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Honors Biology-Dr. Langdon
Framingham High School

email:  rlangdon@framingham.k12.ma.us
voicemail extension: 27627 (email preferred)
Course Guidelines in Word or PDF Format

Frequently Asked Questions about the SAT Biology Exam

What is the SAT Subject Test in Biology?

The SAT Subject Test: Biology (formerly called the SAT II or College Board Achievement Test) is a one-hour multiple-choice test given by the College Board, the same organization that administers the PSAT, SAT, and AP (Advanced Placement) exams.  It is one of 20 possible subject tests given in the areas of science, history, English, mathematics, and languages.  Students can take up to three tests in a single testing day, but cannot take the SAT and SAT Subject Tests on the same day.

These exams allow students to show mastery of knowledge in specific academic specialties.  Since they are national exams, colleges use them to compare applicants from different schools and different parts of the country.  It levels the field for students who struggled for a B in a challenging class versus students who received an A in an easier class.

The SAT Subject Test in Biology is composed of 80 multiple-choice questions.  There are two versions of the test:  Bio M and Bio E.  Both tests have an identical set of 60 core questions that cover all key concepts in biology.  The E exam emphasizes ecology with an additional 20 questions specific to this topic.  The M exam emphasizes molecular biology.  The Honors Biology course at Framingham High School focuses on molecular biology. 

Who requires the SAT Subject Test?

Framingham High School does not require SAT Subject Tests.  Students will not lose or gain points in Honors Biology by taking the exam.  The exams are sometimes required for admission to college: some colleges and universities require them, while others do not.

Two SAT Subject Tests are required for admission to highly competitive colleges (for example, Harvard University, Dartmouth College, Columbia University, Duke University, Cornell University, MIT, and RPI).  Other schools, like the University of Rochester, UMASS Amherst, Stanford University, and Hamilton College strongly recommend two tests.  Most science and engineering schools (like Cornell’s Colleges of Agriculture and Life Science or Engineering, MIT, and Duke’s College of Engineering) specifically require one of the math exams and any of the science exams.  Students with particular schools in mind should check their websites to see if subject tests are required.

Even colleges that do not require SAT Subject Tests will often use them in their admissions decisions, if an applicant has taken them.  For example, a strong score on a SAT Subject Test in mathematics can help offset low grades in math class, because the student demonstrated mastery in the field that was not reflected in the grades.

When should my student take the SAT Subject Test?

SAT Subject Tests in English, math, and history are usually taken in the sophomore or junior year, after the students have studied all of the required areas covered on the exams.  The Subject Tests in foreign languages are usually taken after the third or fourth year of study, again often in the junior year.

Exams in the sciences (biology, chemistry and physics) are best taken after completing that particular course, when the knowledge is fresh.  They can be taken at anytime, however.

The latest exams can be taken is December of the senior year; any later and the scores will not reach the colleges in time for the admissions process. 

Should my student take the SAT Subject Test in Biology this year?

The simple answer is this: Only if both you and your child feel comfortable with the test and think that they will do well!  Remember that this test is not mandatory.  When deciding, keep these things in mind:
  • Over the past ten years, about 55% of students enrolled in my Honors Biology sections have taken the exam.  Their average score is 682 and their median score is 691 on the Bio M test (with a national average of about 620-630) and an average score of 644 and median score of 645 on the Bio E test (national average score of about 590).  About 37% of students who take the test score a 700 or better, 79% score above the national average, and about 13% score below 600 (an undesirable score).
  • Honestly look at your student’s performance in the course.  I have seen a direct correlation with a student’s grade in the course and their performance on the SAT Subject test. If your child has been struggling, do not take the test now. 
  • Look at how your student does on the multiple-choice section of the course exams.  These questions are taken from old SAT Subject Tests or from practice books for the test, and are meant to give the students experience in answering the type of questions on the exam.  Students who correctly answer 70% or better are in good shape for the SAT Subject Test.
  • Think about whether taking this test is appropriate for your student and their plans.  Are they interested in studying biology or science in college?  Remember that competitive colleges require any three exams; when they do require specific exams they are usually in math, not science.
  • Take a timed practice exam under test conditions (one hour, all in one sitting, in a quiet area).    These can be found in SAT II exam or SAT Subject Test preparation books.  I also have practice exams the students can try.  This will give you an idea of how they will do on the real test. If your student does not do well, do not take the test.

How do you register for the SAT?

If your student is taking the exam this year, I recommend the Saturday, June 6, 2015 exam.  Framingham High School is one of the testing sites.  You can register online at www.collegeboard.com (Framingham High School's code is 220842; to take the test at Framingham High School, use the Test Center Code 22380).   The cost is $42.00 for one SAT Subject Test.  The deadline for registration is May 8, 2015.  FHS is a popular test center and fills up quickly.  Register as soon as possible to avoid being assigned another testing site.

How should your student best prepare for the exam?

The June exam is before the final exam week.  Studying for the SAT Subject Test will also prepare your student for the final.  Past students have found several things particularly useful to prepare for this exam:
  • Start reviewing early, studying a little each night starting at least four weeks before the test.  Do not wait for the last minute to begin studying for the exam!
  • I consider it essential to get a SAT Subject Test: Biology (sometimes still called the SAT II: Biology E/M) review book.  They are found in the test prep section of any bookstore.  These books usually contain a concise review of the important biology concepts covered, test taking hints, and practice tests.  I have a few extra books students can borrow if necessary.
  • Take many practice tests.  I have a number of practice exams that the students can bring home and take.  I can score the tests following College Board procedures and offer advice on how to improve.
  • Attend study and review sessions.  I will hold after school review sessions in late May to help prepare for the tests.  A schedule of these optional review sessions is here.