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Pre-AP Biology sparks student motivation and critical thinking about our living world as they engage in real-world data analysis and problem-solving. The Pre-AP Biology course emphasizes the integration of content with science practices—powerful reasoning tools that support students in analyzing the natural world around them. Having this ability is one of the hallmarks of scientific literacy and is critical for numerous college and career endeavors in science and the social sciences.

Areas of Focus

The Pre-AP science areas of focus, shown below, are science practices that students develop and leverage as they engage with content. They were identified through educator feedback and research about where students and teachers need the most curriculum support. These areas of focus are vertically aligned to the science practices embedded in other science courses in high school, including AP, and in college, giving students multiple opportunities to strengthen and deepen their work with these skills throughout their education. They also support and align to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and AP science practices of theory building and refinement.

Pre-AP Biology Areas of Focus:

  • Emphasis on analytical reading and writing: Students engage in analytical reading and writing to gain, retain, and apply scientific knowledge and to carry out scientific argumentation.
  • Strategic use of mathematics: Students use mathematics strategically in order to understand and express the quantitative aspects of biology, to record and interpret experimental data, and to solve problems as they arise.
  • Attention to modeling: Students go beyond labeling diagrams to creating, revising, and using models to explain key patterns, interactions, and relationships in biological systems.

Underlying Unit Foundations

The four big ideas that are central to deep and productive understanding in Pre-AP Biology are:

  • The process of evolution drives the diversity and unity of life.
  • Growth and reproduction in biological systems are dependent upon the cycling of matter and the transformation of energy.
  • Biological systems, occurring at various scales, respond and adapt to stimuli in order to maintain dynamic homeostasis.
  • Genetic mechanisms are essential to maintaining biological systems.

Course at a Glance

The tables below show the four main units in Pre-AP Biology, the recommended length of each unit, and the key topics in each.


Timeframe: ~5 weeks

Key concepts:

  • Cycling of matter in the biosphere
  • Population dynamics
  • Defining ecological communities
  • Ecological community dynamics
  • Changes in ecological communities

Timeframe: ~4 weeks

Key concepts:

  • Patterns of evolution
  • Mechanisms of evolution
  • Speciation

Timeframe: ~10 weeks

Key concepts:

  • Chemistry of life
  • Cell structure and function
  • Cell transport and homeostasis
  • Organisms maintaining homeostasis
  • Cell growth and division
  • Photosynthesis
  • Cellular respiration and fermentation

Timeframe: ~9 weeks

Key concepts:

  • Structure of DNA
  • DNA synthesis
  • Protein synthesis
  • Asexual and sexual passing of traits
  • Inheritance patterns
  • Biotechnology

    Instructional Resources

    Schools that officially implement a Pre-AP course will receive access to instructional resources for each unit. These resources don’t constitute a full day-by-day curriculum. Instead, they provide support for teachers as they design their instruction for each Pre-AP Biology unit.

    Pre-AP Biology instructional resources include:

    • A course framework: the framework defines what students should know and be able to do by the end of the course. It serves as an anchor for model lessons and assessments, and it is the primary document teachers can use to align instruction to course content.
    • Teacher resources, available in print and online, include a robust set of model lessons that demonstrate how to translate the course framework, shared principles, and areas of focus into daily instruction.
    • Additional support resources include Distance Learning Companion Slides and audio recordings of student texts that accompany the teacher and student instructional materials for use in synchronous and asynchronous settings.

    Additional resources: Pre-AP Biology does require additional resources to use in the model lessons. This list is divided into two categories: general consumable items that are typically replaced yearly and general stockroom equipment. The majority of these items are commonly found in science stockrooms and are low tech and low cost; this ensures all students can engage in inquiry-based investigations and reasoning.


    Large poster paper, mini whiteboards, butcher block paper
    Markers, neon Expo dry-erase markers, coloring pencils
    Multicolor construction paper or card stock
    Beans (multicolor)
    Variety of fruits
    Dish soap
    Corn syrup or glycerin
    Hydrogen peroxide
    Alcohol (ethanol or 70%–95% isopropyl alcohol)
    Bendable straws
    Plastic cups
    Plastic spoons
    Plastic sandwich bags
    Plastic pipettes
    Coffee filters
    Rubber bands

    Pop beads (provided by College Board during Summer Institute)
    Rulers & metersticks
    Test tubes/rack
    Graduated cylinders
    Flexible rubber or plastic tubing
    Glass tubing
    One-hole rubber stoppers (#5)
    Support rod and burette clamp
    Ring stand
    Plastic tub (no larger than 7x11 inches needed) (approximately 2-quart size)
    Optional stockroom materials
    Bunsen burners

    Assessments for Learning

    Each unit contains:

    • Short, open-ended formative assessment problems or questions embedded in some model lessons to show targeted content and skills, related to the lesson’s learning objectives, that students should master.
    • Two online learning checkpoints per unit that feature multiple-choice and technology-enhanced questions modeled closely after the types of questions students encounter on SAT tests and AP Exams. Learning checkpoints require students to examine graphs, data, and short texts—often set in authentic contexts—to respond to a targeted set of questions that measure student understanding of unit concepts and skills.
    • One performance task per unit that engages students in sustained problem-solving and asks them to synthesize skills and concepts from across the unit to answer questions about a novel context. 
    • One or two practice performance tasks with scoring guidelines and instructional support suggestions for each unit.
    • A final exam allows students to demonstrate their success on the skills and content outlined in the course frameworks. This exam is optional.