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Overview of the Multiple Choice Section

Section I of the AP Biology Exam consists of 60 multiple choice questions that have an exam weighting of 50%. You will have 90 minutes to answer the 60 questions. Additionally, a four-function, scientific, or graphing calculator is allowed on both sections of the exam.

All the multiple choice questions will appear either as individual questions or in sets of typically four to five questions per set. All six AP Biology science practices are assessed in the multiple choice section with the following exam weightings

This section of the exam will test your ability to :

  • Explain biological concepts, processes, and models

  • Analyze diagrams, flow charts, and other visual representations

  • Use the scientific method

  • Perform mathematical calculations to analyze data

  • Support scientific claims with evidence

Tips for the Multiple Choice Section 

1. Be Neat                                                                                                 

On the AP Exam, you’ll fill in your multiple choice answers on a scantron. Improperly erased pencil marks can cause the machine to misgrade your answer. Thus, it is important to completely fill in the bubbles and completely erase your answer if you decide to change to your answer. 

2. Pace Yourself 

Although you have a minute for each question, you should keep your pace at under a minute per question on your first pass through the test. This way you'll have some extra time, in the end, to go back and answer any tricky questions you skipped or guessed on. 

3. Answer Every Question

There's no guessing penalty on the test, so you should answer every question, even if you have no idea which choice is correct. 

4. Use Multiple Choice Strategies 

Using multiple choice techniques, such as the process of elimination, making educated guesses, and budgeting your time is important for any multiple choice test. But it is crucial for the AP Biology exam that you walk into the exam with a strategy or plan. Whether that be skipping the hardest questions and coming back to them later or starting with the hardest questions first, you must have a plan in order to be successful in the multiple choice section. 

In the multiple choice section, you will have four options. This means that if you can eliminate two choices, you have a 50% chance of getting the answer correct.

5. Read Carefully and Pay Attention

On a long test like this, it’s important that you stay focused throughout the hour of the multiple choice section. If you end up skipping a question, make sure you skip the bubble on the scantron. 

On the AP Exam, you’ll likely encounter questions with the words “EXCEPT” or “NOT”. These questions can be traps if you aren’t reading closely enough. 

6. Read the Questions First

On the questions that apply to a large amount of data, read the questions first to figure out what you’re looking for. On the AP Exam, there will usually be quite a bit of information that isn’t important to the question. In the multiple choice section, you can waste a lot of time reading material that isn’t important to the questions. 

For example, you could obsess over the smallest details when reading a chart and then get to the questions and realize that you only needed the title of the chart to get the question right. So, be sure to read the 4 - 5 questions that go with the information before reading the whole paragraph, chart, or graph.  It’s a simple technique, but when you have 60 multiple choice questions to read, analyze, and answer in only an hour, reading the actual questions first can be extremely helpful.

7. Know What the Multiple Choice Questions Look Like

Most multiple choice questions on the AP Biology exam look pretty similar. While there are a few stand-alone questions, most, if not all, of the questions will come in sets with some type of information such as a paragraph, science experiment, chart, or graph. If you want to know what multiple choice questions on the AP Biology exam will look like, you can find some sample questions and explanations below.

Sample Questions and Explanations


  1. The lac operon is only found in prokaryotes and has structural genes, a promoter, and an operator. Why do we study the lac operon?

A. It is the main way gene transcription is regulated. 

B. It shows the difference between prokaryotes and eukaryotes. 

C. It helps us know how to control the cell cycle if uncontrollable cell growth takes place. 

D. It shows how RNA is processed after it is transcribed. 

Questions 2 and 3: 

Peter and Rosemary Grant spent 30 years observing the finches in the Galapagos Islands. On one of the most desolate islands, ground cacti and shrubs are the old vegetation that grows. In 1977, there was a severe drought and seeds of all kinds became scarce. The small, soft seeds were quickly eaten by the birds, leaving mainly large, tough seeds that the finches don’t normally eat. A year after the drought, the ecologists discovered that the average width of the finches’ beaks has increased compared to the measurements before the drought. 

2. Which of the following statements best explains the increase in beak size?

A. The finches with the smaller beaks made their beaks bigger to get the tougher seeds. 

B. The finches with the bigger beaks were stronger so they attacked and killed the finches with the smaller beaks. 

C. The finches with the bigger beaks were able to eat the tough seeds and were healthier. Thus, they were able to produce more offspring that inherited the large beak gene. 

D. All the finches’ beaks increased in size to be able to eat the tougher seeds. 

3. Which of the following statements explains how the beak size increased? 

A. A new allele appeared in a finch from a mutation

B. A new trait appeared in the population due to the bottle effect.

C. A new trait appeared in the population due to the recombination of alleles. 


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D. A change in the frequency of a gene was due to selective pressure from the environment. 

Answers and Explanations:

1. Answer: A 

Explanation: This question is a perfect example of memorizing facts vs.  

relationships and content. In this question, you’re asked why we study the lac operon, not what the lac operon is. If you simply memorized facts for the AP Exam, you most likely wouldn’t be able to answer this question with 100% certainty. In AP Biology, it’s important to focus on relationships rather than memorizing a bunch of facts. 

Choice A is correct because operons are a means of controlling the transcription of genes. 

Choice B is not the correct answer because operons are found in prokaryotes, not higher organisms. While lac operons usually cannot be found in eukaryotes, the lac operon is not the way we distinguish prokaryotes from eukaryotes. Thus, we eliminate choice B. 

Choice C is not the correct answer because operons have nothing to do with the cell cycle. 

Choice D is not the correct answer because operons are a means of controlling the transcription of genes, whereas choice D focuses on what happens after transcription. Thus, we can eliminate choice D. 

2. Answer: C

Explanation: The question is a great example of why you must pay attention and read carefully. At first, all of the answer choices seem logical but if you read carefully you can see that 3 of the answer choices have flaws. 

Choice A is not the correct answer because it doesn’t make sense. There is no way the finches with the smaller beaks can make their beaks bigger. If this doesn’t make sense, try to think about it if this were to happen to humans. If you wanted to make your nose smaller or your mouth bigger, you would not be able to do that by yourself. Similarly, the finches cannot change the size of their own beaks. Thus, we can eliminate choice A. 

Choice B is not the correct answer because it has nothing to do with the drought. The finches with the bigger beaks wouldn’t start killing the other finches after a drought. 

Choice C is the correct answer because it explains Darwin’s evolutionary theory: survival of the fittest. 

Choice D is not the right answer because of the same explanation for choice A. The finches cannot make their beaks bigger. 

3. Answer: D

Choice A, B, and C are all wrong for the same reason; A new trait may have appeared because of mutation, bottle effect, or recombination of alleles but that does not explain how the birds came to have longer beaks. The only choice that makes sense is choice D because it explains Darwin’s evolutionary theory: survival of the fittest. 

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