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What is AP Environmental Science? An All-Inclusive Guide

Dec 27, 2021

If you are looking for an AP course that is all about human behaviors and their impact on the natural world, AP environmental science is for you. In case you want to take up this course and exam, you are in the right place. Here, we will provide you with all the information on the course related to what environmental science you need before deciding to enroll in it.

Also known as AP Enviro or APES, this exam is among the most popular AP exams students opt for. However, not all of them can score the best in it. The reason behind it may be anything ranging from their lack of knowledge about the subject to their disinterest in it.


In today’s post, along with telling you all about the exam, we will also let you know who should take the exam and who should not.
Let us get started.

2021 AP Environmental Science Test Changes Due to COVID-19

Before we move on to the most important question – What is AP environmental science, let us first take a look at this year’s test changes due to the coronavirus pandemic. Due to COVID-19, in the year 2021, there were three different sessions for the AP tests.


Earlier, there were two. Also, some of the tests took place on paper while some online depending on the school. For the upcoming year, students can find all the latest information about this with the College Board or their school.

All About the AP Environmental Science Exam

Now, let us get into the details of the AP environmental science exam. Below we have covered everything ranging from data about the AP environmental science course, skills you will learn in it, prerequisites, course content, exam pattern, and a lot more. Have a look at it, and decide if the APES exam is for you or not.


About the AP Environmental Science Course

If you want to take up a subject that focuses on the exploration and investigation of the interrelationships between the natural world, the AP environmental science exam is for you. This course also covers the analysis of environmental problems and hazards – both natural and human-made.

It includes both theoretical parts and laboratory & fieldwork. Further, this course is planned out in such a way that it is equivalent to a single semester introductory course in college.


Throughout the course, students will focus on the scientific principles and analysis of every kind of environmental issue. Further, the goal of this multidisciplinary course is to make sure that students understand all scientific principles, concepts, and skills they will need to understand human behaviors and their impact on the nature around them.

Alongside this, the course also focuses on the benefits and risks associated with this. There will also be environmental problem-solving skills that depend on stewardship, sustainability, and sound science. As stated earlier, along with learning all this, there will be laboratory examinations and fieldwork in the course. Make sure to keep a record of this work for college admissions.


Skills you Will Learn for The AP Environmental Science Course

After a brief description of the course, let us see what skills you will learn throughout the AP environmental science course. They are given as follows:

● You will be able to explain the most important environmental concepts and processes.
● With the AP Enviro course, you will get the skill of analyzing visual representations, data, and writings on the subject.
● You can apply quantitative methods to solve the problems related to the field and also analyze a research study to find a hypothesis.
● Lastly, with all the learnings, you will know how to propose a solution for an environmental problem. Also, you will acquire the skill of supporting your idea with evidence.


Equivalency And Prerequisites of the AP Enviro Exam

The equivalency and prerequisites of the AP environmental science exam are as follows:

Equivalency: The AP environmental science course is a college course equivalent. It consists of a one-semester introductory study in environmental science.


Prerequisites: As for the prerequisites for the AP environmental science exam, we recommend you have two years of high school laboratory science experience. This should include life science and physical science. In addition to this, we also recommend at least one year of experience in algebra.

AP Environmental Science Course Content

If the question – “Is AP environmental science hard?” is on your mind, the course content can tell you a lot about it. So, in this section, we will be discussing what topics the exam covers and what you need to learn for the APES exam.

The students can readily find in-depth knowledge about the APES exam and its syllabus on the College Board website. In case it is too wordy for you, here is a piece of brief information about the same. Have a look:

The AP environmental science course and exam are all about nine units. These units are as given below:
● Unit 1: The Living World: Ecosystems
● Unit 2: The Living World: Biodiversity
● Unit 3: Populations
● Unit 4: Earth Systems and Resources
● Unit 5: Land and Water Use
● Unit 6: Energy Resources and Consumption
● Unit 7: Atmospheric Pollution
● Unit 8: Aquatic and Terrestrial Pollution
● Unit 9: Global Change
From these nine units, the first two units comprise 6-8% of exam questions. The next four units cover 10-15% of exam questions. Further, 7-10% of exam questions will be from units seven and eight. Lastly, unit nine – Global Change has 15-20% of the questions in the exam. As per this data, students can easily decide what are the most important units in the course content, and whether or not the exam will be hard for them.

