Get Ready!

2015 AP Biology Exam

Monday, May 11,
8:00 a.m.

Exam Layout

Section I

  • 50%

90 Minutes

Section II

  • 50%

80 Minutes

10 Minute Reading Time

Multiple Choice

63 Questions.
1 Point Each.

Grid In

6 Questions.
1 Point Each.

Short FRQ

6 Questions.
Three 3-Point.
Three 4-Point.

Long FRQ

2 Questions.
10 Points Each.

It's Study Time!

2015 AP Biology Exam Countdown








Clear Biology’s Review Plan

Get Ready

The AP Biology Exam is only a few days, hours, minutes away, and there’s a good chance you’re scanning the web right now looking for words of reassurance or tokens of comfort that you’re ready for show time.   Take a deep breath and relax; you’ve found a good place.  In the following article, I hope to share with you valuable resources to help you prepare for the AP Biology Exam.  This article will serve useful to teachers, but it is written for you – the student.

This is No Cure All

I want to make it clear up front that there is no short cut for hard work.  The plan I lay out is meant to help you organize and supplement what you have learned throughout the year. The AP Biology Curriculum Framework is not something you can consume overnight, or even over the course of a few nights.  In my opinion, the BEST way to master the framework is to read, read, read.  If you haven’t cracked open your biology book all year, then the chance of you scoring a 3 or higher on the exam are certainly diminished.  Of course, there is always the exception; you may be a fantastic listener and your teacher may be a fantastic lecturer. Although, as a teacher I know how difficult it is to recite every concept in class.  Or maybe you’ve spent many an hour listening to science guru Paul Andersen over at (If you have, you should thank him).  Regardless of the course of events, you’re here now and it’s time to get down to business.


Organization of the Curriculum Framework

The AP Curriculum framework is organized in the top-down manner, shown in Figure 1.  The statements of essential knowledge clearly identify what you, the learner, should know at the end of the course.

As you prepare for a large, comprehensive exam, one of the biggest challenges is organizing what you know in order to identify areas of strength and areas of weakness in your content knowledge.  I believe a very productive first step is laying the cards on the table – literally.  In order to organize the essential knowledge statements, I have created study cards for you to cut out and manipulate.

Get the Essential Knowledge Review Cards


Time for Sorting

Cut out the study cards, read through each statement, and place them into one of three piles.  These piles will be called REDYELLOW, and GREEN.  Essential knowledge statements in which your understanding is strong will go in the GREEN pile, essential knowledge statements in which your understanding is weak will go in the RED pile, and essential knowledge statements in which your understanding is moderate will go in the YELLOW pile.

Initially you will focus on the RED pile.  In order to deepen your understanding of these statements of essential knowledge, you will be referencing two separate sources, the AP Biology Course and Exam Description (CED) and your AP Biology textbook. The CED contains the Curriculum Framework (CF), the Science Practices, practice exam questions, and much, much more. If you haven’t been referencing this document throughout the whole year, you should have.  The CED is THE guiding document for the AP Biology Exam.

Get to Correlating!

Pick up a card from the red pile and find it in the CED.  The best way to do this is to use the “find” function.  If you are using a mac, press command-f, if you are using a pc, press control-f.  Type the essential knowledge code into the search field (e.g., 3.d.2).  As you click on the forward arrow in the search bar, you will be taken to every instance in which this essential knowledge (EK) is referenced in the CED.  This includes the description of the essential knowledge in the Curriculum Framework and if it was referenced in any of the practice questions.

The description of the essential knowledge in the Curriculum Framework is going to provide you with the most information.  The CF will have a detailed outline of the EK and list the associated Learning Objectives.  Depending on the EK, you will also find illustrative examples, connections to other EK statements, and exclusion statements.  Would it be beneficial to copy and paste this information into a separate document?  I think so!

AP Biology Course and Exam Description

Your next step should be to correlate the EK statements from the RED pile to your textbook.  At first glance this may seem like a very time consuming task.  But, be not dismayed; there’s a very good chance that the College Board and your textbook’s publisher have already done this task for you. In preparation for the AP Biology rollout, the College Board asked publishers of commonly used AP Biology books to correlate their books to the Curriculum Framework.  Here is a blurb about the correlation.
“In order to help AP Biology teachers use their textbooks most effectively, we asked the publishers to correlate their texts with the Essential Knowledge statements listed in our new AP Biology Curriculum Framework. These Essential Knowledge statements support the Enduring Understandings, which articulate the core content of the curriculum. Further, we asked publishers to indicate if their content addresses the “illustrative examples” that offer teachers a variety of optional instructional contexts to help their students achieve deeper understanding. Finally, we asked publishers to indicate what content in their textbooks does not need to be covered in the AP Biology course. We hope you will find these correlations helpful as you plan a course that best fits your teaching needs.”

