Ms Ramirez

AP Biology Page


AP Biology Essay Questions


The following is a comprehensive list of essay questions that have been asked on past AP exams. The questions are organized according to units in the Campbell Biology Book-


Unit 1 : The Chemistry of Life

1.  The unique properties (characteristics) of water make life possible on Earth. Select three properties of water and:

    1. for each property, identify and define the property and explain it in terms of the physical/chemical nature of water.
    2. for each property, describe one example of how the property affects the functioning of living organisms.

Organic Chemistry Biochemistry Metabolism

2.  Describe the chemical composition and configuration of enzymes and discuss the factors that modify enzyme structure and/or function.

3.  After an enzyme is mixed with its substrate, the amount of product formed is determined at 10-second intervals for 1 minute. Data from this experiment are shown below:

    Time (sec)








    Product formed (mg)








    Draw a graph of these data and answer the following questions.

    1. What is the initial rate of this enzymatic reaction?
    2. What is the rate after 50 seconds? Why is it different from the initial rate?
    3. What would be the effect on product formation if the enzyme where heated to a temperature of 100 C for 10 minutes before repeating the experiment? Why?
    4. How might altering the substrate concentration affect the rate of the reaction? Why?
    5. How might altering the pH affect the rate of the reaction? Why?

4.  Enzymes are biological catalysts.

    1. Relate the chemical structure of an enzyme to its specificity and catalytic activity.
    2. Design a quantitative experiment to investigate the influence of pH or temperature on the activity of an enzyme.
    3. Describe what information concerning the structure of an enzyme could be inferred from your experiments.

Unit 2 (Cell Structure and Function, Cell division)

5.  Describe the fluid-mosaic model of a plasma membrane. Discuss the role of the membrane in the movement of materials through it by each of the following processes:

    1. Active transport
    2. Passive transport

6.  Describe the structure of a eukaryotic plant cell. Indicate the ways in which a nonphotosynthetic prokaryotic cell would differ in structure from this generalized eukaryotic plant cell.

7.  Discuss the process of cell division in animals. Include a description of mitosis and cytokinesis, and of the other phases of the cell cycle. Do Not include meiosis.


8.  A laboratory assistant prepared solution of 0.8 M, 0.6 M, 0.4 M, and 0.2 M sucrose, but forgot to label them. After realizing the error, the assistant randomly labeled the flasks containing these four unknown solutions as flask A, flask B, flask C, and flask D.

    Design an experiment, based on the principles of diffusion and osmosis, that the assistant could use to determine which of the flasks contains each of the four unknown solutions. Include in your answer (a) a description of how you would set up and perform the experiment: (b) the results you would expect from your experiments: and (c) an explanation of those results based on the principles involved. (Be sure to clearly state the principles addressed in your discussion.)

9.  Cells transport substances across their membranes. Choose THREE of the following four types of cellular transport.

For each of the three transport types you choose,

    1. Describe the transport process and explain how the organization of cell membranes functions in the movement of specific molecules across membranes; and
    2. Explain the significance of each type of transport to a specific cell (you may use difference cell types as examples.)

Photosynthesis and Cellular Respiration

10.  Describe the similarities and differences between the biochemical pathways of aerobic respiration and photosynthesis in eukaryotic cells. Include in your discussion the major reactions, the end products, and energy transfers.

11.  The rate of photosynthesis may vary with changes that occur in environmental temperature, wavelength of light, and light intensity. Using a photosynthetic organism of your choice, choose only ONE of the three variables (temperature, wavelength of light, or light intensity) and for this variable

12.  Describe the light reactions of photosynthesis and, for both a C3 and a C4 plant, trace the path of a carbon dioxide molecule from the point at which it enters a plant to its incorporation into a glucose molecule. Include leaf anatomy and biochemical pathways in your discussion of each type of plant.

13.  Explain what occurs during the Krebs (citric acid) cycle and electron transport by describing the following:

    1. The location of the Krebs cycle and electron transport chain in mitochondria.
    2. The cyclic nature of the reactions in the Krebs cycle.
    3. The production of ATP and reduced coenzymes during the cycle.
    4. The chemiosmotic production of ATP during electron transport.

