The Complete AP Biology Review Guide for 2022

Preparing for the AP Biology exam can be intimidating. There is a lot of material to cover, and much of it is pretty complicated. However, if you plan your time wisely and use adequate research materials and strategies, you can expect a high exam score.

In this article, we have provided you with an overview of the AP Biology exam, everything you need to know to ace it, and how you can make the most of your study time before the exam on Wednesday, May 11, 2022, at 12 PM!

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.

How Is the AP Biology Exam Structured?

The AP Biology exam takes three hours. Beginning in 2020, the Bio exam underwent some significant structural changes in terms of questions and format, so you must understand what to expect and how the test is structured.

AP Biology, like other AP tests, is divided into two sections: a multiple-choice section and a free-response section, each of which is worth 50% of your overall score. These sections are then subdivided into various types of questions.

The first section is a multiple-choice test. It lasts one hour and 30 minutes and consists of 60 multiple-choice questions. Each question has four answer options. (From 2013 to 2019, there were 63 multiple-choice questions and six grid-in questions on this section of the AP Bio test.)

Since you have one minute for each question, I suggest keeping your pace to less than a minute per question on your first pass through the section. You’ll have more time for the rest to go back and answer any tricky questions you skipped or guessed on. Because there is no penalty for guessing on the test, you should address the questions, even if you have no clue which choice is correct (after you’ve tried to figure it out, of course!).

The free-response section, which takes an hour and 30 minutes, consists of four short-answer questions and two long-answer questions. Every short-answer question is worth 4 points, while each long-answer question is worth 8-10 points. (From 2013 to 2019, there were two long questions and six short-answer questions in this Bio section.)

This section will require you to pace yourself carefully. If you divided the time evenly, you’d get 15 minutes for each question. However, try to limit your time to no more than 10 minutes for each short answer. I recommend starting with the short answers to get yourself geared up.

After which, if you organize your time well, each long free-response question should take at least 20-25 minutes.

Here’s a diagram of the current AP Biology exam format:


Multiple-Choice Section


Free-Response Section



90 minutes 90 minutes

# of Questions

60 multiple-choice questions 4 short-answer questions, 2 long questions

Percentage of Total Score

50% 50%

And, just to be clear, here’s what the test looked like from 2013 to 2019:


Multiple-Choice Section


Free-Response Section



90 minutes 90 minutes

# of Questions

63 multiple-choice questions, 6 grid-in questions 6 short-answer questions, 2 long questions

Percentage of Total Score

50% 50%

How Do the AP Biology Exam Questions Look?

You now understand the general format of the AP Biology exam, but how do the questions look? And what kinds of topics are they putting to the test? Let’s take a closer look.

Multiple-Choice Queries

As a notice, the AP Bio exam has 60 various questions. These can be explicit (stand-alone questions) or come in groups with other questions.

Here’s an illustration of a multiple-choice question from the test:

You don’t have to be an expert in biology to answer this question.


A is the correct answer.


because the total volume of gas would not change (and oxygen consumption would be immeasurable) unless the organisms’ carbon dioxide were eliminated from the environment

This is evident from the information in the question.


This question is one of three related to the experiment and data chart. In the multiple-choice section, you’ll see a lot of question clusters like this.

Grid-In Questions

The AP Biology multiple-choice section included six math-based grid-in questions from 2013 to 2019. However, beginning in 2020, the exam will no longer have grid-ins. Yay!

Short-Answer Questions

The second section of the AP Biology exam will consist of four short-answer questions (in addition to two long questions). These questions are about the following subjects:

  • Scientific Research
  • Conceptual Analysis
  • Model or Visual Interpretation Analysis
  • Analysis of Data

Here is an illustration of a brief free-response question from the 2013 examination:

Understanding how evolution shapes the formation of new species is required to answer this question.

You’ll need to understand the facts about evolution to get the correct answer. Still, you’ll also have to be willing to apply that knowledge to make conclusions about this specific scenario.

This is where a better understanding of the key subjects in AP Biology is so important: the gap between knowing the facts and fully understanding how something works can be pretty massive.

Long Questions

Two long questions will be on the second part of the AP Bio exam concerning the four short-answer questions. Both are concerned with “interpreting and evaluating experimental data,” with the latter needing graphing (per the College Board description).

