Pacing Calendar and Curriculum Plan for Withgott

I use Withgott and LaPosada’s Environment, the Science Behind the Stories, 5th edition for AP® Environmental Science.  I’ve used Withgott for 12 years and love it. My students find it accessible and readable.

I analyzed all released multiple choice exams and FRQs to find out what percentage of each chapter is asked on the AP Exam. This guides my pacing for the year. The following is my Withgott pacing plan.

Pacing Plan

This is my Withgott pacing plan for the amount of time I spend on each chapter.  I teach a traditional calendar from the middle of August through the first week of June–every day for 55 min. The rest of the document with labs, activities, and optional material can be found on this Google Sheet.  

Its important to backwards plan. Mark every special day, holiday on your school calendar, then the date of the AP Exam and work backwards.

Stick to it! This is item #1 on the 15 most important things a new AP teacher should know.

Chapter in Environment: The Science Behind the Stories by Withgott and Laposata Time % of MC questions on released exams % of FRQ questions 2003-2016
1. Science and Sustainability: An Introduction to Environmental Science 1 week
2. Earth’s Physical Systems: Matter, Energy and Geology 1 week Chapters 1 and 2 is 5% of AP Exam (mostly  Ch 2) 2% (all Ch 2)
3. Evolution, Biodiversity, and Population Ecology 1 week
4. Species Interactions and Community Ecology 1 week
5. Environmental Systems and Ecosystem Ecology 1/2 – 2 weeks Chapters 3,4,5 is 12% of AP Exam (mostly  Ch 4 and 5) 10%
6. Ethics, Economics and Sustainable Development 1/2- 1 week
7. Environmental Policy: Making Decisions and Solving Problems 1/2 week Chapters 6 and 7 are 6 % of AP Exam (mostly Ch 7-laws) 5%
8. Human Population 1 1/2 weeks Chapter 8 is 6% of AP Exam 2%
9. Soil and Agriculture 1 1/2 weeks
10. Agriculture, Biotechnology, and the Future of Food 1 1/2 weeks Chapters 9 and 10 are 6% of AP Exam 11%
11. Biodiversity and Conservation Biology 1 week
12. Forests, Forest Management, and Protected Areas 1 week
13. The Urban Environment: Creating Sustainable Cities 1/2 week Chapters 11, 12 and 13 are 7% of AP Exam 14%
14. Environmental Health and Toxicology 2 weeks Chapter 14 is 6% of AP Exam 7%
15. Freshwater Systems and Resources 2 weeks
16. Marine and Coastal Systems and Resources 1 week Chapters 15 and 16 are 11% of AP Exam (mostly Ch 15) 14% (mostly Chp 15)
17. Atmospheric Science, Air Quality and Pollution Control 2 weeks
18. Global Climate Change 1 – 1 1/2 weeks Chapters 17 and 18 are 18% of AP exam (mostly Ch 17) 12%
Pass out 6 week study plan for AP Exam
19. Fossil Fuels, Their Impacts, and energy Conservation 1 week
20. Conventional Energy Alternatives 1 week
21. New Renewable Energy Alternatives 1 week Chapters 19, 20 and 21 are 10% of AP Exam 14%
22. Managing our Waste 1/2 week
23. Minerals and Mining 1/2 week Chapters 22 and 23 are 5% of AP Exam 9%
Review for AP Exam 2 weeks
After the AP Exam

Image result for withgott

(AP®  is a trademark owned by the College Board, which is not affiliated with, and does not endorse, this site.)

Flipped Classroom-Reflections and Changes for Year 2

I recently finished the second year of a flipped classroom for AP® Environmental Science and my students did very well on the AP® Exam. I have a lot of first-time AP® kids that aren’t the typical honors student. Flipping helps not only these kids, but all students learn content at their own pace.

For year two, I changed a few things.  (You can read about how I flipped the first year here and you can scroll to the bottom for a sample week’s assignments). After the first year, student feedback indicated that an overwhelming number of kids liked and learned well from this method, but 10% hated it. They explained that they thought there was more homework (there wasn’t), learned better from an in-class lecture, were used to copying homework, and/or were too lazy to do notes at home.

