Perhaps you’re taking a biology class and are wondering how else you can showcase all that you’ve learned to be considered in the college admission process, or are trying to figure out how you might express your undying love for Earth’s numerous biomes on your college application. Or maybe you’re just trying to fulfill a testing requirement for a college that you’re planning on applying to. Whatever the reason, here is a brief overview of all that you need to know about the SAT biology subject test, and some advice as to what strategies and study materials you can use— in addition to cautionary tales of death-by-
Why take the biology subject test?
The biology subject test is a science subject test, which means that it fulfills the requirement of some colleges and majors of taking a science subject test in order to qualify for admission. If you’re considering majoring in a concentration related to biology, then you might also want to take the biology subject test to demonstrate your aptitude in this field, demonstrating how you would succeed
Biology E vs Biology M
If you take a look at the list of subject test offerings in this article, you’ll notice that there are actually two different biology tests offered— biology
Biology E is more focused on biological populations and communities, and will likely have more questions regarding interspecies relationships and food webs. On the other hand, Biology M has a stronger focus on biochemistry, cell structures, and the intricacies of cell functions. Below is a more in-depth breakdown of the differences that I found on the Collegeboard website. Generally, you should choose to take the test that places stronger emphasis on the subjects that you are more comfortable with.
The good news is that you technically don’t have to decide which version of the test you want to take until test day. Just as with other subject tests, you can register online to take Bio M but
Preparing for the test
In my junior year, I took honors biology and environmental science, and mistakenly thought that taking those classes alone would be enough to prepare me for the biology subject test. It was only when I looked at a practice test online that I snapped out my wishful delusion and realized that I had a lot of studying to do in order to achieve my target score. So I would advise you not to rely on having covered subject test material in class, perhaps with the exception of those of you who have taken AP biology
I used two textbooks while studying for the biology subject test: Barron’s Subject Test Biology E/M and the Princeton Review’s Cracking the Biology E/M Subject Test. The Barron’s book is more comprehensive, while the Princeton Review is much easier to understand for beginners. If you haven’t studied biology in a few years or simply want to ease
Both books feature mini quizzes at the end of each chapter to check your knowledge retention and ensure that you have a good grasp on the chapter’s information. These quizzes are also great to come back to to fill in gaps in your knowledge. In addition, both textbooks also contain numerous practice tests, which you should take between prep and review sessions to measure your progress. Overall, I found The Princeton Review’s practice questions to be easier than those of the Barron’s textbook, with the actual difficulty of the Collegeboard’s test questions landing somewhere in the middle.
The Princeton Review has three practice tests in total, one of them being a diagnostic test. The Barron’s book also comes with a diagnostic test, in addition to four practice tests at the back of the book and two more online. As I mentioned previously, some of Barron’s questions are slightly more difficult than those that will appear on the real test, but if you’re aiming for a near-perfect score, then it can’t hurt to absorb as much information as possible— you never know what type of questions might show up!
If you’re planning on taking multiple subject tests, I would suggest purchasing
While studying each of the textbooks, I filled a whole notebook full of notes on important concepts that I could use to track my progress and refer to later. As the test date neared, I started to worry about remembering every little detail that I might be tested on, and created study flashcards to help memorize information.
After my initial read through of both textbooks, I pinpointed my weaknesses through practice tests and reviewed those chapters to try not to make the same mistakes again. Over the span of two months, my study plan looked something like this:
- Diagnostic test
- The Princeton Review
- Official Practice Test #1
- Review Chapters
- Official Practice Test #2
- Review Chapters
- More Flashcards
- Healthy dose of panic
- Official Practice Test #3
- Test day!
Though I spent quite a long time studying for the test, science is definitely not my strong suit, which meant that I likely had a lot more ground to cover than the average student. Before creating your prep plan, take a diagnostic test to determine how much time you’ll need to dedicate to studying in order to reach your target score.
Even after two months of focused studying, I still didn’t feel prepared when test day arrived. There’s no way to know everything regarding the multitude of topics that could possibly show up on the biology subject test, but I found some comfort in the fact that the test’s curve meant that I could probably incorrectly answer 1-2 questions without losing any points. However, the biology subject test’s curve is unforgiving when compared to some other subject tests, such as Math 2 (in which you can get
Leave a comment below if you have any other questions, and I’ll respond to you as soon as I can.
Until next time!