The Best AP Environmental Science Study Guide


Are you studying for your AP Environmental Science class or the final AP test? Reviewing for any AP exam is tricky, and many students who take AP Enviro aren’t sure how they should be studying.

This comprehensive AP Environmental Science study guide will walk you through how you can develop a review plan for AP Enviro

, offer study tips, and provide links to notes and practice exams to make your review as effective as possible.


2021 AP Test Changes Due to COVID-19

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, AP tests will now be held over three different sessions between May and June.

Your test dates, and whether or not your tests will be online or on paper, will depend on your school. To learn more about how all of this is going to work and get the latest information on test dates, AP online review, and what these changes means for you, be sure to check out

our 2021 AP COVID-19 FAQ article


How to Use This AP Environmental Science Study Guide

This guide can be used

both for reviewing for the final AP Enviro exam


for preparing for regular class tests and quizzes throughout the school year

. I’ll begin by walking you through the steps you need to take to develop a solid review plan, regardless of when you begin studying.

Once you have your plan set in place, we’ll look at tips you can follow to give your review an extra boost and make sure you’re getting enough out of it.

After you’re clear on how to review for AP Enviro, you need to make sure your review covers each of the topics you’ll be tested on, so the next section will link to notes you can use to review course content.

Finally, I’ll conclude by

linking to and evaluating a variety of AP Environmental Science practice resources

so you can rest assured you’re using high-quality materials in your prep.

7-Step Study Plan for AP Environmental Science

This section walks you through how to study for AP Environmental Science for both semesters of the class.

Here’s a brief recap of the process you should be following:

  • Take and score your first practice exam (4 hours)
  • Evaluate your mistakes (1.5 hours)
  • Improve your weak areas by doing focused content study and practice problems (2.5 hours)
  • Take and score a second practice exam (4 hours)

Repeat the steps above as often as you need to

so you can be sure you’ve eliminated all your weaknesses for the AP Enviro exam and are 100% ready by test day.

First Semester

The best way to prepare for AP courses is to

regularly study throughout the year

. Get into the habit early by beginning the process during your first semester.

Step 1: Start Early

Be sure to

start your studying early (by the middle of your first semester)

and review regularly throughout the year. Doing regular review will help you stay on top of the material, keep you prepared for class exams, and make reviewing for the final AP test less overwhelming in the spring.

Step 2: Begin Reviewing Material

During your first semester, you’re still learning the majority of the material you’ll need to know for the exam, so

your APES study plan should focus primarily on reviewing content you’ve already learned

and starting to familiarize yourself with both the format and content of the APES exam (both of which have

changed a lot for 2020


Early on in the semester,

create a schedule

for when you will review the course material. You can choose to do this once a week, once every two weeks, or whatever works best for you.

You might also want to purchase a review book at this time.

Review books can be particularly helpful because they condense the information and focus exclusively on what you need to know for the AP exam. Read online reviews before you purchase a book to make sure that other people have found it helpful and that it’s the kind of book you’ll actually use in your prep.

When reviewing the course material,

use your class notes and review book (if you have one)

. If you’re missing notes or want to look at them in an organized way, we’ve collected some of the best AP Enviro notes out there (see the AP Environmental Science Notes section below). These notes include links to topics from each of the course’s overarching topics, vocab definitions, overviews of major environmental laws, and more.

When reviewing your notes, it’s important to

study them actively and not just drag your eyes across the page

. Every few minutes, stop and mentally review what you’ve just read to make sure you’re retaining the information. Underlining and jotting down your own notes can also help.

Step 3: Answer (Select) Practice Questions

During the first semester, taking a full-length practice exam won’t be especially helpful because you haven’t covered enough topics at this point.


focus on answering

free-response questions from the College Board

(look through them to find ones that focus on information you’ve already covered) and

unofficial quizzes that focus on specific content areas

(solid options for this include the

Environmental Science

and quizzes


Refer to the practice materials at the end of this article for more information. You can also check out

our extensive collection of practice materials for AP Environmental Science



Second Semester/AP Exam Review

Because you’ve now covered a majority of the AP Environmental Science material,

your second semester is when you should begin to really focus on reviewing for the AP exam

. Here are the steps to follow.

Step 4: Take a Complete Practice Test

You now know enough material to take a complete practice AP Enviro test. Doing this will give you experience for the actual AP test and reveal to you where your strengths and weaknesses are and what you should focus the rest of your review on.

Take the test using realistic testing conditions

(90 minutes for multiple choice and 70 minutes for free response). I recommend taking the

full Varsity Tutors multiple-choice test

(only 80 out of the 100 questions), combined with

official FRQs

, as your first complete practice test since it’s high quality but

allows you to save the

official 1998 practice test

for later on in your APES review


After you’ve completed the exam, score it and see how well you did. Be sure to use the

official scoring guidelines

to grade your FRQs. Many unofficial resources are automatically scored, but if you need help estimating your

final AP score

, you can use this

free score calculator


Your score on this test will help you figure out how well you’re doing and how much studying you still need to do.

Most students should aim for a 4 or 5 on this exam

since it isn’t overly difficult, but if you’re scoring very low or won’t be able to devote much time to studying, you might want to aim for a 3 instead.

If you’re scoring close to what you want, you might only need to do some light review. If, however, you’re 2 points away or more, you’ll likely have to put in significant study time to meet your goal.

Step 5: Review Your Mistakes

After taking and scoring your first full-length practice test, look to see where you got questions wrong.

Try to identify patterns in the questions you answered incorrectly.

For example, did you do well on the FRQs but miss a lot of multiple-choice questions? Did questions that required complicated calculations trip you up?

The primary reason for taking practice tests is to find out where your weaknesses are and improve those areas—and the only real way to do that is to start by figuring out exactly why you got certain questions wrong.