My goal this year was help all kids understand and embrace a flipped classroom since it can be very helpful to students and the vast majority of my students love it. And, more importantly, kids learn more and achieve higher scores on exams.

Caveat: A flipped classroom is not for every teacher, class or school. It can only work if students have access to resources at home. I work with the 1-2 students each year without computer or internet access to provide them with an individualized, easy solution (borrowed device, videos on a flash drive, etc). I also don’t think its good for NGSS where most learning is inquiry with labs or via literature, not lecture. 


  • Communication. This year, I constantly referred to Bloom’s taxonomy, Depth of Knowledge and AP® Science practices (which are posted in the front of the room) when explaining an assignment. The AP® Exam is 2/3 higher level thinking and I tell them that. I reiterated periodically to students that they don’t have more homework with a flipped classroom, just different homework. For example, some days, I told kids at the beginning of class that they have today’s class time to do this lab write-up since notes are at home.  Notes are the “easy stuff”, skills and AP® Science Practices are the “hard stuff” and will be done in class. More about communicating to parents and students can be found here. Communicating worked, sort of. I still had 9% of my students who didn’t embrace flipped (shown on the graph below with a 1 or 2 ranking), but they didn’t say that they felt that I gave more homework.The great news is that more kids chose a 5 below which indicated that they understood why this method works for their learning.
    On the graph below:
    1: No I didn’t learn well this way.
    5: Yes, it was great to learn this way.
The vast majority of students reported that they learned better with a flipped classroom.

Here is a sampling of why they chose the number they did.

This is a sampling of student responses about flipping.

Overall, I am still very pleased with a flipped classroom. The kids learn well from it and enjoy class time more.

  • Lecture/Notes before reading assignments. On the suggestion of my students, I switched the order of homework after the first few months. I used to have students read at home and do in-class reading quizzes for homework and then do lecture notes (I do sticky notes) for homework using Edpuzzle for accountability. Then, I switched to doing lecture note videos first for homework, followed by reading assignments and in-class quizzes.  This was their feedback.
My students preferred sticky note lecture before reading assignments.

I think that kids understood material in the book better when I went through the chapter via sticky note lecture before they had to read it. I plan to continue with this method in my flipped classroom.

  • Gave less reading quizzes by combining sections. My textbook has about 4 sections per chapter. I used to give one section to read and a few little Edpuzzle videos (2-3 minutes) for homework followed by an in-class, open-book, timed, randomized, online reading quiz the next day. I started combining sections for the quizzes. I still gave only one section per night, but a quiz every other day (I am on a traditional schedule where I see the kids for 55 min each day).  This forced kids to read more carefully.
  • Check and give credit for notes 2 ways. My sticky note lectures are on Edpuzzle. Students must get most of the questions correct for credit. The questions are embedded from what I say, not what I write. This ensures that they actually LISTEN to my lecture instead of watching it, taking notes and listening to their own music. In addition, I do a note-check the day before the exam (two chapters at a time) to make sure they did the physical notes. These count for more credit.

Sample Week for a Flipped Classroom in APES

  • Weekend homework: Chapter 9 Sticky Notes on Edpuzzle
  • Monday class: Lab Set up
  • Monday homework: Read 9.1 and watch 3 mini Edpuzzles (ones that give visuals for 9.1)
  • Tuesday class: Math review and practice
  • Tuesday homework: Read 9.2 and watch 2 mini Edpuzzles
  • Wednesday class: 9.1/9.2 reading quiz (open-book, 10 questions, 7 minutes, randomized). Discuss results of quiz and misconceptions. Gather lab data.
  • Wednesday homework: Read 9.3 and watch 3 mini Edpuzzles
  • Thursday class: Finish lab data and questions, plan for group lab report on Flipgrid.
  • Thursday homework: Read 9.4 and watch 4 mini Edpuzzles
  • Friday class:  9.3/9.4 reading quiz. Film flipgrid with groups
  • Weekend homework: Chapter 10 sticky notes on Edpuzzle

Students like the flipped more classroom and more importantly, they learn from it. Here’s some feedback this year from my students:

By the way, I also ask them ways I can improve…but I didn’t post those here. 🙂




In AP® Environmental Science, we don’t have any mandatory labs, but there are a few that are seen often on the AP® test.  In addition, there are a lot of great labs that students will find enjoyable and that hit a lot of the topics required tin APES.

