SAT Biology Subject Test Overview

By Luke Palmer

(Head of Math and Sciences, Biology and Chemistry tutor at The Edge Learning Center)

Molecular (Source: Wikipedia)

Ecology (Source: Wikipedia)

In my last blog, I introduced the fact that the College Board offers a range of SAT Subject Tests from English to Mathematics to Sciences with the aim of showcasing your strengths in a given subject. That time, I focused on the basic strategies for the SAT Chemistry subject test; this blog will focus on strategies for the SAT Biology subject test.

SAT Biology will test you on a range of core biological concepts from the structure of cells to ecology and evolution.  The test will analyze your skill at recalling concepts, applying them, using them to determine knowledge through data analysis. The test is an hour long. During this time, you have 60 questions to answer and then a choice of 20 more questions focusing on either ecological or molecular concepts. The strategies here will help you overcome the fear of limited time and excel at the taking this test. The first major thing to understand is that there are different types of questions within the subject test.

The questions come in four categories: (I) standard multiple choice questions, (II) questions referring to diagrams, (III) matching questions and (IV) questions referring to data.  

The first type of question makes up around twenty-eight to thirty questions. They are generally easy to tackle and can be on any topic within the syllabus. The ones to be careful of are those looking for a false statement, for these questions require you to read all five answers. Their aim is to give statements that will read true but is really not. Taking the extra few seconds to read all the statements and be confident in your answer choice is worth it.

Questions looking at diagrams make up approximately eight questions across two diagrams. These questions always refer to labels on the diagrams and generally ask about the function or identity of a section. There are many different diagrams that can come up in biology, from cell ultrastructure to mitochondria or even specific organ systems. The best way to score well is to prepare prior to the test, go over all the key diagrams in each topic and drill in names and functions. These may only make up a small number of questions, but there should not be any diagram that catches you out if you prepared well.

The next fifteen questions are the matching questions, which test your knowledge of concept definitions; you are given five choices (A through E) of words or phrases followed by three to four questions. Each of these questions relates to the list, and you need to choose the letter that answers each question. There will obviously be only one correct answer for each question, so you must choose the best answer for the given question. The second major point is that the answers can be used more than once: just because the first answer is A does not mean that the answers to other questions cannot be A also.

Data analysis skills are essential in science based subject tests finally ten questions of the main sections will use your skills. It will consist or graphs and or tables from experiments and ask questions to referring to trends, patterns or results. To be successful at these questions you must take time to ensure you know what the data is displaying, it will be critical to understand that to be able to answer the questions.

SAT Bio Sample question C1

These strategies cover the main part of the test, the final part is down to a choice of area to focus on, Ecology or Molecular. Students always ask which of these are the easier to choose or which one I would choose. The answer is simple is neither section is easier or harder than the other. It is solely down to the person taking the test, they need to really think about which type of topics they prefer. If they like/enjoy ecology then choose E section for last twenty questions, but if favor more molecular-based ideas go for M section. Both sections are twenty questions, using the previously mentioned types and worth same amount. Any student I work with for preparation, if you can’t score fifteen or more from the twenty questions then try to the other section. As for my choice, it would always be molecular, simply because that where my strength is within biological concepts.

SAT Bio Sample question Ecology

This is just some basic strategies for SAT Biology subject test and if you want to know more, take a mock or review the content of the syllabus just contact us or sign up for our regular or intensive SAT Biology courses.