Tips for Writing ap biology Essays Adapted from rj patterson, Athens Academy

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Tips for Writing AP Biology Essays

Adapted from RJ Patterson, Athens Academy

The College Board also has the most recent essays here


  1. 1a

    1b ex1

    1b ex2

    1b ex 3

    First…read the question. Second…read the question. Third…read the question. Be sure that you answer the question that is asked and only that question, and that you answer all parts of it. Make a grid to mark off the sections you have completed.

  1. Brainstorm and outline your answer during the 10-minute reading period. This will help to avoid confusion, disorganization, scratch-outs, arrows and rambling. Finish brainstorming even if it takes longer than the 10 minute reading period.

  1. Write an essay using complete sentences. Outlines and diagrams are not essays and will not earn you credit by themselves.

  1. Define your terms even when it is not required. Say something about each of the terms you use.

  1. Label your sections and write them in the order they are called for. This will direct your reader to a specific area and helps to ensure that you answer all parts.

  1. Get familiar with how essay rubrics are constructed and applied by writing practice essays. Then compare your response to the rubrics posted on the College Board site (above).

  1. Write clearly and neatly. Don’t give away points on things you know by not allowing your reader to read your response.

  1. Go into detail that is on the subject and to the point. Be sure to include the obvious (e.g. light is necessary for photosynthesis). Answer the question thoroughly.

  1. If you cannot remember a word exactly, take a shot at it – get as close as you can. If you can’t think of the name of a concept then describe the concept.

  1. If the question asks for a specific number of examples then only provide that many & “put your best foot forward.” Readers are trained to only read the specific number asked for.

  1. Remember that NO detail is too small to be included as long as it is to the point.

  1. If you do include a diagram then carefully label it and include it in the text at the appropriate place. Tell your reader to look at the figure (Figure 1) in your essay text.

  1. Make your margins a little wider to make it easier for the reader to read.

  1. Bring a watch so that you can pace yourself. You have 80 minutes to write 2 FRQs & 6 short answers.

  1. Practice these tips throughout the year. Practice good habits…do not practice bad habits.

  1. Understand that the exam is written to be hard. The averages for each essay are typically 4 points out of a possible 10. It is very likely that you will not know everything but it is very likely that you will know something about each essay. This is expected so relax and do your best.


  1. Don’t waste time by writing an introductory paragraph, re-stating the question or writing a summary paragraph. Just answer the question.

  1. Don’t ramble—get to the point.

  1. Don’t use pronouns. Many times students continue to use “it” EXCESSIVELY & the antecedent is lost. Use the proper term to show the reader that you know biology. Similarly, do not use text message abbreviations.

  1. Don’t shoot the bull—say what you know and go on to the next question. You can always come back if you remember something.

  1. Don’t use pencil or a gel pen. Don’t use felt-tip pen because the ink will bleed through the page making it hard to read.

  1. Don’t panic or get angry because you are unfamiliar with the question. You probably have read or heard something about the subject—be calm and think.

  1. Don’t scratch-out excessively. One line through the unwanted words are sufficient.

Why so serious?

  1. Don’t write more than a few words in the margin.

  1. Don’t worry about spelling every word perfect or using proper grammar. These are not part of the standards used by the AP Reader. However, VERY poor spelling and grammar will hurt your chances.

  1. Don’t write sloppily. It is easy for a reader to miss an important point when he/she cannot read your handwriting.

  1. Don’t leave questions blank. Remember that each point earned on a free response question is worth more than each point earned on the multiple-choice questions and there is no penalty for a wrong guess here. Make effort to answer to answer every question. DON’T QUIT!

  1. Do not contradict yourself (e.g. the sympathetic nervous system is involved with arousal…the parasympathetic nervous system is involved with arousal.) The point earned for the correct statement will be withdrawn because it is apparent that you do not know the biology.

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