SAT Biology Subject Test

September 22, 2020
By AdmissionSight
an unidentified student taking the test

SAT Biology Subject Test: Your Questions Answered

While SAT and ACT tests are a standard part of applying to colleges, many students also find themselves confronted with the SAT Subject Tests. In short, these 20 separate tests cover specific topics such as math and biology.

The SAT Biology Subject Test, also known as Biology SAT II, is one of the more popular in this group of extra SAT tests because most high schoolers take Biology classes in high school and find the subject less intimidating than physics or chemistry.

Students concentrating on answering the exam.

Taking the SAT Biology Subject Test is not only a great way to stand out from other applicants, but it can also fill some requirements of selective schools. It’s especially a good idea for students that plan to study biology at university.

If you’re planning on taking the exam, but aren’t sure where to begin, the experts at AdmissionSight are here to clear the air. We’ve put together a helpful guide to answer all of your questions surrounding the SAT Biology Subject Test.

What is the SAT Biology Subject Test?

The SAT Biology Subject Test is actually composed of two separate parts. Students can opt to take the Biology Molecular (Biology M) or Biology Ecological (Biology E) tests. While there are definitely some overlaps, the former tends to focus more on cellular processes, cellular structure, and biochemistry.

The latter, on the other hand, leans towards energy flow, populations, and biological communities. Both versions of the SAT Biology Subject Test have to be taken in one-hour and feature 80 multiple-choice questions. The score you receive will range anywhere between 200 to 800. Unlike some other SAT Subject Tests, no calculators are allowed to be used during the exam.

Many students are surprised to realize that 60 of the questions between the two tests are completely identical. It’s only the final 20 that are specialized for either Biology E or M. Both exams are offered on SAT Subject Test dates December, November, October, August, June, and May.

When should I think about taking the SAT Biology Subject Test?

Before we can dive into the differences between the Biology E and M tests, it’s pertinent to look at the reasons a student might consider taking the SAT Biology Subject Test over the 19 other potential options. Here are some specific cases when AdmissionSight would recommend a student to go this route:

1. You recently took a biology course.

Ideally, you could take the SAT Biology Subject Test immediately following a biology course in high school. This not only drastically cuts down on studying time you have to dedicate to the test, but it also ensures that all of the concepts you learned in class are still fresh in your mind.  Having laboratory experience, a year-long course in algebra and a biology course focused on college preparation are additional benefits that would make it a great idea to take the Biology Subject Test. If you’re in AP Biology and have already prepped for an AP test, you can rest assured that the Subject Tests aren’t as difficult as their AP counterparts. If you find yourself in this position, you’re more than prepared.

2. You have yet to take a science-related Subject Test

Many colleges require, or at the minimum recommended, applicants, to take one SAT Subject Test in the sciences and one in the humanities. Of course, there are some outlying schools that want more specific tests due to their specialties. Students who find themselves required to complete this qualification but remain wary about taking a science-related Subject Test might want to consider opting for the biology exam. Typically, students find it much easier to handle than the Chemistry or Physics Subject Tests. This can be boiled down to the fact that the Biology test includes fewer difficult calculations and advanced concepts. Relying on basic logic and memorization is usually enough to get you by. This way, you’ll be fulfilling college requirements without sacrificing a good score.

3. You’re interested in pursuing biology in the future.

These subject tests are a great way to illustrate to colleges your specific interest in a given field and your dedication to pursuing it as a future career. If you envision yourself being a biologist or holding a position within the field after college, it’s clear that you should take the SAT Biology Subject Test. Even if you only plan on pursuing this field academically and not professionally, it’s still a good option. You’ll be able to demonstrate your ability to handle the concepts and your willingness to put forth the effort needed to succeed. If you already have established a trend of academic interest for biology in your application, this Subject Test will only work to tie it together more completely and impressively – something that can always help you stand out more to admission officers.

A female forensic science student wearing a laboratory gown while using the microscope

 What does the SAT Biology Subject Test Contain?

Assuming some or all of the factors listed above apply to you, and you’ve decided to take the test, there’s still one more decision to make: Biology E or Biology M?

On the exams


Percentage of Each Subject Test

Molecular and cellular biology

Subtopics: biological chemistry, biosynthesis, enzymes, cellular respiration, photosynthesis, mitosis, cell organization, and cell structure

15% 27%

Subtopics: human intervention, biodiversity, conservation, biomes, ecosystems, communities, populations, nutrient cycles, energy flow

23% 13%

Subtopics: population genetics, molecular genetics, inheritance patterns, Mendelian genetics, meiosis

15% 20%
Organismal biology

Subtopics: animal behavior, development of organisms (especially with regard to animals and plants), function, structure

25% 25%
Diversity and evolution

Subtopics: diversity and classification of organisms, speciation, natural selection, patterns of evolution, evidence of evolutions, the origin of life

22% 15%

As these charts illustrate, there are more questions about Molecular and Cellular Biology on the SAT Biology M Subject Test. Alternatively, more questions about Ecology are found on the Biology E Subject Test. Clearly, their names offer a good indication of what can be found on each exam. You might notice that there’s a slightly greater number of Genetics questions on Biology M while Biology E seems to have slightly more on Diversity and Evolution.

Both exams feature the same amount of questions regarding Organismal Biology. If you’ve recently taken a biology course or have any experience in the field for that matter, these topics should be fairly familiar to you. Keep in mind though that a good majority of the topics and even the questions are identical between these tests.

What kind of skills are tested on the SAT Biology Subject Test?

