Before you start revising the diverse and interesting concepts you’ve learned related to cell biology, biotechnology and molecular biology, you should start by outlining how biology curses are typically structured. Studying for the SAT biology subject test this way has two major advantages: the first, that you will get to understand more about the biological sciences in the context of history and, the second, that it will help you organize the terms and ideas you’ll need to study for. Here's everything you need to know to get started!

study biology concepts
The SAT can cover concepts such as cellular and molecular biology (Photo credit: Bill Oxford via Unplash)

The Three Branches of Your Biology Class

The biology department at your school has probably drawn up your curriculum and chosen your general biology textbooks with the three main branches of biology in mind: microbiology, botany, and zoology. While modern biology has many different specializations, including interdisciplinary fields such as biochemistry, biophysics, and immunology, biology itself started many centuries ago. The work of a biologist, at first, only included trying to understand the medicinal and dietary characteristics and living organisms and plants. In fact, from as early as 3500 BCE, to ancient China and India, biological science has formed an integral part in the evolution of humans as a species. The first branch of biology, zoology, strives to understand the behavior, structure, and function of animals. You don’t need to be a biology major to be able to appreciate why zoology is such an important facet of our lives. Not only does understanding the living systems of animals help in terms of the medical field, but it also serves to help us appreciate and grasp the diversity of life. Some of the topics you should review from zoology include:

  • Organismal genomics
  • Classification systems and terms, such as vertebrate
  • Ecology and evolution
  • Developmental biology
  • Conservation biology
  • Environmental biology

In contrast, botany is the study of plants. This can range from the microscopic to the major ideas that connect a biology course to the outside world. The earlier evidence of biological studies has been found in the fields of botany and zoology, where early biologists strove to classify and understand the world around them. Here are some topics to study related to botany:

  • Plant cellular biology
  • Photosynthesis
  • Heredity
  • Plant cell structure
  • Cellular respiration

Lastly, undergraduates and high schoolers alike would have an incomplete grasp of biology without the branch of microbiology. This branch is the youngest branch as it studies microorganisms, which necessitate technology like the microscope. Whether you’ve done it in a biology lab, written about it in a biology research paper, or have learned about it through basic neurobiology, learning about the living things and systems at a micro-scale is enlightening. If you want to start reviewing concepts in this particular branch, you can take a look at things like:

  • Homeostasis
  • Organismal biology
  • Population genetics or genetics
  • Bioinformatics
histology in class
Learn everything from human genetics to life science in biology (Photo credit: Adrien Converse via Unplash)

Components of SAT Biology Subject Test

While many people simply take biology as one of the many prerequisites for attaining a diploma and only need to achieve a great grade, some students take a prerequisite class like an introduction to biology as a step towards attaining minors or majors relating to biology. Whether you’re already involved in departmental honors courses or are curious to understand what steps you can take to improve your chances for getting into specific colleges. Firstly, it is important to note that taking any standardized tests like the SAT and SAT subject tests is not necessary but, instead, college-specific. This past month, Prep Scholar compiled a list of the 80 colleges in the US that require or recommend subject tests. Keep in mind, however, that you should always double-check any admissions requirements for universities you’re interested in on that specific university’s website. For example, while some universities require that you take a subject test, others merely consider the fact that you have taken them.

What Is an SAT Subject Test?

If you’ve read up to this point and are wondering when exactly the SAT suddenly involve subject tests, here’s a quick breakdown before we get into biology specifically. The College Board is a non-profit organization that was formed in 1899 as a way to help more people get access to higher education. If this sounds a bit odd, as anyone who has had to pay for PSAT courses and materials knows, it’s directly linked to the criticism the organization has faced for also being a hedge fund of sorts. Regardless of where you stand on the College Board, however, many colleges still require or recommend the SAT and its practice tests. Offering 20 subject tests in individual subjects, each test is an hour long and is offered on the same days that the SAT is. Note, however, that you are not allowed to take the SAT and an SAT subject test on the same day – so plan accordingly. While the SAT and SAT subject tests have been redesigned over the years, the main objective of the SAT subject tests currently is to fit into high school curricula. This means that while tests like AP or IB tests want to gauge your knowledge at the college level, SAT subject tests are meant to test your preparedness to be in college-level courses.

Who Should Take the SAT Biology Subject Test?

While it is difficult to try and decide on the specific colleges you’d like to apply to, especially when you have more than your principles of biology class to worry about, understanding the specific admission requirements of a particular university is the only way to determine whether or not you’ll need to take the SAT biology subject test. The SAT biology test is offered in two different variations: you can take either the Biology Ecological or Biology Molecular exam. More often, the biology subject test is referred to the Biology E/M Subject Test and, when you sign up, will be signing up for this exam. The Biology-E exam, according to the College Board website, focuses on “biological communities, populations, and energy flow.” This test should be taken by those who are interested in concepts like:

  • Evolutionary biology
  • Ecosystems
  • Nutrient cycles
  • Effects of humans on the environment
  • Organismal biology (cell structure and function)
  • Animal behavior
  • Natural selection
  • Speciation

The Biology-M exam, on the other hand, is described by the College Board website as dealing with “biochemistry, cellular structure and processes, such as respiration and photosynthesis.” The concepts that come up in this test can be:

  • Human biology and human physiology
  • Organelles
  • Eukaryotic and Prokaryotic cells
  • Mendelian genetics
  • DNA and recombinant DNA
  • Cell division
  • Nucleic acids

If you’re interested in specializing in a field that follows these particular distinctions, that you should pick which test you should take based off of that. If not, pick the test that either interests you the most or the one that you find easiest to study for. The Biology E/M test is made up of 80 multiple choice questions and is scored out of 800 points. The day of the exam, you will receive one singular test but indicate which exam you’ve chosen. There will be 60 questions that everyone will have to answer, ranging from organ systems, microbes, anatomy, and physiology. The last 20 questions, however, will be specific to the exam you’ve chosen.

ecological concerns in biology
If you're interested in the field of ecology, check out some practice questions on the SAT related to the environment! (Photo credit: Timo Volz via Unplash)

SAT Biology E/M Resources and Tutors

Whether you’re having trouble understanding biological systems, nucleic components, or even taxonomy and classification – studying for the SAT biology subject test can be difficult. Here’s a list of all the different resources you can take advantage of, as well as where to find the best biology tutor.

  • College Board – the company’s website offers free practice exams on the test that average at around 25 questions.
  • Crack SAT – this website offers about 35 different SAT biology practice tests not just for the test itself but also for individual concepts as well.
  • College Vine – while this company offers counselors for the admissions process, their blog is a great resource for writing admission essays, boosting your GPA and scholarships. Here, you will be able to browse their guide on SAT subject tests and get the help you need!

If you’re looking for materials on the SAT Biology test, there are many used and new options online that typically range between as little as 8 dollars to 60 dollars. You can also check out exam materials at your school library or the public libraries in your area. Testmasters offers online courses in the SAT biology subject test, including four, 3-hour long classes with course materials and 2 full-length exams. This costs anywhere between 200 to 400 dollars. is another online resource that offers videos, quizzes, and courses for a monthly membership of 60 dollars. If you’re looking for one-on-one tutoring in person, Superprof has about 36,650 tutors in Biology alone that offer lessons averaging at 12 dollars an hour. Another solution can be looking at your school or library to see if they’re housing SAT prep courses.

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