Course Tour—AP Environmental Science

The Basics

With a focus on hands-on fieldwork and inquiry-based research, AP Environmental Science teaches students about the interrelationships of the natural world. The course tackles this through the “Big Four” categories: 

  1. energy transfer,

  2. interactions between earth systems, 

  3. interactions between different species,

  4. and the environment and sustainability.

Section topics include everything from biomes and atmospheric pollution to land and water use. This course not only teaches students how our planet works but also how we affect those systems and how we can work with the environment, rather than against it, for a sustainable future.

The Exam

The AP Environmental Science Exam is being adjusted for the 2021 school year. The following exam description is what you can expect:

  • Multiple choice: 80 questions in 1 hour 30 minutes. [60% of score]

  • Free Response: 3 questions in 1 hour 10 minutes. [40% of score]

    • Question 1 asks students to design an investigation.

    • Question 2 requires that students analyze an environmental issue and propose a solution.

    • Question 3 is another analysis of an environmental issue, but the proposed solution must involve calculations.

This optional exam is taken at the end of the year. In 2021, 3 testing dates will be available in May and June with options for traditional paper testing or digital exams.

For 2021 AP Environmental Science Testing, the digital version of the test will contain the typical multiple choice and free response question sections.

The Statistics*

  • 172,456 students took the AP Environmental Science course exam in 2019.

  • Of those who took the exam, 42.9% scored a three or higher.

  • The mean score was a 2.68.

  • 9.4% scored a 5 (this percent rose to 11.9 in 2020).

AP Environmental Science has one of the lower passing percentages among the variety of AP exams, sitting at the bottom of the list with Physics 1 and Human Geography. The course load for AP Environmental Science is generally considered easier than most AP courses, which may be leading students into a false sense of security. Remember study and practice are always the key!

*All statistics are sourced from College Board 2019 & 2020 score distributions.

Additional Course Facts

  • Student participation in this course is fairly split between Junior and Senior year.

  • Some colleges will accept a passing AP score as college credit, which can decrease college costs.

  • The course often involves field trips into ecologically rich landscapes, student-led research projects, and even debates on environmental politics and ethics!

Why Should You Take This?

There is every reason to take this course, whether you are a nature lover, a science enthusiast, or just aware that sustainability is one of our modern frontiers. You may take the course simply out of love for nature: wanting to know how the complex systems of our planet interlock and create our fantastical green planet. You may also find a career path. If you love AP Environmental and choose to pursue Environmental Science in college, it can lead to careers like climate change research, environmental law, public health, conservation, and agriculture and forestry, just to name a few.

As always, remember that, if you choose to take this course, there are tutors here at Pivot who would love to go on the journey with you!

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