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Intro to AP Environmental Science

AP Environmental Science (which is also called APES and AP Enviro) is an AP science class that some schools offer high schoolers as a course. This means that if students pass the AP exam for the class, and earn a certain score they could be awarded AP credit at certain colleges. AP Environmental Science has been licensed by the College Board® to utilize the AP designation.  AP Environmental is the equivalent of an introductory college-level science course. AP Environmental Science prepares students for the AP examination. The National AP Passing Rate for AP Environmental Science is 45.6%.  

The typical grade levels that students take AP Environmental Science are grades 11-12. The typical homework committment is 4 hours/week. The interests/career aspirations of students taking this course would typically be: Professions in the EPA and related fields such as legal, toxicology, Climatology, and professions associated with NASA or other planetary monitoring foundations. This course is also beneficial for those who are interested in a career in medical, chemical, or biological fields. Suggested skills and prior knowledge include excellent attendance and the ability to read for comprehension. Some schools have prerequisites for taking this class. My school’s prerequisite courses/requirements for taking AP Environmetnal Science are: Biology and Chemistry (A or B) and a 3.0 recommended GPA.

ap environmental science

In AP Environmental Science students will find themselves noticing things they’ve learned in class everywhere, in your kitchen, outside, in the hallways, and in school. Students will develop a great understanding of the world around you, how it works, and what we need to do to protect it. This class is designed to engage students with the scientific principles, concepts, and methods required to understand the relationships within the natural world. Students will identify and analyze natural and man made environmental problems, evaluate risks associated with those problems, and exmaine solutions for resolving them. Students who complete AP Environmental Science are anticipated to be able to apply scientific principles, concepts, as well as techniques to real-world examples and also issues. The AP Environmental Science course helps students establish their crucial thinking abilities and cognitive strategies. Scientific inquiry skills are embedded in the direct instruction, where students learn to ask scientific concerns, deconstruct cases, form and test theories, and utilize logic and evidence to draw conclusions. 

As a final note always be mindful of due dates and deadlines. This class moves fast no matter who your teacher is. As soon as you finish one topic you will move onto another. If you fall behind it is a grind to get back on pace.


Is AP Environmental Science hard?

From my AP Environmental Science teacher:

“Every year I hear a misconception where students think this is the easy AP class. Well, I’m here to break your heart and tell you you were misinformed. Let me explain. In AP Bio you study biology. In AP Chem you study chemistry and so on and so forth. What makes AP Environmental Science challenging is you’re learning everything. Environmental science is an interdisciplinary field and you will embrace topics from geology, biology, chemistry, physics, geography, law, history, sociology, and that’s not even all of it! But what makes this class so challenging is also what makes it so much fun. There is always something new to learn. There is always some new environmental relationship to explore. If there’s a topic you find boring, don’t worry! You’ll move on to something different very soon and you’ll find your jam soon.”


What are we doing in APES?

Here’s how the class works. It’s split between two main things: Learning science practices and the course content.

  1. Learning science practices – The science practices are the things you will learn how to do. They are actions. You will learn how to explain environmental concepts, analyze visual representations, analyze sources of information, complete scientific experiments, analyze and interpret data like tables, charts and graphs, you will apply mathematical routines (don’t worry you’re allowed to use a calculator, and you will propose and justify solutions to environmental problems. AP Environmental Science instructors must also have 25% of their class instruction time be for students doing hands-on labs. You can read more about the lab element below in this blog post.


AP Environmental Science lab element

Like various other AP science classes, AP Environmental Science consists of a lab element, and students who take AP Environmental Science will get hands-on experience in the form of completing laboratories, observing the natural world, and/or doing fieldwork. In hands-on labs, you might have to collect water and also test it for certain chemicals, observe wild animals in a field or forest, track plant development, and so on. These hands-on labs and projects will provide insight into the nature of science and also help students recognize environmental concepts. Students also learn how evidence can be obtained to sustain those principles. Throughout labs students will form theories; collect, evaluate, control information, and report their findings and conclusions.College Board expects AP Environmental Science teachers to have students spend 25% of class time doing hand-on labs. This 25% requirement can be met in the following ways:

  1. Virtual labs
  2. Simulations accompanied by student work (data collection, data analysis, etc.)
  3. Labs that can be safely conducted at home


            2. The course content (the information you will engage with): As far as course content goes, there are four big themes that encapsulate this class: Energy transfers, interactions between earth systems, interactions between organisms and their environment, and sustainability. The College Board is extremely detailed in what they require your AP instructor to cover in their AP Environmental Science course. Below are the 9 units covered in the Ap Environmental Science exam:

Unit 1: The Living World: Ecosystems (6%–8% of exam score)

  • You’ll learn about regional ecosystems and ecosystem features, processes, and relationships between species

Topics may include:

  • Introduction to ecosystems
  • Terrestrial and aquatic biomes
  • Primary productivity
  • Carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, and water cycles
  • Trophic levels
  • The flow of energy in an ecosystem and the 10% rule
  • Food chains and food webs


Unit 2: The Living World: Biodiversity (6%–8% of exam score)

  • Learning about the importance of biodiversity and how outside factors impact organism evolution

Topics may include:

  • Introduction to biodiversity 
  • Ecosystem services
  • Island biogeography
  • Ecological tolerance
  • Natural disruptions to ecosystems
  • Ecological succession

Unit 3: Populations (10%–15% of exam score)

  • Learning about how populations change over time and the factors that affect how a population grows

Topics may include:

  • Generalist and specialist species
  • Survivorship curves
  • Population growth and resource availability
  • Age structure diagrams
  • Human population dynamics

Unit 4: Earth Systems and Resources (10%–15% of exam score)

  • Learning about the natural components that make up the environment such as the specifics of the atmosphere, climate, and geologic features.