14.  Membranes are important structural features of cells.

    1. Describe how membrane structure is related to the transport of materials across the membrane.
    2. Describe the role of membranes in the synthesis of ATP in either cellular respiration or photosynthesis.

15. Energy transfer occurs in all cellular activities. For 3 of the following 5 processes involving energy transfer, explain how each functions in the cell and give an example. Explain how ATP is involved in each example you choose.

16. The results below are measurements of cumulative oxygen consumption by germinating and dry seeds. Gas volume measurements were corrected for changes in temperature and pressure.

    Cumulative Oxygen Consumed (mL)

    Time (minutes)






    22 C Germinating Seeds






    Dry Seeds






    10 C Germinating Seeds






    Dry Seeds






    1. Using the graph paper provided, plot the results for the germinating seeds at 22 C and at 10 C.
    2. Calculate function the rate of oxygen consumption for the germinating seeds at 22 C, using the time interval between 10 and 20 minutes.
    3. Account for the differences in oxygen consumption observed between:
      1. germinating seeds at 22 C and at 10 C
      2. germinating seeds and dry seeds
    4. Describe the essential features of an experimental apparatus that could be used to measure oxygen consumption by a small organism. Explain why each of these features is necessary.

    Unit 3 (Meiosis, Mendelian Genetics, DNA Replication)

17.  State the conclusions reached by Mendel in his work on the inheritance of characteristics. Explain how each of the following deviates from these conclusions.

    1. Autosomal linkage.
    2. Sex-linked (X-linked) inheritance.
    3. Polygenic (multiple-gene) inheritance.

18.  Experiments by the following scientists provided critical information concerning DNA. Describe each classical experiment and indicate how it provided evidence for the chemical nature of the gene.

    1. Hershey and Chase- bacteriophage replication
    2. Griffith and Avery, MacLeod and McCarty- bacterial transformation
    3. Meselson and Stahl- DNA replication in bacteria

19.  Discuss Mendel’s laws of segregation and independent assortment. Explain how the events of meiosis I account for the observations that led Mendel to formulate these laws.

20.  An organism is heterozygous at two genetic loci on different chromosomes.

    1. Explain how these alleles are transmitted by the process of mitosis to daughter cells.
    2. Explain how these alleles are distributed by the process of meiosis to gametes.
    3. Explain how the behavior of these two pairs of homologous chromosomes during meiosis provides the physical basis for Mendel’s two laws of inheritance.

    Labeled diagrams that are explained in your answer may be useful.

    Protein Synthesis, Gene Expression, DNA Technology

21.  A portion of specific DNA molecule consists of the following sequence of nucleotide triplets.


    This DNA sequence codes for the following short polypeptide.

    methionine - leucine - glutamic acid - proline - arginine

    Describe the steps in the synthesis of this polypeptide. What would be the effect of a deletion or an addition in one of the DNA nucleotides? What would be the effects of a substitution in one of the nucleotides?

22.  Describe the operon hypothesis and discuss how it explains the control of messenger RNA production and the regulation of protein synthesis in bacterial cells.

23.  Scientists seeking to determine which molecule is responsible for the transmission of characteristics from one generation to the next knew that the molecule must (1) copy itself precisely, (2) be stable but able to be changed, and (3) be complex enough to determine the organism’s phenotype.


24.  Describe the biochemical composition, structure, and replication of DNA. Discuss how recombinant DNA techniques may be used to correct a point mutation.

25.  Describe the production and processing of a protein that will be exported from a eukaryotic cell. Begin with the separation of the messenger RNA from the DNA template and end with the release of the protein at the plasma membrane.

26.  Describe the steps of protein synthesis, beginning with the attachment of a messenger RNA molecule to the small subunit of a ribosome and ending generalized with the release of the polypeptide from the ribosome. Include in your answer a discussion of how the different types of RNA function in this process.

27.  The diagram below shows a segment of DNA with a total length of 4,900 base pairs. The arrows indicate reaction sites for two restriction enzymes (enzyme X and enzyme Y).

