How to Approach Each Question Type on the AP Biology Exam (page 2)
You have 48 seconds per question on the multiple-choice section of this exam. Remember that to ensure a great score on this exam, you need to correctly answer about 60 multiple choice questions or more. Here are a few rules of thumb:
1. Don’t out-think the test. It is indeed possible to be too smart for these tests. Frequently during these standardized tests I have found myself overanalyzing every single problem. If you encounter a question such as, “During what phase of meiosis does crossover (also referred to as crossing over) occur?” and you happen to know the answer immediately, this does not mean that the question is too easy. First, give yourself credit for knowing a fact. They asked you something, you knew it, and wham, you fill in the bubble. Do not overanalyze the question and assume that your answer is too obvious for that question. Just because you get it doesn’t mean that it was too easy.
2. Don’t be afraid to leave questions blank. This exam penalizes the random guess. It will take off 1/4 point for each wrong answer you give. For this reason, I do not recommend that you wildly guess at questions simply because you don’t want to leave anything blank. Think of it this way—let’s say you knew the answer to only 63 out of 100 multiple-choice questions. Imagine that you left the other 37 questions blank—unanswered. If you somehow get all 63 questions right, that gives you a Section 1 raw total of about 48 points. (Look back at the discussion on scoring if I have confused you.) Now, to get a 4 on this AP exam, you need to get approximately 50% of the essays correct. But if you randomly guessed on those 37 blank questions, you may need to do better on the essays to get that 4. A random guess is bad; an educated guess is good. If you can eliminate answers that you know for sure are not the right answers, and get it down to two or three choices, go for it! Take a stab! But no random pick guesses, please!
3. Be on the lookout for trick wording! Always pay attention to words or phrases such as “least,” “most,” “not,” “incorrectly,” and “does not belong.” Do not answer the wrong question. There are few things as annoying as getting a 1/4 point off on this test simply because you didn’t read the question carefully enough, especially if you know the right answer.
4. Use your time carefully. You have 45 seconds per question on the multiple-choice section of this exam. If you find yourself struggling on a question, try not to waste too much time on it. Circle it in the booklet and come back to it later if time permits. Remember that to ensure a great score on this exam, you need to correctly answer about 60 multiple-choice questions or more—this test should be an exercise in window shopping. It does not matter which questions you get correct. What is important is that you answer enough questions correctly. Find the subjects that you know the best, answer those questions, and save the others for review later on.
5. Be careful about changing answers! If you have answered a question already, come back to it later on, and get the urge to change it . . . make sure that you have a real reason to change it. Often an urge to change an answer is the work of exam “elves” in the room who want to trick you into picking a wrong answer. Change your answer only if you can justify your reasons for making the switch.
The free-response section consists of four broad questions. It is important that your answers to these questions display solid reasoning and analytical skills. Each of the four essays carries the same weight when determining your final score.
The free-response section usually includes one question on molecules and cells, one on genetics and evolution, and two on organisms and populations. There is some overlap between these areas, so it is possible for some questions to cover more than one topic. Expect to use data or information from your laboratories as you answer the questions. It is actually not unusual for one of the free-response questions to focus on one of the labs you completed during the year.
Remember to write all answers to the free-response questions in essay form. Outlines and unlabeled diagrams are not acceptable final answers.
It is important to familiarize yourself with the directions for each section of the exam prior to test day. The directions for the free-response section appear as follows:
Directions: Answer all questions
Answers must be in essay form. Outline form is not acceptable. Labeled diagrams may be used to supplement discussion, but in no case will a diagram alone suffice. It is important that you read each question completely before you begin to write. Write all of your answers on the pages following the questions in the booklet.
Some important tips to keep in mind as you write your essays:
• The free-response questions tend to be multipart questions. You can’t be expected to know everything about every topic, and the test preparers throw you a bone by writing questions that ask you to answer two of three parts or three of four parts. This gives you an opportunity to focus in on the material that you are most comfortable with. It is very important that you read the question carefully to make sure you understand exactly what the examiners are asking you to do.
• You are given 90 minutes to complete four free-response questions. This translates to 22.5 minutes per question. This may not seem like a lot of time, but if you write a bunch of practice essays before you take the exam and budget your time wisely during the exam, you will not have to struggle with your timing. Below is a suggested time budget for a typical free-response question:
First 3 minutes:
Read the question and make sure you know what it is asking you to do.
Minutes 4 through 6:
Construct an outline that will help you organize your answer. Don’t write the world’s most elaborate outline. You won’t get points for having the prettiest outline in the country—so there is no reason to spend an excessive amount of time putting it together. Just develop enough of an outline so that you have a basic idea of how you will construct your essay. Your essay is not graded based on how well it is put together, but it certainly will not hurt your score to write a well-organized and grammatically correct response.
The remaining time:
Write your essay with the remaining time. If it is a two-part question, spend 7–8 minutes on each part. If it is a three-part question, spend 5–6 minutes on each part. Keep your eye on the clock and make sure you give yourself enough time to address each part of the question.
• Each of the four free-response questions on the AP Biology exam is worth the same number of points. But each question is not created equal. Some questions ask you to answer two sub-questions. Some questions ask you to answer three sub-questions, and some questions ask you to answer four sub-questions. The free-response questions are graded in a way that forces you to provide information for each section of the question. There are a maximum number of points that you can get for each subsection. For example, in a question that asks you to answer three sub-questions, most likely the grader’s guidelines will say something along the lines of:
Part A — worth a maximum of 3 points
Part B — worth a maximum of 4 points
Part C — worth a maximum of 3 points
This is a very important thing for you to know heading into the exam. This means that it is far more important for you to attempt to answer every part of the question than to try to stuff every little fact that you know about part A into that portion of the essay at the expense of part B. Based on the grading guideline above, no matter how well you write your answer for part A, you can receive at most 3 points for that section. At the risk of being repetitive, I’ll say it again because it is so important . . . No matter how great your essay may be, the grader can only give you the maximum possible number of points for each subsection.
• The free-response section is graded using a “positive scoring” system. This means that wrong information in an essay is ignored. You do not lose points for saying things that are incorrect. (Unfortunately you do not get points for saying things that are incorrect either . . . if only!) The importance of this fact is basically that if you are unsure about something and think you may be right, give it a shot and include it in your essay. It’s worth the risk.
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