Are you studying for your AP Environmental Science class and/or the end of the year AP exam? Reviewing for any AP exam is tricky, and many students who take AP Environmental Science aren’t sure how they should be studying. This AP Environmental Science study guide will walk you through how to develop a review plan for AP Enviro, give study tips, and provide links to notes and practice exams to make your review more effective.
How to Use This AP Environmental Science Study Guide
As mentioned above, this guide can be used both for reviewing for the final AP exam as well as preparing for regular class tests and quizzes throughout the year. I’ll begin by walking you through the steps you need to take to develop a solid review plan regardless of when you begin studying.
Once you have your plan set in place, I’ll go over tips you can follow to give your review an extra boost and make sure you’re getting enough out of it. After you’re clear on how to review for AP Enviro, you need to make sure your review covers each of the topics you’ll be tested on, so the next section links to notes you can use to review course content.
Finally, I’ll end by linking to and evaluating different practice resources so you can be sure you’re using high-quality materials for when you begin reviewing for the AP exam, if you haven’t already started.
Creating a Study Plan for AP Environmental Science
This section walks you through how to study for AP Environmental Science for both semesters of the class. In the next section, I’ll give you some tips to help make your studying more effective.
The best way to prepare for AP classes is to do regular studying throughout the year. Get into the habit early by beginning the process your first semester.
1. Start Early
Be sure to start your studying early (by the middle of the first semester) and review regularly throughout the year. Doing regular review will help you stay on top of the material, keep you prepared for class exams, and make reviewing for the final AP test less overwhelming in the spring.
2. Begin Reviewing Material
During your first semester, you’re still learning the majority of the material you need to know for the exam, so your study plan should focus primarily on reviewing content you’ve already learned and starting to familiarize yourself with the format and content of the AP exam.
Early on in the semester, you should create a schedule for when you will review the course material. You can choose to do this once a week, once every two weeks, or whatever works best.
You may also want to purchase a review book at this time. Review books can be particularly helpful because they condense the information and focus exclusively on what you need to know for the AP exam. Read reviews before you purchase a review book to make sure other people have found it helpful and it’s the kind of book that you want.
When reviewing the course material, use your class notes and review book (if you have one). If you’re missing notes or want to look at them in an organized way, we’ve collected some of the best AP Enviro notes out there (see the AP Environmental Science Notes section below). These notes include links to topics from each of the course’s seven main topics, vocab definitions, overviews of major environmental laws, and more.
When reviewing your notes, it’s very important to study them actively and not just drag your eyes across the page. Every few minutes, stop and mentally review what you’ve just read to make sure you’re retaining the information. Underlining and jotting down your own notes can also help.
3. Answer (Select) Practice Questions
During the first semester, taking a full-length practice exam won’t be that helpful because you haven’t covered enough topics at this point.
For this semester, focus on answering free-response questions from the College Board (look through them to find ones that focus on information you’ve already covered) and unofficial quizzes that focus on specific content areas (the Environmental Science and Learnerator quizzes are good resources for this.
To find these resources, read the practice materials below, and you can also review our dedicated guide which has the full list of collected practice materials for AP Environmental Science (coming soon).
Second Semester/AP Exam Review
Since you’ve now covered a majority of the material, second semester is when you should begin to really focus on reviewing for the AP exam. Here are the steps you should follow this semester.
1. Take a Complete Practice Test
You now know enough material to take a complete practice exam. Doing this will give you experience for the actual AP test and let you know where your strengths and weaknesses are and what you should focus the rest of your review on.
Take the test under realistic testing conditions (90 minutes each for multiple-choice and free-response sections, no calculator, and taken in one sitting). I recommend taking the Barron’s exam as your first complete practice exam since it is high-quality but allows you to save the official complete practice test for later in your review.
After you’ve completed the exam, score it and see how well you did. Official practice materials come with scoring guidelines, and many unofficial resources are automatically scored, but if you need help estimating your score, use this score calculator. (It’s based on 2008 results so it won’t be completely accurate, but it’ll give you a good estimate.)
Your score on this test will help you figure out how well you’re doing and how much studying you need to do. Most students should aim for a 4 or 5 on this exam since it isn’t overly difficult, but if you’re scoring very low or know you won’t be able to devote much time to studying, you may want to aim for a 3 instead. If you’re close to the score you want, you may only need to do light review, but if you’re two points away or more, you’ll likely have to put in some significant time to meet your goal.
2. Review Your Mistakes
After taking and scoring your first full-length practice test, look to see where you got questions wrong. Look for patterns in the questions you answered incorrectly. Did you do well on the free-response questions but missed a lot of multiple-choice? Did questions that required calculations trip you up?
The primary reason for taking practice tests is to find where your weaknesses are and improve in those areas, and the only real way to do that is to start by figuring out exactly why you got certain questions wrong.
3. Strengthen Your Weak Areas
Don’t just immediately move on to your next practice test, spend time strengthening areas you need to improve on. Perhaps you need to learn how to complete your essays faster, or you realized you really don’t know anything about the nitrogen cycle. Get these gaps taken care of before you take another practice test, otherwise, you won’t see your scores improve.
Strengthening these areas may include reviewing relevant notes, answering practice questions, and/or altering your test-taking strategies (for example, you may frequently make careless mistakes, which means you need to slow down and read questions more carefully).
4. Take and Score a Second Practice Exam
After you feel you’ve reviewed sufficiently, take another practice exam, either the official released test or Varsity Tutors’ multiple-choice section with official free-response questions added to it (see the Practice Materials section for links to these resources).
If you’ve improved a lot and are close to or have met your score target, you may only need to do some light review until the AP test. If you’ve improved somewhat but still haven’t met your score target, repeat the above steps again to continue working on your weaknesses.
