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The Best AP Biology Notes to Study With

Posted by Samantha Lindsay | Nov 4, 2018 9:39:00 AM

Advanced Placement (AP)



It's natural for your in-class notes to get a little disorganized in a course that covers as much material as AP Biology. If you're missing a couple of sections of notes or if you just want to see a clearer outline of how the course is structured, this article will be helpful. I've compiled all the information you need to know for the AP Biology test in the form of links to online notes and descriptions of labs. I'll also follow up with some tips on using these notes effectively.


How to Use These AP Biology Notes

The notes in this article can be used to study for tests throughout the year that deal with smaller portions of the curriculum, or they can be referenced in your studying for the final exam. In both cases, supplement them with information from a textbook and/or review book.

You should also incorporate practice questions, quizzes, and tests into your studying to solidify your knowledge of the material. You can find these resources in my AP Biology study guide, a review book, your textbook, or the materials provided by your teacher. In-class tests, quizzes, and labs are also useful study aids.

Don’t just read through the notes once and expect to do well! Since AP Biology requires a significant amount of analysis and critical thinking beyond memorization, you need to practice answering questions that test skills beyond the basic knowledge you’ll get from the notes.

If you’re using these notes to study for a particular portion of the AP Biology course, you can find the appropriate topic area in the list below. I’ve organized the topics according to the four Big Ideas of the course so that you can find the unit you're looking for more easily.

If you’re using these notes to study for the final exam, assess your strengths and weaknesses first so that you can prioritize the right content areas. Take a diagnostic test to determine how high you’re currently scoring and which types of questions give you the most trouble. You can use a test from a review book, or you can use one that you find online (just make sure it's the new version with 69 questions on the multiple choice section!). Print it out and give yourself the appropriate amount of time for each section so that you’re not caught off-guard by time constraints on the real exam.


body_takingatest.jpgIf you're practicing for in-class tests, you should also rehearse your creepy stare so that your teacher will be too terrified to give you anything less than an A.


AP Biology Notes

In this section, I’ll give you links to some resources for notes on every aspect of the AP Biology curriculum. Make sure you supplement them with class notes and records of your lab assignments.



I found some of the most comprehensive and up-to-date AP Biology notes on CourseNotes. I’ve provided links to notes on specific topics to make it easier for you to target areas that are difficult for you. One downside to these notes is that there’s a ton of text and no pictures to break it up. If you find that this format doesn’t work well for you, consider getting a review book or consulting one of the other resources I’ll list in the next section.


Big Idea 1: The Process of Evolution Drives the Diversity and Unity of Life



Big Idea 2: Biological Systems Utilize Free Energy and Molecular Building Blocks to Grow, to Reproduce and to Maintain Dynamic Homeostasis



Big Idea 3: Living Systems Store, Receive, Transmit and Respond to Information Essential to Life Processes



Big Idea 4: Biological Systems Interact, and These Systems and Their Interactions Possess Complex Properties



body_bigidea.jpgSo many Big Ideas!


Other Content Resources

There are also a couple additional places where you can find notes on specific sections of the course. These resources are slightly outdated (they're tailored to the format of either the pre-2012 AP Biology curriculum or older textbooks), but they still contain information that may be useful in your studying. This page, for example, has notes on most topics covered in the current curriculum.

There are also these notes on the 7th edition of the Campbell textbook; it’s not the most recent version of the book, but it might be helpful. The main difference between these notes and the notes in the previous section is that they aren't organized by Big Idea (the Big Ideas are an innovation of the new AP Biology curriculum), so it's not as easy to connect terms and concepts to larger themes as you review.


Lab Summaries

There are thirteen labs included in the AP Biology curriculum. Here’s a link to a page that briefly goes through all of the labs you’ll complete in a standard AP Biology class. Labs are also categorized by "Big Idea." If you're using these documents to review your lab assignments, skip to the second section of each PDF (where the page headers become red instead of blue).


