AP Biology Overview
AP Biology is roughly equivalent to an entry level College Biology course, and covers a breadth of topics including genetics, ecology, evolution, cellular processes, information transfer, and more. 25% of the course time is spent in the lab environment where students conduct hands-on investigations and apply scientific practices. Prerequisites for AP Biology include high-school level chemistry and biology courses.
We’ll cover the course, exams, and our picks for the best AP Biology books, Flashcards, and Review Guides for test year 2020 below, but if you just can’t wait, here’s our short list:
A full Course Description for AP Biology is available from collegeboard.org.
The AP Biology course is comprised of material covering 4 main concepts:
- The process of evolution explains the diversity and unity of life.
- Biological systems use energy to grow, reproduce, and maintain homeostasis.
- Living systems store, transmit, receive and respond to information.
- Biological systems interact, and these systems and interactions have complex properties.
When investigating the main concepts outlined above, the scientific method is used to define and test hypothesis which explain the natural phenomena around us. This requires students to:
- Use models and representations to communicate and solve problems.
- Evaluate evidence and analyze data, using mathematics where appropriate.
- Plan and execute data collection strategies.
- Pose theories and work with scientific explanations of observable phenomena.
Through the use of inquiry-based investigations, students are provided with the opportunity to learn through asking questions, making observations and predictions, designing experiments and collecting data, and finally constructing arguments with answers to the questions posed. These techniques are directly applicable to the practice of scientific inquiry outside the classroom setting.
Students taking the AP Biology Exam are responsible for demonstrating knowledge of each of the above mentioned learning objectives and scientific investigation techniques. It assess a student’s ability to:
- Answer questions using mathematics (including symbolically).
- Design experiments, describe the designs, analyze data and potential sources of error.
- Explain answers in a way that clearly illustrates deeper understanding of the overarching concepts.
- Build and describe conceptual models.
Since the exam includes a non-trivial amount of mathematics based assessment, students are allowed to use a basic 4 function calculator (see the collegeboard calculator policy), and are given a list of common formulas.
The AP Biology test is comprised of 2 sections (multiple choice and free form response), each of which make up 50% of the overall score.
The Multiple Choice section:
- 1 hour and 30 minutes long and consists of 69 multiple choice biology questions.
- It accounts for 50% of the overall exam score.
- 63 multiple choice questions either discrete or in sets.
- 6 discrete multiple choice questions integrating mathematics and biology.
The Free Response section:
- 1 hour and 30 minutes long (including 10 minute reading period) and contains 8 questions.
- It accounts for 50% of the overall exam score.
- 2 Long free response questions based on lab data.
- 6 Short free response questions (1 paragraph in length).
For exam dates, refer to The College Board AP Calendar.
Best AP Biology Books
AP Biology has several strong contenders for the best textbooks and review guides which we’ve ranked for you above. Continue on for detailed information on each one!
Pros: Comprehensive coverage of all test topics.
Cons: Relatively pricey.
Best For: Supplementing other course textbooks.
Our Rating: 5 / 5
Campbell Biology AP Edition is among the highest recommended AP Biology textbooks recommended by teachers (and this site’s staff alike). It has a wealth of information spanning all of the course and exam key areas of focus, and can help jump start your test preparations. This is a full textbook and not a review guide, but the materials inside are critical to the success of students on the AP Biology exam. Key features:
- Over 1400 pages covering the breadth and depth of exam topics.
- Review questions for the material covered.
- Diagrams and illustrations help communicate key concepts and ideas.
If you’re looking for last minute cramming materials, this is probably not the right choice. However, for students planning well ahead, this book is perhaps the most comprehensive resource available. It’s a full fledged college level textbook, which can be used to supplement the one used in your course. Overall, a great resource, though the price tag may be too high for some.
Cracking the AP Biology Exam
Pros: Full length practice tests and end-of-chapter drills.
Cons: Some small errors in practice test explanations.
Best For: Students looking to supplement other materials throughout the course and leading up to the exam.
Our Rating: 5 / 5
Princeton Review produces very high quality review materials for the tests they cover, and Cracking the AP Biology Exam is no exception. This book is a valuable resource for any student preparing themselves for the AP Biology Exam. Key features include:
- 2 full length practice tests.
- Up to date information on current year tests.
- Practice drills at the end of each chapter.
- Lists of key terms to help you focus studies.
With its low price tag and useful content, Cracking the AP Biology Exam is ranked as our best overall value on this list. It has a high level overview of the material covered at the beginning and walks the reader through creation of a study plan tailored to their individual needs. It includes plenty of charts and images, which helps keeps the content easy to consume.
Barron’s AP Biology
Pros: Tons of useful practice tests, multiple choice and free response sample questions.
