How to Crush the AP Environmental Science Exam?

November 6, 2020
By AdmissionSight

How to Crush the AP Environmental Science Exam

For high school students in the United States and Canada, enrolling in AP courses and taking the subsequent AP exam are a great way to expand knowledge, make the most out of your high school years, and have your application jump off the page on the desk of college admissions officers everywhere. One such course and exam is the AP Environmental Science Exam.

There are a lot of great reasons why high schoolers take AP exams such as the AP Environmental Science Exam. Here at AdmissionSight, we seek to help high schooler reach their maximum potential so that they can gain acceptance to the college or university of their dreams, even if it’s one of the most prestigious places of higher learning in the country!

So why are AP courses so great to take? Let’s quickly break down how they can help you achieve your goals for the future before we delve deeply into the AP Environmental Science Exam.

Why AP Courses Are Great for High Schoolers

If you have yet to enroll in your first AP course, chances are good you want to make sure that the difficult course work and arduous exam is worth it. Believe it or not, there are many different reasons why AP courses are especially beneficial to high schoolers.

  • They help high school students prepare for college: One of the prime reasons why signing up for an AP course is such a great idea for high schoolers is because it helps them prepare for the difficulty and workload of a college course. In fact, many AP courses are considered to be equal to a first or second-semester course at the university level.
  • College admissions officers love them: There is absolutely no doubt that getting into the best colleges is only getting tougher and tougher. It used to be all about grades and test scores. Now, it’s about grades, test scores extracurriculars, a personal story and so much more. Investing a lot of your time and energy into excelling in AP courses is a great way to help strengthen your application.
  • Improve your GPA: Believe it or not, many high schools around the United States actually weigh AP courses more heavily than non-advanced courses that students can take. That means, that if you get a B in an AP class, it will count as an A. If you get an A in an AP course, it will count as an A+. There’s very clear value in that!
  • Get a head start on college requirements: This is the main reason why AP courses allow students to get a head start in earning the major that they want to. If students score high enough on the AP exam (we’ll get into scoring for the AP Environmental Science Exam a little later), students can actually earn college credit and placement! That means saving time and money at college.
  • Students get to dive deep on subjects they love: If a high school student is already leaning towards being interested in a specific subject or set of subjects then the AP course offers a great way to dive deep. When it comes to the AP Environmental Science Exam, students who are interested in STEM subjects will be overjoyed at the information in this course. All AP courses that deal with topics within those subjects is a great way to expand their knowledge and even get a head start on their way to earning a college major in the subject that they are most passionate about.

Okay! Now that we at AdmissionSight have broken down the many major benefits of AP courses, let’s start going over the ins and outs of the AP Environmental Science Exam.

What you will learn in the AP Environmental Science Course

When it comes to the AP Environmental Science Exam, there are some prerequisites that students will have to be aware of. First off, in order to fully understand that material that is covered in the course, students will want to have completed at least two years of high school laboratory science, along with one year of life science and one year of physical science. On top of that, students should feel comfortable with math through the study of Algebra due to the fact that the AP Environmental Science Exam does expect students to understand quantitative analysis. Finally, it is certainly considered to the student’s advantage if they have completed a class specified in the earth sciences.

The AP Environmental Science Exam and course are typically broken down into nine units by high school teachers. Here is the typical sequence of topics that are covered, as well as the range of weight that each subject is given on the AP Environmental Science Exam.

Percentage of exam score

What you will cover in the AP Environmental Science Exam

Environmental science is the general study of scientific principles, content, and methods that are crucial to understanding the natural world around us. In this course, high school students undergo an arduous curriculum to learn how to identify and analyze a large range of different environmental problems. In the AP Environmental Science course, students will also learn about the important earth systems and resources, the living world, human land, and water use, consumption and energy resources, human pollution, and worldwide change.

Throughout the course, students will learn everything in the class through the lens of two different valuable learning components, those two are science practices and big ideas.

When it comes to the science practices of the course, students will wrestle with seven different practices that students will use to explore and master the concepts presented to them. These practices also form the very basis of questions that students will be expected to answer in the

AP Environmental Science Exam. The seven science practices include the following:

Percentage exam score

Percentage exam score

Along with these scientific practices, students will seek to master the concepts that they will face on the AP Environmental Science Exam through the understanding of the Big Ideas, which are the overarching concepts or themes that remain constant and apply to many different aspects of the course. Through these big ideas, students will develop a deep understanding of the course’s concepts. These are the four big ideas of the AP Environmental Science Exam.

  • Energy Transfer: The underlying energy conversions of the ecological process and how energy flows through the systems
  • Interactions Between Earth Systems: How the earth is an interconnected system, natural systems change over time, and biogeochemical systems vary the inability to recover from disturbances.
  • Interactions Between Difference Species and the Environment: The altering of natural systems by humans, how technology and population growth increases humans’ impact on the environment.
  • Sustainability: Developing sustainability for human survival and understanding the role, culture, society, and economics play in the development of solutions.

About the AP Environmental Science Exam

Now you understand quite a lot of the important information that you will want to know related to the AP Environmental Science Exam, but there is still more! At AdmissionSight, we believe that preparation is one of the best ways to guarantee success. For that reason, we want to break down the AP Environmental Science Exam for you even further.

One aspect of knowing which AP courses to take is based on how likely you are to succeed at the exam. From a statistical standpoint, the AP Environmental Science Exam is actually one of the toughest that students can take. In fact, last year, under 10 percent of high schoolers who took the exam scored a perfect 5 out of 5. Over half of the students who took the exam scored a 1 out of 5 or a 2 out of 5, which is not considered to be a passing grade.

