Tips and hints for the AP® Environmental Science exam

These are tidbits of important information and some common student errors that many students make on the AP Environmental Science exam.

Make sure you are studying your notes, textbook and/or a review book. Some favorite review books are: A Cartoon Guide to the Environment and ASAP and
Five Steps to a Five. But many others are good as well (Barrons, and ones by textbook publishers).

Know how to answer FRQ prompt using these terms.

Advice for the APES exam

  • Answer the EXACT question on an FRQ with a direct answer. For example, do not write about solar panels when asked to describe a method of energy conservation. Solar does not actually reduce energy use–just makes it less harmful.
  • Always finish an answer. Example: A harmful effect of burning petroleum is that it releases NOx —which causes asthma. (don’t forget the last part to complete the answer!)
  • Cancer is usually not the answer. Most things we learn in APES cause other problems such as asthma, brain damage, obesity etc.
  • Most heavily tested topics are energy, air pollution, water pollution, and ecosystems (biogeochemical cycles and productivity). Review those especially.
  • Fertilizers and pesticides are NOT the same. Fertilizers have NPK for plant growth. Pesticides kill bugs. Know problems of each.
  • An ecological/ecosystem “cost” is NOT about money, it’s about a problem in an ecosystem. A question about $ will have the word “economic”.
  • Always literally write “money or jobs or tourism” for an economic question on an FRQ.
  • Stratospheric ozone thinning (hole) and global warming are NOT related. The ozone hole does NOT cause global warming.
  • Effluent: something that’s released. Example: water at the end of wastewater treatment.
  • CO2 is NOT a traditional air pollutant, it’s a greenhouse gas that causes global warming (be sure to add the last 4 words in an FRQ to get the point)
  • For air pollution questions, all pollutants except lead cause “respiratory problems such as asthma”.
  • Review experimental design: dependent & independent variables, control, constants, 3+ test units or sample size, hypothesis with “increasing/decreasing” in it.
  • Population of the World is 7.3 billion. Population of the US is 323 million. Know these numbers for math problems.
  • Be specific: Name a specific disease for health problem. Name a type of habitat destruction (deforestation, building roads). Name a gas.
  • Use the words “money” or “jobs” for economic questions.
  • Government incentives to solve environmental problems: subsidies, tax credit/rebates, cap n trade.
  • Eutrophication: excess nutrients (N,P) from fertilizer, manure or urban sewage are washed by rain into rivers which flow to the ocean. These nutrients cause an algal/phytoplankton bloom which block sun, then die and are decomposed by bacteria who use all the oxygen–>hypoxia and fish death.
  • When talking about change in an ecosystem, use “increasing” or “decreasing”. Ex: Invasive species cause native species population to decrease.
  • Review the biogeochemical cycles. One or more will be on your exam.
  • An ecosystem service is defined as something nature provides humans for survival or economic benefit. NOT something nature gives itself.
  • Don’t ecobabble. If you don’t know an answer, talking about saving the planet or how much you love animals will not give you any points and will annoy the reader.
  • #1 way to control population growth is to provide education (literacy) for girls. Girls marry later, and have less children. Lowers poverty
  • Try the Rule of 70 (70/r) for difficult math problems on the MC section. r is growth rate.
  • Food chains always begin with a producer. Arrows point the direction of energy flow (toward the predator).
  • Anthropogenic=human made. Mitigate=fix. Degredation=decline in quality. Synthetic=not natural.
  • Positive feedback loops are bad, Negative feedback loops are good.
  • On FRQs: Describe: Add more info. Explain: Write down the steps of a process (ex:eutrophication). Discuss: 2 part answer–add “because” or “which leads to”
  • Solutions on FRQs MUST be realistic! Banning all cars is not a realistic solution to air pollution.
  • Add a specific term whenever you can. Say “groundwater” or “surface water instead of just water pollution. Name a specific pollutant (such as PM) instead of just air pollution.
  • Get a good night’s sleep Sunday night. Eat a healthy breakfast. You will do great!!!

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