APES Supplies Part I: Essential Labs

APES Supplies Part II: Other Recommended Labs

Supplies for EcoColumns

Ideas for finding funding for supplies

Students preparing petri dishes for the salinization lab



AP® Released Exams, Score Predictions, & the Final Exam “Curve”

One way to prepare students for the AP® exam is to have them take released exams either as practice or as a final exam before the AP® Exam.

My students do both.  For practice tests, I have them fill in diagnostic worksheets based off of my textbook.  Then, for the final exam, they review the Zipgrade printout and reference this spreadsheet to see how close they are to the score they want.  They can also see my curve–the % I put in for their final exam.  The spreadsheet is based off of the most recent released exams which are curved harder than older exams.

My students practice with the multiple choice only.  My students do not need more FRQ practice  at this time–they need to memorize information and use it in complex, higher-order thinking questions.  But, your students may need more FRQ practice.  If your students take both the MC and FRQs use the Scoring Worksheets provided by the College Board with the released exams for score predictions.

Since I give my final a few days before the AP® Exam, students can use those days to cram and get a higher score.   I have a good number of kids who bring themselves from a 2 to a 3  each year in the final days. And, many students who are at a 4 cram more to get that 5.  Encourage students that they can do it too!

# Correct on MC % on Final Exam Also need: avg per FRQ AP® Score
99 100 6/10 5
98 100 6/10 5
97 100 6/10 5
96 100 6/10 5
95 99 6/10 5
94 99 6/10 5
93 99 6/10 5
92 98 6/10 5
91 98 6/10 5
90 97 6/10 5
89 97 6/10 5
88 96 6/10 5
87 96 6/10 5
86 95 6/10 5
85 95 6/10 5
84 94 6/10 5
83 94 6/10 5
82 93 6/10 5
81 93 5/10 4
80 92 5/10 4
# Correct on MC % on Final Exam Also need: avg per FRQ AP® Score
79 92 5/10 4
78 91 5/10 4
77 91 5/10 4
76 90 5/10 4
75 90 5/10 4
74 89 5/10 4
73 89 5/10 4
72 88 5/10 4
71 88 5/10 4
70 87 4/10 3
69 86 4/10 3
68 85 4/10 3
67 84 4/10 3
66 83 4/10 3
65 82 4/10 3
64 81 4/10 3
63 80 4/10 3
62 80 4/10 3
61 79 3/10 2
60 78 3/10 2
# Correct on MC % on Final Exam Also need: avg per FRQ AP® Score
59 77 3/10 2
58 76 3/10 2
57 75 3/10 2
56 74 3/10 2
55 74 3/10 2
54 73 3/10 2
53 72 3/10 2
52 71 2/10 1
51 70 2/10 1
50 69 2/10 1
49 68 2/10 1
48 67 2/10 1
47 67 2/10 1
46 66 2/10 1
45 65 2/10 1
44 64 2/10 1
43 63 2/10 1
42 62 2/10 1
41 61 2/10 1
40 60 2/10 1


6 Week Study Plan for the AP® Environmental Science Exam

One tool that I provide for students is a 6 week study plan. I have everything on a chart which provides students will a systematic tool to help them study.

Some start to stress and panic when I pass this out, but I tell them that this chart is to ELIMINATE stress from procrastination. They can get through all these items in 6 weeks if they do a few each day.

This chart is customized for the Withgott book and my class.  If you want to use it, you will need to alter. I give my final exam (100 question released multiple choice exam) the week before the AP® exam.

Also, I cannot provide the link to my Google review folder that I give to my students. I have a lot of items that are not my intellectual property so I wont share online without permission, but I can share with my students only. Its very easy to create your own google folder and just pop a bunch of items in it.

Do my students use this? Some do and some do not.  But, for the first time AP® kid, this gives them comfort that they know where to start with reviewing for a big AP® exam.

I also send via email and text to their parents. Provides another measure of accountability.


