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Test Information and Strategies: The Basics
ABOUT THE AP BIOLOGY EXAM
What is the AP Biology exam?
The AP Biology exam is a three-hour exam designed to test knowledge of a year of introductory, college-level biology. The first section of the exam consists of 120 multiple-choice questions, while the second section of the exam consists of four essay questions. Each section of the exam is 90 minutes long.
What's covered on the AP Biology exam?
The AP Biology exam covers three major areas:
1. Molecules and Cells -- 25%
2. Heredity and Evolution -- 25%
3. Organisms and Populations -- 50%
The three major areas are further broken down into topics. The percentages are related to the number of questions on the AP exam. For example, about 10% of the multiple-choice questions will cover cells, or 12 out of 120 total questions.
I -- Molecules and Cells (25%)
Chemistry of life (7%)
Organic molecules in life
Free energy changes
Prokaryotic and Eukaryotic cells
Cell cycle and regulation
Cellular Energetics (8%)
Fermentation and cellular respiration
II -- Heredity and Evolution (25%)
Meiosis and gametogenesis
Molecular Genetics (8%)
RNA and DNA structure and function
Viral structure and replication
Nucleic acid technology and applications
Evolutionary Biology (8%)
Early evolution of life
Evidence for evolution
Mechanisms of evolution
III -- Organisms and Populations (50%)
Diversity of Organisms (8%)
Survey of the diversity of life
Structure and Function of Plants and Animals (32%)
Reproduction, growth, and development
Structural, physiological, and behavioral adaptation
Response to the environment
Communities and ecosystems
Anatomy of the AP Biology Exam
This section consists of three types of multiple-choice questions. The first type is a straightforward, multiple-choice question with five answer choices. Here is an example:
1. If the diploid number of a female organism is 48, then the number of chromosomes in each egg cell is
Answer: (B) If the diploid number of an organism is 48, then 2n = 48. The number of chromosomes in an egg cell would be half the diploid number, or 24.
Here are examples of questions that ask you to match statements to a list of choices:
3. This germ layer produces the nervous system
4. This germ layer produces the digestive tract
5. This germ layer produces the circulatory system
3. (C) The ectoderm develops into the epidermis (outer layer of skin), nervous system, and sweat glands.
4. (B) The endoderm develops into the digestive and respiratory tracts, parts of the liver and pancreas, and the bladder lining.
5. (A) The mesoderm develops into the muscles and skeletal system, circulatory system, excretory system, gonads, and dermis, or inner layer of skin.
The third type of multiple-choice question asks you to interpret a set of data or experimental results. Here are some examples of the this type of multiple-choice question:
A couple suspects that their daughter may have been accidentally switched with another baby at the hospital. They send out samples of their blood as well as the blood of their "daughter" for testing.
6. What is the blood type of the father?
(E) It cannot be determined from the information given
7. What is the blood type of the mother?
(E) It cannot be determined from the information given
8. What is the blood type of the "daughter"?
(E) It cannot be determined from the information given
6. (D) Anti-A serum contains antibodies to A antigens on red blood cells. If A antigens are present in a person's blood, the antiserum will show an agglutination reaction when mixed with the blood. Anti-B serum contains antibodies to B antigens on red blood cells. If B antigens are present in a person's blood, the antiserum will show an agglutination reaction when mixed with the blood. Since the father's blood did not show an agglutination reaction with either anti-A serum or anti-B serum, neither A antigens nor B antigens are present on his red blood cells. Therefore, the father has type O blood.
7. (A) The mother's blood showed an agglutination reaction with anti-A serum but did not show an agglutination reaction with anti-B serum. Therefore, A antigens are present on her red blood cells while B antigens are not. The mother has type A blood.
8. (C) The "daughter's" blood showed an agglutination reaction with both anti-A serum and anti-B serum. Therefore, both A and B antigens are present on her red blood cells. The "daughter" has type AB blood.
(None of the questions asked whether the "daughter's" blood type could have resulted from the father's and mother's blood type, but let's look at it anyway. Since the father is type O, he has neither A nor B antigens on his red blood cells. Since the mother is type A, she has only A antigens on her red blood cells. Therefore it is not possible for a child of theirs to have B antigens. Their children cannot have type B or AB blood.)
The second section of the AP Biology exam consists of four essays. The essays will cover the three major areas as follows:
Molecules and Cells -- 1 question
Heredity and Evolution -- 1 question
Organisms and Populations -- 2 questions
Scoring the AP Biology Exam
Section I (multiple-choice) accounts for 60% of the overall grade, and Section II (essays) accounts for 40% of the overall grade.
The maximum number of points you can earn on the AP Biology Exam is 150. Section I (multiple-choice) contributes 60% of those points, or 90 points (0.60 x 150 = 90). Section II (essays) contributes 40% of those points, or 60 points (0.40 x 150 = 60).
