Barron’s AP Biology vs Cliffs AP Biology | Which Book to Get for the Highest Exam Score?

Being some of the most popular publishers for reference books, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a lot of people end up torn between the Barron’s AP Biology vs. Cliffs AP Biology debate. These two are possibly some of the most highly recommended review books for the course, making it harder for new students to choose.

Both AP Biology study guides have something unique to offer. They have their own strengths and weaknesses which can make them a better or worse pick for different students. This is why getting to know both of them better is essential if you’re to make the right choices. We aim to help you do just that in this guide.

Why People Get Torn Between the Barron’s and CliffsNotes AP Biology Study Guides

Before we go on ahead and discuss the strong and weak points of both titles, the first thing that you might want to know about is the reason why people find it difficult to choose between the Barron’s and CliffsNotes review books. What are the things that these two titles have in common that make it hard to choose between them.

Study Prep Lounge has these two titles among the top rated AP bio prep books we have reviewed. Here are a few answers to the debate why these two books are closely compared:

Both Books are Widely Recommended

The biggest reason why these two study guides are so popular is the fact that they’re highly recommended.

 A lot of students found them useful so they’re heavily endorsed to younger test-takers alongside the AP Biology from Princeton Review.

With word of mouth being one of the most credible sources of information, it makes perfect sense that these two titles are some of the most sought-after review books today.

Price comparison

Another thing that can explain these two titles’ popularity is their very friendly price. Textbooks can cost a few times more than these books and they’re also lower priced than other review books. Combined with their good reputation and promising content, it shouldn’t be too surprising that they’re among the top picks of many students and teachers alike.

Condensed Content

Reviewers often describe the Barron’s and Cliffs AP Biology review guides as great sources of concise and condensed information about the said subject. Their contents are effective summaries and simplifications of the concepts discussed in class and AP Bio textbooks. This allows them to be effective tools in brushing up on your knowledge. It goes without saying that you need to know how to study for AP Biology from the get go.

Good Practice Questions and Exams

Both AP Biology review books also contain good practice questions and tests that can help prepare you for the actual exam.

They contain AP practice exams including AP Biology essay questions which are considered tricky by many students.

Both titles also claim that their latest editions have updated contents that are aligned with the new exam structure. Some folks contest these claims, however, so both are also recommended as supplementary study tools instead.

The Battle of AP Bio Study Guides: Barron’s AP Biology vs. Cliffs AP Biology

After looking at their similar points, we’ll now take a closer look at what sets these two AP Biology prep books apart. These differences might just help you find what you’re looking for in a supplemental material to crush the dreaded AP Bio exam.

Barron’s AP Biology: Top-Rated and Highly Recommended

A quick search on AP review books online and you’ll get recommendations of Barron’s titles for just about any subject. Nearly every roundup list and forum website list the Barron’s AP Biology study guide as one of the best references available today and it’s not hard to see why. By offering the following, it certainly proves to be a handy supplemental material that can help prepare you for your AP Bio exam.

Overall, Barron’s AP Biology study guide is our as well as many AP test candidates' favorite AP Biology prep book:

Why is Barron’s AP Biology study guide our top pick?

1. Covers all of the basic concepts to help you brush up your knowledge.

Content is one of the most important things about study guides but it shouldn’t have everything that an actual AP Bio book has. This Barron’s title succeeded in this area because it manages to be loaded with the necessary concepts you need to refresh your knowledge and prepare you for the exam without being too overwhelming.

It covers the basics that you should absolutely know about to get ready for the exam. It’s comprehensive and the data inside are well-organized. This makes it easier to work with.

2. Offers good practice questions that are useful in memorization.

This item isn’t just an AP Bio review book. It also comes with a CD-Rom that contains practice tests that are aligned with the College Board’s AP Biology standards. The package contains not just the questions that should prepare you for the exam but it also has the answers that you can use to check whether you’ve answered correctly.

They also come with detailed explanations of each answer and point. These will let you further enrich your knowledge and better understand the concepts that you’re trying to learn. They might also come in handy if you’re getting ready for an AP Biology quiz. So having this book on hand from the start of the semester might prove to be a more beneficial thing for you.

3. Contains many helpful diagrams that are easy to understand.
books contain many helpful diagrams

Everybody knows that textbooks can be rather hard and weird to read. They’re packed with information and can easily overload you with data if they’re not designed well.

This, unfortunately, affects their effectiveness, as their drabness might prevent readers from retaining the information they share.

This AP Bio reviews book, however, addresses such a problem with its thoughtful layout. It uses diagrams and a pleasant design to prevent readers from getting overwhelmed from the knowledge they offer.

With AP Bio already being a complex topic on its own, this special feature makes this title a lot more effective and enjoyable for many students.

Unfortunately, this title also has a few downsides. For one, it doesn’t have as many test-taking tips as some students would like. Other Advanced Placement review materials also tackle other areas of preparing for the exam. This item doesn’t have an extensive section on this matter, so some folks feel like it’s lacking in that area.

As mentioned before, some also think that it’s not fully updated to meet the new structure of the AP Bio exam. This can be another issue as most buyers are looking for something that can really help them be 100% ready for the said major test.

Cliffs AP Biology: Comprehensive but Concise

The Cliffs AP Biology may not always be a top suggestion for a supplemental material but there are lots of people vouching for its usefulness. Being concise and super-affordable, Cliffs AP Biology is often times a runner up for the best AP bio prep book:

What makes Cliffs AP Biology a solid alternative to the Barron’s review book? 

1. A heavy emphasis on the exam itself.

While it still contains a lot of concept discussions, it’s very noticeable that it also shares lots of information about the test-taking process. Because of this, it can build your confidence in taking the test.

2. Topic roundups at the end of every chapter.

To help you feel more sure about your ability to ace the exam, it offers a comprehensive discussion of important points. It contains an in-depth guide on the laboratory investigations, for starters. It also has informational roundups at the end of every chapter that summarizes and help you brush up on the AP Bio topics that you’ve just learned about.

3. Helpful practice questions with answers and discussions.
our research can help you decide which preparation book is better

Like the other test prep book, this item also comes with practice exams with answers and discussions. They’re also said to be well-aligned with the revamped exam structure.

However, this is also contested by some reviewers saying that it wasn’t enough to fully prepare them for the exam.

Unfortunately, this title has great walls of texts that can be overwhelming and tiring to readers. They’re just not inspiring or appealing to a brain that’s getting strained and loaded with information, so it might not prove to be as helpful as one would want it to be.


So which of the two is the right AP Biology review book for you? To be very honest, it’s hard to say for certain. The answer largely depends on the user as people don’t always learn things in the same manner. Some folks might find Barron’s to be the perfect fit for their learning style while others might find the Cliffs Notes title the right match for their studying strategies.

However, you can also consider these two supplemental materials to be complementary items. The Barron’s AP Biology study guide is very useful in terms of content but it can lack crucial information on study strategies where the CliffsNotes title excels. Together, they might just be able to offer you everything you need to get the 5 you’re gunning for.

So if you’re dead set on getting the best results, maybe you need to go beyond the best AP Biology prep book debate: getting both materials might just be a more ideal way for you to learn everything you need. Doing this alongside the use of the AP Bio released exams from the previous years might just give you a foolproof way to crush your upcoming Advanced Placement test.

Leonard Haggin

I created this site to help students like you learn from the experiences my team had learned during our extensive academic careers. I am now studying Law at Stanford, but I also make time to write articles here in order to help all you fellow students advance in your academic careers and beyond. I hope our efforts on Study Prep Lounge will arm you with the knowledge you need to overcome whatever trial or test you find in front of you.

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