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The Best AP Biology Notes to Study With

Posted by Samantha Lindsay | Mar 21, 2020 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. Whether you're missing a couple of sections of notes or 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.




2020 AP Test Changes Due to COVID-19

Due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, AP tests will now be held remotely, and information about how that will work is still evolving. Stay up to date with the latest information on test dates, AP online review, and what this means for you with our AP COVID-19 FAQ article.


How to Use These AP Biology Notes

The notes in this article can be used to study for AP Biology tests throughout the year that deal with smaller portions of the curriculum, or they can be referenced in your studying for the final AP exam. In both cases, you'll want to supplement these notes with information from an AP Biology textbook 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, and 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 these 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 an AP Biology review book or an official one from the College Board. 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 test day.

Note that the AP Biology test is undergoing some major format changes starting in 2020 (though this might be pushed to 2021 due to COVID-19). As a result, there are very few, if any, practice tests available that use this new structure of the 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.


The Best AP Biology Notes and Review for Your Studying

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 these with class notes and records of your lab assignments.


AP Biology CourseNotes

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 listed in the next section.


Big Idea 1: Evolution


Big Idea 2: Energetics


Big Idea 3: Information Storage and Transmission


Big Idea 4: Systems Interactions


body_bigidea.jpgSo many Big Ideas!


Other Content Resources for AP Biology

There are also a couple of additional places where you can find notes on specific sections of the course. These resources are slightly outdated, but they still contain information that should 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 Biology 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 the College Board's "Big Ideas" for AP Biology, so it's not as easy to connect terms and concepts to larger themes as you review.


AP Biology Lab Summaries

There are 13 labs in the AP Biology curriculum. Here's a link to a page that briefly goes through all 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 (Evolution)


Labs for Big Idea 2 (Energetics)


Labs for Big Idea 3 (Information Storage and Transmission)


Labs for Big Idea 4 (Systems Interactions)


Make sure that 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 Bio curriculum.




Big-Picture AP Biology Summaries

The notes in this section are useful for revisiting major topics right before the AP Bio 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: 4 Essential Strategies

Before you dive into the notes, read these four key 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 you'll need to understand to do well on any assessment in AP Biology. But 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, for example, 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 recall 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. Don't 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 contextualize it within the framework of the AP Biology course 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 the AP Biology notes above, go back and do a quick review of all the information you've learned.

I also recommend doing this after you get through all the notes that pertain to a Big Idea for the course. It will help you synthesize and retain the information so it doesn't fall out of your brain as soon as you move on to the next topic (which can happen in AP Biology because there are so many details to recall!).


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 such as dependent and independent variables, control groups, and unit conversions.

You'll see quite a few questions on the AP Biology exam (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.


Conclusion: The Best AP Biology Notes for Studying

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 as well as the final AP test.

Take practice tests often, and go over any areas in which you feel less confident. If you take the time to prepare appropriately, you'll be 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 AP Bio 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 Bio test, 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 the Ivy League or other highly selective colleges? Find out how many AP classes you should take in high school to give yourself the strongest chance of acceptance.


One of the single most important parts of your college application is what classes you choose to take in high school (in conjunction with how well you do in those classes). Our team of PrepScholar admissions experts have compiled their knowledge into this single guide to planning out your high school course schedule. We'll advise you on how to balance your schedule between regular and honors/AP/IB courses, how to choose your extracurriculars, and what classes you can't afford not to take.

Plan Your Course Schedule


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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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