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SAT II Biology: Getting the Lowdown on Format and Content

The SAT II Biology test allows you to choose an emphasis. You can either take the exam with the "E" emphasis or the one with the "M" emphasis. Both tests start out with a core section of 60 questions that you take regardless of whether you choose Biology-E or Biology-M. Then the test diverges into two separate parts for the last 20 questions. The Biology-E tests concentrates on things like ecology and diversity in organisms. The Biology-M test emphasizes cellular biology and genetics. You can't take the Biology-E and the Biology-M on the same day because the first 60 questions would be the same on that day, but you could take one on one test day and the other on another test day.

Unlike many other standardized tests, the SAT II Biology E/M questions do not necessarily get harder as you move along through the test. The different subjects that you could be tested on for biology vary so greatly that question difficulty is based more on how well you know a subject than where the question appears on the test. There may be questions toward the end of the test that are easier for you because they test a math subject that you are better at. For instance, if you know more about genetics than you do cell division geometry, you wouldn't want to spend a bunch of time trying to answer a mitosis question early on in the test because it may keep you from getting to a pea plant pollination question later on.

Managing the answer sheet

The answer sheets for the SAT II have places for 100 questions, but you will only mark answers for 80 since there are only 80 questions on the math test. Managing the answer sheet for biology can be a little tricky, so you have stay alert. If you are taking the Biology-E, you'll mark your answers on the sheet in order from 1–80. Put a little pencil mark under question 80 on your answer sheet. If for some reason you mark an answer after your pencil mark, you know you've done something wrong. Be sure to erase the pencil mark before you turn in your answer sheet.

If you choose to take the Biology-M, you'll mark answers on your sheet for questions 1–60. Then you skip over questions 61–80 on the answer sheet and start marking answers from 81–100. Put a light pencil mark under question 60 on you answer sheet and another after question 80. This tells you that you should not have any answers marked for any bubbles between 61 and 80. Erase the pencil marks at the end of the test.

Keeping the question types straight

The SAT II Biology E/M present three ways of asking you questions. You'll see basic multiple-choice questions with five answer choices and classification questions (which are kind of multiple-choice questions in reverse). Included in the standard issue multiple-choice questions are data interpretation questions, which give you a bunch of information, like experiment data or charts, and then ask anywhere from three to five questions about the data. Questions that ask you to interpret data can sometimes be easier than the other types because the information you need to answer the question is right there in the question booklet. You just need to know how to analyze it.

The classification question type is pretty much unique to the biology test. It isn't all that fancy. You just get a list of answer choices first. Then you get a series of "questions" that are just descriptions. You need to choose which of the answers fits the description.

Reveling in the subject matter

The following table provides a breakdown of the general subjects covered on the SAT II Biology E/M test and how they are specifically tested on each of the emphases.

Table Topics Covered on the SAT II Biology
  Organismal Biology Ecology Genetics Cells and Molecules Evolution
Expla-
nation
These questions test what you know about how plants and animals are structured and how they function You'll need to know about what makes up populations and communities and how they function, how energy flows, how organisms absorb and use nutrients, and what constitutes the variety of biomes. Genetics questions ask you about meiosis, patterns of inheritance, Mendelian genetics, molecular genetics, and population genetics. You'll be asked about the elements of cells, how they reproduce and "breathe." For plant cells, you'll need to know about photosynthesis. Questions will test what you know about enzymes, DNA and RNA, and biological chemistry. Evolution questions test your knowledge of origin of life theories and patterns of evolution, the concept of natural selection and how species come about. You'll need to know how organisms are classified and some basic differences among the different classifications.
Biology-E About 25% About 25% About 15% About 15% About 20%
Biology-M About 25% About 15% About 20% About 25% About 15%
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