The Ultimate Guide to Acing the AP Environmental Science Exam

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

The Ultimate Guide to Acing 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 many 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.

What is the AP Environmental Science Exam?

The AP Environmental Science Exam is a rigorous assessment that measures your understanding of the scientific principles, concepts, and methodologies related to environmental science. It is designed to mimic a college-level course, and successful completion can earn you college credit, depending on the policies of the institution you plan to attend.

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 ensure that the challenging coursework and arduous exam are 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. Many AP courses are considered 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 more strenuous and more challenging. 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 much 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 nationwide weigh AP courses more heavily than non-advanced courses 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 evident 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. If students score high enough on the AP exam (we’ll get into scoring for the AP Environmental Science Exam a little later), they can earn college credit and placement! That means saving time and money at college.
  • Students get to dive deep into subjects they love: If a high school student is already leaning towards being interested in a specific issue or set of topics, 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 are a great way to expand their knowledge and even get a head start on their way to earning a college major in the subject they are most passionate about.

Now that we at AdmissionSight have broken down the many significant 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

Regarding the AP Environmental Science Exam, there are some prerequisites that students must be aware of. First off, to fully understand the 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 because the AP Environmental Science Exam does expect students to understand quantitative analysis. Finally, it is undoubtedly considered to the student’s advantage if they have completed a class in the earth sciences.

The AP Environmental Science Exam and course are typically divided 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.

Exam Weighting (Multiple-Choice Section)
Unit 1: The Living World: Ecosystems 6%–8%
Unit 2: The Living World: Biodiversity 6%–8%
Unit 3: Populations 10%–15%
Unit 4: Earth Systems and Resources 10%–15%
Unit 5: Land and Water Use 10%–15%
Unit 6: Energy Resources and Consumption 10%–15%
Unit 7: Atmospheric Pollution 7%–10%
Unit 8: Aquatic and Terrestrial Pollution 7%–10%
Unit 9: Global Change 15%–20%

What is on 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 an extensive range of different environmental problems. In the AP Environmental Science course, students will also learn about the essential 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 approaches 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:

Skill Description Exam Weighting (Multiple-Choice Section) Exam Weighting (Free-Response Section)
1. Concept Explanation Explain environmental concepts, processes, and models presented in written format 30%–38% 13%–20%
2. Visual Representations Analyze visual representations of environmental concepts and processes 12%–19% 6%–10%
3. Text Analysis Analyze sources of information about environmental issues 6%–8% Not assessed in free-response section.
4. Scientific Experiments Analyze research studies that test environmental principles 2%–4% 10%–14%
5. Data Analysis Analyze and interpret quantitative data represented in tables, charts, and graphs 12%–19% 6%–10%
6. Mathematical Routines Apply quantitative methods to address environmental concepts 6%–9% 20%
7. Environmental Solutions Propose and justify solutions to environmental problems 17%–23% 26%–34%

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 in 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 increase humans’ environmental impact.
  • Sustainability: Developing sustainability for human survival and understanding the role culture, society, and economics play in developing solutions.

How long is the AP Environmental Science Exam?

The AP Environmental Science exam is 2 hours and 40 minutes long. The exam consists of two sections: multiple-choice and free-response. The multiple-choice section has 80 questions and lasts for 90 minutes. The free-response section has three questions and lasts for 70 minutes.

AP Environmental Science Scoring Breakdown

The AP Environmental Science Exam has two sections, each contributing to your overall score. The multiple-choice section accounts for 60% of your score, while the free-response area makes up 40%. To earn a high score, it is essential to excel in both sections. This requires content knowledge, analytical skills, and effective time management.

Let’s take a closer look at each section:

Multiple-Choice Section

The multiple-choice section of the AP Environmental Science Exam is designed to test your understanding of key concepts and your ability to apply them to real-world scenarios. It consists of a series of questions with four answer choices, and you must select the best answer for each question. This section assesses your knowledge of environmental systems, natural resources, human populations, and global climate change.

To perform well in the multiple-choice section, it is crucial to have a solid grasp of the subject matter. This includes understanding the interrelationships between different environmental factors, recognizing patterns and trends in data, and being able to analyze and evaluate scientific information critically. Additionally, time management is essential, as you will have a limited amount of time to answer many questions.