Here is an example of a lengthy question:

This question requires a lot of analysis and isn’t just a test of your basic biology knowledge. You must read and comprehend the graphs and tables to use them to inform your answer to the question.

Once more, understanding evolution and applying that knowledge to a specific scenario are critical.

What are the topics covered on the AP Biology Exam?

According to the College Board’s Course Description, AP Bio has evolved from the evidenced, memorization-based curriculum that described the course and exam in the past towards a more concept-driven exam.

The goal is for students to gain a more in-depth conceptual understanding of biology topics. Reasoning abilities and knowledge of the scientific investigation process are more important than ever on the updated design of the AP Biology exam.

The College Board attempted to structure the exam to connect content knowledge and reasoning skills. This has the potential to be both good and bad. The good news is that you won’t have to remember as many little tidbits of information; the bad news is that studying for a test like this which covers more abstract forms of knowledge, can be more difficult. (For more information on managing this, see the “How to Review” section!)

The AP Bio exam and curriculum will be organized around eight significant units. They’re right here:


Unit 1:


Chemistry of Life



Unit 2:


Cell Structure and Function



Unit 3:


Cellular Energetics




Unit 4:


Cell Communication and Cell Cycle





Unit 5:







Unit 6:


Gene Expression and Regulation





Unit 7:


Natural Selection




Unit 8:



The Importance of Labs

Aside from having a general understanding of all of this material, it’s critical to understand your labs and the basic underlying principles that govern scientific experiments. You’ll get many points on the AP Bio exam if you know experimental design.

The following are examples of essential lab topics:

  • Artificial Selection
  • Modeling Evolution
  • Comparing DNA Sequences
  • Diffusion and Osmosis
  • Photosynthesis
  • Cellular Respiration
  • Mitosis and Meiosis
  • Bacterial Transformation
  • Restriction Enzyme Analysis of DNA
  • Energy Dynamics
  • Transpiration
  • Animal Behavior
  • Enzyme Catalysis


Microscopes show us that the world around us is far creepier and grosser than we ever imagined.

Preparing for AP Biology Exams: 4 Crucial Points to Remember

In this section, I’ll provide you with some preliminary investigation tips to help you make the most of your AP Biology review time.

Tip 1: Make a Timetable

First and foremost, consider how much time you have before the AP exam. This will have an impact on the structure of your study plan. If you have other AP classes or a lot of personal responsibilities in general, you may want to start earlier, based on your confidence in the material.

Consider your schedule and the amount of time you’re willing to devote to AP Biology. Because there is so much material in this course, I believe 20 hours of study is a reasonable goal. Nevertheless, if you’re already scoring at a high level (a high 4 or anywhere in the 5 range), you could aim for only 10 hours.

You should divide your time between studying the material and taking practice tests reasonably evenly. You might gain from devoting a little more time to practice testing in AP Bio.

Because the test is now more focused on evaluating analytical skills than memorizing content (though both are still important!), so practicing real test questions may benefit you more than remembering information. In a moment, I’ll provide you with more information on how to use practice tests and review materials effectively.

Tip 2: Make Use of Appropriate Review Material

The significance of using the appropriate review materials cannot be overstated, particularly in the case of AP Biology. Because of the recent changes to the test, it is critical that you do not rely on old study materials and assume that they will provide you with all of the tools you need to succeed in the new format.

CliffsNotes and AP Biology are meant for content review, and Sterling’s AP Biology Practice Questions for practice questions that give students a great sense of what the test is like are two of the most popular review books.

Avoid using practice questions from exams before 2013, when some of the more significant changes were incorporated. You may use older questions to back up your point on specific topics. Still, they will not adequately prepare you for the more analytical framework of the existing AP Biology exam questions.

Moreover, the College Board now provides a fantastic online resource called AP Classroom. Students can communicate with teachers, complete homework, obtain feedback on assignments, and access review materials for the AP Bio exam, including real-world practice questions. You’ll log in with your College Board student account credentials to access AP Classroom, and once there, you’ll be able to access a different part for each AP class you’re taking.

Do you need assistance studying for your AP exam?

Our online AP tutoring services will help you make preparations for your AP exams one-on-one. Get paired with a top tutor who aced the exam you’re studying for!


