The teacher’s guide for AP biology (Schofield, 2000) encourages teachers to develop a curriculum for conceptual or thematic understanding. The guide illustrates a shift in emphasis of AP biology examination questions away from factual listings of information, as illustrated by the 1989 free-response question about cell energetics, and toward conceptual understanding, as illustrated by the 1995 question. The following examples are taken from that guide (Schofield, 2000, pp. 24–25).

Factual free-response question about cellular energetics from the 1989 AP biology examination:

Explain what occurs during the Krebs (citric acid) cycle and electron transport by describing the following:

  1. The location of the Krebs cycle and electron transport chain in the mitochondria

  2. The cyclic nature of the reactions in the Krebs cycle

  3. The production of ATP and reduced coenzymes during the cycle

  4. The chemiosmotic production of ATP during electron transport

Conceptual-thematic free-response question about cellular energetics from the 1995 AP biology examination:

Energy transfer occurs in all cellular activities. For three of the following five processes involving energy transfer, explain how each functions in the cell and give an example. Explain how ATP is involved in each example you choose:

  • Cellular movement

  • Active transport

  • Synthesis of molecules

  • Chemiosmosis

  • Fermentation


Little is known, other than anecdotally, about what actually happens in AP classrooms as teachers engage with students in the teaching–learning process. Teachers make decisions every day and in every class period about what to teach and how. Many factors influence these decisions, including teaching philosophies; experience with various teaching strategies; the teacher’s own educational background, experience, and familiarity with various topics in the discipline; and student outcomes. In typical honors courses,

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