Learn More About the Haiku Deck Below
The words and images in the deck above are meant to guide students as they prepare for the AP Biology Exam. The words were chosen based on their emphasis in the AP Biology Curriculum Framework and/or their history of appearing on previous exams. This work builds upon the contributions of many great science teachers. Attributions are listed at the end.
Tips for Answering AP Biology Free Response Questions
It may come as no surprise that many students struggle with answering the free response questions on the AP Biology test. One possible reason is that they don’t know the answer. A less obvious reason is that they don’t understand the question. I’ve read lots of answers to lots of FRQs and I’m surprised how often students miss points for not fully addressing the question. So, if you’re a student, I don’t want you to make the same mistake. Please read carefully.
The good news is that a poor understanding of the question is easy to fix. The free response questions on the AP Biology Test are going to tell you exactly what you need to write. Take a look at a portion of a free response question from the 2012 AP Biology test.
Explain TWO unique properties of human embryonic stem cells that distinguish them from other human cell types. Describe a current medical application of human stem cell research.
Let’s break this down.
Q. How many unique properties of human embryonic stem cells do you need to address?
Q. What must you do with these properties?
A. You must explain or describe them
Q. What does distinguish mean?
A. It means, “to show the difference between two or more things,” so you’re describing something a stem cell can do that a non-stem cell can’t.
Q. What must you do with a current medical application of human stem cell research?
A. You must describe it.
It seems so obvious when you break it down like this. The exam writers even bold key verbs and use all-caps to specify quantities. These questions get straight to the point, and so should you’re answers. There are lots of important details in those little sentences. Read them carefully. It really bothers me when students miss points because they glossed over the details. I know they can do better than this and so can you.
On exam day, the College Board is going to give you some last-minute words of advice. But, wouldn’t you rather hear these words now? Listen to what they say. The Free Response Booklet Instructions state the following:
Each answer should be written out in paragraph form; outline form is not acceptable. Do not spend time restating the questions or providing more than the number of examples called for. For instance, if a question calls for two examples, you can earn credit only for the first two examples that you provide. Labeled diagrams may be used to supplement discussion, but unless specifically called for by the question, a diagram alone will not receive credit. Write clearly and legibly. Begin each answer on a new page. Do not skip lines. Cross out any errors you make; crossed-out work will not be scored.
The free response portion of the AP Biology Exam is 90 minutes long. However, you are advised to spend the first 10 minutes reading the questions and planning your responses. Next to each question is an unlined, blank area called a “planning space.” This area is provided for making notes, outlines, diagrams, or whatever else you need to craft your answers. The Free Response Booklet Instructions state the following:
The proctor will announce the beginning and end of the reading period. You are advised to spend the 10-minute period reading all the questions, and to use the unlined pages to sketch graphs, make notes, and plan your answers. Do NOT begin writing on the lined pages until the proctor tells you to do so.
Think about what they’re saying, take these words to heart. Don’t jump in and start writing until you’re sure of what’s being asked of you. It’s easy to miss the subtle nuances of a question prompt. Slow down. Ten minutes will seem like a long time, but what if you waste twenty-two minutes because you didn’t fully digest the question?
There are a total of eight free response questions in section II of the AP Biology Exam, which account for 50% of your total exam score. The table below indicates the specifications for each question.
|Question Number||Question Style||Point Value||ApproximateWeight||Suggested Minutes to Complete|
If you haven’t seen it already, you should become familiar with the AP Biology – Section II Free-Response Booklet. This document gives you a diagram for how the free response section will be laid out.
AP Biology – Section II Free-Response Booklet
Hopefully these tips for answering AP Biology free response questions will reduce your anxiety and boost your confidence. Knowing the layout and specifications of the items and the meaning of commonly used “power words” ahead of time will allow you to focus on what’s most important: communicating what you actually know.
Have questions about the Do’s and Don’ts of filling in the Grid-In question? Check out my post:
How to Answer the Grid-In Response on the AP Biology Test
I hold a Master of Arts in Teaching degree and have been teaching science in public schools since 2004. I have a love for biology and instructional design. My mission is to share with other educators the best of what I know about teaching.
