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Big Reviews: Finals & Exam Prep

2021 AP Environmental Science Exam Guide

10 min readโ€ขfebruary 24, 2021


Your guide to the 2021 AP Environmental Science exam

We know that studying for your AP exams can be stressful, but Fiveable has your back! We have created a study plan that will help you crush your environmental science exam. We will continue to update this guide with more information about the 2021 exams, as well as helpful resources to help you score that 5. Create a Fiveable account to stay involved in all things AP exams! ๐Ÿ˜

Format of the 2021 AP Environmental Science exam

This year, all AP exams will cover all units and essay types. The 2021 Environmental Science exam format will be:
  • Section 1: Multiple Choice
    • 80 questions in 1 hr 30 mins
    • 60% of exam score
    • This includes individual questions as well as sets of questions that refer to the same stimulus.
    • 3-4 sets of questions will include quantitative data, such as data tables, charts, or graphs.
    • 3-4 sets of questions will include qualitative data/information, such as models, representations, or maps.
    • 2 sets of questions will include text-based sources.
  • Section 2: Free Response
    • 3 questions in 1 hr 10 mins
    • 40% of exam score
    • 1 question in which youโ€™ll design an investigation
    • 2 questions which will ask you to analyze an environmental problem and propose a solution, one of which will require performing calculations
  • On the digital exam, students will answer free-response questions (FRQs) with a keyboard. No handwritten or photographed work will be required nor accepted.
Check out our study plan below to find resources and tools to prepare for your AP Environmental Science exam.

When is the 2021 AP Environmental Science exam and how do I take it?

The first administration offers the exam on paper, in school, on Friday, May 14, 2021, at 12 PM, your local time. The second administration offers the exam digitally, in school and at home, on Thursday, May 27, 2021, at 4 PM EDT. The third administration offers the exam digitally, in school and at home, on Friday, June 11, 2021, at 4 PM EDT. You will have 2 hours and 40 minutes to take the exam. The tests will be taken in person at your school, unless your AP Coordinator has indicated otherwise. Your AP Coordinator is the only person who can determine when, where, and how you take the exam!

How should I prepare for the exam?

Weโ€™ve put together this plan to help you study between now and May. This will cover all of the units and essay types to prepare you for your exam. Join our Discord channel to talk to real students just like you studying for this exam! We have TAs in each subject channel to support you this Spring. Also, keep an eye out for more information on Cram Sessions and Cram Finales- live streams that will help you cram for your exam!ย 

Pre-work: set up your study environment

Before we begin, take some time to get organized. Remote learning can be great, but it also means youโ€™ll need to hold yourself accountable more than usual.ย 

๐Ÿ–ฅ Create a study space.

Make sure you have a designated place at home to study. Somewhere you can keep all of your materials, where you can focus on learning, and where you are comfortable. Spend some time prepping the space with everything you need and you can even let others in the family know that this is your study space.ย 

๐Ÿ“š Organize your study materials.

Get your notebook, textbook, prep books, or whatever other physical materials you have. Also create a space for you to keep track of review. Start a new section in your notebook to take notes or start a Google Doc to keep track of your notes. Get yourself set up!

๐Ÿ“… Plan designated times for studying.

The hardest part about studying from home is sticking to a routine. Decide on one hour every day that you can dedicate to studying. This can be any time of the day, whatever works best for you. Set a timer on your phone for that time and really try to stick to it. The routine will help you stay on track.

๐Ÿ† Decide on an accountability plan.

How will you hold yourself accountable to this study plan? You may or may not have a teacher or rules set up to help you stay on track, so you need to set some for yourself. First set your goal. This could be studying for x number of hours or getting through a unit. Then, create a reward for yourself. If you reach your goal, then x. This will help stay focused!

๐Ÿค Get support from your peers.ย 

There are thousands of students all over the world who are preparing for their AP exams just like you! Join our Discord channel to chat, ask questions, and meet other students who are also studying for the spring exams. You can even build study groups and review material together!ย 

AP Environmental Science 2021 study plan

๐Ÿœ Unit 1: The Living World: Ecosystems

Big takeaways:

The first unit sets up the rest of the course. It is a refresher of ecology topics learned in biology. If you have not taken biology yet, no worries. Here you will learn how species interactions are affected by various ecosystem resources, the global distribution of biomes, biogeochemical cycles, and energy transfers within food webs and chains.