Step 6: Strengthen Your Weak Areas

Don’t just immediately move on to your next practice test—

spend time strengthening the areas you need to improve

. Perhaps you need to learn how to write your free-response answers faster, or you realized you really don’t know anything about the nitrogen cycle. Get these gaps taken care of before you take another practice test; otherwise, you won’t see your scores improve.

Strengthening these areas could include reviewing your APES notes, answering practice questions, and altering your test-taking strategies (for example, maybe you frequently make careless mistakes, which means you need to slow down and read questions more carefully).

Step 7: Take and Score a Second Practice Exam

After you feel that you’ve reviewed sufficiently,

take another practice exam

, ideally the official released AP Enviro test from 1998 (you can also take the 2008 test

if you want to buy it for $30


If you’ve improved a lot and are close to or have met your score target, you may only need to do some light review until the AP test. If you’ve improved somewhat but still haven’t met your score target,

repeat the above steps

to continue working on your weaknesses.

If you’ve seen little or no improvement, you’ll have to change your review methods. Think about how you’ve been studying and where you can make improvements. For example, you might not have been paying close enough attention to your APES notes.

Make a list of what you’ll change

(such as studying more actively or paying closer attention to your notes) and implement those changes as you go through the above steps once more.

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Reviewing for AP Environmental Science: 3 Essential Tips

Below are three tips to keep in mind as you study for the AP Environment Science course and final AP exam. Following these tips will make your studying both more effective and more focused.

#1: Keep Up With Current Environmental Issues

Environmental science is a field in which we’re constantly learning new information. Much of what we know on this subject has only been discovered in the past few decades—sometimes just the past few years! This means that

there are many important environmental developments that recently occurred and/or are still going on now


While the APES exam won’t ask you about some environmental finding that appeared on the news the week before, it


frequently reference recent environmental news and events.

You can help yourself stay updated on environmental science by reading environmentally focused articles, following environmental organizations or people on social media, and keeping up with current environmental issues being debated by politicians. Doing this will help reinforce the events and concepts you learned about in class and can make the subject much more interesting as well.

#2: Make Connections Between Topics

AP Environmental Science strongly emphasizes the fact that all systems on earth are interconnected and nothing exists independent of everything else. As a result,

many questions on the exam focus on making connections between two or more major concepts


This means that learning about each topic in isolation won’t help you much on the exam; you need to know how that topic affects and is affected by other parts of the earth.

You can help yourself identify connections between concepts by

drawing diagrams or webs that show how different topics are connected

(such as the nitrogen, carbon, and water cycles), and regularly asking yourself how whatever concept you’re learning is connected to other topics you’ve already covered in the class.

#3: Get Comfortable With Your Calculator

There are questions on both the multiple-choice and free-response sections of the AP Enviro exam that require calculations. As of 2020,

students are

now allowed to use a graphing calculator

on any part of the exam

. But while you won’t have to rely as much on your mental math skills, you’ll still need to be smart with using your calculator to solve problems quickly and accurately.

Spend time in your AP Enviro prep getting comfortable with your graphing calculator and learning all the relevant functions you could be asked to use on the exam. Using your calculator is probably

most important for the third free-response question

, which requires you to propose a solution to an environmental problem using calculations.

You should also be comfortable with using your calculator to double-check solutions you’ve found.


AP Environmental Science Notes

You can

use the following notes to supplement your studying as you review for your class and the final AP Environmental Science exam

. The notes are organized by major unit. Within each major topic are more specific areas of focus. All information come from

Course Notes


The vocab links are organized by chapter from the 13th edition of the

Living in the Environment

textbook. The notes give brief definitions for each of the major keywords you’ll need to know for AP Environmental Science.

Remember to actively read these notes while studying.

Underlining, drawing diagrams, and rewriting parts of the notes in your own words will help you much more than simply moving your eyes across the page.

For more information on how to use these notes effectively in your prep, check out

our guide on the best AP Environmental Science notes


Units 1 and 2: The Living World

Unit 3: Populations

Unit 4: Earth Systems and Resources

Unit 5: Land and Water Use

Unit 6: Energy Resources and Consumption

Units 7 and 8: Pollution

Unit 9: Global Change

AP Environmental Science Formulas

These short guides (also from Course Notes) include many of the

common math formulas

you’ll use and need to understand on the AP Enviro exam:


This looks pretty, but you probably shouldn’t do it to your notes.

AP Environmental Science Practice Materials

Even now that you have an AP Enviro study plan you can use, it can be difficult to find high-quality practice materials. Fortunately, we’re here to help!

We’ve got a comprehensive list of resources in

our expert guide to the best practice materials for AP Environmental Science

. You can also

check out some of these free quizzes and tests


Summary: Key Strategies for AP Environmental Science

AP Environmental Science covers a lot of topics, but

if you know how to properly review and set up a study plan early, you greatly increase your chances of getting a high score on the AP exam


During the first semester, you should focus primarily on reviewing content you’ve already learned in class and practicing relevant free-response questions.

Your second semester is when you’ll start focused review for the AP Enviro exam. Taking an initial practice test, evaluating your score, and targeting your weaknesses will allow you to minimize your weak areas and become stronger across the board.

Be sure to also

use the notes and practice materials linked in this guide to help supplement your AP Environmental Science review


What’s Next?

Looking for more details on what to expect from the AP Enviro class?

Check out

our complete guide to the AP course and exam


Want some more practice tests and quizzes to enhance your studying? You’ve got it!

We have

a ton of practice resources for you to use to study for the AP Enviro exam

, and, in the guide, we tell you what each resource is best used for.

Wondering when you should start studying for AP Enviro and other AP exams?

Take a look at our guide to figure out

exactly when you need to start cracking open those review books


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