Average AP Biology Score
Curious what the average AP Biology score is? Whether you’re already enrolled in the course or are considering taking it, you are probably wondering how well students typically do on this difficult exam. Or maybe you have already received your score and want to know how you compare to other AP Biology test takers.
Keep in mind that every AP course is different. You could say that some are more difficult than others based on exam results. For example, in 2016, the average AP Biology score was slightly lower than the average AP Art History score but slightly higher than the average score for AP European History. Yet, a greater understanding of the course material and exam will help you put things in perspective when analyzing your score or preparing to take the course.
In this article, you’ll learn what the average AP Biology score is and how to interpret your score or set a target score. To provide context, we’ll also cover the exam structure and how it is graded. Finally, we’ll provide resources and advice on preparing for this important exam.
What’s the Average Score on the AP Biology Exam?
In 2016, the average AP Biology score was 2.83. It’s also interesting to see the percentages of each score that are earned by students and notice trends over time.
Pass percentage (score of 3 or higher)
|Number of exam takers||191,773||203,189||213,294||223,479|
In the chart, you can observe a large change in numbers from 2012 to 2013. This is because the AP Biology course and exam were restructured, taking effect in 2013. This resulted in the exam scores presenting a more typical distribution in which the greatest number of students received a 3, fewer a 2 or 4 and the fewest a 1 or 5. In 2012, this wasn’t the case as more students received a 1 than received a 2 or 3. Thus, it appears that the course restructuring served its purpose in making the course fairer for students.
However, trends from 2013 onward don’t show what typically happens after a new curriculum and exam are introduced. Typically, after the first year that a new exam is rolled out, teachers are more comfortable with the material and prepared with more practice questions, and student performance improves. Yet, the variations between years are slight and the distribution remains similar. The pass percentage has decreased about 3 percentage points since 2013, meaning that fewer students are receiving a score of 3 or higher.
Based on this information, it’s hard to judge the entire course and exam. The statistics displayed here are only a small part of the story. A more in-depth understanding of the course and examis needed to get a clear picture of how difficult the exam is.
Of course, what is difficult for one student may not be for another. We all have different strengths and weaknesses. This is why you need to research and decide for yourself how hard you think the exam will be for you.
What’s a Good Score on the AP Biology Exam?
AP exams are graded using a five-point scale. There are many perspectives and thoughts about what each of the 5 grades means. In reality, you have to decide what your purpose for taking the exam is and what your goals are to determine what a good score is for you. A variety of factors come into play, such as if you hope to get college credits for taking AP Biology, or if you hope to use your score to enhance your application to a top tier college. Other students simply want to know how the CollegeBoard determines the scores and how each one is defined.
By first understanding how the CollegeBoard defines exam scores, you’ll also gain insights into how most colleges view the scores. The CollegeBoard attaches each score to a level of qualification that exam takers exhibit.
A score of 1 receives “no recommendation” from the CollegeBoard, which means that the student doesn’t demonstrate proficiency in the course material. This result is obviously undesirable, but usually only occurs if something goes wrong on test day or you haven’t worked through the course material. A score of 2 is defined as “possibly qualified”. This means that you demonstrated some knowledge, but not sufficient to confidently say you could pass a college-level introductory biology course. Because of this, most colleges don’t extend credits for a score of a 2.
The definition of a 3 is “qualified”, showing that you have passed the course satisfactorily. This is a respectable score and can often get you college credit at a state college. Scores of 4’s and 5’s are more likely to be accepted by more competitive colleges and can give your college application a boost.
When it comes to AP Biology and determining what a good score is, examine the scores received by students in the past. If you score a 3, for example, you’ve scored better than the average AP Biology score, which was 2.83 in 2016. When checking percentages, you’ll see that a score of a 3 is better than about 40% of exam takers. If you score a 4, you’re doing very well, scoring better than 70% of students who took the exam in 2016. A score of a 5 is very impressive and exclusive for the AP Biology exam. Scoring a 5 puts you in the top 6% of exam takers.
College credits are tricky to determine and there are no hard rules that apply to all colleges. Each college or university creates their own policy about how many credits are given and what scores are required to have them awarded. Your intended major may also affect what credits you can get. At more prestigious schools, if you intend to major in a science, you may need a 4 or even a 5 to receive credits. However, if you’re planning on a non-science related major, a 3 may get you credits.