Furthermore, like every other AP science course, AP environmental science also consists of lab experiments and fieldwork. If you decide to opt for the course, you are sure to get hands-on experience with the subject. This will range from completing lab experiments and doing fieldwork to observing the natural world.

For instance, for a certain lab experiment, you will have to collect water from a certain source. Then, you will get to test it for chemicals and minerals. Also, for another experiment, you may have to track plant growth in a particular kind of soil in an area or observe wildlife there. All of this is to ensure that you can apply scientific concepts, principles, as well as methodologies to various environmental problems in the real world.

AP Environmental Science Exam Format

Now that you know about the AP Environmental Science course content, let us take a look at what you can expect in the exam. For this, the exam pattern is crucial. As of now, the exam consists of 80 multiple-choice questions. Along with these 80 questions, there are three free-response questions. Both these question types are from the two sections of the APES exam.

Students have to solve all these questions in two hours and 40 minutes. Also, during the span of the exam, they can use a graphing calculator. Here is a brief overview of the AP Environmental Science exam pattern. Have a look:

Section 1

● Question Type: Multiple-Choice Questions
● Number of Questions: 80
● % Of Score: 60%
● Time: 1 hour 30 minutes

Section 2

● Question Type: Free-Response Questions
● Number of Questions: 3
● % Of Score: 40%
● Time: 1 hour 10 minutes
This makes the total time of the exam to be two hours and 40 minutes during which you have to solve 83 questions. Now, let us discuss the two sections of the AP environmental science exam in detail.

Section 1: Multiple-Choice Section

The first section of the exam – the multiple-choice section, is a bit longer as it counts for 60% of your final APES score. Therefore, you get one hour and 30 minutes to solve it. All the 80 questions in this section have four possible answer choices. These are labeled A-D. Furthermore, these questions can be in sets or they can be stand-alone questions.

Typically, many of the questions in this section are based on a short passage. It is because they access your ability to assess data with a text-based stimulus. Along with this, there will be three to four sets based on quantitative data (charts, graphs, tables, etc.), and three to four question sets based on qualitative data (maps, models, etc.).

Section 2: Free-Response Section

As for the free-response section, you already know that it lasts for an hour and ten minutes. During this time, you have to solve 3 questions that count for 40% of your total APES score. The first free-response question asks the students to design an investigation. The second question, on the other hand, tests your skill to analyze an environmental problem, and accordingly, proposing a solution for it.

Lastly, for the final question of the free-response section, you again will have to analyze an environmental issue. Then, as per it, you have to propose a solution for it with a valid calculation. Over the years, the format of this section has remained the same. Here is a quick recap of what you can expect to answer for each of the free-response section questions:

● Question 1 – You have to design an investigation
● Question 2 – You have to study an environmental problem and give a solution to it
● Question 3 – You have to analyze an environmental issue and provide the necessary solution for it with calculations

Should You Take the AP Environmental Science Exam?

AP Environmental Science is among the most popular AP exams out there. As per the data given by the College Board, in the year 2021, the number of students that opted for this exam was 149,106. For the same year, the exam had a passing score of 48% and 6% of students got a 5 AP score in it.

The data clearly shows that while a lot of students take up the exam, not all do well on it. So, does this make the AP environmental exam hard? Well, not exactly. If you are taking up the subject because you are interested in it, there is no way you will find it difficult. This particular course requires less work than most other science AP classes out there.

So, is AP Enviro super hard? Not really. It usually requires less work than other AP science classes, and the consensus among students is that the material isn’t particularly difficult. Then, what is the reason behind this reduced high score and passing score rate of the exam? Is the AP environmental science textbook assigned not enough? Or are the questions asked very tough?

We think that none of this matters. Many students take up this AP exam even when they are not very interested in it. With little to no interest and experience with AP classes, preparation for the exam can become very challenging. The same can be said if you are taking up the course just to squeeze in an extra AP class as you will have very little time to study for it.

In simple words, lack of adequate preparation is the main reason for several students performing poorly in the AP environmental science exam. Now, the real question is how does one know if they should take the AP environmental science course and exam? If you are wondering the same, read ahead and get your answer.

Who Should Opt For AP Environmental Science?
Let’s begin with who should take up the AP environmental science exam. If you are among the following kind of students, you should opt for this exam:

Students Who Are Interested in The Subject
Do you like topics related to the environment? Do terms like sustainability and biodiversity interest you? If yes, AP environmental science is for you. Taking up this course will help you learn all about the interrelationships between humans and the environment. Along with understanding all the environmental dangers, you will also know how to deal with them, and a lot more.