There are many ways to practice AP® Environmental Science (APES) math.  As a teacher, you will decide which approach is best your own students.  You may have students who find the math super easy and some that find it impossible. APES math practice problems can be found from many sources–textbooks, shared drives, and released FRQs.

APES Math Info

This is the basic information you need about APES math on the AP® Exam.

  1. No Calculators. Big bummer, I know, but its the way it is.  The story I heard (and this is anecdotal) is that when the course was written in the late 90s, scientists didn’t have electronics out on the field. An environmental scientist needed to quickly calculate by hand using a pen and notebook. Now that’s not the case, but in order to change the no calculator rule, the course needs a new write up.

    calculator and probe
    This is a no-no for the AP® Exam, but useful for a temperature probe!
  2. Pre-Algebraic Word Problems. Many students don’t know how to apply math to life problems.  Even kids who are in higher level math (like pre-calculus) still struggle with these word problems.  The biggest hurdle is often setting up the problem.
  3. Usually 8-10 Multiple Choice Questions. There are 100 MC questions total and 8-10 are usually math related.  The Rule of 70 is a favorite for 1 or 2 of them. Kids DO NOT need to show work for MC questions.
  4. One FRQ is Half Math. There are 4 mandatory FRQs in 90 minutes. Question #2 will have math for half the problems. Over the years, the math has gotten easier on the FRQ, but this has not increased the national pass rate.
  5. Students MUST Show Work on FRQs. NO WORK=NO CREDIT, even if correct. Units in set-up and in answer.
  6. No Formula Sheet. Students must memorize some simple formulas (see below).

A student can pass the AP® Exam without doing any of the math, BUT this is a gamble and they have to know everything else really, really well.

When I analyze my AP® results, FRQ#2 performs the weakest and often drops kids from a 3 to a 2. This is why I focus on math a lot.

Math Skills Kids Should Have Already Learned (But Probably Forgot)

  1. Dimensional Analysis. This is something learned in chemistry, but often forgotten. APES math always has dimensional analysis.
  2. Density: Also in chemistry… and in middle school …and maybe elementary school.
  3. pH: Just the basics.
  4. Half-Life: Often taught in chemistry and/or physics. This may be new for freshmen in APES.
  5. Scientific Notation. A favorite on the AP® Exam and one that most kids really don’t like. Many students will convert to zeros before solving, but this is a gamble as more errors are made when they do that. The AP® Exam will often use scientific notation in the givens and these divide or multiply cleanly so its a benefit to know this skill.
  6. Long Division by hand. Many students have forgotten this elementary math skill and struggle with it.
  7. Percentages.  Many students don’t remember how add, subtract, multiply or divide using percentages without a calculator.
  8. Percent Change
  9. Metric Conversions 

New Math in APES (for most kids)

  1. Population Math (see below)
  2. Productivity (see below)
  3. Trophic Levels (90% loss of energy as you go up a trophic level)
  4. Energy Math: Kilowatts, joules etc.
  5. LD-50 calculations

Formulas they need to memorize

  1. Population Math Basic, easy formulas
  2. Percent Change
  3. Metric Conversions–g to kg, for example. They need to know the following prefixes only: micro, milli, centi, kilo, and Mega.

    The table from my metric review.
  4. Density–one they should know, but need to be reminded of
  5. pH scale1 # decrease on scale = 10x H+ (acidity)
  6. Productivity:  Gross Primary Production – Respiration = Net Primary Productivity
  7. Half-Life–not a formula, but a method to solve by sketching out

    Sample half-life problem with solution

Students DO NOT need to memorize any other conversions such as gallons to liters.

Methods to Tackle the Math

There are many ways to tackle APES math review and to teach new skills. You have to try different methods to figure out what works and what doesn’t work with your particular students.

I have a mixed class with 1/3 of the kids who find the math easy, 1/3 who need some review and they’re fine, and 1/3 who find APES math extremely challenging. I’ve tried many different methods over the years.

Here are some various ways to tackle the math that I’ve tried or other teachers have tried.

