What Is AP Biology?

High school students using a microscope

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AP Biology is a course taken by high school students in order to gain credit for introductory college-level biology courses. Taking the course itself is not enough to gain college-level credit. Students enrolled in the AP Biology course must also take the AP Biology exam. Most colleges will give credit for entry-level biology courses for students who earn a score of 3 or better on the exam.

The AP Biology course and exam are offered by the College Board. This examination board manages standardized tests in the United States. In addition to Advanced Placement tests, the College Board also manages the SAT, PSAT, and College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) tests.

Enrolling in an AP Biology Course

Enrollment in this course is dependent upon the qualifications set up by your high school. Some schools may only allow you to enroll in the course if you have taken and performed well in prerequisite classes. Others may allow you to enroll in the AP Biology course without taking prerequisite classes. Talk to your school counselor about the necessary steps to take to enroll in the course. It is important to note that this course is fast-paced and designed to be at a college level. Anyone wishing to take this course should be prepared to work hard and spend time in class, as well as outside of class, in order to do well in this course.

Topics in an AP Biology Course

The AP Biology course will cover several biology topics. Some topics in the course and the exam will be covered more extensively than others. Topics covered in the course include, but are not limited to:

  • Cells and Cellular Reactions
  • Genetics and Heredity
  • Molecular Biology
  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Evolution
  • Ecology


The AP Biology course includes 13 lab exercises that are designed to aid in your understanding and mastery of the topics covered in the course. Topics covered in the labs include:

  • Lab 1: Artificial Selection
  • Lab 2: Mathematical Modeling
  • Lab 3: Comparing DNA Sequences
  • Lab 4: Diffusion & Osmosis
  • Lab 5: Photosynthesis
  • Lab 6: Cell Respiration
  • Lab 7: Cell Division: Mitosis & Meiosis
  • Lab 8: Biotechnology: Bacterial Transformation
  • Lab 9: Biotechnology: Restriction Enzyme Analysis of DNA
  • Lab 10: Energy Dynamics
  • Lab 11: Transpiration
  • Lab 12: Fruit Fly Behavior
  • Lab 13: Enzyme Activity

AP Biology Exam

The AP Biology exam itself lasts about three hours and contains two sections. Each section counts for 50% of the exam grade. The first section includes multiple-choice and grid-in questions. The second section contains eight essay questions: two long and six short free-response questions. There is a required reading period before the student can begin writing the essays.

The grading scale for this exam is from 1 to 5. Earning credit for a college-level biology course depends on the standards set by each individual institution, but typically a score of 3 to 5 will be sufficient to gain credit.

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Bailey, Regina. "What Is AP Biology?" ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, thoughtco.com/what-is-ap-biology-373264. Bailey, Regina. (2020, August 26). What Is AP Biology? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-ap-biology-373264 Bailey, Regina. "What Is AP Biology?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-ap-biology-373264 (accessed April 1, 2023).