For Section II, you’ll have 80 minutes (after the reading period) to answer eight questions. That’s an average of 10 minutes per question, which gives you an idea of how much work each question may take. You will likely spend more time on each of the two long free-response questions than on each of the six short-response questions. Take the time to make your answers as precise and detailed as possible while managing the allotted time.
Each free-response question will, of course, be about a distinct topic. However, this is not the only way in which these questions differ from one another. Each question will also need a certain kind of answer, depending on the type of question it is. Part of answering each question correctly is understanding what general type of answer is required. There are five important signal words that indicate the rough shape of the answer you should provide:
Each of these words indicates that a specific sort of response is required; none of them mean the same thing. Questions that ask you to describe, discuss, or explain are testing your comprehension of a topic. A description is a detailed verbal picture of something; a description question is generally asking for “just the facts.” This is not the place for opinions or speculation. Instead, you want to create a precise picture of something’s features and qualities. A description question might, for example, ask you to describe the results you would expect from an experiment. A good answer here will provide a rich, detailed account of the results you anticipate.
A question that asks you to discuss a topic is asking you for something broader than a mere description. A discussion is more like a conversation about ideas, and— depending on the topic—this may be an appropriate place to talk about tension between competing theories and views. For example, a discussion question might ask you to discuss which of several theories offers the best explanation for a set of results. A good answer here would go into detail about why one theory does a better job of explaining the results, and it would talk about why the other theories cannot cope with the results as thoroughly.
A question that asks you to explain something is asking you to take something complicated or unclear and present it in simpler terms. For example, an explanation question might ask you to explain why an experiment is likely to produce a certain set of results, or how one might measure a certain sort of experimental result. A simple description of an experimental setup would not be an adequate answer to the latter question. Instead, you would need to describe that setup and talk about why it would be an effective method of measuring the result.
COMPARE VS. CONTRAST QUESTIONS
Questions that ask you to compare or contrast are asking you to analyze a topic in relation to something else. A question about comparison needs an answer that is focused on similarities between the two things. A question that focuses on contrast needs an answer emphasizing differences and distinctions.
Three Points to Remember about the Free-Response Questions
1. Most Questions Are Stuffed with Smaller Questions.
You usually won’t get one broad question like, “Are penguins really happy?” Instead, you’ll get an initial setup followed by questions labeled (a), (b), (c), and so on. Expect to spend a paragraph writing about each lettered question.
2. Writing Smart Things Earns You Points.
For each subquestion on a free-response question, points are given for saying the right thing. The more points you score, the better off you are on that question. Going into the details about how points are scored would make your head spin, but in general, the AP Biology people have a rubric, which acts as a blueprint for what a good answer should look like. Every subsection of a question has
two to five key ideas attached to it. If you write about one of those ideas, you earn yourself a point. There’s a limit to how many points you can earn on a single subquestion, and there are other strange regulations, but it boils down to this: Writing smart things about each question will earn you points toward that question.
So don’t be terse or in a hurry. You have about 10 minutes to answer each free- response question. Use the time to be as precise as you can be for each subquestion. Part of being precise is presenting your answer in complete sentences. Do not simply make lists or outlines. Sometimes doing well on one subquestion will earn you enough points to cover up for another subquestion you’re not as strong on. When all the points are tallied for that free-response question, you come out strong on total points, even though you didn’t ace every single subquestion.
3. Mimic the Data Questions.
Data often describe an experiment and provide a graph or table to present the information in visual form. On at least one free-response question, you will be asked about an experiment in some form or another. To score points on this question, you must describe the experiment well and perhaps present the information in visual form.
So, look over the sample Data Questions you see in this book and on the actual test, because you can use knowledge of this format when tackling the free-response questions. In a way, this is just another aspect of the good science idea. The AP Biology test wants to show you what good science looks like on the Data Questions. You can then use that information when crafting your free-response answers.