Definitely do this:

If you have more time or want to dig deeper:

๐Ÿ  Unit 2: The Living World: Biodiversity

Big takeaways:

This unit investigates the different forms of diversity and how that diversity is essential for ecosystems. Then it presents the impacts of ecosystems from both human and natural disturbances. The unit concludes by looking at organismsโ€™ adaptations for survival due to the disturbances.

Definitely do this:

Resources:

If you have more time or want to dig deeper:

๐Ÿ‘ฉโ€๐Ÿ‘ฉโ€๐Ÿ‘งโ€๐Ÿ‘ฆ Unit 3: Populations

Big takeaways:

This unit discusses the different population dynamics within an ecosystem. First is a look at the species being a generalist vs. specialist and K- vs. r-. This is followed by how resource availability affects population grow and how that looks graphically. This unit finishes with human population dynamics and the four demographic transitions.

Definitely do this:

If you have more time or want to dig deeper:

๐ŸŒ Unit 4: Earth Systems and Resources

Big takeaways:

This unit discusses the abiotic factors that influence life. Earthโ€™s massive plates and their movements show that our planet is still changing. Soils also influence the type of life in an area from the topsoil to the bedrock. Atmospheric movements influence weather patterns and ocean currents.ย 

Definitely do this:

If you have more time or want to dig deeper:

๐Ÿ Unit 5: Land and Water Use

Big takeaways:

This unit looks at how humans use the land and waters. This entails the harvesting of crops, meat, and fish along with the effects of harvesting on the land and water. The effects of overfishing, mining, and urbanization are also discussed. Lastly, this unit looks into your ecological footprint and sustainable practices.

Definitely do this:

If you have more time or want to dig deeper:

โšก๏ธ Unit 6: Energy Resources and Consumption

Big takeaways:

Energy is either renewable or nonrenewable. Both types have impacts on the land, water, or air. Different areas of the world have different energy needs and availability. Conserving energy and finding efficient alternatives will extend the supply of our nonrenewable energy sources.

Definitely do this:

If you have more time or want to dig deeper:

๐Ÿ’จ Unit 7: Atmospheric Pollution

Big takeaways:

Atmospheric pollution has both natural and anthropogenic sources. Air pollution affects the health of an ecosystem and may harm humans. Many businesses are required by law to remove certain chemicals before releasing wastes into the atmosphere.

Definitely do this:

If you have more time or want to dig deeper:

โ™ป๏ธ Unit 8: Aquatic and Terrestrial Pollution

Big takeaways:

Pollution created by human activities directly impacts ecosystems in the air, on land, and in water. The source of pollution can be easy to identify, but other times the source is diffused. Weโ€™ll learn how to evaluate data related to pollution and explain concepts related to the different types of pollution that impact land and water. Legislation has been created to reduce discharges of pollution in water and regulate drinking water.

Definitely do this:

If you have more time or want to dig deeper:

๐Ÿ”ฅ Unit 9: Global Change

Big takeaways:

In this unit, weโ€™ll look at how the actions of humans can have global impacts. We explore cases of countries having great success in preservation of Earthโ€™s natural resources, but also times when humans have directly resulted in irreparable harm. Some topics weโ€™ll learn about include global climate change, alteration of the oceanโ€™s temperature and pH, and loss of biodiversity.ย 

Definitely do this:

If you have more time or want to dig deeper:

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Free Response Questions (FRQs)
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Multiple Choice Questions (MCQs)
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Unit 1: The Living World: Ecosystems
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Unit 2: The Living World: Biodiversity
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Unit 3: Populations
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Unit 4: Earth Systems and Resources
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Unit 5: Land and Water Use
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Unit 6: Energy Resources and Consumption
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Unit 7: Atmospheric Pollution
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Unit 9: Global Change