Standardized Test Preparation: The Biology Subject Test, E or M?

Posted by Entela Nako on 7/2/13 9:11 AM

Many high school students use the summer to prepare for the subject SAT test they will take in the fall.  For those of you preparing for the Biology SAT subject test, you need to make an important decision that will shape the way you study for the SAT test. Are you going to take the Biology E (Ecology) test or the Biology M (Molecular Biology) test?

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Why decide which biology subject test is right for you early if you don’t have to choose until the test day?

It is true, you don’t have to make a decision until the actual test day.  Additionally, 60 questions on the test will cover topics from both Ecology and Molecular Biology, while only 20 questions will cover topic specific material. This means that you should be confortable with Ecology questions as well as with Molecular Biology questions.  However, preparing for an SAT subject test takes a long time and requires you to put a lot of effort into studying. Also, sometimes it is very difficult to focus equally on all topics (which appear as different chapters in your SAT prep books).  Therefore, if you know what kind of test you will take, you can dedicate more time and effort to the appropriate chapters.

So, should I take the E or the M test?

The answer to this question is of course different for every person and you should take the test about which you feel the most prepared. The 20 topic specific questions on the E test focus more on populations and communities, biological interactions, and energy flow. On the other hand, the 20 topic-specific question on the M test focus more on cellular biology, biochemistry, genetics, photosynthesis and respiration. Knowing which topics you feel most confortable with is a good guide to deciding on the kind of test you should take.

As a biology tutoring, I'd say trust your instincts. 

For some students, the decision to take the E or M biology test can be a difficult one. Some of my students in the past have changed their mind back and forth many times before the test date. My best advice is to trust your gut feeling.  Performing well on the E test depends a bit more on your ability to memorize and remember, whereas a good performance on the M test depends more on your ability to problem solve and critically analyze data. Personally, I don’t like remembering details and like to analyze data and solve little biological puzzles on the spot.  For me, the decision to take the M test would be an easy one. Trust your gut feeling; if you feel that you like working on the E topics and cringe a bit when you have to use a Punnet square to solve a problem, you should take the E test.

Take practice tests and consult with people around you. 

Finally, take practice tests for both E and M to see where you performed best and which one you enjoyed most, and talk to your tutors and biology teachers to help you in this decision.


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Tags: biology, biology SAT subject test