  1. Math diagnostic. A math diagnostic is helpful to see where your students are weak as a class or as an individual if you have mixed abilities. Then, students can do the review papers they need instead of all of the review. During math review, you can differentiate the approach students take by giving them choices.
  2. Math as a summer assignment. I don’t do this, but some teachers do.
  3. Review papers.  Can be done in class or for homework.  I prefer in-class to prevent copying and so I can differentiate. I flipped to allow more time to do this.  My students work on the review they need and have several options for how to do it.  They can watch a video for help (see below) for the whole paper, they can do the problems on their own and then check with a key. Or, they can do a combination of the two.

    Review papers with keys.
  4. Practice Problems for new math.  Some kids will find new math (population, energy math etc) easy and some find it difficult. I sometimes differentiate by allowing them some choices in learning and practicing. I have videos made of all my worksheets (see below) . Here’s one way I introduced the choices to the kids.
  5. Add math to labs wherever you can. Make it dimensional analysis.

    Owl Pellet Lab with dimensional analysis questions
  6. Add math problems to Multiple Choice Tests. Here are some I recently made for a toxicology and cities exam. (Chapters 13 and 14 Withgott).
  7. FRQ math practice.  Use released FRQs to do this.  We often peer-grade these FRQs so the kids can really understand how the CB grades them at the reading.

    Scoring guidelines for FRQ #2. Students use this paper to peer-grade.
  8. Review videos. I have recorded solutions to all my math papers so that students can watch me solve if they get stuck.

Where to Find Science Grants and Other Funding

When I was  beginning science teacher 20 years ago, a very wise science education professor told me to find the money and don’t buy supplies for my class out of my own paycheck. It was one of the most beneficial pieces of advice given to a new teacher.  He was right, there were places to get funds for science and science grants if I kept my ears and eyes open.

While I haven’t always followed his advice and do spend some of my own money (like all teachers), I’ve had good success building up my arsenal of equipment and supplies over the years through donations and grants.

These are my favorite go-to locations for funds.

Donors Choose

This is my favorite place in the past couple of years to submit a proposal when I want to try a new lab and need supplies. The first time I tried it, I was BLOWN AWAY, by the response from my families. I sent an email out with the link to my project to my students’ parents and was fully funded within two hours. In addition, so many gave money behind the requested amount that I was able to buy additional supplies for another lab. Donors choose is a great way to search for matching science grants also.

I bought pH probes and pocket scales with my first DonorsChoose to do an Ocean Acidification Lab. I have enough supplies for one set per group.


Since then, I’ve purchased soil probes, basic lab supplies and Kill-a-Watt meters all through donors choose.

Kill-A-Watt meters for measuring wattages of appliances.

Tips for Donors Choose:

  1. Don’t ask for too much at once.  My proposals range from $200 to $600 which is easier to be fully funded.
  2. Put in a request even if you can’t send the link to your families due to teaching in a high poverty school.  A lot of corporations or people will fund science and especially environmental science projects. My last two received funds that way–without any donations from my parents. Put in a proposal and let it sit there for several weeks and see what happens.
  3. Be sure to do the thank you notes and pictures to make sure you stay in good standing with DonorsChoose.


Our school PTA raises money for school events, scholarships, science grants and teacher equipment grants. Ask your PTA if they have a request form for equipment or supplies.  I make sure I put in smaller requests for items costing $150 or less since the PTA also funds a lot of other worthy endeavors.

My PTA funded several nitrogen cycle kits from Carolina about 10 years ago. I still use some of the items (such as these containers) years later.

Community Foundation

In my town, we have the Santa Clarita Education Foundation. Its a group that raises money and give science grants (and other subjects) to teachers. I’ve put in science grant requests several times over the years and have had good success getting funded. I make sure to explicitly state how I’m going to use the materials and how it will benefit all students to gain higher scientific skills.  Make some calls and see if your town or area has a foundation.

I received funds for 10 quadrats (sampling squares) last year to measure biodiversity for a lab. It was pretty funny at the grant ceremony when others received high tech equipment and mine was PVC pipes and bungee cords!
The SCV Foundation purchased these plant lights several years ago. My enrollment in AP® Environmental Science increased that year from 2 to 3 sections and I needed more lights for ecocolumns.