If you’ve seen little or no improvement, you’ll have to alter your review methods. Think about how you’ve been reviewing and where you can make improvements. For example, you may not have been paying close enough attention to your notes or just passively read through them instead of engaging with them.
Make a list of things you’ll change (such as studying more actively, paying closer attention to your notes etc.) and implement those changes as you go through the above steps again.
Here’s a brief recap of the process you should be following:
- Take and score your first practice exam (4 hours)
- Evaluate your mistakes (1.5 hours)
- Improve your weak areas by doing focused content study and completing practice problems (2.5 hours)
- Take and score a second practice exam (4 hours)
Repeat the steps above as often as you need to in order to make sure you’ve eliminated your weaknesses for the AP exam and are ready when it comes time to test day.
Tips and Strategies for Reviewing AP Environmental Science
Below are three top tips you should keep in mind as you study for the AP Enviro course and final exam. Implementing these tips will make your studying both more effective and more focused.
1. Keep Up on Current Environmental Issues
Environmental science is an area where we are constantly learning new information. Much of what we know on this subject has only been discovered in the past few decades, and sometimes just the past few years. This means that there are many important environmental developments that recently occurred and/or are still going on now.
While the AP exam won’t ask you about some environmental finding that appeared on the news last week, it does frequently reference recent environmental news and events. You can help yourself stay updated on environmental science by reading environmentally-focused articles, following environmental organizations or people on social media, and following current environmental issues being debated by politicians. Doing so will help reinforce the events and concepts you learned about in class, and it can make the subject much more interesting.
2. Make Connections Between Topics
AP Environmental Science strongly emphasizes the fact that all systems on Earth are interconnected, and nothing exists in independent of everything else. As a result, many questions on the exam focus on making connections between two or more concepts.
This means that learning about each topic in isolation won’t help you much on the exam; you need to know how that topic affects and is affected by other parts of the Earth.
You can help yourself make connections between concepts by drawing diagrams or webs that show how different topics are connected (such as the nitrogen, carbon, and water cycles, for example), and regularly asking yourself how whatever concept you’re learning is connected to other topics you’ve covered in the class.
3. Brush Up on Your Math Skills
There are questions on both the multiple-choice and free-response sections of the exam that require calculations. However, you are not allowed a calculator for any part of the exam which means you will have to complete all these calculations by hand.
None of the calculations you’ll be asked to complete will be particularly long or complicated, but if it’s been a long time since you’ve done long-division and the like, you may want to get some practice in. Taking a long time to complete calculations can prevent you from answering other questions on the exam, so get some practice in so that these questions don’t trip you up.
Check out the Environmental Science Formulas in the Notes section below to get an idea of some of the formulas you might be asked to complete. Doing practice multiple-choice questions that require calculations and data set free-response questions can also help you brush up on your skills.
AP Environmental Science Notes
As mentioned above, you can use these notes to supplement your studying as you review for the class and the final AP exam. The notes are organized by the seven major topics that AP Environmental Science covers. Within each major topic are more specific areas of focus.
The vocabulary links are organized by chapter from the 13th edition of the Living in the Environment textbook. The vocabulary notes give brief definitions for each of the major keywords you need to know for AP Environmental Science.
Remember to actively read these notes while studying. Underlining, drawing diagrams, and rewriting parts of the notes in your own words will help you much more than simply moving your eyes across the page. For more information on these notes and how to use them, check out our special dedicated guide for AP Environmental Science notes (coming soon)
1. Earth Systems and Resources
2. The Living World
4. Land and Water Use
5. Energy Resources and Consumption
7. Global Change
AP Environmental Science FormulasThese short guides (also from CourseNotes) include many of the common formulas you’ll use and need to understand in AP Environmental Science.
- Acid Rain
- Air Pollution Control and Prevention
- Air Pollution Formulas
- Ozone Formation and Destruction
- Photochemical Smog
- The Carbon Cycle
- The Nitrogen Cycle
This looks pretty, but you probably shouldn't do it to your notes.
AP Environmental Science Practice Materials
Even now that you have a study plan you can use, it can be difficult to find high-quality practice materials. Luckily, we’re here to help! You can check out a comprehensive guide to all practice materials for AP Environmental Science (coming soon), but below are the best quizzes and tests for you to start using. All of these resources are free to access.
- There is one complete and official practice test available from the College Board.
- While unofficial, Barron’s has a high-quality complete practice test.
- If you’re looking for free-response questions, there are dozens of examples from previous AP exams that you should use.
- For multiple-choice questions, there’s 17 official practice questions you can look at in the official Course Description for AP Enviro.
- Varsity Tutors also has a 100-question multiple-choice test. You can combine these multiple-choice questions with a set of official free-response questions above in order to create a complete practice test.
Summary: Key Strategies for AP Environmental Science
AP Environmental Science covers a lot of topics, but if you know how to properly review and set up a study plan early, you greatly increase your chances of getting a great score on the AP exam. During the first semester, you should focus primarily on reviewing content you learned in class and practicing relevant free-response questions.
Second semester is when you’ll start focused review for the AP exam. Taking an initial practice test, evaluating your score, and targeting your weaknesses will help you minimize your weak areas and be strong across the board. Use the notes and practice materials linked in this guide to help supplement your review.
Looking for more details on what to expect from the AP Enviro class? Check out our complete guide to the course.
Want some more practice tests and quizzes to enhance your studying? You've got it! We have a ton of practice resources for you to use to study for the AP Enviro exam, and, in the guide, we tell you what each resource is best for (coming soon).
Wondering when you should start studying for AP Enviro and other AP exams? In our guide, we help you figure out exactly when you need to start cracking open those review books.
Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:
Have friends who also need help with test prep? Share this article!
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.