Question types on the SAT Subject Test Biology E/M

Posted by The PhD Perspective on 4/25/13 10:30 AM

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As May and June approach, many of you may be preparing to take several SAT Subject Tests.  These tests are great if you can achieve a high score, and really help to make you a competitive candidate in the college admissions process. 

The Biology E/M subject test is a popular one for those interested in pursuing a degree in the sciences. Preparation can be difficult, but knowing what to expect on the exam will help you focus your preparation. In our post, we’ll break down what the major question types are and how to approach them. 

Bio SAT Subject Test Overview

There are 80 questions and you are allotted 60 minutes to complete the exam.   

There are five major question types on the SAT Biology Subject Exam.  Here they are, and here are some tips on how to approach them: 

1) Classification questions

  • Classification questions ask you to take a statement and categorize it based on the five choices they provided at the beginning of the prompt.  This type of question is determining the completeness of your knowledge on a particular topic.  Here’s an example:
Choose from the terms below:

(A) Smooth Endoplasmic Reticulum

(B) Nucleolus

(C) Ribosomes

(D) Lysosomes

(E) Golgi Apparatus

  1. The site of protein production
  2. Found in large quantities in white blood cells and other phagocytosing cells

If you picked C for question 1 and D for question 2, then you picked correctly.  Here this question is testing how well you understand the functions of all the structures in the cell.  It requires an in depth knowledge of all the parts of the cell that contribute to its functioning.  When approaching this question, what I like to do, is take a look at the questions and then take a look at the choices.  From these questions, its clear that its all about the functions.  I would then quickly just write down next to each choice what the function of that structure within the cell is.

2) Standard Multiple Choice questions

  • This is a standard multiple choice question with five choices to choose from.  Process of elimination is your friend here.  Some choices will have nothing to do with the process or structure they are testing on, and these should be crossed out.  If you’re stuck, crossing out answers you know to be incorrect will make your guessing more effective.  The other big stumbling block for students are EXCEPT questions.  These questions ask you to identify which choice is WRONG.  What students often find helpful is to re-write the question.  For example
  • All of the following are correct about enzymes EXCEPT can be re-written as Which of the following about enzymes is WRONG.  Re-writing the question will help you think about it, and get to the answer much more efficiently.
  • Questions based on Diagrams/Charts
  • Questions based on Experiments

These two types often go together.  The question prompt will present some information from an experiment, often in graphical form.  They will then ask you to interpret and draw conclusions from that information.  For example:

The graph below illustrates the data obtained from reactions at various temperatures of an enzyme with its specific substrate at pH .

describe the image 


What can be predicted if the experiment is carried out at 5oC? 

(A) No prediction would be valid

(B) Amount of product would equal to that at 20oC would be formed

(C)  An amount of product equal to that at the optimum temperature would be formed.

(D)  An amount of product equal to that at  would be formed

(E)  Little or no product would be formed

If you picked choice E, you’d be correct!  Here they want you realize that this graphs the amount of product as a function of temperature.  Analyzing the graph, we see that as the temperature decreases from the optimal 40 degrees, the amount of product is reduced.  Thus we can conclude that at even lower temperatures, we’d have no product at all. 

Those are the types of questions to expect on your exam.  As you prepare, think about how the material you are covering could be asked.  Your tutor can help you work through problems more efficiently and help you achieve success in your college admissions process.  Good luck!

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Tags: biology, SAT, high school