Kate Sundquist 5 min read AP Guides, Standardized Tests

Ultimate Guide to the Environmental Science AP Exam

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As you probably already know by this point in your high school career, Advanced Placement (AP) courses and exams are administered each year under the oversight of the College Board. Sometimes, students will take the AP exam without enrolling in the actual AP class. This is called self-studying.

The Environmental Science AP Exam is one of the APs most commonly taken as a self-study test. Though many students do enroll in the actual class, this particular exam is also well-suited to self-studying due to its heavy emphasis on vocabulary and highly specific theory. If you are interested in taking the Environmental Science AP Exam, whether you have taken the class or are planning to self-study, look no further. The CollegeVine Ultimate Guide to the Environmental Science AP Exam is here!

About the Exam

Environmental science is the study of the scientific principles, content, and methodologies necessary for understanding the natural world. In the Environmental Science AP course, students learn to identify and analyze environmental problems. Students also gain knowledge about earth systems and resources, the living world, land and water use, energy resources and consumption, pollution, and global change.

The Environmental Science AP exam takes place over the course of three hours and consists of two sections. The first section contains 100 multiple-choice questions which make up 60% of your total score. There are 90 minutes allowed for this section. The second section consists of 4 free-response questions. Of these, one is a data-set question, one is a document-based question, and two are synthesis and evaluation questions. This section takes 90 minutes and is worth 40% of your score.

In 2016, 45.2% of students who took the Environmental Science AP received a score of 3 or better. Only 7.4% of test-takers achieved a top score of 5, while 28.8% of test-takers scored a 1. These scores are likely somewhat skewed by the popularity of this test with self-study test-takers. Students who take the class and/or prepare seriously on their own, devoting significant study time and energy, will often find that the test is not as difficult as the results indicate.

A full course description that can help guide your studying and understanding of the knowledge required for the test can be found on the College Board course description.

For tips on preparing for the exam, read on!

Step 1: Assess Your Skills

It’s important to start your studying off with a good understanding of your existing knowledge. To learn more about the importance of formative assessments and how you can use one to get your studying off on the right foot, check out the CollegeVine article What Is a Formative Assessment and Why Should I Use One to Study?

Although the College Board Environmental Science AP website provides a number of sample test questions, it does not provide a complete sample test. You can find a practice test in many of the official study guides, and some even include a diagnostic test to act as your initial assessment. There is also one practice test available for free online here, and another practice exam can be found here. The most recent complete Environmental Science AP test released by the College Board can be found here.

Step 2: Study the material

The bulk of the material you will need to learn for the Environmental Science AP exam consists of highly specific vocabulary and knowledge of scientific principles and processes. These types of topics lend themselves well to rote memorization. Things like repetitive flash card use and quizzing yourself will help to cement these in your mind. If you are not sure where to start, think back to how you learned your spelling words best in grade school and use similar techniques. This could include having a friend or parent quiz you, using flash cards on Quizlet, or coming up with pneumonic devices or acronyms.   

There are some strong study guides available for purchase also. The “AP® Environmental Science Crash Course Book” provides a good overall summary of material with bonus study tips. The “Barron’s AP Environmental Science, 6th Edition” is also a good resource but is sometimes criticized for providing too much information with less summarization. It can be used more like a textbook overview.   

There are also many free study resources available online. Some Environmental Science AP teachers have posted free study guides, review packets, and readings. You can find one such study book here and another exam review guide here

Another new, fun way to study is to use one of the recently developed apps for AP exams. These range in price from $0.99 to $4.99, but they provide a fun and easy way to quiz yourself. Make sure you read reviews before choosing one—their quality varies widely.

Step 3: Practice Multiple Choice Questions

Once you have your theory down, test it out by practicing multiple-choice questions. You can find these in most study guides or through online searches. You could also try taking the multiple-choice section of a practice exam.

One diagnostic test that is available for free online and includes lots of practice multiple-choice questions can be found here. Try to keep track of which areas are still tripping you up, and go back over this theory again.

Step 4: Practice Free Response Questions

Pay close attention to the task verbs used in the free-response prompts. On the Environmental Science AP these most commonly include: describe, identify, give one reason why, discuss, explain, give a specific example, and calculate. Know precisely what each one of these words is asking you to do.  Underline each section of the question, circle the task verb, and check them off as you write. Many students lose points by simply forgetting to include one part of a multipart question.

When writing your response, try to use the same task verb in your answer. For example, if you were asked to “Give a specific example,” start that part of your answer with: “One specific example of this would be . . .”

Finally, make sure to review the examples of scored free-responses so that you can understand exactly what to expect in this section and how you will be evaluated. The College Board provides many examples of actual prompts from the past years and includes authentic student responses with scores and an explanation on why they were scored that way. You can find those examples here.

Step 5: Take another practice test

As you did at the very beginning of your studying, take a practice test to evaluate your progress. You should see a steady progression of knowledge, and it’s likely that you will see patterns identifying which areas have improved the most and which areas still need improvement.

If you have time, repeat each of the steps above to incrementally increase your score.

Step 6: Exam day specifics

In 2017, the Environmental Science AP Exam will be administered on Monday, May 1 at 8 AM.   

For complete registration instructions, check out CollegeVine’s How to Register for AP Exams (Even If You Didn’t Take the Class).

For information about what to bring to the exam, see CollegeVine’s What Should I Bring to My AP Exam (And What Should I Definitely Leave at Home)?

If you feel like you still need more help or you are not sure that you can do it on your own, look no further. For personalized AP tutoring, check out the CollegeVine Academic Tutoring Program, where students who are intimately familiar with the exam can help you ace it too, just like they did.     

For more about APs, check out these CollegeVine posts

Kate Sundquist
Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.