Topics may include:

  • Tectonic plates
  • Soil formation and erosion
  • Earth’s atmosphere
  • Global wind patterns
  • Earth’s geography and climate
  • El Niño and La Niña


Unit 5: Land and Water Use (10%–15% of exam score)

  • Examine how humans take advantage of natural resources and how humans disturb ecosystems

Topics may include:

  • The tragedy of the commons
  • The Green Revolution
  • Types and effects of irrigation
  • Pest-control methods
  • Meat production methods and overfishing
  • The impacts of mining
  • Urbanization and ecological footprints
  • Introduction to sustainable practices including crop rotation and aquaculture


Unit 6: Energy Resources and Consumption (10%–15% of exam score)

  • Learn about renewable and nonrenewable energy sources, how they’re used, and their environmental impacts

Topics may include:

  • Energy sources and fuel types, including fossil fuels, ethanol, and nuclear power
  • Global energy consumption and distribution of natural resources
  • Natural sources of energy, including solar power, wind, geothermal, and hydroelectric power
  • Energy conservation methods


Unit 7: Atmospheric Pollution (7%–10% of exam score)

  • Learning about pollution and how human activities cause pollution.
  • Learn about regulation that regulates emissions

Topics may include:

  • Introduction to air pollution
  • Photochemical smog
  • Indoor air pollution
  • Methods to reduce air pollutants
  • Acid rain
  • Noise pollution

Unit 8: Water and Terrestrial Pollution (7%–10% of exam score)

  • Examine how pollution impacts ecosystems and how to determine its source

Topics may include:

  • Sources of pollution
  • Human impact on ecosystems
  • Thermal pollution
  • Solid waste disposal and waste reduction methods
  • Pollution and human health
  • Pathogens and infectious diseases


Unit 9: International Change (15%–20% of exam score)

  • You’ll learn about the global and local impact human activities have on the environment and propose solutions

Topics may include:

  • Ozone depletion 
  • Global climate change 
  • Ocean warming and acidification
  • Invasive species
  • Human impacts on diversity


About the AP Environmental Science Exam:

The AP Environmental Sceince AP exam has 2 parts: a multiple choice section and a free response (FRQ) section. Those questions will test how well you’ve mastered the science practices and your proficiency with the course content. 

ap environmental science exam

Resources to prepare for the APES exam

AP Classroom is the epitome of resources for you as a student. On AP Classroom you can take practice multiple choice and FRQs to prepare for the AP environmental science exam. Fivable is also a great resource for AP Environmental help and help for AP classes in general. They have online study guides and videos for each AP exam that are written by real teachers who teach that AP class or students who have scored a 5 on that AP exam.

Students can also take practice tests, which will help them narrow down which topics they need to spend more time studying. Students should also read the scoring guidelines for the free response section of the exam, so that they know what their AP graders will be looking for.

If you are looking for a detailed study plan, you can choose 5 Steps to a 5 AP Environmental Science 2022 prep book. This study guide provides you with a five-step plan to ace the exam, including a comprehensive subject review, practice tests, and more.


Curricular and resource requirements for AP Environmental Science according to the College Board website:

The blow requirements must be met by AP Environmental Science courses.

AP Environmental Science curricular needs:

  • Students and teachers have access to college-level materials, including a newly published textbook (within the past 10 years), and reference materials in electronic or print format.
  • This course covers the necessary environmental legislation and policies.
  • The course structure is designed to include the major ideas and content required by each unit described in the course description and exam description.
  • Students will have the opportunity to learn skills that are related to science practices.
    • Science Practice 1 Concept Application
    • Science Practice 2: Visual Representations
    • Science Practice 3: Text Analysis
    • Science Practice 4: Scientific Experiments
    • Science Practice 5: Data Analysis
    • Science Practice 6: Mathematical Routines
    • Science Practice 7: Environmental Solutions
  • Students will spend at least 25% of their instructional time engaging in inquiry-based laboratory investigations or field work. This is to support learning and practice of science skills.
  • Students have the opportunity to record evidence from their scientific investigations during this course. You can record evidence in lab reports, mini posters, or any other suitable forms that you would like to include in lab notes/notebooks (print and digital).

AP Environmental Science Resource requirements:

  • Each student receives a college-level textbook in environmental science published within the past 10 years. This is for personal use both inside and outside of the classroom. To meet curricular requirements, the textbook is supplemented as necessary.
  • The school will ensure that teachers have a copy the most current edition of an environmental science textbook at college level or any other relevant materials to support their instruction.
  • The school makes sure that students have the opportunity to use scientific equipment/materials and all resources. It also gives them enough time to carry out hands-on college-level field and environmental science lab investigations, as described in the teacher’s course curriculum.

Go here to read about the AP Environmental Science textbooks.

Go here to find an AP Environmental Science study guide.

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