Cons: Some content is not directly applicable to the AP Biology exam.
Best For: Practice problems and review after a solid grasp of the material has been attained.
Our Rating: 4.5 / 5
As with most of their guides, Barron’s AP Biology is a hugely useful resource, and our pick for “Best Value”. The review guide comes bundled with access to 2 full length online practice tests (complete with answers and detailed explanations for each question), and is currently on it’s 6th edition. It also includes hundreds of practice questions for free response and multiple choice sections of the exam. The full list of features include:
- Two full length practice exams (with answers and explanations).
- Hundreds of multiple choice and free response practice questions.
- Optional CD ROM version containing additional test materials.
Barron’s AP Biology is widely praised by teachers and students as being one of the best resource for students. Given it’s wide range of bonus materials, detailed coverage of the course work, and very modest price-tag, you can’t go wrong here.
AP Biology Crash Course
Pros: Narrow focus on exam questions and topics.
Cons: Doesn't cover material as thoroughly as other resources.
Best For: Last minute prep leading up to the exam.
Our Rating: 4 / 5
AP Biology Crash Course aims to cut out the fluff, and cover only materials required for the actual exam. Perfect for the student who is short on study time, or otherwise looking for a quick and relevant review prior to taking the AP Biology test. Features included in the book:
- Detailed test-taking strategies for both multiple choice and essay sections of the AP Biology exam.
- Glossary of key terms you will be expected to know.
- A full length practice test with automatic scoring and relevant questions
The Ap Biology Crash Course book is regularly recommended by teachers, and is a fantastic last-minute review prior to the exam. Overall, it’s best used as a supplement to another more comprehensive resource, but it definitely has a strong place in the list of Best AP Biology books.
Best AP Biology Flashcards
In addition to the excellent books mentioned above, AP Biology students will see significant benefits in prepping for the exam using flashcards. Our top picks for Best AP Biology Flashcards are outlined below.
Barron’s AP Biology Flash Cards
Pros: Comprehensive coverage of major exam concepts and topics.
Cons: Lack of digital format option.
Our Rating: 5 / 5
Barron’s AP Biology Flash Cards are physical flashcards covering 20 general biology categories. As one might expect, these flashcards pair well with the Barron’s AP Biology book mentioned above. Key features include:
- Over 450 cards covering 20 topics.
- Introductory cards describing the AP Biology exam in detail.
The AP Biology course covers far more information and concepts than can be expressed in flashcard form, but these serve as a fantastic aid leading up to the exam. The flashcards help make the chore of repetitive memorization more tolerable, and they complement any of the above review guides or your course textbook very well.
5 Steps to a 5 (Biology)
Pros: Comprehensive coverage of major exam concepts and topics, with physical and digital format available.
Cons: No recent edition, some material no longer applicable.
Our Rating: 4 / 5
5 Steps to a 5 (Biology) is a set of AP Biology flashcards available in physical or kindle formats. The set includes over 600 cards spanning the whole subject area covered in the exam. Key Features include:
- 600 terms covered.
- One term per card with bulleted key information on each.
- Multiple formats (kindle and physical) available.
The flashcard set serves as a fantastic supplement to the above listed review guides or your course textbook. Its multiple formats (kindle, physical) ensure you have a access to the materials in a way that suits your particular needs.
AP Biology is one of the most popular Advanced Placement tests, and strongly recommended for students on a pre-med track. There’s a ton of content in the course and exam, so supplementing your course materials with review guides, flashcards, and other resources is a fantastic idea.
We’ve rounded up a short list of the best AP Biology materials to help any student succeed. Which one is right for you depends on your individual circumstances. To recap our recommendations:
|Top Overall Recommendation||Cracking The AP Biology Exam|
|Top Pick For Supplemental Textbook||Campbell Biology|
|Top Pick For Course Supplement||Cracking The AP Biology Exam|
|Top Pick For Last Minute Prep||AP Biology Crash Course|
|Top Pick For Flashcards||Barron’s AP Biology Flash Cards|
For Students who’ve planned far ahead and are looking for material to supplement their assigned course textbooks, we recommend Campbell Biology or Cracking the AP Biology Exam. Campbell Biology is a full blown textbook (with a big price-tag), while Cracking the AP Biology Exam is a more modestly priced review guide focused on the AP Biology exam and course.
Students in more of a time crunch will be better off with AP Biology Crash Course, which cuts out a lot of the fluff and keeps a narrow focus on the exam contents. Likewise, Students looking for flashcard systems are recommended to pick up Barron’s AP Biology Flash Cards.
Whatever your circumstance, supplemental study and review materials are a key part of ensuring success on the exam. We’ve listed some of the best AP Biology resources available. Good luck, and study hard!