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ap biology or ap environmental science

Should You Take AP Biology or AP Environmental Science

Keep reading to learn more about the difference between AP Biology and AP Environmental Science, and why you might want to choose one over the other.
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. 

Score Distribution

Below is the AP score distribution for AP Biology in 2021: 

5: 7.4%

4: 19.4%

3: 32.4%

2: 30.0%

1: 10.8%

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 this AP subject, 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). 

Score Distribution

Below is the score distribution for AP Environmental Science in 2021: 

5: 7.0%

4: 24.9%

3: 18.5%

2: 27.6%

1: 22.1%

How to Pursue Research Interest in High School
3. Which test should you choose?

While both courses cover topics related to biology and the natural world, AP Biology covers a much broader range of topics and goes into greater depth than AP Environmental Science. AP Biology provides a comprehensive overview of the study of life, from the molecular level to the level of ecosystems. At the same time, AP Environmental Science focuses specifically on the environment and how humans interact with it. AP Environmental Science is more narrowly focused, exploring the interactions between humans and the environment, and the methods used to address environmental challenges.

Laboratory Experience

In AP Biology, laboratory work is an essential component of the course, and students are expected to spend a significant amount of time in the laboratory conducting experiments and analyzing data. The laboratory work in AP Biology is designed to help students develop an understanding of key concepts and principles, and to develop scientific skills such as experimental design, data analysis, and interpretation of results. In the laboratory, students will conduct experiments related to topics such as cell structure and function, genetics and inheritance, and ecology.

In comparison, the laboratory work in AP Environmental Science is generally more focused on environmental monitoring and analysis. Students will conduct experiments related to topics such as water quality, air quality, and soil analysis. The laboratory work in AP Environmental Science is designed to help students understand how environmental factors impact the ecosystem and to develop an appreciation for the importance of environmental monitoring and analysis.

Overall, both AP Biology and AP Environmental Science courses include laboratory work, but the focus of the laboratory experience is different in each course. AP Biology laboratory work is focused on understanding fundamental biological concepts, while AP Environmental Science laboratory work is focused on environmental monitoring and analysis.

Current Schedule 

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 Outlook

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.

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AP Biology

In AP Biology class, you will study the core scientific principles, theories, and processes that govern living organisms and biological systems. In addition, there will be a strategy course for the multiple-choice part of the AP Biology exam.

AP Environmental Science

In AP Environmental Science class, you will learn to explain environmental concepts, analyze data, and practice problem-solving. In addition, there will be a strategy course for the multiple-choice part of the AP Environmental Science exam.

scoring worksheet

FREE 2024 AP Scoring Worksheet

With the scoring worksheet, you will be able to calculate your target score in preparation for the upcoming exam in May. We also have a full scoring worksheet available  below if you want to print it out and keep it in your folder. 


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