Virtual Virginia

4370 Advanced Placement Biology

Field of Study

AP Biology is designed to be the equivalent of a first-year, introductory college biology course. The course provides students with factual knowledge and analytical skills within a conceptual framework necessary to deal critically with the rapidly changing science of biology. Primary emphasis is on developing an understanding of concepts rather than memorizing terms and technical details. Essential to this conceptual understanding is a grasp of science as a process, personal experience with scientific inquiry, recognition of unifying themes in biology, and application of biological knowledge and critical thinking to environmental and social concerns.

Material Covered

The course is structured around the following four Big Ideas:

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

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 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:

  1. The student can use representations and models to communicate scientific phenomena and solve scientific problems.
  2. The student can use mathematics appropriately.
  3. The student can engage in scientific questioning to extend thinking or to guide investigations within the context of the AP course.
  4. The student can plan and implement data collection strategies appropriate to a particular scientific question.
  5. The student can perform data analysis and evaluation of evidence.
  6. The student can work with scientific explanations and theories.
  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 within each unit is delivered via simulations, interactive tutorials, text readings, practice problems, review activities, written essays and reports, and synchronous and asynchronous lectures and lessons. Students are expected to take the AP Biology Exam in May but are not required to do so.

The comprehensive course and exam description (PDF) from the College Board explains the course content in detail.

Student Expectations

All labs address the lab objectives of the 13 core AP Biology labs contained in the College Board Lab Manual that students are required to purchase. Submissions of data analyses and conclusions are required. Furthermore, discussion of results is afforded via a virtual classroom both synchronously and asynchronously. Additional investigations are assigned to provide supplemental learning and extensions of concepts. Students with access to a lab and supervisor at school perform the actual labs. Students without access to a laboratory and/or supervisor complete labs as home-based kitchen labs or field work. 

Students are expected (but not required) to take the AP Biology Exam in May.


  • Required: Successful completion of Biology I and Chemistry I, with a grade of “B” or better in both courses
  • Required: Successful completion of Algebra and Geometry

Course Texts and Materials


  • Biology for AP (free online textbook)
    Publisher: OpenStax
  • AP Biology Lab Manual
    May be purchased through College Board’s website or another bookseller. Make sure the manual purchased was published after 2014 and includes all 13 labs. Older manuals are no longer relevant.
  • Portfolio binder: 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. Students must keep all lab reports and the lab manual itself (with written answers) throughout the year.



  • Kaplan’s AP Biology Review Manual, or any other review manual published after 2012


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