AP Biology: Stand-Alone Questions

Stand-Alones comprise a large portion of Section I of the AP Biology test, in which you must answer 60 multiple-choice questions in 90 minutes. Section management may not come to mind when you think about Biology, but taking control of the test is crucial to achieve a good score.


You don’t need to get every multiple-choice question right on the AP Biology exam. To get a 4 or 5, you need to get a large portion, but not all, of the questions right. If you don’t have enough time to get to every question, make sure that the questions you skip are the longest, most involved ones. That’s a great use of your limited resource: time.

There’s more to it than just tackling questions in the right order, however. The more you know about the question types, the better equipped you will be to handle them.


It’s easier to talk about what isn’t in the Stand-Alone questions than what is there.

  • There’s no order of difficulty; that is, questions don’t start out easy and gradually become tougher.
  • There are no two questions connected to each other in any way.
  • There’s no pattern as to what biology concepts appear when.

The Stand-Alones look like a bunch of disconnected biology questions, one following another, and that’s just what they are. A genetics question may follow a taxonomy question, which may follow a question about the Krebs cycle.

There’s no overall pattern, so don’t bother looking for one. Nevertheless, just because the section is randomly ordered doesn’t mean you have to approach it on the same random terms. Instead, draw two lists. Label one list “Concepts I Enjoy and Know” and label the other list “Concepts that Are Not My Strong Points.” Organize chapters or concepts from your textbook or Kaplan’s AP Biology book in your lists.

When you get ready to tackle the Stand-Alones, keep these two lists in mind. On your first pass through the section, answer all the questions that deal with concepts you like and know a lot about. Quickly glance over any tables, figures or images and look for terminology in the question stem to clue you into the concept being tested. It should not take very long for you to figure out whether or not you have the factual chops needed to answer it. If you do, answer that problem and move on. If the question is on a subject that’s not one of your strong points, skip it and come back later.

The overarching goal is to answer correctly the greatest possible number of questions in the time available. To do this, focus on your strengths during the first pass through the section. Some questions might be very difficult, even in a subject you’re familiar with. Take a minute or so on a tough question, and if you can’t come up with an answer, make a mark by the question number in your test booklet and move on. The first pass is about picking up easy points.

Once you’ve swept through and snagged all the easy questions, take a second pass and try the tougher ones. These tougher questions might cover subjects you’re not strong in, or they might just be very difficult questions on subjects you are familiar with. Odds are high that you won’t know the answer to some of these questions, but don’t leave them blank. You should always take a stab at eliminating some answer choices, and then make an educated guess.

To select the correct answer on the AP Biology exam you will need to know the relevant science, but even if certain facts elude you, you can still increase your odds of choosing correctly by keeping the following two key ideas in mind.



Many times you can eliminate at least one answer choice from a problem. It may seem insignificant, but it gets you closer to the correct answer and it can significantly increase your chances of guessing correctly. You won’t get every guess right, but over the course of the test, this form of educated guessing will improve your score.

The Test Is Comprehensive, Not Sneaky

Some tests are sneakier than others. They have convoluted writing, questions designed to trip you up mentally, and a host of other little tricks. Students taking a sneaky test often have the proper facts, but get the question wrong because of a trap in the question itself.

Understanding these facts about how the test is designed can help you answer questions on it. The AP Biology exam is comprehensive, not sneaky. You’ve probably taken an AP Biology course, so trust your instincts when guessing. If you think you know the right answer, chances are you dimly remember the topic being discussed in your AP course. The test is about science, not traps, so trusting your instincts will help more often than not.

You don’t have much time to ponder every tough question, so trusting your instincts can help keep you from getting bogged down and wasting time on a problem. You might not get every educated guess correct, but again, the point isn’t about getting a perfect score. It’s about getting a good score, and surviving hard questions by going with your gut feelings is a good way to achieve this.

On other problems, though, you might have no inkling of what the correct answer should be. In that case, turn to the second key idea.

Think Good Science

The AP Biology test rewards good biologists. The test wants to foster future biologists by covering fundamental topics and sound laboratory procedure. What the test doesn’t want is bad science. It doesn’t want answers that are factually incorrect, too extreme to be true, or irrelevant to the topic at hand.

Yet these “bad science” answers invariably appear, because it’s a multiple-choice test and you must have three incorrect answer choices around the one right answer. So, if you don’t know how to answer a question, look at the answer choices and think “good science.” This may lead you to find some poor answer choices that can be eliminated.

44. AB+energyA+B

Which of the following best characterizes the reaction represented above?

(A) Anabolism

(B)  Endergonic reaction

(C)  Exergonic reaction

(D) Hydrolysis

Here’s our trusty Stand-Alone question from before. Even if you don’t know what the problem is asking, look at choice (D), hydrolysis. The prefix hydro– means “water.” You don’t even have to be a biologist to know that. Even if you don’t know exactly what hydrolysis is, you should know that it has something to do with water.

Nothing in the question stem has anything to do with water, does it? The AP Biology exam is comprehensive, not sneaky, so how could choice (D) be the correct answer? It just can’t. That makes basic good science sense. Thinking about good science, you can cross out (D). You have a one-in-three shot, so take a guess.

You would be surprised how many times the correct answer on a multiple-choice question is a simple, blandly worded fact like, “Cells come in a variety of sizes and shapes.” No breaking news there, but it is good science: a carefully worded statement that is factually accurate.



Thinking about good science in terms of the AP Biology exam can help you in two ways:

1. It helps you cross out extreme answer choices or choices that are untrue or out of place.
2. It can occasionally point you toward the correct answer, because the correct answer will be a factual piece of information sensibly worded.

Neither the “good science” nor the “comprehensive, not sneaky” strategy is 100-percent effective every time, but they do help more often than not. On a tough Stand-Alone question, these techniques can make the difference between an unanswered question and a good guess.