Beyond these points, there’s a bit of a risk in the free-response section because there are only eight questions. If you get a question on a subject you’re weak in, things might look grim. Still, take heart. Quite often, you’ll earn some points on every question because there will be some subquestions or segments that you are familiar with.
Remember, the goal is not perfection. If you can ace four of the questions and slug your way to partial credit on the other four, you will put yourself in a position to get a good score on the entire test. That’s the Big Picture, so don’t lose sight of it just because you don’t know the answer to one subquestion.
Don’t forget—you only receive points for relevant correct information; you receive no points for incorrect information or for restating the question, which also eats up valuable time!
10 Ways to Maximize Your FRQ Score
- Only answer the number of subsections the long free-response questions call for. For example, if the question has four sections (a, b, c, and d) and says to choose three parts, then choose only three parts.
- There are almost always easy points that you can earn. State the obvious and provide a brief but accurate explanation for it.
- In many instances, you can earn points by defining relevant terms. (Example: Writing osmosis would not get you a point, but mentioning “movement of water down a gradient across a semipermeable membrane” would likely get the point).
- While grammar and spelling are not assessed on the free-response portion, correct spellings of words and legible sentences will increase your chances of earning points.
- You do not have to answer free-response questions in the order in which they appear on the exam. It’s a good strategy to answer the questions you are most comfortable with first, and then answer the more difficult ones.
- The length of your response does not determine your score—a one-page written response containing accurate, succinct, yet detailed information can score the maximum amount of points, while other essays spanning three to four pages of vague, inaccurate materials may not earn any.
- Be careful that you do not over-explain a concept. Where the initial explanation gets you points, contradictions cause points to be taken away.
- Keep personal opinions out of free responses. Base your response on factual researched knowledge.
- Relax and do your best. You know more than you think!
Be sure to use all the strategies discussed in this chapter when taking the practice exams. Trying out the strategies there will get you comfortable with them, and you should be able to put them to good use on the real exam.
Practice tests can help you get familiar with the structure of the AP Biology exam and feel more comfortable with the types of questions you'll be expected to answer on test day. Studying with practice tests can also give you insight into the specific struggles you might have with the material as presented on the AP test. You can then focus your studying appropriately to tackle these problems.
In this article, I'll list all the practice tests for AP Biology that you can find online and give you a few tips on how to use them effectively as study aids for both the AP test and any in-class tests you have throughout the school year.
Official AP Biology Practice Exams
Official practice tests provide the best preparation for the AP test. You can be sure that the questions are accurate representations of what you'll see on the final exam.
Unfortunately, I could only find one official practice test for the new version of the AP Biology test since the format and content changed so recently (2012). However, this practice test also has other information that makes it more helpful. It tells you how to calculate your score and includes detailed answer explanations for each question at the end.
Official Practice Test #1
Don't start your practice with this test. It's the most accurate preparation you'll have for the real AP test, so you should save it for towards the end of your second semester when you feel confident that you've mastered the material. It's better to begin studying with the unofficial tests in the next section as a warm-up!
You can also access official free-response questions from 2013, 2014, and 2015 on the College Board website.
Free Response Questions
The free-response section of the AP Biology test is usually considered to be the most difficult part, so it’s good to have a little extra practice with these even if you’re not answering them in the context of a full practice test.
In addition to these resources, all AP teachers have access to a bunch of free official practice AP tests online. You can ask your teacher if he or she will print a couple out for you to use in your studying.
It might take more than one apple to get those extra practice tests out of your teacher, but ultimately everyone has a price.
Unofficial AP Biology Practice Exams
There are many unofficial AP Biology practice tests out there that you can use to help review the material. There’s nothing wrong with using these tests to get more practice, but try not to rely on them exclusively because they are not always totally accurate representations of the real AP Biology exam. Some are aligned with the format of the pre-2012 exam, and some are just multiple-choice tests of varying lengths with no free response questions.
