Get ready because a new school year has begun! Hopefully, things are slowly going back to normal in your area and in-person classes are back (which also means that AP Biology labs will be back, which is great news because labs are such an important and memorable part of the AP Biology experience).
Many students say that AP Biology is one of the most challenging advanced classes in high school so if you are feeling a bit overwhelmed with all the new information and vocabulary in the class, you’re not alone. This list of tips will help you succeed in school and prepare well for the AP exam in the spring. If you feel like you need more hands-on help in the class, you can also check out our Classes and Resources sections!
As you may already know, AP Biology is a college-level course that covers four major ideas:
Idea 1: Evolution
Idea 2: Energy
Idea 3: Information Storage and Transmission
Idea 4: System Interactions
Tips to Succeed in AP Biology
Now let’s dive into the key topic, the tips and habits that will enable you to maximize your potential and ace that AP exam.
1. Plan and Structure
Every study plan needs a bit of planning and structure to make it feasible to cover all the required material. There’s no need to go over the top with a color-coded schedule (unless you want to), but it is useful to mark out your planner or calendar so you know exactly what you should be studying each week. You will also get a better idea of how to plan out your studying once your class at school starts, because the pace and order of chapters covered can vary a lot from teacher to teacher. Sometimes, your teacher may not cover the material quickly enough or end up skipping important chapters, which leads us to the next tip…
2. Plan and Structure
Unfortunately, some teachers do not teach the course in a comprehensive and timely way, which causes much stress and confusion for students, especially as the AP exam in May approaches. This is why we highly recommend spending time outside of class to learn from additional outside resources, such as Khan Academy and awesome YouTube channels such as Bozeman Science and Amoeba Sisters. Avoid relying solely on your class notes, especially if you feel that your teacher is behind or not the best at presenting the concepts.
3. Learn the AP Exam Format
Half the battle of acing an exam is understanding the exam and devising a strategy. The only way to do that coherently is if you can navigate the exam format.
Luckily, all the information about the AP Biology exam format is available on College Board and you can familiarize yourself with it far in advance. In fact, it’s a great idea to get familiar with the format, timing, and types of questions asked toward the beginning of the school year. This way, you can start practicing for the exam early on.
4. Learn and Connect
Don’t rely on memorizing everything off of your flashcards and textbook. It is a common misconception that AP Biology is super memorization-based.
On the other hand, if you start connecting the dots between different concepts and learning the why and what of the subject, you will more easily recall the information on exam day.
In fact, understanding and making connections is better in the long run as it also allows you to formulate structured answers and provide evidence and reasoning for your answers with a minimum chance of error. You also tend to stop second-guessing yourself with this method!
5. Plenty of Challenging Practice
Students (and often teachers) tend to underestimate the importance and effectiveness of practice problems, but it is extremely important. No matter how much information a student absorbs, without practice applying all of that information to real problems, it is unlikely for the student to score well on the exam and in class.
Also, note that we recommend challenging practice. Students often do practice problems on topics that they feel comfortable with and are able to answer without further studying. As you can imagine, this does not help them master the topics that are difficult and most likely to lose them points on actual exams. The next time you come across a tough multiple-choice question in which you have no idea what a term means, or you’re stuck choosing between three different answers, take the time to pause, go back and review that concept, and try the question again. Make this a habit and do this diligently for every challenging question you come across.
‘Revise and repeat!’ should be your mantra as you take every bit of knowledge you have assimilated and test it within the safety of mock exams and short quizzes. You know the drill – practice makes perfect!
6. Rest and Spaced Learning
With so much content to absorb in the class, you might believe that the only way to ace AP Biology is to study constantly -- this is what we call “force-studying”. However, force-studying backfires because you may experience burnout, start to feel discouraged, and wonder why your scores aren’t improving despite so much time and effort spent studying.
Instead, study for 45 to 60-minute periods and focus intensely during that block. Then, take a break for at least 15 minutes. If you have other classes to study for, go ahead and switch gears for a while. Allowing breaks away from studying a particular subject is called spaced learning. The next time you dive back into that subject, start by quizzing yourself on what you remember from the previous study session and then move on to reviewing new material and practice problems.
Of course, rest also helps you absorb the information you have taken in during the day. Give yourself small breaks during your study hours. Move around and take some deep breaths. Let your mind have a tiny vacation before you start working it again.
It may seem hard and impossible to adopt all these tips at once. But you don’t need to worry about putting all the stress on yourself. Take AP Biology one step at a time.