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Tricks and Tips for Surviving AP Biology

Tricks and Tips for Surviving AP Biology

Zhang, Ben – Writer

Does the fundamental composition of life interest you? Or have you ever been curious about how animals developed to be the way they are today? Then I would highly recommend AP Biology, where you might be able to find answers to your questions.

At WGSS, we are very fortunate to be offered a variety of AP courses from which we can pick and choose. Over the rest of the year and the coming school year, I will continue writing articles with tips and suggestions to survive most of the AP courses that I have taken.

Introduction: The current course of AP Biology is divided into 8 units by the College Board; each poses unique challenges to students. A few common skills essential to the course include memorization, analytical reading, and critical thinking.

I know this all sounds very intimidating, but worry not, for you will gradually hone those skills as you proceed through the course, as long as you actively work with the given course material. Below are some techniques that might make things easier for you in the course.

Memorization: People memorize things differently; some might be visual learners and prefer drawing diagrams to represent ideas taught in the course, while other individuals may prefer hands-on work and learn better through doing lab work. I personally like making cram sheets where I summarize the teacher’s notes and key concepts taught in the chapter, and then memorize the condensed information. Although this method has proven to be effective for me, most people find this to be a tedious process. Hence, before writing this short study guide, I have spoken with a few friends who also earned high marks in the course. Two other common methods I have gathered include using flashcards and the teaching-memorization technique.

The flashcard method is largely similar to my cram sheet method; one side of the flashcard is labelled with a term while the other side shows the definition of the term. This method may be helpful for some students because it resembles card games and may possibly be associated with pleasant childhood memories.

The teaching-memorization technique requires the student to first gain their own understanding of the material, then teach it to another person (or their pet) to reinforce their memory of the material. This method may be the best out of the three because it involves both memorization and the ability to develop your own understanding of a concept. (There are AP Biology questions that are purely knowledge-based and require no further understanding on the topic, but getting those correct does not mean you will do well in the course. You should also understand the material and do well on the higher level questions in order to earn a high mark.)

“I often teach my parents, or even my brother, about biology when I’m studying for a test. Doing this helps me reinforce … my knowledge of the subject, which helps my understanding immensely.”

– Jonas Gobran, a student who excelled in AP Biology

Analytical Reading: The AP College Board is always trying to make life harder for students. Unfortunately, we can’t even blame them because AP exams are supposed to be set at university standards. The most notable distinction between AP level biology questions and normal grade 12 or grade 11 level ones, however, is essentially the way the AP College Board likes to word their questions.

In order to answer those questions, you must first overcome your instinctive fear of questions that appear very long (the AP College Board loves making their questions long, as well as incorporating unduly complex specified terms into their questions). Then, you need to understand the context of the question; there are often hints that reveal the section of the course on which you are being tested. The last step is answering the question. Make sure you have read the entire question carefully before answering, preferably twice if you can do it in a timely fashion. And now it’s time to think about how to answer the question.

Before you decide to completely give up on taking AP Biology, I admit I forgot to mention something in the previous paragraph. In case you didn’t know, the AP Biology questions are mainly for those who decide to take the AP Biology exam after they complete the course. The course offered by our school does not contain nearly as many AP Biology questions as does the exam, so you will gradually get better at answering AP-level Biology questions as you proceed through the course.

Critical Thinking: This skill is supposed to accompany your analytical reading skills to help you better understand questions and thus allow you to make a better decision on how to answer the question.

In my opinion, critical thinking skills are the most important when it comes to answering multiple-choice questions. After you have read the question carefully and gained an understanding of the context, read over each answer. The most effective way is to eliminate the wrong answers first, based on what you know about the topic. Usually, there will be two questions you can cross out right away.

Now comes the hard part: there are two answers left and they seem equally correct. Here is when you need to think back on the topic. Do not bring any personal emotions or assumptions into your process of answering the questions. Remain completely objective and always choose the one that is most relevant to the topic on which you are being tested (usually a chapter from AP Biology).

Now it’s up to you to make the final decision. Good luck!

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