Because the AP Biology exam has been revised, you'll get a more accurate estimate of how well you're doing if you use recent practice tests that are aligned with the new test's format. Before 2012, the AP Biology test had 100 multiple-choice questions and four free-response questions rather than the current 63 multiple-choice questions, six grid-in questions, six short free-response questions, and two long free-response questions. The old test was also more memorization-based.
On the current AP Biology exam, you'll have to answer a lot of questions that involve analyzing experimental data using your background knowledge of biology. You won't see questions that just ask you to do something like identify parts of a process in a diagram.
A couple of these unofficial tests do have the same format as the current exam, including the Barron's practice test and all the tests in the "subscription needed" section. You should save these for later on in your second semester when you want to get a more accurate assessment of your readiness for the final exam (and then follow them up with the official practice test in the previous section if you feel confident that you've fixed your problem areas!).
Free AP Biology Practice Tests
Barron’s Practice Test
- Barron’s offers a free practice test online that has the same format as the current AP test.
- You can take it in timed or untimed (“practice”) mode.
- If you use practice mode, you can see answer explanations as you go along.
- The multiple-choice section has automated scoring, but you’ll have to self-score your free-response answers (guidelines are provided).
My Max Score Practice Test
- This is an old-format test that includes 100 multiple choice questions and four free-response questions.
- It also has detailed answer explanations for all questions.
Varsity Tutors Diagnostic Tests
- This is a list of ten multiple-choice diagnostic tests rated by difficulty level.
- Tests 4-10 have the same number of questions as the real multiple-choice section.
- Sorry, there are no free-response questions on this site.
Kaplan Practice Tests
- There are a few unit-specific quizzes here along with two longer practice tests that have almost as many questions as the multiple-choice section on the real exam (58 and 62 as opposed to 63 + 6 grid-ins).
- There are no free-response questions.
Learning Express 120-Question and 100-Question Practice Tests
- These are a couple more old-format multiple-choice tests with answers included at the end.
- If you just want to test yourself on the basic information in the course, these could be useful.
Shmoop Practice Tests (free trial available, $24.68 a month for subscription)
- A subscription to Shmoop will get you access to a diagnostic test plus five full AP Biology practice tests (including both multiple-choice and free-response questions, although these are of course unofficial).
- Shmoop tries a little too hard to relate to kids with their writing style, but if you're not put off by that, it might be a good resource for you.
BenchPrep Practice Tests (with subscription that costs $30 a month)
- Here, you’ll get access to two full practice tests plus a ton of lessons.
Practice Tests in Review Books
Make sure you have some nice fresh erasers cuz your pencils are in for a wild ride across the treacherous terrain of the AP Biology curriculum. Wooohooooo!
How to Use AP Biology Practice Tests
This section is full of all the advice you need to follow to use AP Biology practice tests effectively during both your first and second semesters in the class.
First Semester: Using Practice Tests for Your Class
Although it might not make sense to take full practice tests yet, you can still use the materials in this article as resources for your studying. Look for free-response questions that relate to what you’ve learned so far so that you can start to get familiar with their format and expectations.
There are also plenty of sites that have quizzes that touch on specific units in the AP Biology curriculum. These include Learnerator, Varsity Tutors (which I mention above for diagnostic tests, but they also have subject-by-subject quizzes), and Quizlet. These won’t be official questions, but they will help prepare you for in-class assessments and serve as a solid introduction to the types of questions you might be asked on the AP test. You should also check out my complete AP Biology review guide for more advice on how you can use online resources to study specific units of the course.
Second Semester: Preparing for the AP Test
By this time, you should be familiar with most of the material that you’ll see on the test. This means you can start using full practice tests to judge how you’ll score on the AP test and where your weaknesses lie. Remember to time yourself accurately when you take practice tests!
Each time you take and score a practice test, you should also do an evaluation of your mistakes that will inform your studying going forward. Mistakes come in a few different forms, and things can be even more complex on the AP Biology test because there are technically four types of questions.
