AP Environmental FRQs

7 min readnovember 17, 2021


Mark Little

Harrison Burnside

Harrison Burnside

AP Environmental Science ♻️

252 resources
See Units

Overview of FRQs (2020)

AP Environmental Science started as a course during the 1997-98 school year and the first exam was in 1998.  There were 4 FRQs written in 90 minutes and the combined score from these questions was 40% of the total score. Each question was worth a maximum of 10 points.
Starting this year, there are only three free-response questions. You will have a total of 70 minutes for the three questions. These 3 questions are worth 40% of your exam score.  That translates into that each question is worth about 13-14% of your exam score! Learning to answer FRQs is very important to your success on the AP Exam in May.
There is ONE important thing for you to remember for this exam this year: the FRQ’s and the multiple choice this year.  
You can use a calculator on the exam.  The calculator may be a four-function, graphing or scientific calculator.
FOR 2020 Exam ONLY: FRQs will be 100% of your exam score! There are 2 FRQs:
  • FRQ #1 = 25 minutes + 5 minute upload
  • FRQ #2 = 15 minutes + 5 minutes upload.
The College Board has not recommended that a calculator be used for the 2020 Exam.

FRQ Question Breakdown

Question 1: Design an Investigation

You will be given a real-life problem with some type of visual representation or a model ( for example: data table, experimental data graph, food web or a map of seismic activity). The question will see how well you can do the following:
  1. Identify a process or something else from the visual representation.
  2. Describe or explain some type of environmental concept in writing.
  3. Analyze the data, the visual representation or model.
  4. Examine research studies that evaluate the environmental concepts.
  5. Describe some potential issues and possible environmental changes.
  6. Identify experimental variables (Independent variable, controls, etc.) Independent variable is the variable you change such as the amount of fertilizer. The dependent variable is what you measure, such as the amount of plant growth.  The control is what keeps the same such as the type of plant, amount of light or water.
FOR 2020 Exam ONLY: This FRQ will be the longer FRQ #1.

Question 2: Analyze an Environmental Problem and Propose a Solution

You will be given a real-life or authentic story providing you some type of model or visual representation (examples in question 1) or quantitative data such as the number of deer in an area every year.
  1. Identify a characteristic, a specific criterion or something else about the story presented in the environmental problem.
  2. Describe or explain some type of environmental concept in writing.
  3. Analyze the data, the visual representation or model.
  4. Write about or pose a solution to the given problem and give reasons for the solution you wrote.
FOR 2020 Exam ONLY: This FRQ will be the shorter FRQ #2.

Question  3: Analyze an Environmental Problem and Propose a Solution Using Math

  1. Describe or explain some type of environmental concept in writing.
  2. Using math to analyze an environmental problem or concept.
  3. Come up with and provide or propose a  justifiable solution to a given environmental situation.
FOR 2020 Exam ONLY: This FRQ will NOT be on the exam.

Key Terms

Key terms or Task verbs used on the FRQ questions for APES.  Please note: Each bolded Task Verb this year is worth one point in each FRQ.
Do the math steps necessary to determine or calculate the correct answer.  This may require the use of algebra.
*Show Work
Showing work is required for the Calculate point.  This may be just showing the setup on how the answer was calculated or Dimensional Analysis set up. Proper units are needed. (Example Kg or iron…)
Provide the relevant details to provide an account of a situation.  Talks about the facts.
Explain (How)
Write an answer that writes the details out on how things happen.  Usually for how looks at relationships or patterns.
Explain (Why)
Write an answer that writes the details out on why things happen. With why you look at reasons or incentives or motives.
Point out or specify something for a particular topic without a long explanation.
Provide support or evidence for a position or claim.  Provide an explanation on why the evidence your wrote supports a position or claim
Make a claim
Write a statement that is based on evidence or your knowledge.  Usually this should be one sentence.
Propose a solution
Provide or write a solution to a problem based on the evidence or knowledge.
  • Calculate and Show work go together. The Calculated Answer is worth one point and the Shown work is worth one point.

