March 22, 2021, by

Preparing for the 2021 AP Biology Exam

Unlike the abbreviated 2020 AP Biology exam, the 2021 AP Biology exam will return to its usual length [3 hours] and will include the regular 60 multiple choice questions in addition to 6 free response questions, testing content from units 1 – 8.  The key difference between the 2021 AP Biology exam and its previous iterations is that some students will be taking a digital version of the exam this year rather than the paper version. Read more about the 2021 AP Biology exam below.


Test Dates

There are three dates this year for the AP Biology exam:

  • Friday May 14th, 8 a.m. local time – Paper exam, in school
  • Thursday, May 27th, 12 p.m. EDT – Digital exam, in school or at home
  • Friday, June 11th, 12 p.m. EDT – Digital exam, in school or at home


One key difference between the digital and paper versions of the 2021 AP Biology exam is that students taking the digital exam will not have the opportunity to scan and submit any handwritten work, so students will not be expected to diagram or graph anything as part of their answer to free response questions.  The College Board’s digital exam software will allow students to select any symbols that they might need when typing their responses to these questions. Also, students will be allowed to use this formula and equations sheet whether they take the paper or digital version of the AP Biology exam. It’s a good idea for students to familiarize themselves with this reference sheet so that they know what is included in it and what isn’t. Beyond this, students should make sure they practice using the various formulae and equations on practice problems well before test day.

The College Board updated its AP Biology course and exam description (CED) to encompass eight (8) content areas or units and has provided an approximate exam weighting for each unit below. Cellular energetics [unit 3] and gene expression and regulation [unit 6], for example, will each constitute 12% – 16% of the total possible points earned on the 2021 AP Biology exam.


Preparing for the AP Biology Exam

Studying effectively for the AP Biology exam is a matter of knowing what to study and how to study. We’ve included some practical tips for preparing for the AP Biology exam below.

  1. Access the AP Biology course homepage in AP Classroom on the College Board website. There are multiple-choice (MC) and free-response (FRQ) problem sets for all eight AP Biology units, and these are excellent review tools. They do need to be unlocked by your teacher, so if they are still locked, ask your teacher to unlock them so that you can begin using them. The site also includes daily videos.
  2. Study actively. Resist the urge to study passively, such as simply rereading your notes or reviewing lecture slides. Instead, find ways you can study actively (read: effectively). One way to do so is to attempt the multiple choice and short answer questions at the end of each chapter in your biology textbook. These exercises will be a very good litmus test (sorry, couldn’t resist) of whether you know the material in a given chapter well enough to proceed to the next unit.
  3. Use flash cards or Quizlet as needed. If you’re having trouble learning certain concepts, find an effective way to commit to memory these basics. Flash cards and Quizlet can be great tools for aiding memorization. However, it’s also important to know what you to need to memorize. It isn’t necessary to memorize, for example, all twenty amino acids, but it is important to know that differences in these twenty amino acids stem from differences in their r-groups. Recognizing what you need to know and what you don’t will make studying for the AP Biology exam less disorienting.
  4. Nail down the basics. Know your macromolecules, cell parts and functions inside and out. Know photosynthesis and cellular respiration well enough to give a mini lecture on it. The same goes for mitosis, meiosis, and Mendelian genetics. These are some of the ‘big ideas’ that you can expect to see on the AP Biology exam.
  5. Study free response questions on past AP Biology exams (from 1999 – present) here. Focus on the most recent year’s questions first and work your way backwards until you get to 2012.


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