Focus on the multiple-choice section first, including the grid-ins. Notice whether your mistakes tend to happen on straightforward questions where you just didn’t have the content knowledge or on questions that require deeper analysis. Were there specific content areas where you missed a significant number of questions? Keep track of this so that you can go back into your notes and review the appropriate unit(s). These are easy mistakes to fix.
Did you have trouble interpreting and analyzing scenarios on the test even though you knew the background information? The remedy for this is more practice. There are many sites with AP Bio practice questions available. This book of practice questions is also useful because the questions faithfully replicate the new design of the test.
It’s possible that your problem lies outside the specifics of the questions and more in the format of the test. Did you run out of time? Make a ton of careless mistakes? The solution to this is greater awareness of your pacing and more practice questions.
Careless mistakes can be avoided by greater awareness of your surroundings. Also, how did someone even fit that big of a gum wad in their mouth? Was a giant chewing gum in this parking lot? Should we be concerned about his current location? I have a lot of questions.
Grid-ins are weird, so you may have had trouble on them if you’re not big on the math aspect of biology. Try to find similar problems in your textbook, review book, or online so that you can practice your skills. The more math-oriented biology questions you do over time, the more likely it is that the questions on the test will be aligned with what you’ve already seen.
After taking your multiple-choice mistakes into account, you can move onto the free response section. Notice which questions gave you the most trouble and why. Did you forget the information you needed, or were you confused about what the question was asking or how to analyze a diagram? Take these findings and apply them to your future practice!
Essential AP Biology Practice Testing Tips
Follow these four tips to be sure to get the most out of your AP Biology practice tests.
#1: Replicate Realistic Test Conditions
It’s always important to be faithful to the rules of the real test when you take practice tests so that your scores accurately reflect your potential. That means an hour and thirty minutes for each section. This is the only way to judge whether time is going to be an issue for you. You should also print out the test so that you take it in the right format. Have a calculator on hand as well. If you’re really dedicated, you can even have someone serve as your mock proctor.
#2: Don’t Panic if You’re Not Familiar With Scenarios You See on the Test
Even if you’ve gone over every in-class lab that you had to do for AP Biology, you will still run into examples you haven’t seen before. It’s important not to psych yourself out when this happens. Focus on the diagrams and what you can learn from them, and see if you can think of a related experiment that will clue you into what they mean. Use your common sense; many questions will depend more heavily on your ability to analyze the situation at hand than on your memorization talent.
#3: Give Yourself Plenty of Time for the Grid-Ins
The so-called multiple-choice section also includes six grid-in questions. These questions are at the end of the section, and they will probably take you longer to solve than most multiple-choice questions. Try not to spend more than a minute on each multiple-choice question. If you find that you’re taking too much time, you should move on and come back to it later!
#4: Spend 5-10 Minutes Reading the Free-Response Questions Before You Start Writing
It’s a smart idea to start with the free-response questions that you know you can answer quickly and accurately.Leading with these questions will boost your confidence and help you avoid problems with time. Use the short reading period to look over all eight free-response questions and see which ones will be easiest for you to tackle.
For example, I would definitely answer a question about snails first. I love snails. My pet snail died not too long ago, and I'm scared to get another one because I don't want to feel that pain again.
You should take plenty of practice tests as part of your studying for AP Biology. You can’t expect pure memorization to save you on questions that ask you to analyze scenarios you’ve never seen before. Practice questions are the key to improvement!
You can use a mixture of official and unofficial tests to practice. Just be wary of major differences in your scores from test to test so that you can accurately assess your readiness for the final. You can even use these tests throughout the year to practice for specific units of the course. If you do enough serious practice, the real AP test will be a piece of cake (well, maybe not, but it will be much less traumatizing).
Check out my detailed guide to the AP Biology Exam for more information about what's on this test and how you can prepare for it.
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