AP Biology: Reading Section Strategy

There is a 10-minute reading period sandwiched between the multiple-choice section and the free-response (essay) portion of the AP Biology exam. Notice that this is a “reading” period, not a “nap” period. Ten minutes isn’t much time, but it does give you an opportunity to read the essay questions. You can write notes in the question booklet, but these will not be seen by graders.

This gives you just over one minute per question to plan your response. Take at least 30 seconds to read and re-read each question. Make sure you understand what is being asked. Next, you should jot down any thoughts you have about the answer on a piece of scratch paper or in the test booklet. Write down key words you want to mention. You have most likely brainstormed ideas when writing an essay for your English class. This is exactly what you want to do here as well: Brainstorm ideas about the best way to answer each free-response question.

With the remaining time, make a quick outline of how you would answer each question. You don’t need to write complete sentences; just jot down notes that you can understand. If drawings or diagrams are requested, make a brief, crude version of what they will look like.

The following is an example of a free-response question and some notes that could be taken. The actual answer should not be in this outline form, but in a more coherent essay, with more detailed descriptions of each concept where appropriate.


Sample Question and Outline

Transcription is the process of generating RNA from a DNA blueprint. It occurs in both prokaryotes and eukaryotes, but the mechanism and results are different. Describe the differences between prokaryotic and eukaryotic transcription for the following cases.

(A)  Where does transcription occur, and how does this affect translation?

(B)  What is the structure of a messenger RNA?

(C)  What enzymes and other molecules and sequences are necessary for transcription?

Things to Cover:
Prok — cytoplasm, translation
Christmas-tree structure
Euk — nucleus (rRNA in nucleolus), no translation until exits
Prok — many genes on one mRNA (operon/polycistronic), no introns, cap, or tail Euk — single gene, introns, cap, poly A tail

Prok — same RNA pol for all RNA (sigma factor), –10 and –35 region of promoter, maybe rho for termination

Euk — RNA pol I, II, and III (rRNA, mRNA, tRNA), transcription factors, enhancers, TATA box or something like it, spliceosome

By the time you’ve written that, your one-to-two minutes on that question should be up. Move on to the next question. When the time comes to start writing your answers, you’ll have a good set of notes on which to base your answer to this question.