June 9, 2017

AP Environmental Science: The Best Prep Books

Although AP Environmental Science is said to be one of the easier AP classes, the APES grade distribution shows that only about 8% of students receive the maximum score of 5.

APES requires less depth of knowledge than AP Chemistry, Biology, and Physics, but it asks for greater breadth: the topics tested span ecology, chemistry, politics, history, and economics. If you're well-read, however, you'll can prep without having to memorize lists of seemingly disconnected facts.

I've listed my recommended study resources below:

Cracking the AP Environmental Science Exam

This is a good all-around study guide. Because it focuses on memorization, this book is useful if you have less than two weeks to study. If you have more time, supplement this book with more in-depth resources that will help you understand and retain what you learn.

If you're well-read, you can avoid having to memorize most of this book's content. For example, from chemistry class, you may already know the mechanism by which CFC's destroy ozone, so you won't have to memorize the fact that the chlorine radicals they release catalyze the decomposition of ozone. If you're also aware that they're implicated in both stratospheric ozone destruction (the reason their production has been phased out) and, controversially, in global warming, you'll have historical, political, and scientific contexts to help you remember what you need.

This book will give you a quick review of the field.

I did the drills without doing the practice tests, then went straight to the College Board's 1998 released exam, receiving a multiple-choice score of 97/100. (A raw score of 75% generally corresponds to a scaled score of 5/5.) I read in a variety of fields for my own enjoyment, though, so my experience may not reflect other students'.

The Princeton Review is all about giving you what you need and not one iota more. Their book asks you to memorize information because that's faster than truly understanding it. It also means that you won't retain everything you learn.

You might find some of the chapter-end drills to be confusing. I don't think the book goes into enough depth to help you adequately answer all of its own practice questions.

It has a liberal bias that sometimes comes across as, "Well, of course one choice is morally superior to another, and we don't have to provide evidence for that position." That's not surprising in an environmental science book, but the AP test is much more even-handed. It won't punish you for your opinions as long as you provide evidence supporting them.

Christian Shorey's Earth and Environmental Science Podcast

Christian Shorey, a professor at the Colorado School of Mines, created this podcast to supplement his classroom lectures. His lectures are more in-depth and interesting than the bland fare you'll find in AP prep guides.

You can download podcasts and listen to them in your car using the Podcast Republic app and a bluetooth FM transmitter.

Dr. Shorey knows so much about his field that he tells memorable stories almost like they're afterthoughts. For example, did you know that quantum entanglement can communicate information faster than than the speed of light? What are several ways to die from volcanic eruptions before the lava ever reaches you?

Dr. Shorey definitely comes across as a scientific realist: observations = facts, facts can't be disputed, and theories are so strongly supported by facts that you'd have to be intellectually dishonest to deny them. If you've taken a class in the history and philosophy of science, you might find his epistemology to lack awareness and balance.

Official College Board Practice Tests

The most valuable official practice resource is the 1998 APES released exam.

You'll find sample multiple-choice questions in the document below starting at page 12 (PDF page 16):
AP Environmental science sample multiple choice questions and answers

The College Board releases the free-response questions every year. The College Board's Web site has commentaries on samples of student responses.

2016 Free-response questions and answers

2015 Free-response questions and answers

2014 Free-response questions and answers

2013 Free-response questions and answers

2012 Free-response questions and answers

2011 Free-response questions and answers

2010 Free-response questions and answers

2009 Free-response questions and answers

2008 Free-response questions and answers

2007 Free-response questions and answers

2006 Free-response questions and answers

2005 Free-response questions and answers

2004 Free-response questions and answers

2003 Free-response questions and answers

2002 Free-response questions and answers

2001 Free-response questions and answers

2000 Free-response questions and answers

1999 Free-response questions and answers

The carbon cycle has some interesting implications.

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