Free Response Skills Practice views

Teacher/Instructor Patrick Roisen
Patrick Roisen

M.Ed., Stanford University
Winner of multiple teaching awards

Patrick has been teaching AP Biology for 14 years and is the winner of multiple teaching awards.

One of the big challenges for students who are taking the AP exam are the essays, because they never had the chance to really practice in their classrooms. Because to be honest, most teachers don't like to give them because it means you have to do all that correcting, they're a chore. And then when you go to the AP Biology website and you download some of the questions, and you take a look at them, and then you look at the answers you think, "Holly molly! Was I supposed to write all that." No.

So let's take a quick look at how to do an essay. I'm going to go through some of the strategies. Now let's take a look. The first thing that you're going to do is, when you read the question, actually read the question. And then give yourself a good two to three minutes to just brainstorm some responses.

You want to make sure that you've identified all the parts of the question. Because typically they're broken down in two, three or four parts. And if you're going to max out your score, you want to make sure that you're addressing something from each part. And that's where this comes in. Make sure you put at least one thing for each part of the question.

Ideally you want to get somewhere around three or four if not more. Then underline if there is any parts of the questions which says pick two of the three, or choose three of the four. And make sure that you really remember in your head, I'm going to do two of these. If there is a three part question, but you're only supposed to answer two parts of it. If you spent a lot of time on that third one, they only grade the first two and you've just wasted time. So let's take a quick look at a sample question, and I'll show you how I could do this.

So cellular transport is a key process in biology. Describe the difference between active and passive transport. Then describe how cellular transport is involved in two of the three following processes: A: Transport of oxygen in blood, B: Maintenance of turgor pressure in plants and C: Nerve cell signal transmission at a synapse. So I'm going to spend my two or three minutes brainstorm this. But I'm also going to make sure I've understood what they're asking.

So it says describe the difference. So I would need to make sure I'm comparing and contrasting active and passive transport. Then in this part, should I write all three? No, two. So I'm going to make sure that I really get two of these. So that's where I started brainstorming which ones do I know the best. So let's take a quick look. Let me see, off the top of my head, well if they are asking me to describe the difference between active and passive transport, then I'll define what's active transport. What's passive transport. And then I'll try and make sure I really say active transport uses energy, passive transport doesn't. And then I may toss out a few examples. What's an example of active, and what's an example of passive. I didn't go through everything about this, I just hit some of these highlights.

Now I also know because it's A and B. At most they could give maybe 6 points for A, and they're going to give at most maybe six to eight points for B. So all I need to do, is to get two or three or four things here and I should be able to pick up anything else that I want in part B.

Now also remember, the average score on these essay questions, is two to four out of ten. So if I've just defined active and passive transport, I've got two pints out of my ten. I've already gotten an average score. Everything else is gravy to help lift me up from a three to a four or five on the actual exam. Let's take a look at part B.

So I look at my three things but I remember, I'm only supposed to pick two. So I'll think about these. The transport of oxygen in blood. What do I remember, it involves red blood cells. Maintenance of turgor pressure in plants. Turgor pressure, that's how much pressure is exerted inside of them by water, so water moving in. You have signal transmission at a synapse. A nerve cell dumps out a chemical, acetylcholine that goes through exocytosis.

I'm remembering some stuff. And then lands on the receptor protein on the channel and that allows in new irons. Wait a second, I was kind of like iffy on this, especially if I know the hemoglobin protein does it, but maybe I don't remember cellular transport. So instead, I'm going to focus on B and C, because I only knew something of water moves in and that's done by osmosis. But that gives me at least one point here, and I'm pretty sure because it's two things here, I'm going to get maybe three points for this and up to maybe three points for this.

So if I just mention, it happens by osmosis as an example of passive transport, maybe even tossing some stuff about water potential and the pressure component and the osmotic component, or solute component, I got my score. And nerve signal transmission. I talk about how the neurotransmitter is dumped by exocytosis, and there is another point. I'm rocking up the points and I didn't have to know everything about this.

Now let's take a look and give you a chance to do this. So your turn. Let's take a look at a question and I'll give you a chance. I'll wait, I'm very patient. And I'll give you the chance to write down, jot down your own brainstorm. So here is it. I'll go ahead and give you a couple of minutes to read and see what you come up with.

Now you've had a chance to do it by yourself. I'll go ahead and I'll model exactly how I would have done this. And then you can take a look and compare what you did with what I do. So first let's take a look at our strategies and apply directly to this question. I notice it's got three parts. And part B says, I have to pick two of the three.

So I'm going to make sure I put at least one item per part with two for the part B. And I'm going to actually aim to have three or four items for each one. And again, notice that part B it's asking about how are proteins important to structure and function. And that's a little heads-up to me that each one of those little items is worth those two points. Something for structure, something for function. So let's take a look again back at the question and let's see.

Proteins are vital molecules, something about structure and function. So I got to make sure that I discuss the structure of proteins, and then something about how they are making these different shapes. Then I look at this, and I make sure that I highlight the fact that I need to pick two of these. And also there is the structure and function thing that I mentioned earlier. So I'm going to think later, what ideas can I come up with; skeletal muscles, cell membrane or immune system function. Then discuss the relationship between genes and proteins and the relationship between them. So I'm going to bear that in mind, and then let's take a look at how I can brainstorm this.

So proteins are important, discuss the structure of proteins. And you may have come up with some other ideas but maybe thought, I know proteins are made of amino acids, something about peptide bonds hold them together. The R-groups, yeah, there is 20 different amino acids and the R-groups make them different. You vaguely remember because you watched my video on proteins, or you watched my thing about how to write the essays. And you remember, mention hydrogen bonds. Hydrogen bonds are somehow important. Maybe you even remember something, there is that primary, secondary, tertiary, quaternary structure stuff. And so you just jot down a few of those ideas. So I've got my three or four, I'm good to go. Let's go to the next one.

So for part B, I kind of jotted down some ideas for skeletal muscles. Maybe there is something about that actin and myosin stuff.

They are what make up the myofilaments, so I'm heading on my structure thing. Cross bridges pulling the actin, there is that function thing. And maybe I even remember troponin and tropomyosin. Cell membrane, all I can remember is that there is channel proteins. I don't remember much else. Then for the immune system, I know for the antibodies they're proteins. And then the recognition proteins they have something on the surface of the cells, those are probably proteins. And then the things that inspire the immune system to react, those are called antigens. Maybe those are proteins.

So if I look at this. I've got three for this one, one for that one. So three for this one, that tells me I'm not going to write any on that. I'm going to focus on these ones. Now let's look at the last part.

So discuss the relationship between genes and proteins. And so I remember, genes, those are the instructions on how to make the proteins. Then there is something about transcription, translation. I remember kind of what those are, and so I jot those down. And if I change the genes, that's the mutation, that changes the protein.

So now it's time to put you're skills to work. Go to the collage board website, click on the link and then download some of the previous years' essay questions. Go ahead and practice brainstorming and then look at how you do. You can look at their grading rubrics and don't get overwhelmed by all the possible answers that they give. Because what they are doing is that, they are filling out all the possible things that kids, the 80 plus thousands student who take it. What are some of the the things that they are given points to? Don't think, "I must have gotten all thirty of this." Remember they talk about it ten points. And just see could you have gotten at least two of the points that are somewhere in that rubric.

If you do that you're getting a passing grade and if you can get a six or seven of those points, you're in the realm where most kids are getting five on the scoring of the essays, so good luck.[0:10:00]