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4 Top Tips to Make AP Biology FRQs a Breeze

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Posted by Christine Sarikas | Mar 19, 2022 8:00:00 AM

Advanced Placement (AP)



AP Biology is known for being one of the tougher AP exams, and, for most students, the free-response section is the hardest part of the test. In 2021, the average score for every free-response question was less than a 50%! However, knowing what to expect can make it easier to get a great score on AP Biology FRQ. And in this guide, we explain everything you need to know to ace this section. Read on to learn the format of AP Biology FRQ, what graders are looking for, what the questions will look like, and what you can do to be well-prepared on exam day.


What's the Format of the AP Biology Free Response Section?

The AP Biology exam has two sections: multiple choice and free response. The free-section comes second and contains six questions:

  • Two long-response questions, both with a focus on analyzing experimental results. The second long question will require you to create a graph.
  • Four short-answer questions on the following topics in this order:
    • Scientific Investigation
    • Conceptual Analysis
    • Analysis of Model or Visual Representation
    • Analysis of Data


  • The free-response section is 90 minutes long
  • It's worth 50% of your total score
  • You're able to use the AP Biology formula sheet for the entire section

Long questions are worth 8-10 points each, whereas short-answer questions are each worth 4 points. It's recommended that you spend about 25 minutes on each long question and about 10 minutes on each short question (although you'll decide yourself how long you spend on each question).

The AP Biology test expects you to know how to:

  • Understand how graphical and mathematical models can be used to explain biological principles and concepts
  • Make predictions and justify events based on biological principles
  • Implement your knowledge of proper experimental design
  • Interpret data


AP Biology Sample Free Response Questions 

Now we'll go through two AP Biology free response example questions: one long question and one short question. These questions both were used for the 2021 AP Biology exam. You can see answers and scoring for each of the 2021 AP Biology FRQs here.


Long Question

First let's look at one of the long questions. This is Question 2, so remember you'll need to create a graph for at least one part of it. The entire question is worth 8 points.





Part A (1 point)

For Part A, you'll need to know about glucose molecules and how they're formed. This isn't information included in the diagrams or tables; you're expected to come into the test knowing it. For the answer, the atoms are carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen (C, H, and O), and they're held together by covalent bonds. You need to give both the correct atoms and correct bond to get the point.


Part B (4 points)

First, you need to create a graph based on the data in Table 1. The graph is worth 3 points: 1 for axis labels, 1 for the correct plotting in the bar graph, and 1 for the error bars. Here's an example of a graph that would get full points:


You're then asked to give one individual who is both at risk of developing the disorder and who has a significantly different blood glucose level from that of individual IV-1. The answer is IV-3, and you get one point for answering correctly.


Part C (1 point)

For Part C, you must identify all individuals in generation IV who can pass the mutation on to their children. You'll need to look at the diagram and both tables to get your answer. There are three individuals that fit: IV-1, IV-2, and IV-4. You need to list all three in order to get the point.


Part D (2 points)

For the final part of the question, you're given a hypothesis and asked to predict which individuals will be affected by the disorder if the claim is true. You'll need to look at Figure 1 to get the answer. Two individuals will be affected: III-4 and III-8. You need to list both to get the point. For the second part, there are two potential answers:
  • The data do not support the claim because females III-2 and III-6 have the disorder and, if inheritance was X-linked recessive, they'd only have the disorder if their father II-1 had the disorder, which he does not.
  • The data supports mitochondrial inheritance because all of the offspring of individual II-2 , not just the sons, have the disorder.

Giving one of those answers is worth one point.




Short Question

Next is a short question. It's question 3 in the free-response section which means it will focus on scientific investigation. It's worth a total of four points.



Part A (1 point)

For Part A you get the point for stating that more ATP is produced by aerobic respiration.


Part B (1 point)

There are two potential answers; you only need to include one:
  • The researchers must run the experiment without adding resveratrol.
  • The researchers must treat the cells with DMSO alone.


Part C (1 point)

There are two potential answers; you only need to include one:

  • No ATP production
  • Reduced ATP production


Part D (1 point)

For Part D, you must state that more electrons can be transferred so that more oxygen is required as the final electron acceptor.


Where to Find AP Biology FRQs

Taking practice tests and answering practice questions is one of the best ways to prepare for any AP exam, including AP Biology FRQs. Fortunately, the College Board, who creates and administers AP courses and exams, has made dozens of old AP Bio FRQs available for free online. Because there are so many official FRQs available, we recommend only using them instead of looking online for unofficial questions (those not created by the College Board), which can be hit or miss in terms of quality. However, if you're using an AP Biology prep book, they often have solid FRQs. For advice on which prep book to get, check out our guide on the best AP Biology prep books.