School Foundation

When budgets were slashed in California during the recession and at the same time, lawsuits prevented us from charging kids for certain activities (like band or football), our school began its own foundation to help raise money to cover any gap between donations and costs for programs.

The foundation raises money with golf tournaments, auctions and plain old donations. I have received science grants for several pieces of equipment from them.

If your school does not have a foundation, perhaps talk to your admin, other teachers and parents to see if there’s interest.

I received 2 more dissolved oxygen probes from the foundation last year to bring my number to 5 DO probes. A good number for sharing in lab during ecocolumns.

Resources at the School

Find funds at your school that aren’t well-publicized. Make friends with all your administrators, because you never know which admin will control which fund in a given year.

These sources include GATE (gifted and talented), Title I, and AP® funds. (The College Board gives $10 back to the school for each full-priced exam to fund teacher training, test administration and supplies).

AP® Funds paid for my NSTA national conference registration last year.

Ask your principal

Principals usually have discretionary funds. I have, on occasion, written a proposal to my principal to fund a certain piece of equipment, such as a wastewater treatment kit or a sub to take my kids on a field trip.  I don’t do this very often now since we have a school foundation I can make requests to.  I’ve had a principal approve and deny proposals so I try to make this a rare occurrence.

Various Science Grants for Teachers

There are many grants for specific items or for professional development. I haven’t personally experienced any of these nor vetted them.

Here’s a list from the NSTA

Here’s a general list


Communicating “Why I flipped” to Students and Parents (or Admins)

I believe explaining WHY I do something in class is important for students. While they don’t get to decide or vote on the way my class is run, explaining the thought process or data behind a method models higher level thinking — which is the whole point of a flipped class.

Higher Level Thinking

Flipped classrooms provide more time for higher level thinking.  For Depth of Knowledge, that’s levels 3 and 4.  Levels 1 and 2 are important, but they’re easy. During the first week of school I hand out copies of Depth of knowledge, Bloom’s Taxonomy and AP® Science Practices.

Image from this blogsite

I ask the kids “Which level/s do notes mostly fall into?” and we discuss that notes and textbooks mostly cover DOK 1 and DOK 2.  But the AP® Exam mostly tests on DOK 3 and DOK 4 using content learned in the lower levels.
Then we look at Bloom’s Taxonomy which identifies exam questions. We discuss that learning the lower 2 levels is important because they need content knowledge and lots of it in AP, but that’s the easy stuff. I tell my students that the “easy” stuff is mostly at home. 

“Remember” and “Understand” are lower level thinking

By doing the easy stuff at home, a flipped class can focus and spend more time on the harder stuff (apply, analyze, evaluate and create) during class time.  I also give them the exam breakdown–over 60% of the exam is higher level and the way to get better at it is to practice. How?

  • More time in lab for data collection and analysis
  • More time in class to practice word problem calculations (a HUGE weakness)
  • More time in class for making graphic organizers to help memorize harder information
  • More time for student collaboration and discussion which improves thinking skills
  • More time in class for online coaching tutorials (that came with my textbook and have a lot of higher level activities)

Some of these higher level items (lab reports, math practice, data set analysis) used to go home, but with rampant copying, its better to have it done in class (see Authentic Work below).

I broke down the 2016 APES exam by DOK and Bloom’s Taxonomy. You can find that info on this page. 

(On a side note, explaining why higher level thinking is important for college and future careers and informed citizenry is a good thing for kids to hear–its not all about passing a test)

AP® Science Practices

The higher level questions on the AP® Exam come from the AP® Science Practices. I post these practices and discuss with kids.  Reminders throughout the year of the purpose of activities help to reinforce the “why are we doing this.”  In our course, it seems that a large portion of the higher level questions come from science practice #7.

A high proportion of exam questions apply #7. This is one of the reasons the AP® exam is so difficult. Students may memorize a bunch of knowledge, but connecting it in new and novel ways is challenging for some.

Authentic Work

The past couple of years has seen tremendous changes in technology. Students now have access to information through the internet that I never did. 99% of my students have smart phones which is great for looking up information, but also great for taking pictures of homework and sharing it via group text. Anything I want to make sure is not copied now has to be done in class or submitted through a plagiarism site.  By doing notes at home in a flipped class, students are supposed to copy notes from the video-its not meant to be authentic work.

