What You Need to Know About the AP Biology Exam (page 2)
The Advanced Placement program was begun by the College Board in 1955 to construct standard achievement exams that would allow highly motivated high school students the opportunity to be awarded advanced placement as first-year students in colleges and universities in the United States. Today, more than a million students from every state in the nation and from foreign countries take the annual AP exams in May.
The AP programs are designed for high school students who wish to take college-level courses. In our case, the AP Biology course and exam are designed to involve high school students in college-level biology studies.
Who Writes the AP Biology Exam
After extensive surfing of the College Board Website, here is what I have uncovered. The AP Biology exam is created by a group of college and high school Biology instructors known as the AP Development Committee. The committee’s job is to ensure that the annual AP Biology exam reflects what is being taught and studied in college-level biology classes at high schools.
This committee writes a large number of multiple-choice questions, which are pretested and evaluated for clarity, appropriateness, and range of possible answers. The committee also generates a pool of essay questions, pretests them, and chooses those questions that best represent the full range of the scoring scale, which will allow the AP readers to evaluate the essays equitably.
It is important to remember that the AP Biology exam is thoroughly evaluated after it is administered each year. This way, the College Board can use the results to make course suggestions and to plan future tests.
The AP Grades and Who Receives Them
Once you have taken the exam and it has been scored, your test will be graded with one of five numbers by the College Board:
- A 5 indicates that you are extremely well qualified.
- A 4 indicates that you are well qualified.
- A 3 indicates that you are adequately qualified.
- A 2 indicates that you are possibly qualified.
- A 1 indicates that you are not qualified to receive college credit.
A grade of 5, 4, 3, 2, or 1 will usually be reported by early July.
Reasons for Taking the AP Biology Exam
Why put yourself through a year of intensive study, pressure, stress, and preparation? Only you can answer that question. Following are some of the reasons that students have indicated to us for taking the AP exam:
For personal satisfaction.
To compare themselves with other students across the nation.
Because colleges look favorably on the applications of students who elect to enroll in AP courses.
To receive college credit or advanced standing at their colleges or universities.
Because they love the subject.
So that their families will be really proud of them.
There are plenty of other reasons, but no matter what they might be, the primary reason for your enrolling in the AP Biology course and taking the exam in May is to feel good about yourself and the challenges you have met.
Questions Frequently Asked About the AP Biology Exam
Here are some common questions students have about the AP Biology exam and some answers to those questions.
If I Don’t Take an AP Biology Course, Can I Still Take the AP Biology Exam?
Yes. Although the AP Biology exam is designed for students who have had a year’s course in AP Biology, some high schools do not offer this type of course. Many students in these high schools have also done well on the exam, although they had not taken the course. However, if your high school does offer an AP Biology course, by all means take advantage of it and the structured background it will provide you.
How Is the Advanced Placement Biology Exam Organized?
The exam has two parts and is scheduled to last 3 hours. The first section is a set of 100 multiple-choice questions. You will have 80 minutes to complete this part of the test.
After you complete the multiple-choice section, you will hand in your test booklet and scan sheet, and you will be given a brief break. The length of this break depends on the particular administrator. You will not be able to return to the multiple-choice questions when you return to the examination room.
The second section of the exam is a 100-minute essay-writing segment consisting of four mandatory, free-response questions that cover broad topics. This 100-minute section will be split into a 10-minute reading followed by a 90-minute writing period. On average, one essay question covers material relating to molecules and cells, another essay is an examination of heredity and evolution, and two of the questions come from the material relating to organisms and populations. At least one of the essays will ask you to analyze experimental data and perhaps even design an experiment of your own.
Must I Check the Box at the End of the Essay Booklet That Allows AP Staff to Use My Essays as Samples for Research?
No. This is simply a way for the College Board to make certain they have your permission if they decide to use one or more of your essays as a model. The readers of your essays pay no attention to whether or not that box is checked. Checking the box will not affect your grade.
How Is the Multiple-Choice Section Scored?
The scan sheet with your answers is run through a computer, which counts the number of wrong answers and subtracts a fraction of that number from the number of correct answers. The AP Biology questions usually have five choices, and the fraction is one fourth. A question left blank receives a zero. The formula for this calculation looks something like this (where N = the number of answers):
Nright - (Nwrong X 0.25) = raw score rounded up or down to nearest whole number
How Are My Free-Response Answers Scored?
Each of your essays is read by a different, trained AP reader called a faculty consultant. The AP/College Board members have developed a highly successful training program for their readers, providing many opportunities for checks and double checks of essays to ensure a fair and equitable reading of each essay.
The scoring guides are carefully developed by a chief faculty consultant, a question leader, table leaders, and content experts. All faculty consultants are then trained to read and score just one essay question on the exam. They actually become experts in that one essay question. No one knows the identity of any writer. The identification numbers and names are covered, and the exam booklets are randomly distributed to the readers in packets of 25 randomly chosen essays. Table leaders and the question leader review samples of each reader’s scores to ensure that quality standards are constant.
Each essay is scored on a scale from 1 to 10. Once your essay is graded on this scale, the next set of calculations is completed.
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