Scoring of Section I
The raw score for Section I (multiple-choice) is calculated by taking the number of questions answered correctly and subtracting 1/4 point for every question answered incorrectly. For example, if you answered all 120 questions correctly, your raw score would be calculated as follows:
Raw score = # correct-(1/4)(# incorrect)
Raw score = 120-(1/4)(0) = 120-0 = 120
This raw score is converted to a composite score by multiplying by 0.75:
Composite score = (0.75) (raw score)
So for our example, the composite score is (0.75)(120) = 90.
Scoring of Section II
Section II consists of four essay questions. Each essay question is worth a total of 10 points, so the maximum number of points in the raw score is 40. To convert the raw score to a composite score, multiply by 1.5. For example, if you received 10 points for each essay, your raw score would be 40. Your composite score would be calculated as follows:
Composite score = (1.5)(raw score)
So for our example, the composite score is (1.5)(40) = 60.
Total Composite Score
The composite score from Section I is added to the composite score from Section II to give the total composite score. For our example, the total composite score is 90 + 60 = 150.
This scale applied to the 1994 AP Biology exam. Please note that this scale should be used as an estimate only, as the actual scale varies somewhat from year to year.
Section I: Multiple-Choice
Section I consists of 120 multiple-choice questions to be completed in 90 minutes. That works out to only 45 seconds per question to read, analyze, choose the best answer, then code it onto the answer grid. Here are some strategies to maximize your score on the multiple-choice section:
1. Answer the easier questions first. Easy questions are worth just as many points as hard questions. To maximize your score, you need to answer as many questions correctly as possible, but it doesn't matter if the questions are easy or hard. On your first pass through the multiple-choice section, answer all the easy questions first.
2. Circle harder questions and come back to them later. If you come across a harder question, circle it and move on. Don't waste valuable time on harder questions early in the exam. If you start to answer a question then find yourself confused, move on and come back to that question later. You're better off spending those extra few minutes answering 3 or 4 easier questions.
3. Mark up your test booklet. As a student, you may be used to having teachers tell you not to write in your books. But when taking the AP Biology exam, it is to your advantage to mark up your test booklet. Label diagrams, cross out incorrect answer choices, write down key mnemonics in the margins (for example, PMAT can help you remember the order of the stages of mitosis: Prophase, Metaphase, Anaphase, and Telophase). Just remember that no credit is given for anything you've done in your test booklet, so make sure to transfer your final answers to your answer sheet.
4. Be careful with your answer sheet. Speaking of your answer sheet, it's easy to forget to skip a row on your answer sheet when you skip a question. Be careful to skip spaces on your answer sheet when you skip questions. Otherwise, you may spend valuable time erasing and re-gridding your answers -- time that you could be using to answer questions. Also, if you change an answer, erase your previous answer cleanly.
5. Guess. Yes, guess! There is a 1/4 point deduction for wrong answers, which cancels out the effect of random guessing; random guessing will not improve your score. However, if you can eliminate one or two answer choices, your odds of getting the correct answer improve considerably, and chances are you will gain more points than you lose.
6. Pace yourself. The AP Biology exam is three hours long. It's easy to get distracted and lose focus. Try to keep yourself on task and actively working throughout the exam. Don't get discouraged if you don't know the answers to some questions. You don't need to answer all of the questions correctly to get a good score.
Section II: Essays
Section II consists of 4 essay questions to be completed in 90 minutes. That's just over 22 minutes per essay. But don't worry, these aren't the same essays you would write for your English Composition class. Here are a couple pointers to help you get the highest score possible on Section II:
1. Read each question carefully. Read the question, then read it again. What is it asking about? Make sure your essay answers the question they ask.
2. Prioritize the questions according to difficulty. Again, your goal is to score as many points in this section as possible. Read all the questions first, then decide which ones you will be able to answer most effectively. Do those essays first, then go back to questions that are a little harder for you to answer.
3. Prepare an outline and a list of key terms. Graders are looking for main ideas, supporting details, and key terms. Think about what you will write and organize the ideas into outline form before you begin writing. Make a list of key terms to include in each paragraph.
4. Label drawings. If you use a drawing, graph, or diagram in your answer to an essay question, be sure to label it appropriately.
5. Pace yourself. In Section II, you have 90 minutes to write 4 essays. Plan to spend about 22 minutes on each essay question. Spend 2 minutes planning your essay, about 18 minutes writing, and about 2 minutes reviewing your essay. Make sure you've included all the key terms you listed when planning your essay and labeled any drawings or graphs.
The evening before the exam...
It's tempting to spend the last few hours before the AP exam cramming. If possible, spend the evening before the test relaxing. Get a good night's sleep, and eat something before the exam. There's nothing like having your stomach growling two hours into a three hour exam. Most of all, be confident! You have the knowledge and test-taking skills to conquer the AP Biology exam.
For more information on the AP Program and the AP Biology Exam, please contact the College Board at their Web site.
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