I use Withgott and LaPosada’s Environment, the Science Behind the Stories, 5th edition for AP® Environmental Science. I’ve used Withgott for 13 years and love it. My students find it accessible and readable.
The following is my Withgott pacing plan based on the new Course and Exam Description.
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 alignment with the new CED units, topics, and science practices can be found on this PDF.
Its important to backwards plan. Mark every special day, holiday on your school calendar, then the date of the AP Exam and work backwards.
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 in APES.
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!
Part of our challenging profession is to determine what teaching strategies to use for our classes. There is no one best way to review for the AP® Exam. What you choose to do depends on your school community and expectations, whether your students have experience with AP® tests, and what their strengths and weaknesses are. *
Popular Strategies to Review for the AP® Exam
Quizlet Live and Kahoot
Big Study Cards
FRQ Writing Strategies
Review Sites such as Albert IO
Review books such as Barrons, 5 Steps to a 5, or Princeton Review
Chalk Drawings to Review Processes
I do not give content review sessions anymore. I used to, but the longer I taught, the less students showed up…and my pass rate increased. So apparently, the kids didn’t show up, because they felt they didn’t need the review…and they were right! I became more strategic in my lessons as the years progressed and organically incorporated review and strategies throughout the year.
I allow about 2 weeks of class time to review. Here is a typical schedule that focuses mainly on skills.
Start with a released multiple choice exams with a diagnostic worksheet. I use either the 2003 or 2008 exam along with a diagnostic guide I made for the chapters in my textbook (Withgott). Kids can see what their current score would be on the AP® Exam, how much they need to study and what specifically to study in the next couple of weeks.
Geography review. Many released exams have a world map with questions about events, plate tectonics or biomes and kids need to know some basic geography.
Another practice exam and diagnostic. I like the “Practice Exam” found in the audit site. This one is difficult so the kids have experience with a harder exam.
Review the 2016 released exam. I use questions from this exam in my chapter exams so the kids have seen many of the questions before. We spend about 30 looking at the exam and the length of the questions so kids can see how the exam has changed to have longer reading problems. The amount of pages can be overwhelming too since some problems take an entire page. Kids need to physically get their hands on it to feel it.
Experimental design review. I give a lesson on ways to strategize multiple choice questions and FRQs with experimental design.
Quizlet Live with mainly vocab questions. Warning: I have to adamantly warn the kids that they will NOT pass the AP® exam by knowing all the vocab. They must be able to apply the vocab in complicated questions.
FRQ strategies lesson. I copy a set of the 4 questions from one year (2015, for example) and show the kids what Question 1, 2,3 and 4 look like. The students write all over the document with strategies for each question.
MasteringEnvironmentalScience.com Review. I use Withgott’s online companion site for online quizzes. They have a lot of “coaching” assignments in which kids drag and drop, sort processes in order (like eutrophication) and critically think through issues. These assignments are extra credit and done at home.
Final Exam Before the AP® Exam
I give my final exam before the AP® exam. I give a released exam-multiple choice only. 50 questions in 45 minutes for two days in a row. My kids are good at FRQs by this point and I have too many students to grade all of them so I don’t give FRQs for my final exam.
The next school day, students get to see a Zipgrade printout of their final exam and fill out another diagnostic guide. They can use the remaining couple of days to cram if they need to. Many students see they are on a borderline score and if they study a little more, they may get to a passing score…or go from a projected 4 to a 5!
Giving the final exam before the AP® Exam is beneficial for several reasons
EVERYONE in class reviews-even those not taking the AP® Exam.
Many students will ironically study HARDER for their final exam than the AP® exam.
Kids are really burned out after the two weeks of AP® Exams and giving them a final exam at that time is cruel.
They can study really hard and get both out of the way.
Gives the kids a fairly accurate prediction of their AP® Score so they cram if needed so as not to waste the cost of the AP® Exam.
* AP® is a trademark registered and/or owned by the College Board which was not involved in the production of, and does not endorse this site.
One tool that I provide for students to review content at home is a 6 week study plan. I have everything on a chart which provides students a systematic tool to help them study.
Some students begin 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, the Withgott Test Prep 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 this paper out via email and text to their parents which provides another measure of accountability.
* AP® is a trademark registered and/or owned by the College Board which was not involved in the production of, and does not endorse this site.
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.
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.
6-9% on the Multiple Choice Section. There are 80 MC questions total and 4-8 are math. The Rule of 70 has been a favorite for on the MC for many years. Kids DO NOT need to show work for MC questions.
One FRQ is Half Math. There are 3 mandatory FRQs in 80minutes. Question #3 will have math for half the problems. Over the years, the math has gotten easier on the FRQs, but this has not increased the national pass rate.
Students MUST Show Work on FRQs. NO WORK=NO CREDIT, even if correct. Units in set-up and in answer.
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, the math FRQ 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)
Dimensional Analysis. This is something learned in chemistry, but often forgotten. APES math always has dimensional analysis.
Density: Also in chemistry… and in middle school …and maybe elementary school.
pH: Just the basics.
Half-Life: Often taught in chemistry and/or physics. This may be new for freshmen in APES.
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.
Long Division by hand. Many students have forgotten this elementary math skill and struggle with it.
Percentages. Many students don’t remember how add, subtract, multiply or divide using percentages without a calculator.
New Math in APES (for most kids)
Population Math (see below)
Productivity (see below)
Trophic Levels (90% loss of energy as you go up a trophic level)
Productivity: Gross Primary Production – Respiration = Net Primary Productivity
Half-Life–not a formula, but a method to solve by sketching out
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.
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.
Math as a summer assignment. I don’t do this, but some teachers find this effective.
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.
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.
