Is AP Biology easy or hard? We reveal the AP Biology difficulty rating, based on a unique combination of 2023 pass rate data, and 3,160 class reviews from real AP alumnae collected by r/APStudents.

Is AP Biology Easy Or Hard?

AP Biology is considered quite hard, with class alumnae rating it 6.4/10 for overall difficulty (the 8th-most-difficult out of the 28 large AP classes surveyed).

The pass rate is about average vs other AP classes, with 64% graduating with a 3 or higher.

AP Bio is very widely-taken (242,000 entries last year), and 98% would recommend the class.

s AP Biology Easy or Hard - overview graphic showing data and alumnae ratings with footnotes

Whilst AP Bio rates as quite hard, alumnae reviews suggest the course is enjoyable, and that you’ll do well if study/practice regularly and you understand the larger concepts that link together the units. Practicing for the FRQs is also an important component to success in AP Biology.

You can see how AP Biology compares to other classes for difficulty in the below chart:

chart comparing AP Bio 2023 alumnae reviews to all other main AP classes

We’ve highlighted AP Bio and related scientific classes (Chemistry, Psychology and Environmental Science) only – to see the full version of this chart, check out our article ranking ALL the AP classes from easy to hard.

You can read more about AP Chemistry, AP Psychology, and AP Environmental Science and here.

How Difficult Is AP Biology – As Rated By Class Alumnae

AP Bio is considered quite hard, with class alumnae rating it 6.4/10 for overall difficulty, making it the 8th-most-difficult out of the 28 large AP classes surveyed.

chart showing AP Bio difficulty as rated by alumnae

What Is the AP Bio Pass Rate 2023?

The AP Biology 2023 pass rate was about average compared with other AP classes, at 64%.

The highest number of students received a passing grade of 3, in line with the all-AP average, and 4% fewer than average gained a 5 (14%).

chart showing AP Biology 2023 pass rate data

AP Biology Pass Rate / Score Distribution Over Time: 2023, 2022, 2021 …

The AP Bio score distribution has fluctuated somewhat over the past 5 years of exams, between a low of 61% in 2021 and a high of 69% in 2020.

Is AP Biology Time Consuming To Study: As Rated By AP Bio Alumnae

AP Biology is rated as quite time-intensive relative to other AP classes.

A survey of AP alumnae asked for a rating out of 10 for time needed to study each class. 1 = least time needed, 10 = most time. The average rating for AP Biology was 6.5/10 (vs the average across all AP classes of 5.4/10).

Is AP Bio Easy or Hard To Self-Study

AP Biology is rated as quite hard to self-study relative to other AP classes.

A survey of AP alumnae asked for a rating out of 10 for how easy each class is to self study. 1 = easiest to self study, 10 = hardest to self study. The average rating for AP Biology was 6.8/10 (vs the average across all AP classes of 5.7/10).

How Hard Is AP Biology: 165 Alumnae Share Their Experiences

If you’re looking forward to taking AP Biology, it’s important to take both the positive and negative feedback in context. There are multiple factors that could contribute to a great or poor experience of the class, such as your teacher, struggling with science, and your personal preferences as a learner.

An impressive 98% of AP Biology alumnae would recommend the class.

The majority of the reviews focus on course enjoyment, understanding larger concepts and particular topics, the importance of regular studying, and helpful resources.

1.      Many students found AP Bio challenging but fun

“It was the hardest class alive ever taken but also one of the most fun and mind changing, I truly loved it” – Score: 4

“I absolutely loved this class. It really helps that my teacher made it enjoyable. Since I loved it so much, I really wanted to do well. I ended up with a 99.5% in the class, but I did a lot of independent studying. Make sure that you really like the subject. If you don’t, it’ll be difficult to motivate yourself to study.” – Score: 5

“Fun class if you like biology. I took it alongside w AP Chemistry and i actually recommend doing both in the same year bc there is a lot of overlap.” – Score: 4

“’It’s a lot of stuff to learn and requires good notetaking and work ethic but it’s by no means impossible.“ – Score: 4

2.      AP Biology is all about understanding and applying concepts

Focus on big concepts that can apply to many different topics e.g. conformational change, specific shape for specific function, etc. Make sure you know vocab, it’s very easy to mix up similar words for things that have very different properties. Don’t just memorize what happens- understand WHY it happens.” – Score: 4

“Not a hard test if you know the general concepts. Lots of work if you take the class though.” – Score: 5

“Doing well on this exam seems more about breadth of study, not depth. Beyond that, much of the exam seems rather interpretive.” – Score: 4

“I found that memorization is not that helpful in this class; understanding the material and knowing how to apply it is far more useful.” – Score: 4

“Understanding concepts like photosynthesis/cell respiration is helpful, sometimes you just have to use logic to figure out the questions” – Score: 4

“Make sure you know your models and diagrams; they show up everywhere on tests so you need to be able to understand how they function. Labs IMO are really useful in understanding concepts so focus on them as well. Would recommend if you’re only juggling maybe 3 or 4 APs.” – Score: 5

