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A Program of the Virginia Department of Education

03056 AP Biology

Field of Study

The AP Biology course is designed to enable students to develop advanced inquiry and reasoning skills, such as designing a plan for collecting data, analyzing data, applying mathematical routines, and connecting concepts in and across domains. The result will be readiness for the study of advanced topics in subsequent college courses.

This AP Biology course is equivalent to a two-semester college introductory biology course and has been endorsed enthusiastically by higher education officials. The College Board Curriculum Framework is available here.

Material Covered

The course is divided into 8 major units structured around the four Big Ideas described in the College Board Curriculum Framework:

  • Big Idea 1: The process of evolution drives the diversity and unity of life.
  • Big Idea 2: Biological systems utilize free energy and molecular building blocks to grow, to reproduce and to maintain dynamic homeostasis.
  • Big Idea 3: Living systems store, retrieve, transmit and respond to information essential to life processes.
  • Big Idea 4: Biological systems interact, and these systems and their interactions possess complex properties.

Specific topics include Ecology, Organismal Physiology, Evolution, Mendelian and Molecular Genetics, Metabolism, Cells, and Biochemistry.

Student Expectations

Each unit addresses at least one of the Big Ideas via a variety of strategies that include anticipatory questions, PowerPoint presentations, discussions, hands-on and virtual lab experiences, demonstrations, online lectures and videos, written reports, and practice in answering AP-style free response questions. The strategies provide a framework within which students utilize and demonstrate the 7 Science Practices outlined in the AP Biology curriculum framework:

  • Science Practice 1: The student can use representations and models to communicate scientific phenomena and solve scientific problems.
  • Science Practice 2: The student can use mathematics appropriately.
  • Science Practice 3: The student can engage in scientific questioning to extend thinking or to guide investigations within the context of the AP course.
  • Science Practice 4: The student can plan and implement data collection strategies appropriate to a particular scientific question.
  • Science Practice 5: The student can perform data analysis and evaluation of evidence.
  • Science Practice 6: The student can work with scientific explanations and theories.
  • Science Practice 7: The student is able to connect and relate knowledge across various scales, concepts, and representations in and across domains.

Each unit has graded assignments including labs, required reading, interactive activities, tutorials, quizzes, and a unit test. Content is delivered via simulations, interactive tutorials, text readings, practice problems, review activities, written essays and reports, and synchronous and asynchronous lectures and lessons.

Related Requirements

Students are expected (but not required) to take the national AP Biology exam in May. In addition to the AP exam, all students are required to take the course final exam per Virtual Virginia policy.


  • Successful completion of Biology and Chemistry

Course Texts and Materials

  • Text: 9th edition (or later) Biology by Peter Raven, George Johnson, Kenneth A. Mason, Jonathan B. Losos, and Susan S. Singer, 2011.
    ISBN: 0073532223
    McGraw Hill Publishing
  • Lab Manual: Can be purchased through the College Board on their store site. Be sure to purchase the newest edition with the butterfly (or moth) on the cover and it was published on or before 2012. Earlier College Board lab manuals will not suffice. An online version of the lab manual is available here.
  • Portfolio: Three-ring binders are essential for printed notes, assignments, data tables, graphs, lab reports and other documents. A complete lab portfolio is required and may be reviewed by the College Board. Keep all lab reports and your lab manual itself (with written answers) throughout the year.
  • AP Biology Review Manual: Any review manual published after 2013 is acceptable. Kaplan’s, 5-Steps-to-a-5, and Barron’s are some examples. These can be found on Amazon for as little as $1. Begin the year with a review manual. Don’t wait.
    Barron’s AP Biology, 6th Edition
    ISBN-13: 978-1438008684 ISBN-10: 1438008686
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