    1. Explain how the principles of gel electrophoresis allow for the separation of DNA fragments.
    2. Describe the results you would expect from the electrophoresis separation of fragments from the following treatments of the DNA segment above. Assume that the digestions occurred under appropriate conditions and went to completion.
      1. DNA digested with only enzyme X
      2. DNA digested with only enzyme Y
      3. DNA digested with enzyme X and enzyme Y combined
      4. Undigested DNA
    3. Explain both of the following.
      1. The mechanism of action of restriction enzymes.
      2. The different results you would expect if a mutation occurred at the recognition site for enzyme Y.

28.  By using the techniques of genetic engineering, scientists are able to modify genetic materials so that a particular gene of interest from one cell can be incorporated into a different cell.

29.  Assume that a particular genetic condition in a mammalian species causes an inability to digest starch. This disorder occurs with equal frequency in males and females. In most cases, neither parent of affected offspring has the condition.

    1. Describe the most probable pattern of inheritance for this condition. Expalin your reasoning. Include in your discussion a sample cross(es) sufficient to verify your proposed pattern.
    2. Explain how a mutation could cause this inability to digest starch.
    3. Describe how modern techniques of molecular biology could be used to determine whether the mutant allele is present in a given individual.

    Unit 4 (Evolution, Population Genetics, Speciation)

29.  Describe the special relationship between the two terms in each of the following pairs.

    1. Convergent evolution of organisms and Australia.
    2. Blood groups and genetic drift.
    3. Birds of prey and DDT.

30.  Describe the modern theory of evolution and discuss how it is supported by evidence from two of the following areas.

    1. population genetics
    2. molecular biology
    3. comparative anatomy and embryology

31.  Describe the process of speciation. Include in your discussion the factors that may contribute to the maintenance of genetic isolation.

32.  Do the following with reference to the Hardy-Weinberg model.

    1. Indicate the conditions under which allelic frequencies (p and q) remain constant from one generation to the next.
    2. Calculate, showing all work, the frequencies of the alleles and the frequencies of the genotypes in a population of 100,000 rabbits, of which 25,000 are white and 75,000 are agouti. (In rabbits the white color is due to a recessive allele, w, and the agouti is due to a dominant all, W.)
    3. If the homozygous dominant condition were to become lethal, what would happen to the allelic and genotypic frequencies in the rabbit population after two generations?

33.  Evolution is one of the major unifying themes of modern biology.

    1. Explain the mechanisms that lead to evolutionary change.
    2. Describe how scientists use each of the following as evidence for evolution.
      1. Bacterial resistance to antibodies.
      2. Comparative biochemistry.
      3. The fossil record.

34.  Genetic variation is the raw material for evolution.

    1. Explain three cellular and/or molecular mechanisms that introduce variation into the gene pool of a plant or animal population.
    2. Explain the evolutionary mechanisms that can change the composition of the gene pool.

35.  In a laboratory population of diploid, sexually reproducing organisms a certain trait is studied. This trait is determined by a single autosomal gene and is expressed as two phenotypes. A new population was created by crossing 51 purebreeding (homozygous) dominant individuals with 49 pure breeding (homozygous) individuals. After four generations, the following results were obtained.

    Number of Individuals

























    1. Identify an organism that might have been used to perform this experiment, and explain why this organism is a good choice for conducting this experiment.
    2. On the basis of the data, propose a hypothesis that explains the change in phenotypic frequency between generation 1 and generation 3.
    3. Is there evidence indicating whether or not this population is in Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium? Explain.

 Unit 5 (Chemical Evolution, Prokaryotes, Eukaryote Evolution, Protista)

36.  Scientists recently have proposed a reorganization of the phylogenetic system of classification to include the domain, a new taxonomic category higher (more inclusive) than the Kingdom category, as shown in the following diagram.

Universal Ancestor

Domain Bacteria             Domain Archaea Domain Eukarya

(Eubacteria)             (Archaebacteria) (Eukaryotes)


Introduction to Plants, Fungi, Invertebrates

37.  In the life cycles of a fern and a flowering plant, compare and contrast each of the following:

    1. The gametophyte generation.
    2. Sperm transport and fertilization.
    3. Embryo protection.

38.  Describe the differences between the terms in each of the following pairs.

    1. Coelomate versus acoelomate body plan.
    2. Protostome versus deuterostome development.
    3. Radial versus bilateral symmetry.
    4. Explain how each of these pairs of features was important in constructing the phylogenetic tree shown below. Use specific examples from the tree in your discussion.

