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Advanced Placement

Is AP Biology Hard? A Complete Guide [2024]

Written by Apoorvaa Agarwal

Updated on: 27 May 2024


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  • The AP Biology course is organized into 8 topics: Molecules of Life, Cell Structure and Function, Cellular Energy, Genetics, Molecular Genetics, Evolution, Ecology, and Systems Biology.
  • The AP Biology exam is divided into two sections: multiple-choice and free-response.
  • The mean score for the AP Biology exam in 2022 was 3.11 out of 5. This is slightly higher than the mean score for all AP subjects in 2022, which was 2.92.
  • The pass rate of the AP Biology Exam for 2022 was 67.9%. This is slightly higher than the pass rate for AP overall, which was 60.2%.

Is AP Biology hard?

Yes, the AP Biology course is considered to be a hard AP course. The exam pass rate for 2022 was 67.9% in comparison to other AP exams. It is considered the 10th toughest AP subject when compared with all the 39 subjects.

With a difficulty rating of 3.11 out of 5, as per a survey among AP Class alumni, this course is known for its time-intensive and demanding nature.

In 2022, AP Biology recorded a high pass rate among AP subjects, with only 67.9% of students scoring 3 or higher, significantly below the average pass rate of 60.2% for all AP courses.

The course is rigorous and requires a strong foundation in biology as well as it expects students to engage in laboratory work, data analysis, and scientific writing, as well as to demonstrate critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

What are the topics covered in the AP Biology exam?

The following table provides an overview of the topics covered in AP Biology:

Chemistry of LifeStructure and chemical properties of water.
Makeup and properties of macromolecules.
Structure of DNA and RNA
Cell Structure and FunctionCellular components and functions of those components
Cell interaction with its environment
The cell membrane structure and function.
Cell regulatory mechanisms like osmosis and selective permeability
Cellular compartmentalization
Cellular EnergeticsThe structure and function of enzymes
The Role of energy in living systems
The processes of photosynthesis
The processes of cellular respiration
Molecular Diversity and cellular response to environmental changes
Cell Communication and Cell CycleThe mechanisms of cell communication
Signal transduction
Cellular Responses and feedback mechanisms
The events in a cell cycle
HeredityThe process and function of meiosis
The concepts of genetic diversity
Mendel’s laws and probability
Non-mendelian Inheritance
Factors affecting inheritance and gene expression
Gene Expression and RegulationThe roles and functions of DNA and RNA.
The mechanisms of gene expression
How genotype affects phenotype
Mutations, genetic diversity, and natural selection
Genetic engineering and biotechnology
Natural Selection and EvolutionEvidential support for evolution and common ancestry
The mechanisms of natural selection and speciation
Environmental and human-caused factors in the evolution
Charting species ancestry through phylogenetic trees and cladograms
Models of the Origin of life on Earth
EcologyCommunication and Responses to environmental changes
Energy flow within and across ecosystems
Factors in the growth, density, and success of populations.
Factors in community and ecosystem dynamics,invasive species, human interaction, and environmental changes
Topics covered in AP Biology

Exam Tip: AP Biology’s topics are complex and require a deep understanding of scientific principles, critical thinking, problem-solving skills, and the ability to analyze and interpret data from DNA to photosynthesis poses it’s own complications. Our expert-vetted tutors specialize in these areas, offering personalized support. Achieve a thorough understanding of every subject with our expert AP Biology Tutoring.