Illustrative Examples

The Essential Knowledge statements provided in the AP Biology Curriculum Framework are scientific claims. These claims describe phenomenon occurring in the physical world. These concepts are supported by numerous observations. The observations are an “illustration” of the concept at work. The number of examples supporting or demonstrating a particular concept may be too numerous to count. Students are not expected to memorize every one. Consider the following statements from the AP Biology Course and Exam Description.

“Illustrative examples are suggested contexts for instructional purposes and are not required content components of the course.  A student’s knowledge of these contexts will not be assessed on the AP Biology Exam.” (AP Biology CED, Pg. 6)

“While illustrative examples and excluded content will not be assessed on the AP Biology Exam, they may be provided in the body of exam questions as background information for the concept and science practice(s) being assessed.” (AP Biology CED, Pg. 7)

“In order to answer multiple-choice questions correctly, students will not be required to recall specific illustrative examples. However, an illustrative example may appear on the exam provided that the question includes sufficient information to enable students to answer the question.” (AP Biology CED, pg. 126)

Not remembering a specific illustrative example is not the same as not remembering any illustrative examples. Your conceptual knowledge can be greatly enhanced when understood in the context of a real-world example.  This will be particularly helpful when answering the free response questions. The CED also states the following.

“For the free-response questions, students will be expected to provide appropriate scientific evidence and reasoning to support their responses. Students can draw upon the illustrative examples or any other appropriate, relevant examples in order to assist in answering the questions.” (AP Biology CED, pg. 127)

When reviewing the essential knowledge, try to think about the concept in terms of an illustrative example.  You’ll strengthen your understanding of the concept, and your ability to answer the free response questions.

Demonstrating Understanding


“In short, to be successful on the AP Biology Exam, students must clearly connect a biological concept to a larger big idea or enduring understanding while using designated science practices and skills.

On the exam, students must make claims and defend them — providing evidence as part of their reasoning.

This should include making appropriate and insightful connections across big ideas and/or enduring understandings.”

The quote above comes from a recent article on AP Central titled Demonstrating Understanding on The AP Biology ExamIt will be well worth your time to read this article.

Trevor Parker, the College Board’s Head of AP, made the following statement upon the release of the 2013 Exam results.

“To earn a 5, students must learn the course content well enough to be able to perform the skills required in the grid-ins and the free-response section: when confronted with scientific data or evidence illustrative of the required course content, students must be able to ‘calculate,’ ‘predict,’ ‘justify,’ ‘propose,’ ‘explain,’ ‘perform,’ ‘specify,’ ‘identify,’ ‘describe,’ ‘pose a scientific question,’ and ‘state a hypothesis.’ True understanding requires that students develop the depth of understanding required to perform such tasks with accuracy and precision.”

During the AP Biology Exam, it is very likely that you will be asked to demonstrate your understanding of a concept by performing one of the following tasks.

Remember: “Justify” means provide evidence that supports your particular claim or conclusion

  • Make a prediction and then justify your prediction

  • Propose something and explain the effect(s) of your proposition

  • Perform a statistical test (e.g., chi-square test)

  • Provide an explanation and justify your explanation (in other words, you must provide evidence that supports your explanation)

  • Propose a model

  • Identify or select something and then explain and justify your selection

  • Propose a scenario that may have resulted in a particular outcome

  • Make a prediction and then justify your prediction

  • Pose a scientific question

  • State a hypothesis

  • Identify the steps of process and explain the purpose of each step

Scroll down to find definitions to some of the words above.  It may also be worthwhile to take a look at this resource.

Calculator Policy

Students may use a simple four-function calculator on the AP Biology Exam. No other types of calculators are permitted.

Learn More

Don't Bring 'Em

Some items are prohibited. Seriously, don't bring them. Make sure to take a look at the AP Exam Policies.

Learn More

College Board Standards for College Success

Several important words from the AP Biology Curriculum Framework are defined in the following College Board document.

College Board Standards for College Success: Science

Read More

Claim An assertion that is based on evidence or knowledge. Claims can be based on the following: natural or human-designed systems and phenomena, observations of the natural world, results of a planned investigation, scientific questions, or answers to a posed question.