    Vertebrates, Basic Animal Structure and Function

39.  Select two of the following three pairs and discuss the evolutionary relationships between the two members of each pair you have chosen. In your discussion include structural adaptations and the functional significance.

    Pair A: green algae---vascular plants

    Pair B: prokaryotes---eukaryotes

    Pair C: amphibians---reptiles

    Unit 7 (Animal Nutrition, Circulation, Respiration, Immune System)

40.  Describe the structure of a mammalian respiratory system. Include in your discussion the mechanisms of inspiration and expiration.

41.  Describe the processes of fat and protein digestion and product absorption as they occur in the human stomach and small intestine. Include a discussion of the enzymatic reactions involved.

42.  Describe the following mechanisms of response to foreign materials in the human body.

    1. The antigen-antibody response to a skin graft from another person.
    2. The reactions of the body leading to inflammation of a wound infected by bacteria.

43.  Discuss the processes of exchange of O2 and CO2 that occur at the alveoli and muscle cells of mammals. Include in your answer a description of the transport of these gases in the blood.

44.  Many physioligical changes occur during exercise.

    1. Design a controlled experiment to test the hypothesis that an exercise session causes short-term increases in heart rat and breathing rate in humans.
    2. Explain how at least three organ systems are affected by this increased physical activity and discuss interactions among these systems.

45.  The graph below shows the response of the human immune system to exposure to an antigen. Use this graph to answer part a and part b of this question.

    1. Describe the events that occur during period I as the immune system responds to the initial exposure to the antigen.
    2. Describe the events that occur during period II following a second exposure to the same antigen.
    3. Explain how infection by the AIDS virus (HIV) affects the function of both T and B lymphocytes.

    Homeostasis, Reproduction, Development

47.  Discuss the processes of cleavage, gastrulation, and neurulation in the frog embryo; tell what each process accomplishes. Describe an experiment that illustrates the importance of induction in development.

48.  The evolutionary success of organisms depends on reproduction. Some groups of organisms reproduce asexually, some reproduce sexually, while others reproduce both sexually and asexually.

    1. Using THREE difference organisms, give an example of one organism that reproduces sexually, one that reproduces asexually, and one that reproduces BOTH sexually and asexually. For each organism given as an example, describe two reproductive adaptations. These adaptations may be behavioral, structural, and/or functional.
    2. What environmental conditions would favor sexual reproduction? Explain. What environmental conditions would favor asexual reproduction? Explain.

    Endocrine System, Nervous System, Sensory and Motor Mechanisms

49.  Discuss the sources and actions of each of the following pairs of hormones in humans and describe the feedback mechanisms that control their release.

    1. Insulin---glucagon
    2. Parathyroid hormone---calcitonin
    3. Thyrotropin (TSH)---thyroxine (T4)

50.  Beginning at the presynaptic membrane of the neuromuscular junction, describe the physical and biochemical events involved in the contraction of a skeletal muscle fiber. Include the structure of the fiber in your discussion.

52.  Describe the negative and positive feedback loops, and discuss how feedback mechanisms regulate each of the following.

    1. The menstrual cycle in nonpregnant human female.
    2. Blood glucose levels in humans.

53.  Discuss how cellular structures, including the plasma membrane, specialized endoplasmic reticulum, cytoskeletal elements, and mitochondria, function together in the contraction of skeletal muscle cells.

54.  Structure and function are related in the various organ systems of animals.

Select two of the following four organ systems in vertebrates:

For each of the two systems you choose, discuss the structure and function of two adaptations that aid in the transport or exchange of molecules (or ions). Be sure to relate structure to function in each example.

Unit 6 (Plant Structure and Function)

55.  Relate the structure of an angiosperm leaf to each of the following:

    1. Adaptations for photosynthesis and food storage.
    2. Adaptations for food translocation and water transport.
    3. Specialized adaptations to a desert environment.

