AP Biology Exam Information

Learn What Score You'll Need and What Course Credit You'll Receive

Crocodile Skeleton
Crocodile Skeleton. Rob and Stephanie Levy / Flickr

Biology is the most popular of the Advanced Placement natural science subjects, and over a quarter million students take the AP Biology exam every year. The great majority of colleges will offer course credit for an exam score of a 4 or 5, although there are a few highly selective schools that do not award either credit or course placement.

About the AP Biology Course and Exam

The AP Biology is a lab science course, and at least 25 percent of class time will be spent conducting hands-on laboratory learning.

Along with important terminology and biological principles, the course covers inquiry and reasoning skills that are central to the sciences.

The course is organized around four central ideas that are essential for understanding living organisms and biological system:

  • Evolution. Students must understand the various processes that drive genetic change.
  • Cellular Processes: Energy and Communication. This element of the course focuses on the ways that living systems capture energy and use feedback loops with their external environments.
  • Genetics and Information Transfer. Students learn about sexual and asexual reproduction and the ways in which genetic information is transmitted to offspring.
  • Interactions. From the cellular level to populations to entire ecosystems, biological systems rely upon various types of interactions. Students learn about both competition and cooperation.

AP Biology Score Information

In 2017, 254,270 students took the AP Biology exam, and the mean score was 2.90.

 162,969 (64%) of those students scored a 3 or higher indicating that they have proven a level of competency to potentially earn college credit. 

The distribution of scores for the AP Biology exam is as follows (2017 data):

  • 5 - 6.4%
  • 4 - 21.0%
  • 3 - 36.7%
  • 2 - 27.5%
  • 1 - 8.4%

Unlike the SAT or ACT, reporting AP test scores to colleges is typically optional, so a score of 1 or 2 won't necessarily hurt your college chances if you earned good grades in the class.

College Credit and Course Placement for AP Biology

Most colleges and universities have a science and lab requirement, so a high score on the AP Biology exam will sometimes fulfill this requirement.

The table below presents some representative data from a variety of colleges and universities. This information is meant to provide a general overview of the scoring and placement practices related to the AP Biology exam. For other schools, you'll need to explore the college website or contact the appropriate Registrar's office to get AP placement information.

Sample AP Biology Scores and Placement
CollegeScore NeededPlacement Credit
Georgia Tech5BIOL 1510 (4 semester hours)
Grinnell College4 or 54 semester credits; no placement
Hamilton College4 or 51 credit after completing a course beyond BIO 110
LSU3, 4 or 5BIOL 1201, 1202 (6 credits) for a 3; BIOL 1201, 1202, 1208, & 1209 (8 credits) for a 4 or 5
MIT-no credit or placement for AP Biology
Mississippi State University4 or 5BIO 1123 (3 credits) for a 4; BIO 1123 and BIO 1023 (6 credits) for a 5
Notre Dame4 or 5Biological Sciences 10101 (3 credits) for a 4; Biological Sciences 10098 and 10099 (8 credits) for a 5
Reed College4 or 51 credit; no placement
Stanford University-No credit for AP Biology
Truman State University3, 4 or 5BIOL 100 Biology (4 credits) for a 3; BIOL 107 Introductory Biology I (4 credits) for a 4 or 5
UCLA (School of Letters and Science)3, 4 or 58 credits; no placement
Yale University51 credit; MCDB 105a or b, 107a, 109b, or 120a

As you can see, some highly selective schools such as UCLA and Grinnell provide elective credits but no placement for a strong AP Biology score. Stanford and MIT have even less confidence in the course and exam, and those schools offer no credit or placement. 

A Final Word About AP Biology

AP Biology can be an excellent choice for students who are planning a pre-health or pre-vet track in college. This are typically rigorous and structured academic paths, so placing out of a course gives you valuable flexibility in your college schedule. And, of course, you'll be entering college with some college-level biology under your belt. AP Chemistry and AP Calculus can also be valuable for students planning to major in STEM fields.

Whatever you plan to study in college, taking Advanced Placement classes strengthen your college applications.

 A strong academic record is the most important piece of the admissions equation, and success in challenging college-preparatory classes such as Advanced Placement is one of the most meaningful ways that a college can predict your college preparedness.