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AP Biology Study Notes

What is AP Biology?

Advanced Placement Biology (AP Biology or AP Bio) is offered by the College Board in the United States as an Advanced Placement biology course and exam to students. For those who wish to pursue an interest in the life sciences, AP Biology is the right course to take. As students explore topics like evolution, energetics, information storage, and transfer, and system interactions, the course encourages students to make inquiry-based investigations to further cultivate their understanding of biology. 

What are the AP Biology course requirements?

Although the actual prerequisites vary from school to school and from state to state, the College Board recommends that students first complete their high school biology and high school chemistry before proceeding to AP Biology. The Course is equivalent to a two-semester college introductory biology course for biology majors. It is required that 25 percent of the instructional time be used in hands-on laboratory work, focusing on inquiry-based investigations that provide students with opportunities for science practices to be applied. 

The policies established by each high school offering AP biology will determine the enrolment requirements for the course. However, the course usually starts with a less rigorous entry-level Biology course and in most cases, Chemistry as well. Some schools may selectively accept students to enrol in the course with the consideration of the academic record in prerequisite courses but others schools stick to an open enrolment policy to encourage its undertaking by students who can show their capability for the course regardless of whether or not their performance in their previous courses were unsatisfactory.

The introductory course in Biology that students should first complete before taking AP Biology usually lasts for one school year. Students will be able to prepare themselves to study higher levels of science and familiarize themselves with the scientific process by taking an introductory course. In order to complete experiments, experience with basic mathematical functions must also be possessed by the students.

College Board Updates for Students

There have been a couple of updates recently announced by the College Board on their website including the new curriculum with a greater focus on “scientific practices” and the introduction of new resources for the students’ classroom. To improve students’ chances of earning college credit and placement, the exam registration has been moved to the fall.

Topics Covered by AP Biology

AP Biology includes various topics covering the course such as Biochemistry, Botany, Cell Biology, Developmental Biology, Ecology, Evolution, Genetics, Microbiology, Molecular Biology, Physiology, Population Biology, and Zoology. Students are also required to be familiar with a set of 12 specific biology labs and a general lab procedure in addition to the previously mentioned topics.

AP Biology Curriculum: The Eight AP Biological Components

Students can find a visual organization of the AP Biology curricular components at the College Board’s website including a sequence of units, approximate weighting and suggested pacing. The basis of the pacing is a 45-minute class period, meeting five days each week for a full academic year. Progression of topics within each unit and spiralling of the big ideas and science are shown in the visual as well.

Here are the eight commonly taught units of study organized for the AP Biology framework.

Unit 1: Chemistry of Life

  • Structure of Water and Hydrogen Bonding
  • Elements of Life
  • Introduction to Biological Macromolecules
  • Properties of Biological Macromolecules
  • Nucleic Acids

Unit 2: Cell Structure and Function

  • Cell Structure: Subcellular Components
  • Cell Structure and Function
  • Cell Size
  • Plasma Membranes
  • Membrane Permeability
  • Membrane Transport
  • Facilitated Diffusion
  • Tonicity and Osmoregulation
  • Mechanisms of Transport
  • Cell Compartmentalization
  • Origins of Cell Compartmentalization

Unit 3: Cellular Energetics

  • Enzyme Structure
  • Enzyme Catalysis
  • Environmental Impacts on Enzyme Function
  • Cellular Energy
  • Photosynthesis
  • Cellular Respiration
  • Fitness

Unit 4: Cell Communication and Cell Cycle

  • Cell Communication
  • Introduction to Signal Transduction
  • Signal Transduction
  • Changes in Signal Transduction Pathways
  • Feedback
  • Cell Cycle
  • Regulation of Cell Cycle

Unit 5: Heredity

  • Meiosis
  • Meiosis and Genetic Diversity
  • Mendelian Genetics
  • Non-Mendelian Genetics
  • Environmental Effects on Phenotype
  • Chromosomal Inheritance

Unit 6: Gene Expression and Regulation

  • DNA and RNA Structure
  • Replication
  • Transcription and RNA Processing
  • Translation
  • Regulation of Gene Expression
  • Gene Expression and Cell Specialization
  • Mutations
  • Biotechnology

Unit 7: Natural Selection

  • Introduction to Natural Selection
  • Natural Selection
  • Artificial Selection
  • Population Genetics
  • Hardy-Weinberg Equilibrium
  • Evidence of Evolution
  • Common Ancestry
  • Continuing Evolution 
  • Phylogeny
  • Speciation
  • Extinction
  • Variations in Populations
  • Origin of Life

Unit 8: Ecology

  • Responses to the Environment
  • Energy Flow Through Ecosystems 
  • Population Ecology
  • Effect of Density of Populations
  • Community Ecology
  • Biodiversity
  • Disruptions to Ecosystems

What science practices are covered in AP Biology? 

An outline of distinct skills called science practices is included in the updated AP Biology framework and that exam description – all of which must be practised by the students throughout the year. These skills will greatly help the students learn the mentality and habits of a biologist. By the time the AP Biology examination day arrives, students must be able to:

  • Explain Concepts. The biological concepts, processes, and models must be explained by the student in a written format. 
  • Visual Representations. The biological concepts and processes have visual representations that must be analysed.
  • Question and Method. Students must be able to determine the scientific question and methods.
  • Representing and Describing Data. Examinations will also require students to represent and describe data.
  • Statistical Tests and Data Analysis. To analyse and interpret data, students must be able to perform statistical tests and mathematical calculations.
  • Argumentations. Through the use of evidence, students must develop and justify scientific arguments.

What is the scope of the AP Biology Exam?

A requirement has been released by the College Board for the AP Biology exam recently, breaking down what portion of the test should be devoted to what field of study.

Students can expect that 25% of the exam will be dedicated to Molecules and Cells, 25% will be for Heredity and Evolution, and 50% will be for Organisms and Populations.

It is highly recommended that students who are studying for both the AP Biology exam and SAT keep these parameters in mind. The determination on how much time is spent covering these different areas of study and the time dedicated to each section of the AP Biology test to be completed over the school year is based on these basic goals. 

When are AP Biology Exams?

The schedule of the examination is given each year in early May. For the most current exam dates, students are encouraged to look at the exam calendar found on the College Board website.

Who should take the AP Biology course?

Students who can meet the prerequisites of the course discussed above can take AP Biology. However, the chance to benefit from an AP course is typically focused on any motivated student especially those whose school gives the PSAT/NMSQT® through AP Potential™, an online tool that can help identify students with great potential to succeed in AP.

The scores of the students in PSAT or SAT® are considered as well. Stronger predictions of AP success have come out based on such scores than high school grades or GPA. 

What are the advantages of taking Advanced Placement courses?

Most of the well-respected colleges or universities in the U.S take their time to examine the student’s high school transcripts on Advanced Placement courses and can give them a critical look at college courses before they are enrolled.

A good amount of time and money is also saved as soon as college starts if students have already earned college credit before their graduation.

Students are more likely to enjoy and succeed in their college careers if they work more in preparing for the high-pressure college atmosphere before they embark on another journey.

Advanced Placement courses, therefore, are the perfect choice for students who wish to get a jump start on their college education and in the corporate world.