Other sites for basic knowledge and content, such as Edpuzzle,  account for students logging in on their own and watching an entire video with embedded questions.  This also encourages authenticity.

Notes take less time

An hour-long lecture in class usually only takes 15 minutes of video. This is because I don’t have to pause and wait for students to copy notes.  On video, students can work at their own pace. This helps the fast writer as they don’t get bored and eliminates anxiety for the slow writer who can pause the video as much as needed.

Its NOT more homework

A handful of students last year complained that I gave them more homework since notes were at home. This was not true, but they didn’t have a good reference since this was their first and only AP® class.  This year, I plan to discuss and discuss again to dispel the myth of more homework in a flipped class.  A lot of the items I gave as homework, are now done during class time. On the flip side, the majority of my students LOVED the flipped lectures.


APES Exam and Bloom’s Taxonomy/Depth of Knowledge

I’ve always told people that the AP® Exam has a lot of higher order thinking questions, but never took to the time to actually count how many were in a sample released exam.  I wanted some evidence for my students as I explained why I flipped my course so the “easy” stuff (lower level thinking) is at home and the harder stuff (higher level thinking) is in class. (More info on communicating flipping to students and parents can be found here and research about flipped classrooms can be found here)

I took the most recent released exam for APES (2016) and broke it down. This was the first time that I analyzed an exam in this way so I mostly likely mis-classified a few questions, but the data below can at least give a sense of how the test is written.

2016 APES Exam Analysis

Blooms Taxonomy 

1: Remember
2: Understand
3: Apply
4: Analyze
5: Evaluate
6: Create (not found on this AP® Exam)

Levels 1 and 2 are lower level and made up 35% of MC and 38% of FRQs
Levels 3, 4 and 5 are higher level and make up 65% of MC and 62% of FRQs

Depth of Knowledge 

Level 1: Recall and Reproduction
Level 2: Basic Application of Skills and Concepts
Level 3: Strategic Thinking
Level 4: Extended Thinking

Levels 1 and 2 are lower level and make up 46% of MC and 41% of FRQs
Levels 3 and 4 are higher level and make up 54% of MC and 59% of FRQs

More about DOK in Science:

I’ve read some opinions online that DOK-4 cannot be asked on an exam-they’re more long-term labs or projects.  I disagree. I think the some questions on the AP® Exam are so complex and meet the requirements of DOK-4.

How to increase higher level thinking

Higher level thinking skills can be increased by a lot of data gathering, analysis, and graphing, math calculation practice, student discussion and novel problem solving.

Using released exams help students practice the types of problems found on AP® Exams.  Using released multiple choice and released FRQs can help build skills with students.

This article:  “Teaching for higher levels of thinking: developing quantitative and analytical skills in environmental science courses”  showed that students increased proficiency in scientific math calculations and may increase proficiency by practicing Data Analysis Skills. 

2016 Released Exam Questions

Below is how I identified each question from 2016. I’m not the expert in this process so feel free to comment if you disagree about a level. I’d love to hear your reasoning.

1st number is Question #
2nd number is DOK Level
3rd number is Blooms Taxonomy Level

