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On April 29, 2021, we hosted our last AP Bio weekly planning meeting. We’ve spent the last few meetings sharing our ideas about preparing our students for the AP Bio exam. For this last meeting, we invited a group of AP Bio Readers to share their tips and ideas about how to maximize student success in responding to AP Bio FRQs.


  • Jason Cox, AP Bio Teacher at Charlestown High School in Indiana. Jason was Indiana’s 2019 Outstanding Biology Teacher.  He’s been leading the Academic Team and Science Olympiad for nearly 20 years, and he’s also been a national presenter for the National Math and Science Initiative for the past decade.
  • Allison Kittay. Allison is an Education Consultant who taught AP Biology for 16 years at El Cerrito High School and 16 years at Redwood High School, both in the San Francisco Bay Area. She has been an AP Biology Exam reader for over 20 years, and a College Board Consultant since 2002. She’s also a consultant for the UC Berkeley Museum of Paleontology and for Mini One.
  • Kelley Derrick, AP Bio Teacher at Wausau West High School in Wisconsin. Kelley has scored AP exams since 2006 and she’s been a Table Leader for the past 3 years.  She was recognized by the NABT as the Outstanding Biology Teacher for the state of Wisconsin in 2012.
  • Tom Freeman, AP Bio Teacher at Esperanza High School in Anaheim California. Tom has been an AP Reader since 2010. He’s also the National Association of Biology Teachers Regional Director for Region IX (the whole West Coast) and a member of the NABT Professional Development Committee.
  • Corey Mullins, AP Bio Teacher and science department chairperson at Turpin High School in Cincinnati, Ohio. Corey has been a reader since 2010. She has also served as a table leader, and this year she’s going to be a question leader.

Glenn Wolkenfeld (creator of served as the host.

Scroll down below the video for notes and links.


Notes from each presentation

  1. Jason Cox
    1. Make sure your students carefully read the question. Make sure that your students, rather than just showing what they know, ensure that they’re answering the question. Jason has his students box the command terms and circle the qualifiers.
    2. Common mistakes: Explaining rather than justifying. Listing instead of providing evidence
    3. Restating the question is NOT required. Doing so can lead students to think they’ve responded to the prompt, when they haven’t.
  2. Allison Kittay
    1. Teach your students the acronym ATP: ANSWER THE PROMPT
    2. Students should use a close reading strategy:
      1. Put a box around the task verbs
      2. Circle instructions that tell you how many (for example, how many examples you should list in response to a question).
      3. Underline any content words. This can jog a students’ memory, and direct them to the content they should be discussing in their response.
    3. Example task verb:
      1. State the null hypothesis (no difference caused by the independent variable used in the experiment).
      2. State the alternative hypothesis (describes an effect the independent variable has upon the dependent variable).
  3. Kelley Derrick
    1. Have students make sure they’re writing  a college level response (as opposed to a high school level response).
    2. Example: don’t use general terms like altered. Questions are looking for directionality: increase or decrease.
    3. Example: don’t say the organism will suffer. It’s not specific enough
    4. Example: don’t say mutation, when the type of mutation might be what’s required (point, frameshift, mis-sense, etc).
  4. Tom Freeman
    1. No topic sentence required.
    2. When looking at a diagram, just describing won’t be enough. Students need to explain.
    3. Advice from Mark Little: Focus on Science Practice 1 (use representations and models to communicate scientific phenomena and solve scientific problems.) and Science Practice 6 (work with scientific explanations and theories)
    4. Really use the AP Course and Exam Description to make sure that you’re teaching essential content (and not teaching anything that’s extraneous.
    5. Use the AP Formula sheet and make sure that students can handle all the operations
  5. Corey Mullins
    1. Position yourself as a coach, working with your students to maximize their performance.
    2. If you’re taking a pen and paper, in person administration of the test, you can start with whatever question is easiest (but this won’t be possible for digital administrations of the test. In these the questions must be answered in order. More in this below).
    3. Make sure that students budget their time so that they get through all the questions.
    4. Read through the layers of the question. Don’t be alarmed by vocabulary and terms you don’t know. Extract what the question is about, and use what you know to respond.
    5. Look at graphs are tables very carefully.

Responses to Audience Questions/comments

  1. The only way to prepare students for AP tests is to expose them to as many past AP tests as possible. Have students respond to many FRQs. Teach them how to use the scoring guides to monitor and improve their own performance.
  2. Make sure that students really dissect a question and answer all parts of the question.
    1. Encourage your students to spell out their response for the reader.
    2. Have students label the parts of their response.
    3. Make sure that students write complete sentences.
  3. Overwriting (writing everything you know) can be counterproductive, mostly because it can lead students to run out of time. If students write something that’s incorrect, that can undermine a correct point that was previously made.
  4. Don’t hedge with words like maybe, I think, probably, most likely
  5. There are 3 practice exams that you can access from the course audit website. Remember: These are to be used only with your students, and not shared beyond that.
  6. If students forget a specific term, they can probably get the point by explaining the concept. Example: if you can’t say “water is flowing from hypotonic to hypertonic” saying that “water is flowing down its concentration gradient” or “from higher to lower concentration” will probably do the trick.
  7. Encourage students to be specific in their responses. Natural selection (a process)  is not that same as evolution (a result).
  8. Encourage students to not be overdramatic: Avoid “everything will die” when “many organisms might die” is more accurate.
  9. Teach your students to use the rubrics. Adhere to them closely (but use your judgment).
  10. Digital exam advice (see links below)
    1. Students have to respond to the questions in order (no skipping)
    2. On the second question, rather than constructing a graph, students will be analyzing a graph.

Useful Links

  1. College Board Youtube Channel Live Review playlist
  2. Handout from BSCS on how to read graphs
  3. If your students are taking a digital administration of the exam, go to Have your students watch the video at
  4. Teachers: there’s a digital exam readiness dashboard and other resources available through College Board.