Knowing what subjects are covered on the Subject Tests is only one half of the battle. The other half is learning what kind of skills will be tested. As you become more familiar with collegiate-level testing, you’ll notice that there is a stark difference between being familiar with a subject and being able to display certain skills with that knowledge. Keeping that in mind, here are the different skills tested on both the Biology E and M Subject Tests:

  • Recall certain facts and fundamental concepts. This takes up roughly 30% of each test.
  • Apply your knowledge of biology to practical examples offered on the exam and solve problems by applying some math as well. This constitutes around 35% of each exam.
  • Make inferences and form deductions based on both quantitative and qualitative data. This accounts for about 35% of each test.

When broken down like this, you can see that nearly 70% of questions on the overall SAT Biology Subject Test will offer you a certain scenario and require you to make calculations and assumptions about it. The remaining 30% is easily distilled to basic biological facts. They’re straightforward, easy to remember and don’t take up much time during the exam. Therefore, it’s equally important to know the general concepts of biology, such as the basic steps of an experiment, as well as some more specific facts. You’ll need to synthesize these skills on the exam.

How can you decide between the E and M SAT Biology Subject Tests?

Now that you have a better idea of the similarities and differences between Biology E and M, it’s time to decide which is better for you. The experts at  AdmissionSight recommend you take Biology E if you’re more confident in your ability to answer questions regarding energy flow, populations, and biological communities.


On the other hand, we’d recommend opting for Biology M if you’re more comfortable in your ability to handle questions regarding biochemistry, cellular processes, and cellular structures. If these answers seem pretty straightforward, it’s because the differences between the tests are clear, making it easier to decide between the two. If you really want to take both exams, you can, but not on the same day. To properly indicate which test you want to take, circle the associated circle on the answer sheet you’re given on test day.

What resources can I use to prepare for the SAT Biology Subject Test?


Books are among the most comprehensive and helpful resources to use when preparing for the SAT Biology Subject Test, no matter if you opt for the E or M exam. Here’s a list of some books that contain general studying tips, specific information about each test, and even some official questions.

The Official SAT Subject Test in Biology Study Guide

This is an official book that includes two complete Biology tests that were used in the past for real Biology Subject Tests, making it a really invaluable resource for preparation. There are also test-taking tips and answer explanations offered.

The Official Study Guide for ALL SAT Subject Tests, 2nd Edition

If you’re thinking about taking more than one Subject Test, this comprehensive book is the best option for you. It features official tests for each of the 20 SAT Subject Tests, including Biology.

Barron’s SAT Subject Test Biology E/M, 6th Edition

This book isn’t technically an official source, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t helpful. You’ll be getting two complete practice tests and over 350 questions for a cheaper price overall than some of the official books.

Cracking the SAT Subject Test in Biology E/M, 16th Edition

Students hoping to get that illustrious 800-score on their Biology Subject Test might just want to check out this book which aims to help you accomplish just that. Its affordable price makes up for the fact that the questions might not be as accurate as some of those offered in official books.

Sterling SAT Biology E/M Practice Questions: High Yield SAT Biology E/M Questions

This book blows the competition out of the water when it comes to practice questions with over 1,500 along with detailed answers to help you further your understanding of the subject matter.

Free online sample tests and questions 

Practice tests are another important component of preparing for the SAT Biology Subject Test as they allow students to put their knowledge to the test and become more familiar with the style of questioning they’ll encounter on the real exam. Here’s a list of both official and unofficial material for practicing. Although many of these don’t offer complete tests, there are still loads of questions to help you prepare.

Filling out test paper using a pencil.

We’ll kick off the list with some official practice material produced by the College Board. These questions are incredibly accurate and realistic when compared with what you’ll see on the real test.

  • Biology-E: This features 5 questions related to Biology-E specifically.
  • Biology-M: This features 5 questions related to Biology-M specifically.
  • General Biology: This features 24 practice questions along with detailed explanations.

CrackSAT Practice Tests and Questions

While it’s true that these tests aren’t quite as long as the real exams, they’re still helpful when practicing. Keep in mind that some of these practice tests won’t include more difficult data and lab analysis questions like the real Biology Subject Test, so don’t get a false sense of confidence.

SAT II: Biology Google Site

This is a perfect resource to use as a true pre-test. Instead of referencing the answers after answering each test, we recommend you use these two complete practice tests to time your ability to complete them. They’re PDFs, so they’re easy to print out like real exams. Make sure your practice test conditions are as close to the real thing as possible.

Online content 

The Khan Academy is another excellent resource to help you prepare for the SAT Biology Subject Test. With practice questions, detailed answers, learning materials, and comprehensive video lessons, this is a favorite source among students for prepping for these exams. The academy’s biology portion is particularly helpful since it provides a detailed overview of the different concepts that will be ultimately found on the test. In addition to a diverse array of helpful and interesting videos, Khan Academy has over 80 biology-related practice questions. Again, these aren’t exactly what you’ll see on the real Subject Test, but they’re still incredibly helpful for making you feel more prepared and familiar with the subjects on the test.

AdmissionSight can help you prepare

AdmissionSight is one of the leading providers of college admission assistance in the United States. We’ve established a reputation for helping students from around the country get into some of the most prestigious schools, even some of the best Ivy League Universities. Whether you need help editing your admittance essays, want help preparing for SAT Subject Tests, or require private consultation, we have the experts and experience to help in all areas. Our professional admission counselors can help you get into the college of your dreams no matter your background. Feel free to contact us for more information and a free consultation.


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