Tip 3: Memorization Alone Is Insufficient

Even though AP Biology still requires some memorization, you can’t focus solely on content knowledge and expect to do well on the test.

AP Bio questions will put your critical thinking and logical reasoning skills to the test, as well as your overall knowledge of biology. That is why, in addition to content review, you must spend a significant amount of time doing practice questions. Don’t be surprised by the test!

Tip 4: Don’t Neglect Laboratories’ Data

Revisiting old labs isn’t particularly enjoyable (at least, it wasn’t for me), so you might be tempted to ignore them and instead concentrate on studying content outside of the lab context.

Try not to succumb to this temptation! Examine your labs to ensure you understand their methodologies and the reasoning behind the results. Understanding the scientific method and the elements of a good experiment is essential for passing the AP Bio exam.

The more lab review you do, the more at ease you’ll be during the exam.


Remember the lab where you melted down entire trees into a mysterious green serum? No? Well then, you better get studying!

How to Study for the AP Biology Exam in 5 Easy Steps

Follow the five steps below as you prepare for the exam to guarantee your AP Bio review is as thorough and effective as possible.

Step 1: Perform a Diagnostic Test

The first step in your AP Biology review is to take a practice exam to determine how much you’ll need to study and which areas require the most attention.

Your first comprehensive practice test should be taken no later than the beginning of your second semester. You should use a practice test from a review book or look for a practice test online. The review books we stated in the previous section contain some helpful information.

When taking a practice test, make sure it’s the most recent 2020 version of the exam (or, if that’s not available, a version from 2013-2019). If you see practice tests with 100 multiple-choice questions in the first section, you’re probably looking at an old version of the AP Bio exam! You won’t use your scores from this version to determine where you stand on the new test.

Step 2: Set a goal for yourself after calculating your score

After taking a diagnostic test, you can compute your score on a 1-5 AP scale. You can predict your score using the following techniques, according to the CliffsNotes review book mentioned above:

  • Divide the number of correct answers in Section 1 by 0.725
  • Divide the number of points you received in Section 2 by 1.25
  • Add those two numbers to get your numerical value

Then, using the chart below, transform the original score to an AP score:


Raw Composite Score


AP Score

60-100 5
50-59 4
41-49 3
33-40 2
0-32 1

For instance, if you answered 42 questions correctly on the multiple-choice section and received 25 points on the free-response section, your raw score would be (42 *.725) + (25 * 1.25) = 61.7, putting you just inside the 5 categories!

This is without considering the curve, which varies from year to year, but it should give you a good idea of where you stand. Unless you get a perfect 5 (90+), you should always put in some study time to ensure you’re fully prepared.

If you have a low score (1 or 2), you could set a goal of increasing your score to 3. Keep in mind that some schools do not accept 3s for college credit, so once you reach this first milestone, you may want to aim higher.

Most colleges regard a 4 as the standard lower limit for AP credit, so if you want to get a head start in college, you should aim for at least a 4. When you consistently score in the 3 range on this exam, you can set a goal of 4 or 5.

Even if you’re already at the 4 or 5 level on AP Biology, there’s probably still room for improvement. It’s a good idea to get some extra practice in so that you feel completely at ease on the actual test.

Depending on how much you need to improve and how long you want to spread your preparation, you may devise different strategies. You can get away with studying only two months ahead of time to improve by one AP score point. If you want to enhance by 2 or more points, try to start midway through the school year to avoid cramming.


Confidence is key. If you need to wear a business suit to the test to make yourself feel in control, go for it (I am not responsible for the relentless mocking you will endure from your peers).

Step 3: Examine Your Mistakes

This is an essential part of the review process, especially for AP Biology. There’s a lot to be learned, and you don’t want to waste time going over concepts you already understand.

Examine your diagnostic test mistakes to determine where and why the most errors occurred. Did your errors stem more from a lack of background knowledge or from difficulty analyzing the situations presented on the test (in other words, you knew the information but couldn’t answer the question because it confused you)?

You’ll almost certainly make some of each type of mistake, but if one is more common than the other, consider that when planning your study strategy. For example, it would be counterproductive to continue drilling basic content knowledge if most of your errors were caused by incorrectly interpreting complex questions or reading diagrams. It would help if you spent less time reviewing biological terms and more time doing realistic practice questions.