Tackling the multiple-choice section

Here are some tips and strategies for tackling the AP Environmental Science Multiple Choice section:

  1. Know the exam format: The AP Environmental Science exam includes 80 multiple-choice and 3 free-response questions. The multiple-choice questions have four choices and are either individual, single, or sets of questions that refer to the same diagram, data presentations, or text-based sources.
  2. Focus on specific themes: The AP Environmental Science exam follows a pattern when it comes to multiple-choice questions. Instead of just a random selection of questions across topics, the exam adheres to a percentage of questions for each course theme. It’s helpful to know these so you can plan your studying accordingly. 
  1. Read the question carefully: Make sure to read the question carefully before answering. This will help you avoid making careless mistakes.
  2. Answer every single question: There is no penalty for guessing on the AP Environmental Science exam, so make sure to answer every single question.
  3. Know population dynamics: Population dynamics is a concept that is frequently tested when it comes to the AP Environmental Science exam. Understanding this concept will help you answer questions faster, especially now that you can use a calculator on your APES exam.
  4. Practice reading and writing familiar and novel data presentations: The AP Environmental Science exam is full of diagrams and data presentations, so you must understand how to read a title, read axes, and the data points that are being presented.
  5. Practice: Answering free-response questions from previous AP Exams is a great way to practice. It allows you to compare your responses with those already evaluated and scored. There are lots of resources that include practice AP Environmental Science multiple-choice questions. Take advantage of them! Many AP Environmental Science review books come with full-length multiple-choice sections you can take, complete with detailed explanations of the answers.

Free-Response Section

The free-response section of the AP Environmental Science Exam allows you to demonstrate your ability to think critically and apply your knowledge to specific environmental issues. This section consists of a series of questions or prompts that require you to write detailed responses. You may be asked to analyze data, evaluate environmental problems, propose solutions, or develop arguments based on scientific evidence.

Scoring well in the free-response section requires not only a strong understanding of environmental science but also practical communication skills. You must articulate your thoughts clearly, provide evidence to support your claims and demonstrate your ability to think analytically and creatively. Time management is also crucial in this section, as you must allocate your time wisely to address each question thoroughly.

It is important to note that the AP Environmental Science Exam is designed to assess your understanding of the subject matter and your ability to think critically rather than regurgitate memorized information. Therefore, it is essential to study and prepare by reviewing course materials, practicing with sample questions, and engaging in hands-on learning experiences.

Here are some sample questions and answers from a previous exam so you’d know what to expect:

samples from AP Envi Sci samples from AP Envi Sci samples from AP Envi Sci samples from AP Envi Sci samples from AP Envi Sci

Tackling the free-response section

To tackle the AP Environmental Science free-response section, follow these tips:

  • Understand the format: The free-response section is worth 40% of your score, with three questions, each worth 10 points. Question 2 will ask you to analyze an environmental problem and propose a solution using models and representations, while Question 3 will ask you to do the same using calculations.
  • Review the big ideas: Environmental Science is grounded in four big ideas: Energy Transfer (ENG), Interactions between Earth Systems (ERT), Interactions between different species and the environment (EIN), and Sustainability (STB). Every question on the exam will relate to these overarching themes.
  • Read the question carefully: After reading the essays, students should read each question carefully and underline keywords such as “describe,” “identify,” “discuss,” and “explain.” Look for the 3 E’s in the question: ….
  • Answer the questions you’re most confident about first: Start with the questions you feel most comfortable with to build confidence and ensure you have time to answer all the questions.
  • Craft your answer to the question prompt: Be sure to explain your answer if the question asks you to justify it. Don’t just list and identify examples. Carefully craft your solution in response to what is being asked in the question prompt.
  • Practice with past exams: Answering free-response questions from previous AP Exams is a great way to practice. Go to the Exam Questions and Scoring Information section of the AP Environmental Science Exam page on AP Central to review the latest released free-response questions and scoring guidelines.
  • Know the types of free-response questions: The free-response section of the AP Environmental Science exam contains three questions of three different types: – One question aimed at designing an investigation – Another question analyzing an environmental problem and proposing a solution – A final question analyzing an ecological crisis and presenting a solution with calculations.
  • Provide specific examples: Make sure you know specific examples of environmental processes and provide examples from class to support your answers in the free-response questions and choose the correct multiple-choice answers.
  • Organize and label your responses clearly: Since APES free-response questions often have multiple parts, it’s essential to organize your answers and label them clearly.
  • Practice setting up and calculating sample calculations: For questions that require measures, practice setting up and solving sample problems to ensure you can do them accurately and efficiently.