Concept A single word or a short phrase (e.g., species, geographical isolation, solid, atom, repeating pattern). An accepted concept results from an amalgamation of multiple investigations, observations or explanations. The terms “concept,” “law” and “principle” are often used interchangeably when describing scientific knowledge. However, the term “concept” is sometimes used to describe a broad category that includes laws and principles.

Evidence Data (from investigations, scientific observations, the findings of other scientists, historic reconstruction and/or archived data) that have been represented, analyzed and interpreted in the context of a specific scientific question. Modes of representing data could include, but are not limited to, verbal summaries, discipline-specific drawings or diagrams, maps, summary charts and tables, frequency plots, bar graphs (histograms), and scatter plots. These representations, based on accepted science knowledge and mathematics processes or procedures, are used to interpret the data in terms of properties, trends or patterns. Interpretations can be represented by linguistic or mathematical models.

Hypothesis A type of testable explanation (model) of natural systems or phenomena, or of evidence from an investigation. A hypothesis can be proposed prior to data collection and has the components of an explanation: an assertion (claim), desired evidence related to the claim, and reasoning that connects the assertion and the evidence. A hypothesis serves the same role as a scientific question in that it guides the collection and interpretation of data that will support the assertion. A hypothesis must be consistent with accepted scientific knowledge, result in predictions that can be tested through further investigations, and be supported (justified) with reasoning (argumentation). For the purpose of these standards, the development of a hypothesis is achieved through the process of question formulation.

Prediction An assertion (claim) about what might happen under certain conditions concerning a natural phenomenon or the results of a planned investigation. The assertion (claim) is supported by principles, models, theories about natural phenomena, or previous empirical evidence.

Reasoning Scientific principles that provide justification serving as a link between a claim and the evidence related to an explanation, a model, a hypothesis or a prediction. They also provide additional support for how the evidence supports the claim. Justification and reasoning allow the evidence to be linked to explanations within the larger scientific world of theories. These explanations are relevant to theories within a discipline and are linked to the discipline and the larger body of knowledge that accumulates through empirical studies that are accepted and reviewed by peers.

Model Refers to “physical, mathematical, and conceptual models [that] are tools for learning about the things they are meant to resemble.”

A model can represent physical objects that are too big, too small, too dangerous or unethical for humans to observe or experiment with directly.

A model can also represent a concept, principle, law or theory that explains a wide body of evidence that has been gathered in a scientific investigation.

While the term “model” can be used to refer to other things, its meaning here is limited to discipline-specific diagrams; flow charts or maps; physical models (e.g., scale models of actual objects, systems); mathematical representations (e.g., graphs, equations); and conceptual models (e.g., imagery, metaphor and analogy). The terms “model” and “representation” are used interchangeably due to the different applications in different disciplines.

Representation A table, graph, equation or diagram that is constructed for the purpose of organizing data. This type of representation differs from that which is created for the purpose of explanation.

Scientific Question A question that leads to an empirical investigation (collecting and interpreting data to develop an explanation). Types of
scientific questions include existence, causal/functional and exploratory questions that involve collecting novel data (NOT testing a hypothesis).

AP Biology Power Words


The words and images in the following slide deck are meant to guide students as they prepare for the AP Biology Exam. The words were chosen based on their emphasis in the AP Biology Curriculum Framework and/or their history of appearing on previous exams. This work builds upon the contributions of many great science teachers. Attributions are listed at the end.

Ultimate AP Biology Review Cards

Bozeman Science Final Review

Bozeman Science - Final Review

Paul Andersen’s final review for the 2014 AP Biology Exam.

More Bozeman

Additional Resources

The Importance of the AP Biology Learning Objectives

The Importance of the AP Biology Learning Objectives

The importance of the AP Biology learning objectives has been firmly established. Teachers of AP Biology need tools to aid them as they continue to organize and assimilate the objectives into their courses. I’m a visual learner, but I also like to manipulate information in a tangible way; I made lots of flashcards in college. And so—driven by my love for manipulatives—I formatted the 149 AP Biology learning objectives into sheets of equally sized boxes, perfect for cutting into cards.

2013 AP Biology Exam Results

2013 AP Biology Exam Results

Over the last few weeks, much information has been released by the College Board about the results of the 2013 AP Biology test. In order to help make sense of this data I created an infographic as a visual summary of the results.

AP Biology Grid-In Questions | Practice Worksheet

AP Biology Grid-In Questions | Practice Worksheet

With the new AP Biology Exam just over two months away, I’ve started thinking more about the new question formats. According to the College Board, the first half of the exam will have 69 questions; 6 of these will be grid-in questions. These questions require numerical responses and the answers must be entered into a grid on the answer sheet. Here’s a resource I created in order to prepare my students for this unique question style.

