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Articles / Preparing for College / What to Know about the AP Environmental Science Exam

Feb. 7, 2021

What to Know about the AP Environmental Science Exam

What to Know about the AP Environmental Science Exam


As the seasons change, so do the AP Exams. As of 2020, the AP Environmental Science exam is undergoing some slight modifications. "Weather" you've got the test on your schedule in the hopes of impressing prospective colleges, or simply because you enjoy the subject, you'll want to be aware of the changes. To help, here's a breakdown of what you can expect to see on the exam, as well as some advice to help you out along the way.

Course Concepts

In order to fully understand the AP Environmental Science Exam, you should first be familiar with what the test makers expect you to learn in the corresponding AP Course. For AP Environmental Science, the College Board has seven set learning objectives— in this case called "Science Practices" — that you'll be assessed on:

1. Concept Explanation – Explain environmental concepts, processes and models presented in written format.
2. Visual Representations – Analyze visual representations of environmental concepts and processes.
3. Text Analysis – Analyze sources of information about environmental issues.
4. Scientific Experiments – Analyze research studies that test environmental principles.
5. Data Analysis – Analyze and interpret quantitative data represented in tables, charts and graphs.
6. Mathematical Routines – Apply quantitative methods to address environmental concepts.
7. Environmental Solutions – Propose and justify solutions to environmental problems.

To test your abilities here, the Environmental Science Exam will be split into two sections: Multiple-Choice and Free Response. This is similar to how many of the other AP exams are structured, though the number of questions in each section and the types of questions as well as their content are naturally different.

Multiple-Choice Section

Starting with the 2020 administration of this exam, the multiple-choice section will include 80 questions that you'll have 90 minutes to answer. This section will account for 60 percent of your final 1-5 exam score.

The 80 questions here will mostly be organized into question sets. Sets that focus on quantitative data tend to include a chart, graph or data table. Those that include models, maps or representations mainly look at qualitative data. A final type of set, which will appear twice on the test, is based on text-based sources (aka passages). In addition to these sets, which make up the bulk of the multiple-choice section, you should also be prepared for individual questions sprinkled throughout that will test more general knowledge and concepts related to the subject.

Free Response Section

Once you're finished with the first section, you'll move onto a series of three free response questions you'll have 70 minutes to answer. These will — you may have guessed it! — account for the other 40 percent of your overall score. There are two main types of questions; in one, you'll have to design an investigation. In the other two, you'll have to analyze an environmental problem and propose a solution. The key difference there is that one of those proposed solutions will require mathematical calculations.

Overall, what both sections share in common is a need to analyze quantitative and qualitative data. Something else you can do on both parts of the test? Use your calculator whenever you need it!

With a solid knowledge of the exam format, you'll be well on your way to scoring well on the AP Environmental Science Exam. For additional strategy and an all-important content review, pick up our prep book for this exam. And don't forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel so you don't miss out on any content to keep you even more informed.

We'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Check out our forum to contribute to the conversation!

Written by

Rob Franek

Rob Franek

College Admissions and Test Prep Expert

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