Best AP Biology Books for the May 2020 Exam

Only 6% of students get a 5 on the AP Bio exam every year.

However, most colleges require a 4 or higher to get credit, which is easier as 26% that get the required score.

This means you need to be better than nearly 75% of everyone who takes the exam, so you need the right prep materials to get the great score you deserve.

The Ultimate AP Biology Prep List

Since AP Bio is such a hard exam, there's tons of prep books out there.

Too bad most of them aren't very useful.

The ones below are guaranteed to help you score higher without breaking the bank.

AP Bio Pearson Education Review

This is the book we recommend to our students and they're always surprised that it's not a Barron or 5 Steps to a 5 book. 

While those companies are more well known for their AP prep materials, in this case, Pearson is the leader.

This is one of the only books with questions that resemble what you will see on the actual exam which is a must-have when studying.

At 10 chapters and 460 pages it's pretty in-depth and it doesn't go into material you don't need to know for the exam.

There's no point in wasting your time on learning stuff that won't help you get the score you want.

Each section contains a "must know" box that has a list of things you should know and understand. 

The easiest way to see if you truly understand the "must know" material is to pretend that you're teaching it to someone and explain it.

If you can't do that, then you better study up on those sections.

It also contains 2 grid-in questions per chapter and since students do notoriously bad on those types of questions, this is a life saver.

The only negative of this book is that this won't replace your Biology textbook so if you are completely lost, you'll need something else to learn the material.

Pros

  • Questions that resemble t​​​​he actual exam
  • 2 grid-in questions per chapter

Cons

  • Can't use for actually learning the material
Cracking the AP Biology Exam Princeton Review 2018

The Princeton Review book isn't as great as the Pearson book above, but if you can afford to get two books, this should be your 2nd one. 

There's another "regular edition" version, but it has 3 less practice exams than this one and doesn't include the online extras.

The book doesn't cover the material 100% in-depth, and if this is the only book you have, you'll probably get a 4 or a 3, but if you combine this with the book above, you're likely to get a 5.

The key is to ignore the "teaching sections" of the book and use the practice tests and questions as that's where the main strengths of it lie.

Pros

  • Contains 3 high-quality exams High quality exams with questions similar to the real exam

Cons

  • Not great for learning material from scratch
Barrons-AP-BIO

The older Barron books are terrible, but this new version is great. 

It contains two full-length exams with multiple-choice questions that are similar to the actual exam, but the free-response questions aren't as good.

You can still use them to prepare, but we recommend using one of the other books above to make sure you're 100% ready for that section.

The book also has about 150 additional practice MC questions, and if you purchase it from here, you get a free online practice test. 

Of course, you might not need the extra testing if you already have the two books above, but if you are looking for a 2nd book and have something against Princeton Review, then this is the right choice for you.

Pros

  • Multiple choice questions that are very similar to real exam questions
  • Detailed explanations and answers for all questions

Cons

  • Free-response isn't 100% true to the real exam
CliffsNotes AP Biology

While the 4 books above should be more than enough, if you're craving extra practice and want to feel even more confident, this book is perfect for you. 

While it's not the best standalone book for the exam, it's perfect for catching any holes you might have in your knowledge as they cover a wider range of material than most of the books above.

However, there are some minor errors in some of the questions, so ask your teacher if you keep getting an answer that differs from the book.

It contains two full-length practice tests, but the end of chapter questions are the real MVP of this book. They will help you pinpoint any weak areas and make sure that you are 100% ready to take on this exam.

Pros

  • Covers a wide range of material- perfect for finding holes in your knowledge

Cons

  • Some minor typos and incorrect answers

AP Biology Exam Structure

The advanced placement biology exam has 2 sections: a multiple choice and free response.

The 90 minute multiple choice section has 69 questions and is 50% of your final exam score. There are 63 "pure" multiple choice questions and 6 grid in questions.

The 90 minute free-response section has 8 questions and also accounts for 50% of your final score. There are 2 long-form questions with 1 lab-based one, and 6 shorter, one-paragraph, questions.

Last AP Biology Exam Change

The AP Bio exam was last changed in 2012, but we don't recommend using any books targeted at the 2012-2014 exams as it took the test prep companies a while to change their prep-book structure to resemble the actual exam.

If you have an old Princeton review or Barron book, then anything 2016 or earlier is not recommended as they were particularly slow to catch up.

More AP Bio Study Resources

If you're planning on self-studying for the AP bio exam or you want some free resources to complement your learning, you should check out these:

  • CollegeBoard- The course and exam description has sample multiple choice and free response questions. (MC start on page 129 and FR start on page 165)
  • Khan Academy- They have AP Bio specific prep videos which are great for reacquainting with a certain topic or learning something your teacher might've missed. 
  • Bozeman Science- Another resource similar to Khan Academy. If you don't like Khan Academy's videos, these ones might work better for you.
  • OpenStax Biology Textbook- A free online Biology textbook you can use if you're self-studying.

AP Biology Books to Avoid

Most of the AP bio books aren't too terrible, but there are a couple ones you should avoid.

Any Book Published Before 2014

The AP Biology exam changed in 2012, but most of the textbook companies haven't adapted to the new exam until 2014/2015 so if you can get a newer book, you should do so.

Also, don't get anything from Barron/Princeton Review that's published before 2016 as they took even longer to get used to the new format.

Sterling Test Prep

Most of their books are good, but their AP bio book does not match the revised AP Bio format at all. It's a great book for learning biology as a subject, but it won't help you get a better score on the actual exam.