See the AP Biology Curriculum Framework Like Never Before

See the AP Biology Curriculum Framework Like Never Before

I thought I’d seen the AP Biology Curriculum Framework from as many viewpoints as possible, and then I came across something amazing!  Several years ago, IBM released an experimental web application to create data visualizations. The software is called Many Eyes and does a decent job of creating charts and graphs from numerical data.  But what really got me excited is the way it can process text. With the Many Eyes application, I was able to create a word tree from the text of the AP Biology Concept Outline and Science Practices.  To be specific, the text comes from pages 8-102 of the AP Biology Course and Exam Description.  The text was kept verbatim except for the omission of headers, footers, and page numbers.  In addition, the “X” symbol that precedes exclusion statements was replaced with the letters “XX” in order to process correctly. I have to confess, I’ve been a little pre-occupied lately with studying the AP Biology Framework. I’m curious about syntax and term repetition, and my mind whirls about with word clouds, frequency tables, and Learning Objective verbs; I can’t help myself.  It’s O.K., though—it’s just the way I process text.  It’s how I learn.  My intent is to become an expert and a scholar of the text.  I’m trying to cover all the angles. Hopefully all this analysis will make me better at what I do for a living, teach biology.  I enjoy sharing with educators what I learn and hope they find ways to make use of it.  Certainly, I have benefited from the perspectives of fellow teachers. If you’re not familiar with the...
Designing AP Biology Assessments

Designing AP Biology Assessments

Clear Biology has conducted a thorough analysis of the new AP Biology Learning Objectives.  The purpose of this research is to aid AP Biology teachers as they create performance measures for the new AP Biology course. I have refined the 149 Learning Objectives from the AP Biology Curriculum Framework into 13 condensed performance statements. These performance statements can serve as stems to create new formative and summative assessment items aligned to the new AP Biology Curriculum. Free posters are also included to display the performance statements in the classroom! I have published my research as a PDF for easy download.  Click on the thumbnail to access the...
Using the AP Biology Learning Objectives to Design Assessment Items

Using the AP Biology Learning Objectives to Design Assessment Items

I’ve been working hard to refine the 149 learning objectives listed in the new AP Biology Curriculum Framework.  As you may know, the Learning Objectives provide information for writing new AP Biology exam questions. My research has condensed the 149 Learning Objectives into 13 performance statements.  These statements will provide the foundation needed to design assessment items aligned to the new AP Biology Framework. Take some time to read my ongoing research regarding the new AP Biology Learning Objectives....
AP Biology Pre-Assessment

AP Biology Pre-Assessment

AP Biology Essential Knowledge Student Diagnostic I’ve developed a tool for diagnosing student understanding of the new AP Biology Essential Knowledge. Students read each Essential Knowledge statement and use a simple code system to indicate their comprehension level.  The document also introduces students to the process of developing scientific explanations. I am administering the diagnostic as part of my AP Biology Summer Assignment.  I believe that early exposure to the Essential Knowledge statements will serve useful to the students; it will help the them begin the course with the end in mind. You can find the pre-assessment here: Essential Knowledge Student Diagnostic      ...
Formula for Writing AP Biology Exam Questions

Formula for Writing AP Biology Exam Questions

While attending the AP Annual Conference last week I was able to sit in on a session hosted by the Educational Testing Service (ETS). ETS will be writing the new AP Biology Exam debuting the spring of 2013. The session offered insights into the method in which exam questions will be written. This information will serve useful in writing AP Biology practice questions.  Let me start by listing some highlights. A new practice exam will be released each year. Questions are limited to the information in the 149 Learning Objectives of the Curriculum Framework. At the time of writing this post, a practice version of the revised AP Biology Exam has not been posted on College Board website. There are some questions, however, contained within the AP Biology Course and Exam Description. Underneath each of these questions lies a table providing correlations to the AP Biology Curriculum Framework. Information regarding the significance of these tables is mysteriously absent, yet they contain the formula for writing the new AP Biology Exam questions. The formula, as I learned during the ETS session, is a simple one. I present the following graphic as a summary.     According to ETS, all new exam questions will be written using the language in the Learning Objectives. Here is an outline of the steps in the process. A Science Practice and Essential Knowledge statement are chosen. The appropriate Learning Objective is determined. A content statement is written based off the Learning Objective. The key (correct answer) is written. The key could be an explanation or graphic that correctly represents the content statement. For a multiple...

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