Add math to labs wherever you can. Make it dimensional analysis.
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.
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.
Since then, I’ve purchased soil probes, basic lab supplies and Kill-a-Watt meters all through donors choose.
Tips for Donors Choose:
Don’t ask for too much at once. My proposals range from $200 to $600 which is easier to be fully funded.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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
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: http://www.nciea.org/sites/default/files/publications/DOKscience_KH11.pdf
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.
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
3 1 1
33 2 2
44 2 2
93 2 2
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As pre-tests. Some schools require teachers to give pre-tests at the start of the course.
Students in an AP® Environmental Science class need to know how to write Free Response Questions (FRQs). These are short answer questions, not essays, and have special strategies that are different than other AP® subjects. Each FRQ is graded out of 10 point and there are 3 of them on the AP® Exam. This post will go over how to teach FRQs and how to choose FRQs to use on exams.
Reminder! Content (Essential Knowledge) is assessed through the Science Practices.
(Updated in 2019 to reflect the new APES exam)
Teaching kids how to write FRQs
I teach kids how to write Free Response Questions (FRQs) as they are taking exams. For example, the first exam covers chapters 1 and 2 of my textbook and the FRQ I developed for that exam has a lot of explanation about how to write the answers. I’m not giving them the answers, but telling them how to write it. I give instructions like this:
“Intro to APES FRQ (Chapters 1 and 2) Your AP® Exam in May will have 3 FRQs, each with multiple parts. It will be read and graded by High School and college teachers. They don’t know you and how smart you are—you must prove it to them.
Directions for students: Answer each part of the question in complete sentences. Be specific (don’t give vague, general answers) Give Examples Prove you know and understand the material to the reader. DO NOT spend your time with an opening sentence and/or conclusion. DO NOT waste your time with flowery sentences—get to the point with good solid science.”
Before the kids start writing, we read and discuss each bullet point. I then go over the different types of terms they will see. There are different strategies for each type of question.
What do the terms mean?
FRQ Task Verbs
Identify, Provide or List: Simple answer with a complete sentence.
Describe: Needs additional information beyond a simple answer. 1-2 complex sentences.
Justify: Provide evidence to support, qualify, or defend a claim and/or provide reasoning to explain HOW that evidence supports the claim.
Make a Claim: Make an assertion based on evidence or knowledge.
Calculate: A math problem to solve. Show set-up and answer WITH UNITS. (Does not need complete sentence)
Explain: HOW or WHY something occurs.
Use evidence and/or reasoning.
Sometimes, it is a process requiring steps in order.
Use “because” for “why” questions.
FRQs as Teaching Tools
I consider exams not only assessment, but also teaching tools. I continue to remind and teach students these terms throughout the year as well as nuances in how to answer different questions. For example, if I give an economic question, I tell the kids to include the word “money” or “jobs” in their answer as that’s what’s looked for by the AP® readers.
Students are required to answer 3 FRQs in 80 min.
FRQ #1 is a “Design an Investigation” question and will have other questions to assess student skills based on science practices 1, 5, 4, and 7.
FRQ #2 asks students to provide a solution to an authentic environmental scenario. It will also assess other skills based on science practices 1, 2, 5 or 7.
FRQ #3 asks students to analyze a problem and solution and use math with practices 1, 6 and 7.
Students should label each answer with their appropriate letter. a) b)i etc. They should NOT write one giant paragraph as it annoys the grader. (No points taken off, but it makes it harder to grade)
If the question asks for a specific number of answers, they should only write that number. Ex: Describe 2 benefits of electric cars. Kids should limit to two different and unique benefits. If they write a third, or fourth….its not graded. If one of the first two is wrong, and their second and third are correct, the student still only receives 1 out of 2 points. This is DIFFERENT than some AP® History courses in which the grader will read and read and try to find points. Make sure you make this distinction for the kids.
How to choose FRQs for an Exam
There are many ways to assign FRQs and your method will depend on what works for your particular students. Depending on their writing level, age of your students, and how many AP® kids you have, you will need to decide how many to FRQs to have them practice with. I assign one FRQ per exam of two chapters.
An FRQs can be a released FRQ from a previous year’s AP® Exam. You can find previously released FRQs here on the college board website. Be aware that the kids also have access to this website and some diligent students will study the questions and answers ahead of time to get an edge.
Combo FRQs are where you cut and paste together bits from different released FRQs. This is beneficial at the beginning of the year when most released FRQs have topics from many parts of the curriculum and you haven’t covered much yet. Its also harder for students to gain an edge if they do study the CB website with released FRQs.
You can create your own FRQ. I did not get good at making my own for at least 5 years after teaching this class and after I was an AP® reader. It takes that long to really understand how FRQs are written and you can better anticipate how easy or hard a particular question will be and common misconceptions. I don’t recommend this method for newbies. Using a combo FRQ or a released FRQ is usually better.
Since I teach multiple sections of APES, I prepare 2-3 different FRQs and each period will have a different FRQ. On occasion, I’ve assigned different kids in the same class different FRQs. This prevents copying in tight quarters. I try to make sure the FRQs are the same in terms of how hard they are. If one FRQ scores lower on average, I will bump the grades for those kids to be fair.
When I grade an FRQ, it is worth 50 points. Below is how I curve the FRQ. On the real AP® exam, students need to score an average of about 4-5 points per FRQ to pass the exam (along with a minimum score on the Multiple Choice).
When we peer grade FRQs, I adjust the curve a little and tell the kids that I don’t want them to argue 1 point (out of 10) of a mistake that they think the peer grader made, because I factored in one point on the curve. They can argue 2 or more points if they can prove they should get the point. This is to save my sanity with over 150 kids in AP. Here’s the peer-graded curve.