What determines the difficulty of AP Biology? 3 key factors

AP Biology is considered to be one of the more challenging AP courses offered by the College Board. The following are three key factors that contribute to the difficulty level of the course:

  1. Depth and breadth of content: AP Biology covers a wide range of topics, from molecular biology to ecology, requiring students to have a deep understanding of the subject matter. The course delves into complex topics such as genetics, evolution, and ecology, which can be challenging to grasp for students who are new to the subject. Moreover, the course requires students to not only memorize facts but also apply their knowledge to solve complex problems.
  2. Laboratory work: AP Biology also requires students to engage in laboratory work, which can be time-consuming and challenging. Laboratory work involves designing and conducting experiments, collecting and analyzing data, and writing scientific reports. These skills require attention to detail, precision, and critical thinking, which can be difficult to master.
  3. Exam Format: The AP Biology exam is challenging and rigorous, requiring students to answer multiple-choice and free-response questions that assess their understanding of the subject matter. The exam also includes a section on experimental design, which tests students’ ability to design and conduct experiments and analyze data. The exam is designed to assess students’ mastery of the course material and their ability to apply their knowledge to real-world problems.

Overall, the difficulty level of AP Biology can vary depending on the student’s background, interest, and dedication to the subject matter. However, with hard work, dedication, and a solid understanding of the subject matter, students can succeed in this challenging course. Students can enroll for a free trial lesson with Wiingy’s Expert AP Biology tutors to get one step ahead in acing their exams.

What is the AP Biology exam structure?

The AP Biology consists of two main sections: a multiple-choice section and a free-response section.

Here is a breakdown of the AP Biology exam format:

SectionNo. of QuestionsTopics CoveredWeightage
Multiple-choice questions60Cover a range of topics, including biochemistry,cellular structure, and function, genetics,ecology, and evolution.50%
Free response questions6(2 long and 4short-form questions)Long-form –  Design, and conduct experiments,analyze data, and interpret results
Short Form – Identify and explain biological concepts,analyze data sets, or solve problems related tobiological processes. 
AP Biology exam

Source: College Board

The AP Biology exam score ranges from 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest possible score. The scores are determined by a combination of the student’s performance on the multiple-choice and free-response sections of the exam. Scoring a 3, 4, or 5 is generally considered a good score on the exam. According to the 2022 AP score distributions, 15% of students who took the AP Biology exam received a score of 5, while 23.1% received a score of 4. 

How are the AP Biology exams scored?

The scoring system for AP Exams is based on a scale from 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest score.

The scores are determined by a combination of the student’s performance on the multiple-choice questions and the free-response questions.

The multiple-choice section accounts for 50% of the total score, while the free-response section accounts for the remaining 50%.

  • A score of 5 indicates that the student is extremely well-prepared for college-level biology and has a thorough and firm understanding of the subject matter.
  • A score of 4 indicates that the student is well-qualified and prepared for college-level biology and has a good understanding of the subject matter.
  • A score of 3 indicates that the student is adequately prepared for college-level biology and has a basic understanding of the subject matter.
  • A score of 2 indicates that the student is not adequately prepared for college-level biology and has a limited understanding of the subject matter.
  • A score of 1 indicates that the student has little or no understanding of the subject matter and is not prepared for college-level biology.

AP Biology Score Distribution:

The AP score distribution is a statistical representation of how students performed on each AP exam. It shows the percentage of students who earned each score (1, 2, 3, 4, or 5) in a given year.

AP Biology score distribution for 2022 is as below:

Exam ScoreNo. of studentsPercentage of students
AP Biology Score Distribution 2022

AP Biology Credit Policy:

Different colleges and universities have different policies regarding AP exam scores and credit. Some may award college credit for an AP Biology score of 4 or 5, while others may require a higher score or may not award credit at all.

For details refer to our AP Biology Credit Policy Guide.

AP Biology Exam Pass Rate and Mean Score Trends (2013-2022)

The pass rate for the AP Biology exam varies from year to year.

According to the College Board, which administers the AP program, in 2022, 67.5% of students who took the AP Biology exam received a score of 3 or higher, which is higher than the average pass rate of all AP subjects.

For year-on-year data, refer to the AP Biology Pass Score Trends Graph below:

Pass score trends of the AP Biology exam

Note that the College Board does not officially classify 3 as a passing score.

Notably the average pass rate across all AP exams has been consistently higher than AP Biology across these 10 years.