How hard is the AP Environmental Science exam?

The difficulty of the AP Environmental Science Exam can vary depending on your background knowledge and level of preparation. However, with diligent studying and practice, it is possible to achieve a high score. It is essential to allocate sufficient time for studying and reviewing, as well as seek additional resources, such as textbooks, online materials, and practice exams. Remember that every exam presents challenges, but with the right mindset and preparation, you can overcome them and succeed.

Regarding the AP Environmental Science exam, it is essential to have a solid understanding of various scientific concepts and principles. This exam covers multiple topics, including ecology, biodiversity, pollution, climate change, and resource management. To excel in this exam, it is crucial to have a strong foundation in these areas and apply your knowledge to real-world scenarios.

How to study for 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 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 score.

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 reasonable control over compared to the ones 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 on 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 take 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 you sets of sample questions that you do not have access to. If you and some of your 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 essential to remember that the AP Environmental Science Exam is filled with precise vocabulary. To fully understand – and fully answer – many of the questions 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 excellent 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 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 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.

Test-taking Tips on the Day of the Exam

On the day of the AP Environmental Science Exam, it is crucial to approach the test with a calm and focused mindset. Here are some tips to help you perform your best:

  • Arrive early: Give yourself ample time to find the test center and settle in before the exam begins.
  • Read the instructions carefully: Pay close attention to the directions provided on the exam and allocate your time accordingly.
  • Manage your time: Pace yourself throughout the exam to ensure you have enough time to answer all questions thoroughly.
  • Answer easy questions first: Start with questions you find less challenging to build your confidence and save time for more difficult ones later.
  • Show your work: In the free-response section, clearly explain your thought process and calculations to demonstrate your understanding, even if you can’t find the correct answer.
  • Review your answers: If time allows, go back and review your answers, checking for any errors or omissions.

When is the AP Environmental Science exam in 2024?

The AP Environmental Science exam is scheduled for May 9, 2024, in the morning. For a complete list of the 2024 AP Exam dates, here’s a complete list:

Week 1 Morning 8 a.m.

Local Time

Afternoon 12 p.m.

Local Time


May 6, 2024

United States Government and Politics Art History



May 7, 2024

Human Geography





May 8, 2024

English Literature and Composition Comparative Government and Politics

Computer Science A


May 9, 2024

Chinese Language and Culture

Environmental Science


May 10, 2024

European History

United States History


Spanish Literature and Culture

Art and Design: Friday, May 10, 2024 (8 p.m. ET), is the deadline for AP Art and Design students to submit their three portfolio components as final in the AP Digital Portfolio.
Week 2 Morning 8 a.m.

Local Time

Afternoon 12 p.m.

Local Time

Afternoon 2 p.m.

Local Time


May 13, 2024

Calculus AB

Calculus BC

Italian Language and Culture



May 14, 2024

English Language and Composition African American Studies

Physics C: Mechanics

Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism

May 15, 2024

French Language and Culture

World History: Modern

Computer Science Principles

Music Theory


May 16, 2024

Spanish Language and Culture Biology

Japanese Language and Culture


May 17, 2024

German Language and Culture

Physics 1: Algebra-Based


Physics 2: Algebra-Based

When do AP scores come out?

AP scores are typically released in early to mid-July of the year the exams were taken. The exact release date may vary slightly from year to year, but students who took their AP exams in May can generally expect their scores to become available.

If you are waiting for your AP scores, you can check for updates on the College Board’s official AP scores website. They will also send you an email notification when your scores are added to your score report. If you haven’t received your scores by mid-August, it’s recommended to contact AP Services for Students for assistance.

Post-Exam Tips

Once the AP Environmental Science Exam is over, take some time to reflect on your performance and celebrate your hard work. Regardless of the outcome, remember that it is just one aspect of your academic journey. If you are satisfied with your performance, congratulate yourself on a well-done job.

If you feel room for improvement, consider using your exam experience to inform your future study habits and explore areas where you can strengthen your understanding of the subject.

Ultimately, the AP Environmental Science Exam serves as a stepping stone toward your academic and professional goals, and your dedication and perseverance will undoubtedly pay off.

A mother and her student looking at her laptop.

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