The Biology Regents – Analyzing Charts

Of the 80 questions on the Biology Regents, every year approximately ten are based on accompanying charts or tables. Of all the questions on the Exam, none place greater stress on reasoning and less on memorization than these. Most of these questions ask you to predict the outcome of the data listed in the chart by applying your understanding of one or more scientific principles.

Within this group, there is usually a sequence of as many as four questions relating to a single table containing data.

All of these questions test your ability to draw an appropriate graph and interpret it. But, the Regents divides what might have been one or two questions into four: one for labeling an axis of the graph and choosing the appropriate scale, one for linking the data points, one for choosing the correct interpretation of the data. No knowledge of any scientific principles other than how to correctly plot and interpret data is required.

Together with the essay questions, these are among the few non-multiple choice questions on the exam. The key, as always, is practice. The student who has reviewed prior exams and practiced plotting data in a graph in response to such questions will be prepared and confident. In addition, sometimes the Exam poses a multiple-choice question that shows four different graphs and asks the student to choose the one which correctly illustrates the data. Although the format is different, the student who is accustomed to plotting data in a graph will utilize that experience to find the correct choice.

Frequently, the Regents asks one or more questions which tests the student’s knowledge of correct experimental procedure. Often, this question makes reference to an illustration or graph which may appear complex or unfamiliar to the student. But, armed with prior practice and with a little patience in analyzing the question, the student will conclude that the correct response involves a basic principal of experimental procedure which appears frequently on the Regents: i.e. data is only valid if the experimental design includes a control group or data is only valid if collected from the full range of organisms involved and the full range of time during which the process being measured occurs.

Often, there is a question, asking the student to draw a conclusion regarding the data in a graph. Often, the correct response is the most conservative one of the choices, one that notes a relationship between the data, but avoids overstating what the relationship is.

The Biology of Inspiration

While I hold a vision of a wholesome future, we are currently confronted with a crisis of global proportions. Scientists have determined that Earth’s biosphere is in the throes of experiencing its sixth mass extinction. Five previous mass extinctions, each of which almost wiped out life on the planet, are attributed to extraterrestrial forces such as comets or asteroids hitting the earth. The current extinction is driven by forces much closer to home, for it is recognized that human civilization is the primary cause behind the current crisis.

For over four hundred years, Western civilization has chosen Science as its source of truths and wisdom about the mysteries of life. Allegorically, we may picture the wisdom of the universe as resembling a large mountain. We scale the mountain as we acquire knowledge. Our drive to reach the top of that mountain is fueled by the notion that with knowledge, we may become “masters” of our universe. Conjure the image of the all-knowing guru seated atop the mountain.

The path that Science is currently navigating has inadvertently brought us to our current moment of global crisis.

The first half of Modern Science was preoccupied with reducing our world to separate bits and pieces. These efforts have provided information that has enabled humans to look out into the deepest regions of the universe and peer into the inner workings of a single atom. While the technology derived from reductionist science is miraculous in its nature, our use of it is destroying our civilization.

New science recognizes that life is more than the study of its individual parts. The revised curriculum balances our historic reductionist perspective with the evolving concepts of holism. By focusing on the power of interactive, autopoetic communities, whether they are comprised of energy waves, chemicals, cells or humans, we will be able to realize the peace inherent in our oneness.

As human beings engaged in the great work of re-creating our selves, our species and our planet, our mission is to seek creative responses to the challenges before us. Traditionally, reductionist science has sought resolutions by delving deeper into the material fabric of nature. In contrast, new science directs our attention to the heretofore-invisible matrix of entangled immaterial forces that shape and energize our world. Our holistic pursuit compels us to pull back from studying the trees, and own the scope and magnitude of the forest. From that perspective, we are obliged to recognize the power Noetic Consciousness plays in shaping our lives, our world and our challenges. This new life-sustaining awareness echoes the words of physicist R. C. Henry in his recent essay in Nature, “The Universe is immaterial–mental and spiritual. Live and enjoy.” (Henry, 2005)

Study for the AP Biology Essay Questions

The AP Biology Exam contains four essay questions, and you have to answer them all. Each question will have multiple sections, so pacing on this part of the test is very important. Here’s what you need to know to excel on the essay section:

1. Essay graders are looking for hard facts, not fluff. If a question asks you to name a hormone and its function, do it in 1-2 sentences and then move on. A long paragraph going into detail about the molecular structure of the hormone isn’t going to do you any good, as a specific number of points are allocated for each part of the question. In this example, you would be given one point for naming the hormone and one point for correctly identifying its function. For this reason, my one sentence answer and your long paragraph would both get the same number of points. The essay graders have set a ceiling, and that ceiling is often pretty low (at least for simple questions like this one).

2. Pace yourself. Skip a question if you get stuck. One of the things about the AP Biology exam essay section is that you are totally responsible for timing yourself. If you can’t think of an answer to a specific question, go on to the next one and come back later. Some questions will be easier than others, so you may as well pick up as many quick points as you can before you really start dealing with the harder questions.

3. Remember that the AP Biology essays must be written in pen. This trips a lot of people up, as most of us are used to writing in pencil. I also suggest that you bring your own pen to the exam, or else you’ll be stuck with a very cheap and very annoying pen. If there’s anything you don’t want during the AP biology exam, it’s an annoying pen. Trust me.

So, in summary, write the facts, manage your time well and practice writing in pen. Study hard and follow these instructions and you should do very well!