Here are links to the FRQs:


Additionally, the AP Biology Course and Exam Description includes two up-to-date FRQs, beginning on page 206.

Note that, until 2020, the AP Bio exam had six short-answer questions instead of the current four. This means that questions from 2019 and earlier will have a different format and slightly different content. They can still be useful to study, but be aware of the differences between them and the current free-response section.




4 Tips for AP Biology FRQs

When you're studying for AP Bio FRQs and actually taking the exam, there are a lot of things to remember to ensure you do your absolute best. Keep these four tips in mind throughout the year and on exam day.


#1: Know Your 13 Required Labs

There are 13 labs you're required to complete during the AP Biology course. Questions that relate at least in part to these labs make up 25% of the AP Biology exam. It’s important to understand how these labs are conducted and how the principles behind them relate to the main ideas of the course. This will help in answering both free-response and multiple-choice questions that deal with lab scenarios on the test. There's a nice overview of each of the 13 labs on this site that can refresh your memory, and we link to in-depth explanations of each of the labs in our AP Biology study guide.

You should also know general lab skills. Many free-response questions ask you to identify the components of a proposed experiment (dependent and independent variables) or to design a lab to test a certain hypothesis. You might have forgotten about the labs you did toward the beginning of the year, so take extra care to go over them. Make sure that you understand just how they were conducted and what the results mean.


#2: Eliminate Irrelevant Information

Free-response AP Biology questions (especially the long questions) include lots of scientific terminology and visual aids, and this kind of format might be intimidating if you’re not used to it. It’s important to practice sorting through this jumble of information so that you can quickly get to the root of the question rather than obsessing over small details you don’t understand.

Try underlining important words and phrases in the question to help you stay focused on the main points and avoid misleading distractions.

You should also practice responding to free-response questions in a straightforward way without any unnecessary fluff. Remember, this isn’t an English test; the graders are just looking for clear facts and analysis. Make it easy for them to give you points!


#3: Draw During Studying

If you're feeling shaky on your knowledge of a process or system in AP Biology, one helpful strategy is to draw it. This will both reinforce what you know and highlight what you still need to work on learning. Once you're able to draw an accurate diagram of a system or process without looking at your notes, you can feel confident that you know exactly how it works.

For example, you could challenge yourself to draw a diagram of a cell membrane, label its different components, and explain their significance. You could also draw a process like mitosis that happens in clear visual stages, or a more complex process like cellular respiration where you might focus on one aspect at a time (glycolysis, Krebs cycle, electron transport chain). You can also apply this tip during the exam, if you need help visualizing part of an AP Bio FRQ.


#4: Pay Attention to the Clock

Time is always tight on AP exams. For the AP Biology free response section, you get 90 minutes to answer six questions. It can be easy to get caught up on one question and suddenly realize you're nearly out of time but haven't had a chance to look at some of the questions, let alone answer them. Don't let this happen to you! We recommend spending 25 minutes on each of the two long questions and 10 minutes on each of the four short questions. You don't need to keep perfectly to that plan, but don't get too far off it, either. 

At the very least, make note of where you are halfway through the free-response section (that's 45 minutes in). If you're roughly halfway finished with the section (taking into account that long questions take about twice as much time to complete as short questions), you're doing well. If you're significantly behind that, you know you need to pick up the pace.

Also, don't feel you need to answer the FRQ in the order they're listed. We recommend skimming through each of the questions at the start of the section, then tackling the questions that seem easiest first so you can spend more time on trickier questions.


Summary: Acing the AP Biology Free Response Section

The AP Biology free-response section can be tough, but if you prepare well for it, you can go into exam day confident and knowing what to expect. The section consists of two long questions and four short questions, lasts 90 minutes, and is worth half of your total score. You'll need to create a graph for the second AP biology FRQ. Old exam questions are a great study resource and, when you're preparing for the free-response section, keep these four tips in mind:

  • Know your labs
  • Eliminate irrelevant information
  • Make drawings while studying
  • Stay aware of time


What's Next?

How should you study for the AP Biology exam? Our expert article goes over all 5 steps to take during your AP Biology review.

What is the rest of the AP Biology exam like? Our article on the AP Biology exam goes over every question type you can expect to see as well as tips for answering them.

Looking for an easier AP class than Biology? Learn which AP classes tend to be the least challenging for students.


Looking for help studying for your AP exam?

Our one-on-one online AP tutoring services can help you prepare for your AP exams. Get matched with a top tutor who got a high score on the exam you're studying for!

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Christine Sarikas
About the Author

Christine graduated from Michigan State University with degrees in Environmental Biology and Geography and received her Master's from Duke University. In high school she scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT and was named a National Merit Finalist. She has taught English and biology in several countries.

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