3.      There are lots of topics worth focusing on

“Cellular respiration is probably the hardest topic to learn, some are really hard to fully understand if you don’t comprehend the basic chemical structure of biomolecules, so try to take your time and learn the structures of biomolecules” – Score: 4

“While understanding the molecular part of the course can be rather intimidating and quite confusing at times, taking time to memorize these processes is important and using visual aids will definitely help.” – Score: 5

“Don’t get caught up in the extreme specifics when reviewing microbiology/cellular energetics.” – Score: 5

“My teacher gave us access to all of the past exams teachers have access to, which were really good to show that you shouldn’t bother too hard with the labs; reading the manual is really most of what we did. also, focus less on rote memorization of details – unless you happen to know every single piece of biology ever, it’s much better to practice connecting concepts unless it’s neurons. you need to know everything about neurons.’ – Score: 5

“Organize notes thoroughly, understand concepts completely from the start – every topic builds on the last one and it’s a lot easier if you understand how the units connect and relate to each other.” – Score: 5

4.      Get to grips with what the exam requires …

“Know that the AP Exam is more similar to the ACT than other AP Exams are, in that application of concepts is more important than rote memorization.” – Score: 5

“The test is more reading comprehension through the lens of a science course rather than a serious science course like AP Chemistry or AP Physics.” – Score: 5

“The tests are hard because they rely a lot more on application of concepts than they do of rote memorization, which is what many students are more used to. It’s a very difficult course, but if you work hard and study a lot you can probably get at least an A minus.” – Score: 3

“The new exam is nearly completely logic based, so on one hand it may be very easy, on the other hand it can be therefore difficult to prepare for.” – Score: 5

“’Make sure to be able to apply the knowledge you learn in class to the questions on the AP test, because about 90% of the questions on the exam will have terms you have probably never heard of, but that’s okay; you just need to know what the question is asking you.” – Score: 4

“Exam is not based on remembering information – more about making inferences and applying info usually in experiments’ – Score: 4

“Your score on the exam is dependent on how well you can apply concepts to different scenarios. Practice past frqs and do all the CB exams and you should get a 5. the exam is not very hard either.” – Score: 3

5. … especially the FRQs

“LEARN EXACTLY HOW TO WRITE BIOLOGY FRQS ANSWER, I CANNOT STRESS THIS ENOUGH. Get straight to the point, no flowery language, and ANSWER THE QUESTION. A lot of students make too many archaic mistakes or write too much. Also read your textbook. It can help you get more info or understand a concept, but don’t rely on it too much.” – Score: 4

“Practice, practice, practice free response questions. You can know every little detail in Campbell and still not get a 5 if you can’t answer a free response question well. The multiple choice is super easy because it’s mostly common sense, and 50% of your score is frq, so a lot of your focus should be going toward practicing answering frqs.” – Score: 5

“For the exam itself, make sure you’re calm – the 69 questions for MCQ are not easy to finish on time. Be quick in your reasoning and move on if you can’t figure something out. Just come back later – 1 mark won’t affect you as much as the marks you’d lose if you don’t finish the potentially easy questions at the end. … For FRQs, try to explain as succinctly and clearly as possible. Look at past student samples to guide your responses.” – Score: 5

6.      Students had varied opinions on self-studying

“AP Bio shouldn’t be self studied – even as an exam primarily reliant on critical thinking, it is also heavily reliant on random concepts and content from Honors, AP or normal Biology that you will likely not be able to revise without an AP course.” – Score: 5

“AP test in itself isn’t too difficult so self-studying is definitely a valid option.” – Score: 5

What Does It Take To Succeed: How To Study For The AP Bio Exam

What is AP Biology? Course Outline & Requirements

According to College Board:

“Students cultivate their understanding of biology through inquiry-based investigations as they explore the following topics: evolution, cellular processes, energy and communication, genetics, information transfer, ecology, and interactions.”

Prerequisites for AP Bio are the successful completion of high school courses in biology and chemistry.

There is also a laboratory requirement, that requires that “25 percent of the instructional time will be spent in hands-on laboratory work, with an emphasis on inquiry-based investigations that provide students with opportunities to apply the science practices”.

You will develop skills in:

  • Analyzing and explaining concepts and visual representations
  • Exploring scientific methods and data
  • Performing statistical tests to analyze and interpret data
  • Developing evidence-based arguments

The exam consists of one 3-hour exam. There will be 50% (90 minutes) of multiple-choice questions (MCQs) and 50% (90 minutes) with 6 free-response questions.

For more details, see: College Board’s AP Biology course page.

