- Understand and use proper experimental design
- Explain phenomena and make predictions based on biological principles
- Understand and use mathematical and graphical models to explain biological principles
In addition, remember that AP biology is structured around four “Big Ideas” or content areas.
- Evolution (natural selection, population genetics, phylogeny, biodiversity)
- Energetics (molecular biology, respiration, photosynthesis, immune response, homeostasis)
- Information storage and transmission (genetics, cell cycle, endocrine, and nervous systems, cell communication)
- Systems (ecology, circulatory, digestive, musculo-skeletal systems, enzymes, plant structure)
During the Exam:
1. Have Your Resources Organized and Ready: During the exam, use your notes and textbook as resources. You will have little time to look things up, so it is always better to know the details from studying. Looking things up on the Internet will take too much time and you may find incorrect information, so this is NOT advised.
2. Understand What is Being Asked: Read the question a couple of times to make sure you understand what it is asking.
3. Use Your Time Wisely: Questions are individually timed, so you don’t need to divide your time up. Use all of your time for each question, if you have finished early, read through your response, and make changes.
4. First Outline, Then Elaborate: For written responses prepare an outline of your answer. This sounds like a waste of time, but it will save you time in writing. It will also force you to think through your answer, check for errors in your logic, and allow you to write a more coherent answer. The outlines just need to be brief, jot down the relevant ideas, sequence them, and check to see if there is anything missing. Review your outline when you finish it, insert ideas you didn’t think about before, then use it to write the response to the question. The written responses to the Biology questions are generally short.
The College Board has resources for this year’s exams. Review these so you know what to expect.
The general guidelines are located here:
They provide a page with tips on taking open book exams:
There are details about the format of the Biology exam on this page:
The College Board also provides released free-response questions for exams for 2018 and earlier. As a part of your studying, you should look through a year or two of these to see the kind of question that is asked on the exam. Look at the scoring criteria and the sample answers. Pay particular attention to the longer questions because the 2020 exam will have questions of similar length.
The released 2019 free-response questions do not include commentary or answers: