It is critical to have dependable books for learning and studying the information provided in AP classes. This is especially true for AP Biology, given the course’s complexity and breadth of content. The AP Biology exam format was changed in 2013 and again in 2020, and as a matter of fact, some books have kept up with these changes better than others.
In this article, I’ll notify you which books are your best bet for acing AP Biology and which you should avoid at all costs!
Changes to the AP Exam in 2021 as a result of COVID-19
Because of the ongoing COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, AP tests will now be conducted in three sessions between May and June. The dates of your tests and whether they will be online or on paper will be determined by your school. Check out our 2021 AP COVID-19 FAQ article to learn more about how everything will work and get the most up-to-date information on test dates, AP online review, and what these changes mean for you.
What Is Included in This List of the Best AP Biology Books?
My recommendation is for the best books to help you succeed in AP Biology (the class and the exam). I’ve included the best textbook and a few approved books in the first two sections.
We’ve included a few review books from suitable testing companies in the third section, which I rate a little lower. We wanted to give you more specific information about the problems with these prep books so you can augment them appropriately if you’ve already purchased them (or choose to purchase them because you’re used to the format).
My evaluations of these AP Biology books are based on Amazon reviews written by students and educators and my impressions after reading them. I’ll list the pros and cons of each book, as well as a general summary of what it has to offer and whether I recommend it. I’ve also given each book a rating from 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest.
Let us begin!
Campbell Biology, 11th Edition is the best AP Biology textbook.
Leasing for $14 and purchasing for $185 on Amazon.
This is one of the most widely used college-level biology textbooks.
It’s written at a high level, but based on student feedback, it appears that the majority of people found it relatively understandable and generous with diagrams and examples. If you’re self-studying or struggling to understand your in-class textbook, I highly recommend the book as a reliable AP Biology textbook.
- Simple organizational structure
- Excellent examples that help you quickly grasp biological concepts
- Throughout the book, there are helpful illustrations and diagrams
- Simple writing style
- It is used in actual college classes, not just AP classes, so that it may be helpful to you in the future!
- Students occasionally complain that the book is too dense and lengthy
- It’s costly, but you can get a used version for $50-$100 less (or rent it for $20)
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The Most Effective AP Biology Review Books
I believe this list of review books will be most beneficial to students preparing for the AP Biology exam. The best books provide thorough coverage of the course material, excellent practice questions, and helpful test-taking and study-planning advice for students.
Pearson Education AP Biology Test Prep Series, 2017 Edition
Amazon charges around $70 for this book.
Although this review book is intended to supplement a specific textbook, it can also be used independently. From what I’ve read, this book is a solid, well-structured representation of the AP Biology exam’s content and format.
- Each chapter concludes with high-quality free-response and multiple-choice questions
- Effectively highlights the most critical aspects of each subject
- Encourages readers to draw connections between topics, essential on the exam.
- Since this book was published in 2017, its content does not correspond to the new AP Bio test format for 2020
AP Biology Practice Questions from Sterling Test Prep, 2020 Edition
Amazon charges around $22 for this book.
If you’re taking an AP Biology class and already have a textbook, I’d highly recommend this book as a study aid for the exam. This book may be purchased in conjunction with another book on this list that contains more details about test-taking strategies and exam format.
If you use this book for practice questions, you can support your study with another book that provides a concise overview of the material on the exam. While this is not a stand-alone AP Biology book, it is an excellent resource to have on hand!
- Contains over 1,500 high-quality practice questions in a variety of formats
- The material and difficulty level is appropriate for the exam format (lots of molecular and cell biology questions)
- All practice questions have thorough answer explanations
- It is supported by online resources that provide additional practice testing opportunities
- Questions are partitioned by subject area, so if you’re struggling with a specific curriculum section, you can concentrate on that material specifically.
- It’s a less oriented studying experience than some other books provide—you’ll need to be able to plan your time wisely to get the most out of the questions and explanations
- The book consists primarily of questions and does not provide an overview of what will be tested on the exam
- It’s not ideal if you’re self-studying for the exam because you’ll need some background information before diving into practice questions (though the answer explanations will help you)
- Even though the book’s cover date is 2021, it hasn’t been updated since 2017. As a result, the information may not cover everything covered on the updated AP Bio exam
AP Biology CliffsNotes, 5th Edition
Amazon charges around $13 for this item.
If you need to confirm some of the concepts you’ll learn in your AP Biology class and see a more precise summary of the information, this prep book is worthwhile. I wouldn’t recommend relying entirely on it as your only source of the review material because many students felt it didn’t provide them with all the tools they needed to perform well on the exam.
If you get this prep book, make sure to do a lot of extra practice questions. Still, it’s a good starting point for content!
- It contains sections on test-taking strategies and how to answer various types of questions
- Includes two complete practice exams with answers and explanations
- At the conclusion, there is a detailed overview of all the labs and significant content areas (with review sections) to assist you in retaining the background information you’ll need.
- It’s relatively dense, and the amount of text may be too much for some students
- Many reviewers stated that the book was informative but adequately prepared for the AP Biology exam
Barron’s AP Biology, 6th Edition
Amazon charges around $17 for this item.
In general, this is a mediocre review book.
You can presumably use it to review test-related material or to make you understand concepts in your AP class. Still, I wouldn’t depend solely on this book’s practice test materials and testing strategies. Though Barron’s is usually reliable, it appears that this book may be a little tedious.
- It covers all of the fundamental information you’ll need for the exam
- Practice questions help you remember important facts and concepts
- Numerous diagrams are simple to understand
- The overall structure is pleasing to the eye and may be easier to read than other review books that are not as well-structured
- Students complain that there is too much irrelevant content and that the book lacks essential test-taking strategies
- The content has not been completely modified to reflect recent AP Biology exam changes
- Practice questions are primarily factual and memorization-based, and they do not entirely prepare you for the AP Biology test’s analytical structure
- There appears to be widespread agreement that the free-response questions on this exam are particularly poor and are in no way comparable to the free-response questions on the AP Bio exam
Avoiding AP Bio Review Books or Using Them Only as Supplements
This chapter is for AP Biology books that aren’t the best but that you may already own or plan to purchase because you’re most acquainted with the prep companies that produce them.
These books are still somewhat beneficial, but I recommend supplementing them with other review books that I have rated higher (see above). I’ll go over the benefits and drawbacks of each of them so you can see where and why they fall short.
5 Steps to a 5: AP Biology 2020
Amazon charges around $18 for this item.
This book does a great job of outlining a study plan for the test, so it may help organize your preparation time. Its coverage of AP Biology concepts is comprehensive, but it is not the easiest to learn.
If you purchase this book, you should supplement it with additional practice questions from other sources to ensure that you are getting the most out of your study time (the Sterling book in the first section could be an excellent place to start).
- Assists you in developing a study plan that is tailored to your specific requirements
- It covers the four “Big Ideas” in the AP curriculum and contains a wealth of information on the facts you’ll have to know for the exam
- The content review is lengthy and challenging to complete
The Princeton Review’s
Cracking the AP Biology Exam, 2020 Edition
Amazon sells this book for around $16.
I like Princeton Review books because they are more student-friendly and less dry than other review books.
The main advantage of this prep book is that it provides you with a solid foundation for organizing your study time and approach to the test. I’d suggest incorporating this book’s content and practice questions with another more comprehensive AP Biology book from this list.
- Begin with a high-level overview of how to plan out your studying and how to use the book effectively, making it simple to follow
- Guides you through the process of creating a study plan tailored to your specific requirements
- It contains a comprehensive section on test-taking strategies, including mnemonic devices useful during the exam
- The text in the content review section is broken up to be easy to read and not overpowering, and diagrams are abundant
- You’ll find definition and practice questions at the end of each content chapter
- The information isn’t as detailed as it should be
- The main criticisms were that this book is too shallow and simple to review the AP Biology curriculum thoroughly
- Practice questions may be easier than those on the actual test
AP Biology Prep Plus 2020 & 2021
Amazon charges about $21 for this book.
This book has good content, but it isn’t easy to use as a review tool in general. It won’t help you much with the specifics of the AP Bio exam. It would help if you supported it with another book that provides more practice questions and more concise content summaries.
- It is organized around the four “Big Ideas” on the AP Bio test, making it simple to follow and keep a record of what topics, if any, you’re struggling with
- Provides a thorough review of concepts with helpful diagrams
- Some scholars may object to the fact that the four “Big Ideas differentiate the review questions in AP Biology” rather than by smaller chapter sections—this makes it more challenging to use the book as an oriented review tool
- Since the book is a bit wordy, it’s challenging to go over theories quickly
- Attempts too hard to connect to students and obliquely writes some test-taking hints (for example, one of the complimentary question tips is “Writing Smart Stuff Gets You Points”—it’s streamlined to the point where it doesn’t even mean anything without reading the rest of the wordy explanation)
Which AP Biology Textbooks Should You Purchase? Which One Should You Avoid?
I don’t believe any AP Biology review books are so bad that you should avoid them at all costs, but there are plenty that won’t help you much on their own.
A book’s purpose is to particularly and effectively prepare you for the AP Biology exam. It is far easier to get access to practice questions that genuinely reflect what will be on the test than to have accurate and comprehensive biology content. You don’t want to be in a situation where you know a lot about biology but cannot apply what you know to scenarios you’ve never seen before when it comes time to take the test.
When selecting from this list of AP Bio books, keep in mind your personal needs and the nature of the exam. If you think you’ll use more help structuring your test prep, consider purchasing one of the books that teach you how to create a study plan (even if it’s in the lower-rated section, such as 5 Steps to a 5). You could then pair that book with another from the more significant section with excellent practice questions.
Make sure that your AP Biology review books and textbooks cover all of the essentials. In other words, they should provide you with the resources you need to develop a study strategy, learn biology content, and complete meaningful practice questions. Relate to real-world versions of the new 2020 AP Biology test to evaluate questions on the test with the practice questions you’ve been doing and ensure you’re on the right path!
What Comes Next?
Do you want to start AP Bio prep right away? With specific topic guides, we cover cell theory, enzymes, cell structures (endoplasmic reticulum and cell membrane), homologous and analogous structures, and the photosynthesis equation.
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