The AP Biology free response section is no walk in the park It will take an hour and a half to complete, which includes a ten minute section to read all of the questions. The questions on the exam will be two AP Bio long response questions and six short response questions (For more details about the AP Biology free response you can click here for the FAQ of the AP Biology Albert.io page). The AP Biology Free response section will count for 50% of your total score, so it is important to have a strong understanding of what you will need to know. The AP Biology free response section can be unique from other AP exams, so here are five steps to use when taking on the free response section.
1. Read All of the Questions
This step cannot be stressed enough. It may be the first step but it proves to be vital when taking the AP Biology exam. The free response section of the AP Biology exam starts off with a ten-minute period that is meant to be used for reading all of the questions. make sure you fully utilize this time for reading the questions. Planning can come later on, after you have read all of the questions. It is important to read all of these questions so that you can get your mind thinking and your ideas flowing. You can think about what each question will require of you and then start organizing your thoughts.
When you start reading all of the question, organize all of them from easiest to hardest. You can base this off which of the subject areas you are most knowledgeable about. If you know more about the topic, then rank that as easier. However, if you don’t know that much about the topic of the question, then rank it as harder. This will save you time and make it easier for you to answer as many questions as possible so you can get as many points as you can.
Another thing to look out for while you are reading all of the questions is to note the wording of the questions. AP Biology writers are very specific about the wording that they choose. Look out for words such as discuss, define, compare, contrast, and describe. An issue that is common to many AP test takers is that they do not properly read the question or they do not do exactly what the question is asking. This could cause you to lose valuable points on your AP Biology exam.
After you have finished reading all of the questions, you need to start organizing your thoughts on paper. There will be a part of the exam that you can use as scrap paper in order to write down and organize your thoughts. You should make sure to write down any key terms that you think will be relevant to each of the questions. Don’t worry about organizing them; that step will come later on. Right now it is important to focus on writing down anything you think will be important to the topic of your questions. This is vital because it will help you to remember all of the necessary steps in different processes in AP Biology. This step is important but whatever you do, make sure to not spend too much time here. You should spend about two minutes (max) on each of the questions, then move on to the next step.
3. Outlining for your Essays
This next step is a must do for your essays. Outlining your essays can help you to save valuable time on your AP Bio test. Making the time investment in creating a strong outline will keep your essay strong and focused. Best of all, you can prevent writer’s block and ultimately save time on the AP Biology free response section.
This is the part in which you look back at everything you wrote down while brainstorming. Look at all of the ideas that you came up with and take the ones that you feel most comfortable with. If the question asks for two examples, pick the two strongest examples. You should make sure to take note of any keywords or key concepts that you need to include in your essay. This is very important as it will streamline the process of writing your essay. It will take about four or five minutes per essay but this whole time investment will be worthwhile in the long run. It will make the writing portion of the exam much easier for you.
4. Develop the Ideas for your Essay
Now the time has finally come for you to start writing your essay. This is where your outline will start coming in handy. The difference between a high and a low scoring student on an AP Biology exam is that a low scoring student will just list the keywords that they think are relevant to the question. Anyone can list all of the vocabulary words that go along with mitosis, but it takes a high scoring student to elaborate on those keywords. Not only should you use the important phrases and terms, but you should explain the significance of those keywords to the question and how they relate to each other.
One more thing to keep in mind during this section is to stick to what the question asks. If the question asks for two examples, give only two examples. The test reviewers will only read the first two examples, not any more that you write. Anything extra will not count towards your score.
5. Answer Each Part of the Question Separately
This is a very important part to focus on when writing the essay. Each question on the AP Biology exam will have multiple parts to it. Some question will have two parts while some might even have five or six parts to them. Pacing yourself on the AP Bio free response is really important, so make sure you keep track of how many parts there are to each question. You could write the perfect response to one of the parts, but if you leave the other sections of the question blank, then it will not matter. The test reviewer only has a certain amount of points that they can allot for each part of the question, so it is important to focus on all parts.
AP Bio graders have a lot of tests to go through, so make it easy for them to se that you have answered the question correctly. One great way to do this is to answer each part of the question in a separate paragraph. It will be easier for both you and the grader to keep track of which parts you have answered.
On Your Way to a Perfect AP Biology Free Response Essay
These five steps can be your guideline to writing a great and successful AP Biology free response section. Of course, the best way to prep for an exam is to practice, so it would be best if you practice the free response section in an AP Biology practice exam. This will help you to practice these five steps and get you ready for the AP Biology exam.
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