Labs for Big Idea 1

  1. Artificial selection
  2. Mathematical modeling (Hardy-Weinberg)
  3. Comparing DNA Sequences to Understand Evolutionary Relationships


Labs for Big Idea 2

  1. Diffusion and Osmosis
  2. Photosynthesis 
  3. Cellular Respiration


Labs for Big Idea 3

  1. Cell Division: Mitosis and Meiosis
  2. Biotechnology: Bacterial Transformation
  3. Biotechnology: Restriction Enzyme Analysis of DNA


Labs for Big Idea 4

  1. Energy Dynamics
  2. Transpiration
  3. Fruit Fly Behavior
  4. Enzyme Activity


Make sure you also go through the actual lab work you did in class. Your own reports and data are the most valuable resources for reviewing this aspect of the AP curriculum.




Big Picture Summaries

The notes in this section are useful for revisiting major topics right before the exam. This packet covers all the main concepts you'll need to learn for AP Biology. You can also take a look at this extremely detailed review sheet that provides a similar rundown of the most essential parts of the course.

If you want more guidance in your studying, consider buying a review book. Read my guide to the best review books for AP Biology here.


AP Biology Studying: Let’s Talk Strategy

Before you dive into the notes, read these tips so you can make the most out of the time you spend getting cozy with biological facts.


Tip #1: Draw Diagrams and Rewrite Definitions

There are many complex concepts that you’ll need to understand to do well on any assessment in AP Biology. These can be difficult to master just by reading notes. I find that drawing out the processes described in your textbook and notes can be very helpful in bridging the gap between memorization and genuine understanding.

If you draw a diagram of the different parts of a cell or the process of cellular respiration, it will make more sense to you logically and will be easier to recall on the test. If this seems too involved, you can try rewriting the complex explanation in your own words to simplify it and make it easier to remember. Even just the act of writing it down will help you remember it better.


Tip #2: Remember the Big Ideas

Each concept in AP Biology falls under the larger umbrella of one of the four Big Ideas of the course. Remember not to lose sight of these ideas when you’re studying. As you review each smaller process or concept, link it back to a main theme. This will help you to contextualize it within the framework of the course as a whole and apply your knowledge logically to unfamiliar scenarios that may be presented on the test.


body_circuits.jpgIn AP Biology (and the subject of Biology as a whole), everything is connected.


Tip #3: Hit Refresh

Remembering something right after you’ve studied it is one thing, and remembering it in the long term is another. After you get through a few sections of notes, go back and do a quick review of all the information you’ve learned. I’d also recommend doing this after you get through all the notes that pertain to a Big Idea for the course. It will help you to synthesize and retain the information so it doesn’t fall out of your brain as soon as you move onto the next topic (which can happen in AP Biology because there are so many details to remember!).


Tip #4: Study the Method, Not Just the Information

It’s easy to get caught up in going over the minuscule details of every topic in AP Biology, but you should devote at least some of your time to reviewing labs and general experimental principles. This includes concepts like dependent and independent variables, control groups, and unit conversions. You’ll see quite a few questions on the AP test (and most likely on your in-class tests throughout the year) that deal with experimental scenarios. It's much less stressful to answer these types of questions if you’re familiar with how similar experiments were conducted in your class.



You can continue to use this article as a reference point as you progress through the AP Biology curriculum. These notes should help you study for in-class assessments and the final AP test. Take practice tests often, and go over any areas where you feel less confident. If you take the time to prepare appropriately, you'll be pleasantly surprised by how little stress you feel on test day!


What's Next?

Is AP Biology especially challenging compared to other APs? Read this article for a detailed discussion on the difficulty level of the course and exam.

Many students who take AP Biology also take the Biology SAT Subject Test. Learn more about the differences between the two exams and whether one is more important than the other in college admissions.

As you review your notes for the AP, be sure to check out our biology topic guides. We go over the difference between homologous and analogous structures, what the photosynthesis equation is and how to use it, and the purpose of enzymes. We also teach you about cell theory and cell biology (including the cell membrane and endoplasmic reticulum).

Are you planning on applying to Ivy League or other highly selective colleges? Find out how many AP classes you should take in high school to end up with the strongest chance of acceptance.


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Samantha Lindsay
About the Author

Samantha is a blog content writer for PrepScholar. Her goal is to help students adopt a less stressful view of standardized testing and other academic challenges through her articles. Samantha is also passionate about art and graduated with honors from Dartmouth College as a Studio Art major in 2014. In high school, she earned a 2400 on the SAT, 5's on all seven of her AP tests, and was named a National Merit Scholar.

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