Recommendations from AP Readers

The FRQ section of the exam is worth 40% of your total exam score. AP FRQ questions are written by the College Board which are very well written questions that cover course content and access student skills or science practices. AP readers are trained to grade your FRQ questions accurately and checks are in place to ensure the accuracy and consistency of the grading. These college and high school teachers are an outstanding group of teachers.
The task verbs mentioned in the previous section are key for you.  Knowing the meaning of these terms and being able to apply them will help you earn the highest score possible.  Each task verb is worth one point

Strategies from Fiveable for APES FRQS

  1. Read through all three FRQs carefully first. You do not want to miss any chances for points by not reading the questions carefully. 
  2. You can write notes or outline on the question pages but those notes will not be scored.  Only what is written on the lined portion of the page will be scored.
  3. Circle, box or underline the bold faced task verbs
  4. Write complete sentences unless it is Identify, or Calculate. Remember to use units on calculations like ppm.
  5. Use a blue or black pen if you can to write your FRQs.
  6. When you make a mistake, draw a line through the word or phrase and continue.
  7. You can answer the questions in any order you choose.
  8. Remember to label each section of the question.
  9. Time yourself.  You have 70 minutes to answer the three questions.
  10. This is not a language arts class.  Do not restate the prompt. No introductory paragraph.  Just answer the question. Remember the phrase ATP:  Answer The Prompt.  
  11. Using specific terminology (biotic factor for example--living factor like grass or deer) provide an example if you can.

Practice FRQ

The graph provided below shows the monthly mean carbon dioxide (CO2) taken from the observatory on top of Mauna Loa from the big island in Hawaii. 

Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Using the graph above, answer the following questions.
(i) Based on the data provided in the graph, calculate the rate of CO2 increase between year 1980 and 2000. Show your work.
There are reasons for the increase in CO2 levels worldwide and the concerns with the environment. One of these concerns is an increase in global average temperature.
(i) Greenhouse gases are a concern for raising global average temperature.  Identify one other greenhouse gas besides CO2.
(ii) For your identified greenhouse gas in i, describe one strategy to reduce the levels of this gas.
(iii)For CO2, identify ONE anthropogenic source that contributes to its emission or release.
(iv) Describe one strategy that can be done to reduce the anthropology contributions of CO2.
Here is a graph an enlarged section of one year.  Propose a reason why there is a variation in CO2 levels throughout the year. Justify your reason for the variation in CO2 levels.
The greenhouse effect occurs naturally.  
(i) Explain why the naturally occurring greenhouse effect is a benefit to life on Earth.
(ii) Explain why naturally occurring greenhouse effect has a negative effect on life on Earth.

Rubric-Scoring Guidelines

Please note these are suggested responses that work. Other answers may work beyond what is provided.

Calculate CO2 increase:
Set Up/work (1 pt)
Answer with units (1pt)
Setup (2pts)
  • 368-338= 1.5 carbon dioxide concentration ppmv/year
  • 20 years
  • Acceptable numbers 365-370; 335-340 to use.

(i) Identify another greenhouse gas (1pt)
  • Water vapor (H2O), Methane (CH4), Nitrous oxide (N2O), Ozone (O3).
(ii) The strategy to reduce your selected gas in (i) (1pt)
Greenhouse gas
Example of Strategy to reduce this gas
Water Vapor (H2O),
Reduce other greenhouse gases will help lower the surface temperature and decrease the evaporation of water.
Methane (CH4)
Decrease the amount of red meat being eaten.
Nitrous oxide (N2O)
Decrease the amount of nitrogen fertilizer being used.
Ozone (O3)
Drive a more efficient car or reduce how much you drive your car.
There may be more strategies that may reduce each gas.
(iii) Anthropogenic source of CO2 (1pt)
  • Transportation, power plants, oil production and agriculture practices.
(iv) Reduce anthropogenic CO2 production (1pt)
  • Reduce,Reuse, Recycle, Decrease energy use (heat and AC), drive your car less, energy efficient appliances. 
Reason:  The Carbon dioxide levels will decrease during the cooler, colder or during the winter. (1pt)

  • Justify: Seasonal variation of the carbon cycle because cell respiration occurs all year long while photosynthesis
occurs mostly during the spring and summer months. (1pt)

  • Benefit: Helps maintain the Earth’s temperature. Block harmful solar radiation for hitting the Earth. (1pt)
  • Negative: Leading to changes in the climate. Reduce the rate of photosynthesis. (1pt)

Browse Study Guides By Unit
🏜Unit 1 – The Living World: Ecosystems
🐠Unit 2 – The Living World: Biodiversity
👪Unit 3 – Populations
🌏Unit 4 – Earth Systems & Resources
🏖Unit 5 – Land & Water Use
⚡️Unit 6 – Energy Resources & Consumption
💨Unit 7 – Atmospheric Pollution
♻️Unit 8 – Aquatic & Terrestrial Pollution
🔥Unit 9 – Global Change
📚Study Tools
🤔Exam Skills

Stay Connected

© 2024 Fiveable Inc. All rights reserved.

© 2024 Fiveable Inc. All rights reserved.