Even in those cases, you’ll almost certainly have some content knowledge issues. Maintain a daily list of the ideas you need to revisit in your notes or review book as you go through your mistakes. If you’re caught off guard by your lack of familiarity with a particular topic, you should pay special attention to it in your preparation.

You may also notice errors caused by carelessness or a lack of time that isn’t directly linked to your knowledge of the material or understanding of the question. In this case, you should consider revising your basic test-taking strategies. I’ll go into more detail about this later.


Do some practice test detective work! I



 think this is a detective. Either that or a random guy is smoking a pipe and trying to figure out how bad the pimple on his nose looks.

Step 4: Correct Your Mistakes

You can revise your exam techniques and effectively review concepts you didn’t understand by doing a few things.

The appropriate solution is to go back through your textbook, notes, or a reliable AP Bio review book (or all three!) and review what you forgot. Because of the complexity of the material, this can be a little overwhelming for biology students at times.

I suggest drawing diagrams of how systems or processes work if you’re trying to understand them. This will enable you to connect the text’s dry facts and the biological reality of what’s going on in the system. It will benefit you in terms of content knowledge and your ability to analyze related scenarios on the exam. This strategy can be applied to many concepts in AP Biology, making them much easier to grasp.

To correct your other errors, which are more related to question comprehension, you should focus on doing similar practice questions. I recommend purchasing Sterling’s and AP Biology Practice Questions for some questions that are logically structured by topic area and are well affiliated with the new exam format.

More practice can also help with careless errors and time management issues. You can improve your ability to identify the key components of each question and avoid distractions that may throw you off.

If you’re prone to making careless mistakes, underlining the most important parts of the question can be a good strategy. If time management is an issue, consider why you may have run out of time. Did you dwell on difficult questions for too long? Remember that it’s a good idea to omit questions that are giving you trouble (meaning they can’t be answered in a minute or less) and return to them after you’ve finished the section.


Practice makes perfect. Maybe you can compose an AP Biology song to help you remember stuff. “Now enzymes … BREAK IT DOWN!”

Step 5: Repeat the same steps and take another quiz

Now that you’ve analyzed and corrected your diagnostic test mistakes and done more directed studying, it’s time to start taking another practice test.

After scoring this new test, repeat steps 3 and 4. As you repeat this process and become more familiar with the format and content of the AP Biology exam, you should see improvements.

If you don’t notice any positive changes from one test to the next, it’s time to rethink your review methods. You may repeat these steps once, twice, or seven times based on how early you begin studying for the AP Bio test and how much you want to improve.

Continue the cycle until you reach your score goals or run out of time to study!

Conclusion: AP Biology Study Guide

The AP Biology exam is a lengthy exam covering a wide range of topics.

The test was recently changed to emphasize analytical thinking rather than information recall, both good and bad. On the one hand, you won’t have to rely as heavily on memorization. On the other hand, your AP score will be heavily reliant on your ability to think through complicated scenarios presented on the test.

In addition, some structural changes were made to the test in 2020. The number of multiple-choice questions was reduced from 69 to 60, and the number of short-answer questions was reduced from six to four. There will also be no more grid-in questions.

You should go over all of the data you acquired from the course in your own AP Biology review. However, you should also spend a significant amount of time practicing testing to learn to think in the way that the test expects you to think.

You’ll be on your way to a brilliant AP Bio score if you organize your study time wisely and find ways to resolve the types of questions that are most difficult for you!

What’s Next?

Are you ready to start reviewing biology concepts? We have guides to help you review cell theory, enzymes, and homologous and analogous structures, as well as brief overviews of cell components (cell membrane and endoplasmic reticulum) and the photosynthesis equation.

Do you know how much time you have before your AP exams? The AP test dates and times for 2022 are listed below.

Are you thinking of taking an AP Calculus course? This article will help you decide whether you should take AP Calculus AB or BC.

What classes you enroll in high school is one of the most critical aspects of your college application (in conjunction with how well you do in those classes).

Our admissions experts at GradeOffice have compiled their knowledge into this comprehensive guide to planning your high school course schedule.

We’ll guide you on how to balance regular and honors/AP/IB courses, how to choose extracurriculars, and what classes you can’t afford to miss.