AP Biology exam: know the test content, format, and pacing

Students planning ahead for AP success need to know not only what's tested on the exams but also how the tests are structured.

Here's an overview of the AP Biology exam, including what students can expect from this year's digital tests.

What's on the AP Biology test?

The AP Biology exam is designed to measure your mastery of the fundamental concepts and scientific principles that govern biological systems and living organisms. Furthermore, the exam tests your ability to utilize the scientific method and analyze data.

The course involves 8 major units of study:

  1. Chemistry of Life
  2. Cell Structure and Function
  3. Cellular Energetics
  4. Cell Communication and Cell Cycle
  5. Heredity
  6. Gene Expression and Regulation
  7. Natural Selection
  8. Ecology

Need help mastering the content? Consider scheduling a few sessions with a tutor, who can work with you one-on-one to reinforce the material you're learning in school. To get started with an expert AP tutor, reach out to us here.

How is the AP Biology test structured?

The AP Biology exam is a two-part test consisting of a multiple-choice section followed by a free-response section. A graphing, scientific, or four-function calculator is permitted on all parts of the exam.

Because the AP Biology exam is a timed test, you will have to carefully pace yourself. This includes making determinations about whether you should skip and guess on any questions. In order to achieve the best possible score, you need to answer as many questions correctly as possible.

As you prepare for test day, you may come up with a personalized pacing plan, but as a starting point, here are rough guidelines based on the timing of each section:

  • Multiple choice:
    • 90 minutes to answer 60 questions
    • 1.5 minutes per question
  • Free response:
    • 90 minutes to answer 6 questions
      • 2 long-response questions: aim for 22 minutes per question
      • 4 short-response questions: aim for 11.5 minutes per question


What will this year's digital exams look like?

The College Board will offer multiple exam dates and formats to AP students in 2021. There will be three testing dates for each subject. On certain dates, schools can offer digital exams that may be administered either in school or at home. The AP Biology exam will be offered on May 14 (paper exam in school), May 27 (digital exam in school or at home), and June 11 (digital exam in school or at home).

While the digital exam will follow the same structure as the paper exam, students will want to take note of a couple subtle differences resulting from the digital testing interface:

AP Biology Paper vs Digital

If you'll be taking a digital exam this year, find out how to adjust your prep plan by reaching out to one of our experts here.

Need more individualized advice?

The recommendations above are general suggestions. If you have specific questions, reach out to our experts here. We’re happy to help in any way we can.


About ArborBridge

ArborBridge is the global leader in innovative, digital, one-on-one tutoring. With nearly a decade of experience teaching students online, ArborBridge supports students of all kinds: home schoolers, AP students, test preppers, and more. Our tutors specialize in creating personalized plans and in providing compassionate support for students and families.

Erin Ohsie-Frauenhofer

About Erin Ohsie-Frauenhofer

As one of the highest-performing tutors in ArborBridge’s history, Erin coaches tutors and develops tools and trainings to disrupt old habits and empower new strengths. With a Master of Arts in Teaching from Brown University, Erin worked as a classroom teacher and student services director prior to joining ArborBridge in 2017. Her decade of success as an educator has prepared her to ensure that programs are tailored to individual students’ needs.

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