Keep in mind, these grades are somewhat skewed, however, based on the fact that the AP Environmental Science Exam is one of the most popular exams that students take and is also one of the most popular exams that students prepare for through self-study rather than preparing for it by taking the corresponding high school course.

A lot of students choose to self-study and as a result, do not take the coursework as seriously as they should. For that reason, you should keep in mind that if you plan on taking the AP Environmental Science Exam that you have to treat it very seriously. With that being said, here is the breakdown of scores from last year’s exam.

Breakdown of scores

Overall, the AP Environmental Science Exam is made up of two different sections, a multiple-choice section, and a free-response section, and takes two hours and 40 minutes to complete. Keep reading to learn about each section, as well as take a look at some examples of questions that you can expect to face when you sit down and take the actual exam.

Multiple Choice

The first section of the example is the multiple-choice section. In this section, students will be expected to answer 80 questions that make up 60 percent of the exam’s total grade. Students get 90 minutes out of the two hours and 40 minutes in order to complete this portion of the exam.

The multiple-choice section of the AP Environmental Science Exam will include both individual questions as well as sets of questions that are based on a unifying stimulus. Throughout the course of the exam, students will encounter three to four sets of questions using quantitative data (tables, charts, and graphs) and three to four sets of questions based on quantitative data or information (maps, models, and representation). Last year was the first year in which two sets of questions were based on text sources.

It is also worth mentioning that this past exam (for the 2019-20 school year) was the first exam in which the multiple-choice section included 20 fewer questions than the previous exam. On top of that, the possible number of answers pre question shrunk from five to four. Finally, this portion of the exam now puts an equal emphasis on the analysis of quantitative data along with the date in the form of models and representations.

Below are several examples of multiple-choice questions that you could face on the AP Environmental Science Exam:

Sample exam question

Sample exam question

Free Response

After students have completed the multiple-choice section of the AP Environmental Science Exam, they will have the remaining 90 minutes to answer three different free-response questions. Prior to the 2020 exam, it was four questions.

The three-question topics are as follows.

Question 1: Design an investigation – In this first free-response question, students will be offered a real-world scenario along with both qualitative and quantitative data. With the information provided, students will need to describe environmental problems or potential responses.

Question 2: Analyze an Environmental Problem and Propose a Solution – In the second question, students are given a real environmental scenario and quantitative data in the form of either a model or visual representation. Using the information that they are given; students will need to propose and justify solutions to the provided environmental problem.

Question 3: Analyze an Environmental Problem and Propose a Solution Doing Calculations – In this final question, students will be asked to propose and justify a solution to a real environmental problem using a calculation to support that solution. Keep in mind, students will be allowed to use a four-function scientific calculator on this exam.

Below are several examples of questions that you may face:

sample exam question

sample exam question

How to maximize your chances of success on the AP Environmental Science Exam

 You now know the ins and outs of the AP Environmental Science Exam. Now, it is time to learn how to best prepare for success by utilizing the best and most efficient study techniques. Here is a multi-step approach that will give students the best chance to get that coveted 5 out of 5 scores.

Analyze your skills

 The very first step that we at AdmissionSight advise students to take is to take a full practice exam. That means the 80 multiple-choice questions as well as the three free-response questions. While you may feel free to time yourself as you will be on the actual exam, feel free to also take your time without a stopwatch going.

The most important thing to do through this process is to cross-reference the answers that you come up with to the answers that are offered in the study guide that you are utilizing. This will give you a better idea of what types of questions you have good control over compared to the questions that you are still struggling with. There are many different valuable resources that you can take advantage of to find these questions.

Study the material

 Once you have a good idea of what material you have a good handle of and which you need to improve on, it is time to hit the books. There are some great approaches to studying for an AP exam that students can take. Here are some of our favorites:

  • Ask your teacher: Teachers who AP courses are a great resource to take advantage of when you study for the exam. Not only will they be able to answer any questions that you may have, but they may also be able to offer your sets of sample questions that you do not have access to. If you and some of your fellow classmates are looking to form a study group to prepare for the exam, you can also ask your teacher if he or she would be willing to host your group for after-school study sessions.
  • Use flashcards: It is important to keep in mind that the AP Environmental Science Exam is filled with highly specific vocabulary. In order to fully understand – and fully answer – many of the questions that you will face on the exam, you will want to gain a deep knowledge of these words and topics. A great way to do that is through the tried and true practice of flashcard memorization.
  • Find a great study guide: Another great way to prepare for the exam is to purchase a great study guide and leaf through it as the day of the exam approaches. There are a lot of great study guides that you can choose from, this is one of our favorites.

Practice the questions

 Once you feel as though you have covered the subject matter of the exam as much as possible, it is time to return to the questions. First, you will want to prepare by going through sets of both multiple-choice and free-response questions. This will not only help you get more familiar with the actual material of the course but will also help you gain great confidence in answering the types of questions that you will face in the exam.

Every time you go through a set of questions, make sure that you are also checking your answers.

Take full practice exams

 The final step that you will want to take in order to prepare for the AP Environmental Science Exam is to take full practice exams. Not only that, but you will want to take the practice exams with the same amount of time that you will be given on the actual exam. This will help you not only train for the questions that you will face but also train for the arduous task of answering all the questions in the time that you will be allotted on the actual day of the exam.

Good luck!



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