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AP Biology

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Title: AP Biology  
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Subject: Advanced Placement, AP Art History, AP Capstone, AP Calculus, AP Chinese Language and Culture
Collection: Advanced Placement, Bioscience Education, United States Educational Programs
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AP Biology

This article is part of the
Advanced Placement series.
General exam structure    •    Awards
Current subjects:
In development:
Former subjects:

In the United States, Advanced Placement Biology (commonly abbreviated to AP Biology or AP Bio), is a course and examination offered by the College Board to high school students as an opportunity to earn placement credit for a college-level biology course. For the 2012–2013 school year, the College Board unveiled a new curriculum with a greater focus on "scientific practices."[1]


  • The Course 1
  • Topics covered 2
  • Topic makeup 3
  • The exam 4
  • Grade distribution 5
  • Commonly used textbooks 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8

The Course

This course is offered to highly motivated students who wish to pursue an interest in the life sciences. The College Board recommends successful completion of high school biology and high school chemistry[2] before commencing AP Biology, although the actual prerequisites vary from school to school and from state to state. Many schools, for example, require no background in biology to take the course.

Topics covered

Topics covered by this course include:

In addition to the standard biology topics above, students are required to be familiar with a set of 12 specific biology labs, as well as general lab procedure.

Topic makeup

The makeup of the AP Biology exam is based on the following percentages of three topics:

  • Molecules and Cells, 25%
  • Heredity and Evolution, 25%
  • Organisms and Populations, 50%

The exam

The AP test for this course consists of two sections. Section I, administered over a period of 90 minutes, consists of 63 multiple-choice questions and 6 mathematics-related fill in questions. Students are allowed to use a four-function calculator.[3] Calculators are generally needed for this mathematics portion, and are allowed on the test day. Section II, which also lasts 90 minutes, consists of 2 essay prompts to be answered comprehensively by the student, as well as 6 shorter essays that require concise answers.[3] A mandated 10 minute reading period is held prior to beginning to write the eight essays, leaving only 80 minutes for writing.

Grade distribution

In the 2007 administration, 144,796 students took the exam from 8,486 schools. In the 2008 administration, the exam grades were recalibrated,[4] resulting in a substantial decrease in the top scores and increase in the bottom scores. In the 2009 and 2010 administrations, 159,580 and 172,512 students took the test, respectively. The 2013 revised test showed a marked decrease in the amount of 5's and 1's received.

Most colleges award credit in an introductory biology course for a score of 3 or higher. Higher tier schools generally only accept a score of 4 or 5. [5] [6] The grade distributions for 2008, 2009, 2010,[7] 2011,[8] 2012,[9] 2013,[10] 2014,[11] and 2015[12] were:

Score 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015
5 18.5% 19.5% 18.7% 18.8% 19.4% 5.5% 6.5% 6.2%
4 15.6% 15.5% 15.1% 16.5% 16.9% 21.6% 22.2% 22.0%
3 16.1% 15.8% 15.4% 15.2% 14.3% 36.2% 35.1% 35.9%
2 15.2% 15.1% 14.1% 14.6% 14.6% 29.3% 27.4% 27.6%
1 34.6% 34.0% 36.6% 34.8% 34.8% 7.4% 8.8% 8.3%
Mean 2.68 2.71 2.65 2.70 2.72 2.88 2.90 2.91

Commonly used textbooks

  • Mader, Biology, AP Edition by Sylvia Mader (2012, Hardcover ISBN 0076620042)
  • Life: The Science Of Biology (Sadava, Heller, Orians, Purves, and Hillis, ISBN 978-0-7167-7671-0)
  • Campbell Biology AP Ninth Edition (Reece, Urry, Cain, Wasserman, Minorsky, and Andrew Jackson ISBN 978-0131375048)


  1. ^ AP Biology Curriculum Framework
  2. ^ "AP Biology". Retrieved 5 October 2015. 
  3. ^ a b "AP Biology". Retrieved 5 October 2015. 
  4. ^ 2008 recalibration
  5. ^ "2008 AP Biology Score Distribution" (PDF). College Board. Retrieved 5/2/2013. 
  6. ^ "2009 Biology Score Distribution" (PDF). College Board. Retrieved 5/2/2013. 
  7. ^ 2010 Score Distribution
  8. ^ 2011 Score Distribution
  9. ^ Total Registration. "2012 AP Exam Score Distributions". Retrieved 5 October 2015. 
  10. ^ Total Registration. "2012 AP Exam Score Distributions". Retrieved 5 October 2015. 
  11. ^ Total Registration. "2014 AP Exam Score Distributions". Retrieved 5 October 2015. 
  12. ^ Total Registration. "2012 AP Exam Score Distributions". Retrieved 5 October 2015. 

External links

  • AP Biology at
  • AP Biology Teacher Community at
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