56.  Define the following plant responses and explain the mechanism of control for each. Cite experimental evidence as part of your discussion.

    1. Phototropism
    2. Photoperiodism

57.  Describe the structure of a bean seed and discuss its germination to the seedling stage. Include in your essay hormonal controls, structural changes, and tissue differentiation.

58.  Describe the effects of plant hormones on plant growth and development. Design an experiment to demonstrate the effect of one of these plant hormones on plant growth and development.

59.  Trace the pathway in a flowering plant as the water moves from the soil through the tissues of the root, stem, and leaves to the atmosphere. Explain the mechanisms involved in conducting water through these tissues.

60.  Discuss the adaptations that have enabled flowering plants to overcome the following problems associated with life on land.

    1. The absence of an aquatic environment for reproduction.
    2. The absence of an aquatic environment to support the plant body.
    3. Dehydration of the plant.

61.  A group of students designed an experiment to measure transpiration rates in a particular species of herbaceous plant. Plants were divided into four groups and were exposed to the following conditions.

    Group I- Room conditions (light, low humidity, 20 C, and little air movement.)
    Group II- Room conditions with increased humidity.
    Group III- Room conditions with increased air movement (fan)
    Group IV- Room conditions with additional light

    The cumulative water loss due to transpiration of water from each plant was measured at 10-minute intervals for 30 minutes. Water loss was expressed as milliliters of water per square centimeter of leaf surface area. The data for all plants in Group I (room conditions) were averaged. The average cumulative water loss by the plants in Group I is presented in the table below.

    Average Cumulative Water Loss by the Plants in Group I

    Time (minutes)

    Average Cumulative Water Loss (milliliter H2O centimeter2)


    3.5 x 10-4


    7.7 x 10-4


    10.6 x 10-4

    1. Construct and label a graph using the data for Group I. Using the same set of axes, draw and label three additional lines representing the results that you would predict for Groups II, III, and IV.
    2. Explain how biological and physical processes are responsible for the difference between each of your predictions and the data for Group I.
    3. Explain how the concept of water potential is used to account for the movement of water from the plant stem to the atmosphere during transpiration.

62.  Numerous environmental variables influence plant growth. Three students each planted a seedling of the same genetic variety in the same type of container with equal amounts of soil from the same source. Their goal was to maximize their seedling’s growth by manipulating environmental conditions. Their data are shown below.

    Plant Seedling Mass (grams)
    Day 1 Day 30
    Student A 4 24
    Student B 5 35
    Student C 4 64
    1. Identify three different environmental variables that could account for differences in the mass of seedlings at day 30. Then choose one of these variables and design an experiment to test the hypothesis that your variable affects growth of these seedlings.
    2. Discuss the results you would expect if your hypothesis is correct. Then provide a physiological explanation for the effect of your variable on plant growth.

    Unit 8 (Ecology)

63.  Define and explain the role of each of the following in social behavior.

    1. Territoriality.
    2. Dominance hierarchies.
    3. Courtship behavior.

64.  Describe the trophic levels in a typical ecosystem. Discuss the flow of energy through the ecosystem, the relationship between the different trophic levels, and the factors that limit the number of trophic levels.

65.  Describe and give an example of each of the following. Include in your discussion the selection advantage of each.

    1. Pheromones.
    2. Mimicry.
    3. Stereotyped behavior (instinct).

66.  Describe the process of ecological succession from a pioneer community to a climax community. Include in your answer a discussion of species diversity and interactions, accumulation of biomass, and energy flow.

67.  Describe releasers, imprinting, and communications, as each of these terms relates to animal behavior. You may include in your answer a discussion of the classical studies of Nikolaas Tinbergen, Konrad Lorenz, and Karl von Frisch.

68.  Describe the biogeochemical cycles of carbon and nitrogen. Trace these elements from the point of their release from a decaying animal to their incorporation into a living animal.

69.  Using an example for each, discuss the following ecological concepts.

    1. Succession
    2. Energy flow between trophic levels.
    3. Limiting factors.
    4. Carrying capacity.

70.  Living organisms play an important role in the recycling of many elements within an ecosystem. Discuss how various types of organisms and their biochemical reactions contribute to the recycling of either carbon or nitrogen in an ecosystem. Include in your answer one way in which human activity has an impact in the nutrient cycle you have chosen.

