SAT Biology

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General information

If you’re applying to selective schools, you might have to submit SAT Subject Test scores along with your regular SAT (or ACT) scores. The Biology Subject Test (also called Biology SAT II) is a popular one because a vast majority of students take biology in high school, and most students find it less intimidating than chemistry or physics. This test can be a great way to fulfill your Subject Test requirements, especially if you plan on studying biology in college and want to show off your skills.

SAT Biology E or M? Which Test Should You Take?

If you’re a high school student with an interest in the sciences, you might be considering taking one or more of the SAT’s subject tests in that field. These tests, formerly known as SAT IIs, allow you to show off your knowledge on topics more specific than those covered by the regular SAT. The SAT subject test in biology has two variations, E and M; E stands for ecological biology, while M stands for molecular biology. In this post, we’ll go over the distinction between the two variation, what topics each variation covers, and how to decide which test would be better for you personally to take.

SAT Biology E and M: What’s The Difference?

  • First of all, it’s important to note that there’s not a huge difference between the two versions of the SAT Biology test. No matter which specific focus area you choose, you’ll sign up for the same SAT subject test, listed as Biology E/M. You don’t have to make a final decision on which variation to take until test day.
  • The SAT Biology E/M test gives you one hour to answer 80 multiple-choice questions. 60 of these questions will be the same regardless of whether you choose E or M. The remaining 20 questions will be specialized toward either ecological or molecular topics.
  • For both tests, you’ll be required to know and use some simple math skills, and you won’t be permitted to use a calculator. The test questions will use metric units of measurement, such as meters, grams, and degrees Celsius, so you should be familiar with these units.
  • As we’ve mentioned, you don’t have to specify whether you’re taking Biology E or M until the day of the test. At the test sitting, you’ll indicate your choice and answer the questions for the section you’ve chosen. You can’t answer both the E and the M questions at the same test session, but you can sign up for the SAT Biology E/M again at another test sitting and choose the other set of questions on that occasion.
  • Remember, 60 out of the 80 total questions on the SAT Biology test are the same, so there’s considerable overlap in content between the E and M versions of the SAT Biology test. It’s not a matter of a strict distinction between the two, and you’ll still need to study topics that come from both areas.

The types of skills tested on both Biology-E and Biology-M include the following:

Recalling fundamental concepts and specific facts (about 30% of test)

Applying biological knowledge to practical scenarios presented on the test and solving problems using mathematical relationships (about 35% of test)

Making inferences and forming conclusions based on qualitative and quantitative data (about 35% of test)

Essentially, 70% of questions will present a scenario and then ask you to make deductions or calculations based on it. The scenario could be a chart of bacteria growth or a description of a lab procedure. It’s important to know the fundamental parts of an experiment (independent and dependent variables) and be able to project your understanding onto unfamiliar situations. The other 30% of questions just ask you to recall biological facts directly.  

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