AP Biology can be a daunting class to walk into. With just 7 to 8 months to learn everything from ecology to DNA and RNA, you might be questioning whether you are ready to take such a challenging class. While AP Bio is one of the hardest AP subjects, you can use these tips to learn what you’ll need to know before taking AP Bio and you’ll be able to walk into your class with confidence.
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1. Don’t Let the Amount of Material Overwhelm You
While there is a lot to cover, most ideas have connections and ways to easily understand topics. To help you better make those connections, AP Bio is broken down into 4 main ideas:
- Big Idea 1 – Evolution: The process of evolution drives the diversity and unity of life.
- Big Idea 2 – Energy: Biological systems utilize free energy and molecular building blocks to grow, to reproduce and to maintain dynamic homeostasis.
- Big Idea 3 – Information Storage and Transmission: Living systems store, retrieve, transmit and respond to information essential to life processes.
- Big Idea 4 – System Interactions: Biological systems interact, and these systems and their interactions possess complex properties.
Being able to think of biology in terms of these 4 Big Ideas will allow you to put more nuanced and descriptive terminology into perspective.
2. Make Connections Instead of Memorizing Content
When it comes to AP Bio, it’s best to know about connections rather than specific terms. AP Bio is NOT memorization. In fact, if you just try to memorize terms and concepts, you’ll have a much harder time keeping track of everything you need to know. Memorizing as a strategy is not ideal for any AP exam because it is way harder to answer the essays. If the exam was just straight trivial multiple choice, then memorizing would help. However, so much of your score will rely on your ability to analyze, evaluate, and make connections. Even the multiple choice has been updated to reflect this as a goal from College Board.
When learning about complex topics that you might not be familiar with, focus more on the relationships rather than the terms and definitions. Most importantly, try to connect ideas to the four big ideas mentioned earlier. You can use tools like mind maps to help you make connections. Then, when you are stuck trying to answer a question, try to visualize the connections you made. Seriously, this is one of the best study strategies for any AP exam.
By the end of the school year, you’ll be able to understand any complex AP Bio processes because of the network of relationships you learned throughout the year.
3. Logic is Your Best Friend
When it comes to topics like ecology and evolution, common sense and logic are really all you need. While you will need to know some terms for these sections of the exam, most problems you will be presented with will be solved logically. On the AP Exam, you will be presented with a large amount of information to help you answer the questions. While you will be able to answer the questions with your knowledge of biology, logic and common sense can also be used to answer the questions effectively. Here’s an example of when logic can help you:
Let’s say there are populations of wolves and deer on an island; there is a predator-prey relationship between them. If the wolves are the predators and the population of wolves increases, it can be assumed that the number of deer will decrease because the wolves as a pack will consume more deer.
As you can see, logic can be your best friend when it comes to AP Biology.
4. Read, Read, and Read Some More
AP Biology is one of many AP classes that require a large amount of reading. One of the most things to remember for AP Bio is that you cannot fall behind on reading. Reading your textbook throughout the year is a necessity. By keeping up with your reading, you’ll be able to understand complex ideas with ease. While reading an AP Bio textbook filled to the brim with facts might not sound like the most appealing way to spend your time, it will definitely pay off in the end.
5. Use Your Resources
In addition to your textbook, you can use your teachers as a resource. Find out if your teacher has office hours or extra time between classes. Teachers can help you better understand material and they will be happy to help.
If you’re having trouble understanding specific topics, try using the internet and watching videos by other teachers. In addition to Fiveable, Khan Academy videos helped me a lot when it came to visualizing processes and complex ideas. Their videos on Mitosis, Meiosis, Central Dogma, Photosynthesis, Cellular Respiration, and enzymes were especially helpful to me.
- Fiveable: https://app.fiveable.me/ap-bio
- Khan Academy AP Bio: https://www.khanacademy.org/science/ap-biology
- Bozeman Science: http://www.bozemanscience.com/ap-biology
6. Prep your Prep Methods
When the year starts, information will be coming at you from all directions. You’ll be introduced to a bunch of new curriculum, from things like water properties to types of molecules. Prepare yourself for that part of the year by deciding how you want comprehend that information before the storm.
For example, if you decide that you want to take notes using a Cornell notes format before the year starts, it will be a lot easier to look back on your notes when it comes time for the exam because it all of your notes follow the same consistent format. You didn’t have to spend a month trying to use a conventional notes format, then another month trying to get used to a paragraph notes format before finally seeing that Cornell notes was the best choice for you. You decided it before the year started, so when you look back at your notes at the end of the year, you won’t see a bunch of chicken scratch, but rather you can actually comprehend and recall.
I struggled with this because I kept changing my approach throughout the year, trying new things after every chapter to try to finally feel comfortable with the way I was preparing. In the end, it became really difficult for me to study from my notes because I was constantly trying new formats and new strategies, which eventually got really confusing. Learn from my mistakes.
7. Focus on Your Weaknesses
In AP Biology, there will be things that you find extremely easy and things that unfortunately you will find pretty difficult. To prepare for the right things, I would recommend looking at the course curriculum before the course starts and noting down which topics you think you are weakest in. After that, start preparing for those topics by watching Crash Course videos, by going over someone’s old notes, or even by reading an AP prep book. Even if you only have a little bit of time to look over it, just an introduction to content months before you learn it can be a big advantage when it comes time to be tested on it.
Most importantly, have fun with it! AP Biology can be an enjoyable class if you don’t get behind and have a positive mindset towards learning. Ask questions when you’re confused and remember to focus on the relationships and connections. You can meet with your teacher outside of class, form a study group with friends, watch biology videos online, or come chat with us at Fiveable if you’re confused. Now that you know what to expect, you can walk into your AP Biology class with confidence.