71.  Survival depends on the ability of an organism to respond to changes in its environment. Some plants flower in response to changes in day length. Some mammals may run or fight when frightened. For both of these examples, describe the physiological mechanisms involved in the response.

72.  Interdependence in nature is illustrated by the transfer of energy through trophic levels. The diagram below depicts the transfer of energy in a food web of an Arctic lake located in Alaska (J )

    1. Choosing organisms from four different trophic levels of this food web as examples, explain how energy is obtained at each trophic level.
    2. Describe the efficiency of energy transfer between trophic levels and discuss how the amount of energy available at each trophic level affects the structure of the ecosystem.
    3. If the cells in the dead terrestrial plant material that washed into the lake contained a commercially produced toxin, what would be the likely effects of this toxin on this food web? Explain


73.  A scientist working with Bursatella leachii, a sea slug that lives in an intertidal habitat in the coastal waters of Puerto Rico, gathered the following information about the distribution of the sea slugs within a ten-meter square plot over a 10-day period.

    Distribution of Slugs within a ten-meter square plot

    Time of Day

    Average Distance between individuals (cm)



    4 a.m.


    8 a.m.




    4 p.m.


    8 p.m.




For the data above, provide information on each of the following.

Choose ONE of the variables that you identified and design a controlled experiment to test your hypothetical explanation. Describe results that would support or refute your hypothesis.

Cummulative Essays

74.  Describe how the following adaptations have increased the evolutionary success of the organisms that possess them. Include in your discussion the structure and function related to each adaptation.

    1. C4 metabolism
    2. Amniotic egg
    3. Four-chambered heart
    4. Pollen

75.  Describe the anatomical and functional similarities and difference within each of the following pairs of structures.

    1. Artery---vein
    2. Small intestine---colon
    3. Skeletal muscle---cardiac muscle
    4. Anterior pituitary---posterior pituitary

76.  Discuss how each of the following has contributed to the evolutionary success of the organisms in which they are found.

    1. seeds
    2. mammalian placenta
    3. diploidy

77.  Angiosperms (flowering plants) and vertebrates obtain nutrients from their environment in different ways.

    1. Discuss the type of nutrition and the nutritional requirements of angiosperms and vertebrates.
    2. Describe 2 structural adaptations in angiosperms for obtaining nutrients from the environment. Relate structure to function.
    3. Interdependence in nature is evident in symbiosis. Explain tow symbiotic relationships that aid in nutrient uptake, using examples from angiosperms and/or vertebrates. (Both examples may be angiosperms, both may be vertebrates, or one may be from each group.

78.  The problem of survival of animals on land are very different from those of survival of animals in an aquatic environment. Describe four problems associated with animal survival in terrestrial environments but not in aquatic environments. For each problem, explain an evolutionary solution.

79.  The survival of organisms depends on regulatory mechanisms at various levels. Choose THREE from the following examples. Explain how each is regulated.

80.  Photosynthesis and cellular respiration recycle oxygen in ecosystems. Respond to TWO (and only two) of the following:

    1. Explain how the metabolic processes of cellular respiration and photosynthesis recycle oxygen.
    2. Discuss the structural adaptations that function in oxygen exchange between each of the following organisms and its environment: a plant; an insect; a fish.
    3. Trace a molecule of O2 from the environment to a muscle cell in a vertebrate of your choice.

81.  Biological recognition is important in many processes at the molecular, cellular, tissue, and organismal levels. Select three of the following, and for each of the three that you have chose, explain how the process of recognition occurs and give an example of each.

    1. Organisms recognize others as members of their own species.
    2. Neurotransmitters are recognized in the synapse.
    3. Antigens trigger antibody response.
    4. Nucleic acids are complementary.
    5. Target cells respond to specific hormones.

82.  Communication occurs among the cells in a multicellular organism. Choose THREE of the following examples of cell-to-cell communication, and for each example, describe the communication that occurs and the types of responses that result from this communication.


Credit: Mr. Knight Biology