Examiners’ Reviews: Takeaways From AP Biology Test Assessors

College Board released the following official comments about the 2021 exam results:

Multiple-choice section

  • “As usual in this subject, students scored significantly higher on the multiple-choice section than on the free-response questions.”
  • “AP Biology students demonstrated exceptionally strong mastery of Unit 7, Natural Selection, with 43% of students answering virtually every question about this unit correctly. Student understanding of Unit 8, Ecology, was also strong, with 26% of students answering virtually every question right.”
  • “The unit on which AP Biology students earned the lowest scores was Unit 2, Cell Structure and Function.”
  • “AP Biology students’ strongest skill was representing and describing data (Skill Category 4). A massive 33% of students achieved perfect scores on this skill, not missing a single such point on the exam. Students also demonstrated solid proficiency with Skill Category 3, Questions and Methods.”
  • AP Biology students’ weakest skill was generally Skill Category 5, Statistical Tests and Data Analysis. 6% of students achieved perfect scores on this skill. 16% of students received 0–1 points across this category of questions

Free-response section

  • “Question 4, about finches in the Galápagos islands, is the question that best identified students who should receive college credit from those who should take Introductory Biology in college, using their AP course as a foundation.”
    • “It’s a tough question, but if a student could answer 1 of the 4 parts of the question, the student was competitive with college students who had completed the corresponding college course, and so most students earning 1 point on this question are earning enough points elsewhere on the exam to receive an AP score of 3.”
    • “Students who could answer 2 of the 4 parts are generally earning enough points across the exam to receive an AP score of 4. And students who could answer 3 or 4 of the parts are generally earning enough points across the exam to receive an AP score of 5.”

For best results, you may want to consider investing a little extra study time in the “Statistical Tests and Data Analysis” skill area. You should also focus on Unit 2, “Cell Structure and Function” as well as practicing for the FRQs.

For more details, see: College Board’s AP Biology 2021 exam results page

How To (Self) Study AP Bio: Advice From Class Alumnae

Success in AP Bio often comes down to dedication!

Study every day; 10-30 minutes. when the ap test comes around, do all the practice tests you can find :)” – Score: 5

“Biology isn’t really that hard. A study group helps immensely IMO. Do a LOT of practice tests as well, and try to study at least 30 minutes every day. Before the test, get a good rest and good breakfast. You can do it!” – Score: 3

“If you do all homework and reading and devote an hour or two on the weekend to go over material you learned with a prep book, then you are good! I got a 3 due to the fact that I didn’t get enough sleep and was extremely stressed out, so don’t do that!” – Score: 3

Make sure you practice FRQs!! Time management is really important for the writing portion.” – Score: 4

“For the love of God, study. It’s not a class you can pass by bullshitting your way through. You’ve got to know what you’re talking about.” – Score: 4

“Study study study. None of the material is actually hard, it’s just a lot of stuff to learn.” – Score: 5”

Start reviewing early — DO NOT procrastinate. Practice tests from previous years are very helpful in trying to time yourself for the actual exam.” – Score: 3

Small, but regular study (review notes 2-3/week for 20-30 mins). Practice free response from early as poss.” – Score: 5

The test prep resources are really helpful for AP Bio if you struggle in class

“Use as many resources as you can get, including Fiveable, Seneca Learning, All review books, edX AP bio courses, collegeboard videos, past free response, Khan academy, and Youtube. With all these resources, you will most likely get a 5. I got a 4 btw, and just discovered most of these resources. I could have gotten a 5 if I prepared more.” – Score: 4

“Crash course/khan academy for topics that involve lots of mechanisms or steps (i.e. Hormones, cell signaling) if you don’t get it right away in class” – Score: 4

“Read and reread the Campbell AP Bio textbook, and make sure you are able to draw connections between biological concepts and key terms throughout different units (which will be helpful from FRQs on the AP exam, as it’s necessary to be able to analyze something by drawing on a bunch of info from a variety of units).” – Score: 5

“Crash Course and Khan Academy are good review for concepts you don’t really understand; draw diagrams and make review sheets for major processes(cell resp, photosynthesis, etc)” – Score: 4

“Reading Campbell’s Biology and doing all of the corresponding study guides was the most helpful for me as I self-studied for this exam.’ – Score: 5

“Study using Pearson Campbell textbook during the school year, it’s the best way to learn the information. 2-3 weeks before the exam, go through Khan Academy’s study material. It’s best if you test yourself using AP-style questions and FRQs to get used to them.” – Score: 5

“I just to advise all of you to read the textbook (Campbell) and only THEN use outside resources. The textbook is very thorough in terms of what you need to know. Also, try to memorize the vocab and diagrams as those will be very useful. Do a shit ton of practice FRQs and MCQs.” – Score: 5

Don’t just memorize: try to understand the concepts

“Review your notes/book and try to understand the material rather than only memorizing” – Score: 5

“Practice FRQs, don’t just memorize material but apply it to scenarios, and study!!” – Score: 3

“PAY ATTENTION!! There are so many details and stuff that paying attention will really help you grasp and understand everything, hopefully.” – Score: 3

“Bozeman, practice M/C and OE on Alvead or released College Board Tests while timing yourself, Study with a group, and don’t memorize tiny details, focus on the large picture.” – Score: 5

Best books and test prep resources for AP Biology

If you’re looking for the best books to study to help you ace AP Bio, we’ve crunched the numbers on the available textbooks. Check out the winners, according to reviews from successful AP students, in our overview of the best AP study guides for every subject.

Where next?

Find out how AP Biology compares to other classes: click here for an overview of all AP Classes ranked by difficulty, from easiest to hardest.

Or check out how other scientific courses are rated with our analysis of Is AP Chemistry Easy or Hard?

Wishing you every success in the class!

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