1. AP Biology
AP Biology is a college-level introductory biology course. Students normally take AP Biology during their junior or senior year, with the completion of 2 prerequisites: Biology and/or Chemistry. Most schools require Biology 1 or completion/concurrent enrollment in chemistry as a prerequisite. Math is not required for AP Biology, but students are strongly suggested to have a solid foundation in algebra and geometry, basic probability, and graphing.
Throughout the course, students will understand biological systems, their interactions with a similar system, and others in the world of ecology. There are four big ideas that the course will cover:
Big Idea 1: Evolution
Students develop a strong understanding of diversity and unity of life across biological systems through the exploration of Darwin’s theory of natural selection. Students will also explore catastrophic and human events that contribute to the gene pools of the population.
Big Idea 2: Energetics
Students will learn about different biological systems such as cells, organisms, and living systems that use energy and molecular building to grow, reproduce and maintain homeostasis.
Big Idea 3: Information Storage and Transmission
“Living systems store, retrieve, transmit, and respond to information essential to life processes.” For this big idea, students will explore different levels of information shared across systems, such as genetic information, nonheritable information transmission, etc.
Big Idea 4: System Interactions
Explore the complexity of interactions between organisms.
The biology exam is three hours long with two sections: 60 questions in the Multiple Choice and 6 questions in the Free Response. Students are tested on their understanding of biological concepts and ability to analyze data and gather insights.
Below is the AP score distribution for AP Biology in 2021:
2. AP Environmental Science
AP Environmental Science is similar to AP Biology in that students explore the relationship of the natural world and the environmental problems, natural and human-made. Students who are interested in taking AP Environmental Science are normally required to have 2 years of high school laboratory experience – one year of life science and one year of physical science. In addition to the science requirement, students should also have a strong foundation in math, such as basic algebra, basic statistics, plots, graphs, etc. AP Environmental Science is normally taken during the junior and senior years.
In AP Environmental Science, students will explore four big ideas:
Big Idea 1: Energy Transfer
Explore energy conversion in the ecological process
Big Idea 2: Interactions Between Earth Systems
Explore the interaction between natural and biogeochemical systems on Earth and how they recover from influences
Big Idea 3: Interactions Between Different Species and the Environment
Understand the impact and interaction between different species and the environment, and how one species, specifically humans, can have an impact on the environment.
Big Idea 4: Sustainability
Understand how a sustainable system can increase human survivability and understand the management and preservation of natural resources in the social, cultural, and economic world.
For this examination, you will demonstrate your understanding of environmental concepts, design research studies, and analyze environmental problems to solve environmental problems with and without calculators. Per normal examination, students will have to do multiple choice (80 questions – 60% of score) and free-response questions (3 questions – 40% of score).
Below is the score distribution for AP Environmental Science in 2021:
3. Which test should you choose?
The school schedule can significantly impact which class a student should take. AP Environmental Science’s topics are less deep and technical, while AP Biology covers a wide range of topics in-depth. Therefore, AP Environmental Science will normally be equivalent to 1 semester in the lab, while AP Biology will be equivalent to 2 semesters with the lab. Suppose you’re currently a junior considering between the two classes. In that case, you may want to take AP Biology during junior year and AP Environmental Science during the senior year if you still want more AP class credits for college.
If you decide to only take one science course and you are choosing between two courses, having AP Biology under your belt is more beneficial than AP Environmental Science because AP Bio is more rigorous and looks stronger on the transcript compared to AP Environmental Science.
Future career and job choices can be considered in choosing a class. If you’re pursuing a STEM major in college, it’s highly recommended to take AP Biology rather than AP Environmental Science. AP Biology will equip you with more knowledge about foundational biology and prepare you for college-level biology courses. Most colleges will accept credit for an introductory biology class with a 4 or above on the AP exam. AP Environmental Science is an interesting and applicable class, where you will use more math knowledge to solve environmental problems. It is a less rigorous class academically compared to AP Bio and also requires less memorization of concepts. Consider taking AP Environmental Science if you are already taking other rigorous AP classes at the same time.