Students Who Want to Take an AP Science Class
While the course is not for you if you want to major in science later, you can still take it if you want to take up an AP science class. It is especially true if you do not have enough time to take up and prepare for classes like AP Physics, AP Chemistry, or AP Biology.

Students Whose School Has a Good Reputation for It
If the APES course in your school is good and has a reputation for being interesting, you can take it up. Keep in mind that you should at least have a little interest in it to prepare well for the exam.

Students Who Have Enough Time to Take Up the Exam
In case you are not taking multiple AP classes, and have enough time and energy to devote to an AP class, you can consider taking up the AP environmental science class. Make sure to only take it if your other classes and extracurriculars leave you time. Do not overburden yourself.

Who Should Not Opt For AP Environmental Science?
While the AP Environmental Science can be a good class to take, the following kind of students should not opt for it:

Students Who Are Not Interested in The Subject
First things first, if you have no interest in the topics related to the environment and how humans impact the ecosystem, this AP course is not for you. Do not take it up just to fill in a spot. Instead, look for a subject that you are interested in the most, and choose it. Without any interest in the subject, there is no way you will perform well at it.

Students Who Plan on Majoring in Science
Earlier, it was stated that you can take up AP Environmental Science if you do not have time for AP Physics, AP Chemistry, or AP Biology. However, if you want to major in science, this might not be the best class for you. Let us tell you why.

This course is science-based. However, it is more of an interdisciplinary class. When compared to classes like AP Chemistry and AP Biology, this one has way more cross-curricular topics, history, and writings. There are chances that the college you are applying for gives social science credits for the subject rather than science.

In simple words, if you are looking for an AP class that can help you for college-level science classes or you want to earn science credit for college, the AP enviro exam may not be for you. Make sure to take it if you are deeply interested in the subject and want to study environmental science even in college.

Students Who Do Not Have Enough Time to Devote to the APES Class
Most of the students think that just because the AP environmental science class consists of less work than other AP science classes, it will be easy for them. While the exam syllabus might not be as complicated as the other science AP classes, it is impossible to pass the exam with flying colors without putting in effort as well as time.

Sure, the course content may not be complicated or in-depth. But like any other exam, it requires dedication. If that would not be the case, the pass results for the exam would have been different over years. So, do keep in mind that if you take up the class, you still will have to memorize certain information, develop related skills, and learn how to analyze everything well.

Top Tips to Succeed in AP Environmental Science

If you have decided to take up the APES class, make sure to follow these tips to do well:
Know That the Class Will Not Be All About Science
Along with graphs and scientific questions, this class will also require you to interpret documents and write essays (like in AP language and history class).
Acquire The Skill to Read and Interpret Visual Data
For both multiple-choice and free-response sections, know how to look at data (table, chart, graph, etc.), and then answer questions related to it. You need to think critically about it.
For the Course, Always Remember Everything Is Connected
For the AP Environmental Science course, almost all topics are interconnected. You must be able to understand these connections, and explain them, and their importance well.

Key Points to Remember: What Is AP Environmental Science?

So, this is all you need to know – “What is the AP environmental science course and exam?” We are confident that by now, you would have decided if you want to take up APES classes or not. If you are still confused, take up some time, and think deeply if the subject is the right fit for you or not.

  • To help you decide better, here is an overview of everything that was discussed in the post. Keep these key points in mind while making the decision.
    The AP environmental science course content has a total of nine units – The Living World: Ecosystems, The Living World: Biodiversity, Populations, Earth Systems and Resources, Land and Water Use, Energy Resources and Consumption, Atmospheric Pollution, Aquatic and Terrestrial Pollution, and Global Change.
  • All these units that you need to cover in the course are not complicated or overwhelming. Still, make sure to never underestimate the work and effort you have to put in to get a good AP score in the exam at the end of the year.
  • It is suggested to take up the APES exam only if you have time after your other classes and extracurriculars. You must be able to complete the coursework, prepare for the exam well, and finally take it at the end.
  • The subject covers include topics from many areas. Therefore, opt for it only if you are keenly interested in it.
  • Do not take up the AP environmental science class if you want to get science credit for college. In such a case, it is advisable to take other AP science classes as this one is more interdisciplinary than a pure science class.

Now that you know all about AP Environmental Science, we hope you make the best decision. Good luck!



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