Multiple Choice Section

1    1   1

2   1   1

3   1   1

4   2   2

5   2   2

6   1   1

7   1   1

8   2   3

9   1   1

10   2   2

11   2   2

12   2   2

13   3   4

14   3   4

15   3   5

16   3   5

17   2   2

18   3   3

19   1   1

20   2   2

21   3   4

22   2   3

23   3   4

24   2   2

25   1   1

26   4   5

27   2   3

28   4   5

29   3   4

30   3   4

31   3   4

32   2   2

33   2   2

34   3   4

35   2   2

36   2   2

37   3   4

38   2   3

39   4   4

40   4   5

41   2   2

42   4   5

43    3   3

44   2   2

45   2   3

46   2   4

47   4   5

48   3   4

49   4   5

50   4   5

51   3   5

52   4   5

53   4   5

54   4   3

55   4   5

56   2   3

57   2   2

58   2   2

59   3   4

60   4   5

61   4   5

62   2   2

63   3   4

64   3   4

65   4   4

66   3   4

67   2   2

68   2   2

69   3   3

70   3   4

71   2   2

72   4   5

73   2   2

74   4   5

75   2   2

76   3   3

77   2   3

78   3   4

79   2   2

80   4   5

81   1   2

82   3   3

83   4   5

84   2   3

85   3   4

86   3   4

87   2   3

88   2   2

89   4   5

90   3   4

91   2   2

92   3   4

93   2   2

94   3   4

95   4   4

96   3   4

97   3   3

98   3   4

99   3   3

100   2   3


I found it interesting to classify some of these questions. For example, 3d asks about the health problems associated with piles of tires. If I had covered this in class, it would be lower level, but since I did not, the kids had to apply what they knew in a new situation and come up with an answer. So, for my kids, this ended up being a higher level question. 

1a   3   4

1bi   3   3

1bii   4   5

1c   3   4

1d   3   3

1e   4  5


2ai   3  3

2aii   3   3

2aiii   3   3

2b   3   3

2c   2   2

2d   2   2

2e   3   3


3ai   3   4

3aii   3   3

3bi   2   2

3bii    2  2

3c   2   2

3d   4   4

3e   2   2

3e   2   2


4a   4   4

4bi   1   2

4bii   1   2

4ci   2   3

4cii   3   3

4di   2   2

4dii   2   2

4e   4   5


Finding and Using Released Exams in APES

Examining and using released exams in an AP® Science class is important to help students be exposed to the types of rigorous questions found on the AP® Exam.

What Released Exams are Available in APES?

There are several released exams for AP® Environmental. We do not have as many released exams as other subjects (which is a big bummer), but we do have a few.

The 1998 Exam is the only one found legally online. But it is so old (first year the APES exam was given) that most teachers don’t use as the questions have changed quite a bit and its way too easy.

The 2003 Exam is available for purchase from the College Board.  It is considered an “easier” multiple choice exam.  You may be able to get a copy from another teacher at your school.

The 2008 Exam is also available for purchase from the College Board. Many of us long-timers remember ordering these exams when they were released and getting the copy in the mail. Its considered a “medium” exam in terms of rigor.

The Practice Exam was released in 2008 also, but it can only be found for free on your AP® Audit account when you sign into the college board. This is considered the “hardest” of the released exams.

Two more newer exams are available on your AP® Audit account also. These are harder for students to find (hence the omission of the year) and many APES teachers use as secure exams. We AP® teachers are also likely to harass the illegal posting online and also report them to the College Board.  They are considered “medium-hard” exams.

The most recent exam on the audit site is (according to reports by students) the one that most looks like the MC exam for the past 3 years. It has a lot of reading, graph and data interpretation questions. It takes kids longer to get through due to the reading involved. It is also considered fairly secure as many APES teachers report teachers who illegally post.

On that note, do not upload any released exams to your own website! Even if you think its password protected or kids need a link, search engines find a way. And, once its posted, its sometimes cached (stored on a server) by Google so it stays available even if you then take it down. When you gained access to these exams, the College Board made you click that you would NOT upload to the web and would use in class only.

How to use Released APES Exams

Teachers use released exams in many ways.

  1. To add questions to unit or chapter exams that have AP® rigor. Teachers will cut and paste questions into their own exams as practice for kids. I do this with the most recent exam as I want kids to get used to the “newer” style of question throughout the school year. My exams have mostly questions from various test banks along with about 3-5 questions from the newest exam.
  2. As diagnostic exams before the AP® Exam. I give several of the released exams as practice starting about 4 weeks before the AP® exam. We only do the multiple choice and they self- grade. Afterwards, they fill out a diagnostic sheet to determine how close they are to the score they want on the AP® Exam.
  3. As a final exam. This is why its so important to never upload to the web. Students are crafty and if they get wind of the exam you are using for your final exam, they will search for it and memorize it. I give my final exam MC the week before the AP® Exam and often choose one of the released (or a combo) exams.
  4. As pre-tests. Some schools require teachers to give pre-tests at the start of the course.