Some schools, such as the University of North Carolina, give more credits (equal to 2 courses) for a 5 and fewer (equal to one course) for a 3. The CollegeBoard also reports that some schools may request to see your lab reports and notes in order to give laboratory credits. Your best bet is to investigate the policies of the schools you’re interested in applying to and find out their specific policies so that you are aware of the requirements and can prepare accordingly.
In addition to helping you obtain college credits, high AP exam scores can also give your application an edge. A fairly average AP Biology score of a 3 will look good and prove that you can handle college-level work, but a 4 or 5 will really make your application shine. By earning high scores on several AP exams, you may be eligible for an AP Scholar award which showcases your proficiency and abilities across several subject areas.
If you receive a score of a 1 or 2, however, don’t worry. Most schools won’t discriminate against you for receiving a poor score, however, you may want to consider what other elements of your application will make it stand out.
How is the AP Biology Exam Graded?
The AP Biology Exam has two basic sections. Each section contributes to half of your total exam score. Math is a component of the exam and so you are allowed to use a 4-function calculator at your discretion. Do make sure you double check the calculator policy to avoid having yours removed on exam day. Here is the overall structure:
Section I: Multiple Choice and Grid – 69 Questions – 1 hour and 30 minutes – worth 50% of overall score
- Multiple Choice: 63 Questions- The questions are discrete and in sets.
- There is a section of 6 grid-in questions. This section integrates math and science skills. You’ll need to calculate responses for each question and enter your response onto a grid on your answer sheet.
Section II: Free-response – 8 Questions -1 hour and 30 minutes (includes a 10-minute reading period) – worth 50% of overall score
- There are two long free-response questions. One of these questions is lab or data based.
- There are six short free-response questions. These don’t require full essays, but complete responses in the form of a paragraph.
Your exam is scored by a combination of computers and specially trained AP scorers. After the raw scores are obtained, the CollegeBoard uses statistical processes to produce a composite score on the 1 to 5 scale. These processes ensure that scores represent the same levels of achievement from year to year. It is important to note that there is no penalty given for wrong answers. This means that it’s best to answer even questions you feel unsure about.
The free response questions are more complex and difficult to grade, which is why the human graders are used. The AP Readers are specially trained to grade certain subject area exams. In order to ensure fair grading, specific rubrics for each exam question are provided to the graders. These rubrics break questions down into smaller requirements and tasks that are awarded a certain number of points each. For example, the longer free-response questions are worth 10 points. The shorter free-response questions are worth 3 or 4 points each.
The CollegeBoard provides resources such assample questions and answersthat are broken down and evaluated so that you can check your work against what an AP grader would expect. Viewing an evaluation can be very helpful so that you are prepared to examine the questions the same way that the grader will. In fact, this is one of the key areas that can give you the boost you need to score much better than the average AP Biology score.
Many people try to understand how the composite scores are calculated from the raw scores. However, the CollegeBoard doesn’t release this information. All you can do is your best to follow the guidelines provided and prepare as much as possible.
What’s the Best Way to Prepare for the AP Biology Exam?
AP Biology is an intensive course, so it’s important to stay on top of things throughout the year so that your exam preparation isn’t crunched into a short time period. The curriculum of AP Biology emphasizes evolution, cellular processes, energy and communication, genetics and information transfer, and interactions. Because of this, it’s safe to assume that these concepts will be highlighted in the free-response questions. So, you must carefully study each of these ideas and be prepared to answer an in-depth question focusing on any one of them.
Don’t forget your laboratories when preparing. The course also places a considerable emphasis on learning laboratory practices and related analysis skills. In the exam, you will be provided with data or scenarios and be expected to analyze or choose a course of action based on the information provided.
Luckily, there are many resources available in addition to your classroom and laboratory materials to help you prepare. Check out our blog to find reviews of specific topics that are important. In addition, you may consider purchasing a review book from our list of recommended books.
Finally, practice questions are one of the most obvious and practical ways to prepare for the exam. In addition to reviewing concepts and materials, you’ll also become comfortable with the type of questions you’ll likely see on the exam. The more familiar you are with the exam style, the more confident you’ll feel when answering, which will also positively affect your score.
With preparation and hard work, you can blow the average AP Biology score out of the water and earn that 4 or 5 that will earn you college credits and look great on your application. In addition, the skills and knowledge you gain by studying hard will stay with you and serve you in your future academic endeavors with biology or any science.
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