AP Biology is a popular exam for students interested in pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields.

237,338 students appeared for the AP physics exam taking it in 2022.

Another way to evaluate the difficulty of an AP exam is to look at the mean scores of the subject relative to overall mean scores for all AP exams.

The mean score on the exam for 2022 was 3.11 higher than the average of all AP subjects 2.92.

The mean score for AP Biology is consistently higher than the mean score for all subjects. but still AP Biology is among the most difficult AP Courses.

Refer year on year AP Biology Mean Score Trend Graph below:

Mean Score Trends of the AP Biology exam

How to study for the AP Biology exam?

Preparing for the AP Biology test requires dedication, discipline, and a structured approach. Here are some tips on how to study effectively for the exam:

  1. Review the course material: Before diving into the exam preparation, make sure to review the course material thoroughly. Review the textbook chapters, lecture notes, and lab reports.
  2. Practice problems: Practice problems are key to mastering the concepts and skills needed for the exam. Use the review materials provided by your teacher or textbook, or seek out additional resources online.
  3. Create flashcards: Flashcards can be a great way to memorize key concepts, equations, and terminology. Make a set of flashcards with important information and review them frequently.
  4. Join study groups: Study groups can provide an opportunity to work through challenging material with peers. Meet with other students to review material, discuss concepts, and work on practice problems together.
  5. Take practice exams: Practice exams can help you get familiar with the format and structure of the actual AP Biology test. Use past AP Biology Exams or practice tests from online resources.
  6. Seek out additional resources: There are many online resources available to help students prepare for the AP Biology Exam. Consider using online review materials, video tutorials, and online study groups. Some popular AP Biology exam prep resources include
  7. Take 1-1 private tuitions: The Wiingy AP Biology tutoring program adheres completely to the AP Biology course outline. The platform has expert AP Biology tutors who can help you with concepts, coursework homework help, and test-prep to help you get a top grade on the exam

Power Tip: Refer to the Wiingy AP Biology Exam Guide for detailed information on the AP Biology Exam and strategies to ace the test.

Remember, effective studying requires consistent effort over time. Start preparing early, stay focused, and stay positive.

In summary

AP Biology is a hard AP course but an enriching program that covers a variety of biological concepts from ecology to the chemistry of life.

In 2022, a total of 237,338 students worldwide took the AP Biology exam. The mean score for the exam was 3.1, slightly lower than the mean score for the previous year.

The percentage of students who received a passing score of 3 or higher in 2022 was 67.9%, which is higher than the average pass rate of all AP subjects.

AP Biology continues to attract a substantial number of students, with over 237,338 candidates in 2022, marking it as the 5th most enrolled AP exam.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

Is AP biology harder than college biology?

AP biology covers similar topics as introductory college biology, but the depth and rigor of the material covered may differ depending on the specific college or university. In general, college biology is more detailed and challenging than AP biology.

When is the AP Biology exam administered?

The AP Biology exam is typically administered in May each year. The specific date and time of the exam may vary depending on the testing location.

What is the hardest unit in AP Biology?

The hardest unit in AP biology can vary from student to student. However, many students find the unit Cellular Energetics to be particularly challenging, as it involves a deep understanding of both cellular and molecular biology. Other challenging units can include gene expression and regulation, as they involve complex concepts and require a strong foundation in scientific reasoning and data analysis.

What is the format of the AP Biology exam?

The AP Biology exam consists of multiple-choice and free-response questions. The multiple-choice section contains 60 questions, while the free-response section contains two long-form questions and four short-form questions.

What is the passing score for the AP Biology exam?

The passing score for the AP Biology exam is generally considered to be a 3, although the specific score required for credit or placement may vary by college or university.
Enjoyed our blog? Want to know more about AP courses? Read our latest blog on the hardest AP classes to know which classes by considered to be tough.

Written by by

Apoorvaa Agarwal

Reviewed by by

Priyanshi Agrawal

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