what's tested on the biology GRE subject test

Biology GRE Subject Test: What’s Tested?

The Biology GRE Subject Test contains approximately 180 multiple-choice questions on three major topics: cellular and molecular biology, organismal biology, and ecology and evolution. Some questions based on laboratory results, diagrams, or experimental results are grouped together at the end of the text.

The number of questions you answer correctly will be converted to a number on a 200-990 point scale as your overall score. In addition to your overall score, you will receive a subscore in each of the three major categories (cellular and molecular biology, organismal biology, and ecology and evolution). Subscores are reported as a number on a 20-99 point scale.

 

Content Tested on the Biology GRE Subject Test

Questions on the Biology GRE Subject Test fall into one of the three categories mentioned above: cellular and molecular biology, organismal biology, and ecology and evolution. ETS reports the breakdown of these three sections, as well as subtopics of each, as follows: 

Cellular and Molecular Biology (33-34%)

  • Cellular Structure and Function (16-17%)
    • Biological compounds
    • Enzyme activity, receptor binding, and regulation
    • Major metabolic pathways and regulation
    • Membrane dynamics and cell surfaces
    • Organelles: structure, function, synthesis, and targeting
    • Cytoskeleton: motility and shape
    • Cell cycle: growth, division, and regulation (including signal transduction)
    • Microscopy, separation, and immunological methods
  • Genetics and Molecular Biology (16-17%)
    • Genetic foundations
    • Genome maintenance
    • Genome sequence organization
    • Chromatin and chromosomes
    • Gene expression and regulation: effects
    • Immunobiology
    • Gene expression and regulation in prokaryotes and eukaryotes
    • Recombinant DNA methodology
    • Bacteriophages, animal viruses, and plant viruses

Organismal Biology (33-34%)

  • Animal Structure, Function, and Organization (10%)
    • Integration and control mechanisms of nervous and endocrine systems
    • Exchange of nutrients/salt/water, gas, and energy with environment
    • Internal transport and exchange
    • Metabolic rates (temperature, body size, and activity)
    • Behavior (communication, orientation, learning, and instinct)
    • Support and movement systems
  • Animal Reproduction and Development (6%)
    • Reproductive Structures
    • Developmental processes (e.g., induction, determination, differentiation, morphogenesis, and metamorphosis)
    • Meiosis, gametogenesis, and fertilization
    • Early development (e.g., polarity, cleavage, and gastrulation)
    • External control mechanisms (e.g., photoperiod)
  • Plant Structure, Function, and Organization, with Emphasis on Flowering Plants (7%)
    • Organs, tissue systems, and tissues
    • Phloem transport and storage
    • Water transport, including absorption and transpiration
    • Plant energetics (e.g., respiration and photosynthesis)
    • Mineral nutrition
  • Plant Reproduction, Growth, and Development, with Emphasis on Flowering Plants (5%)
    • Meiosis and sporogenesis
    • Gametogenesis and fertilization
    • Embryogeny and seed development
    • Meristems, growth, morphogenesis, and differentiation
    • Reproductive structures
    • Control mechanisms (e.g., hormones, photoperiod, and tropisms)
  • Diversity of Life (6%)
    • Protista
    • Archaea
    • Bacteria
    • Fungi
    • Animalia with emphasis on major phyla
    • Plantae with emphasis on major phyla

Ecology and Evolution (33-34%)

  • Ecology (16-17%)
    • Environment/organism interaction
    • Population ecology
    • Community ecology
    • Behavioral ecology
    • Ecosystems
  • Evolution (16-17%)
    • Genetic variability
    • Macroevolutionary and microevolutionary processes
    • Evolutionary consequences
    • History of life

 

How to Prepare for the Biology GRE Subject Test

Since the Biology GRE Subject Test is intended for students who have majored in or taken extensive coursework in biology, you should not need to learn this material from scratch. Instead, the notes, syllabi, and textbooks from your college-level biology courses should provide you with a review framework for the exam. 

Once you’ve reviewed for the Biology GRE Subject Test, take a practice test, like the one available from ETS. This will familiarize you with the style of questions and help ease your nerves for test day.  

Test-Taking Tips for the Biology GRE Subject Test

  • Read all the directions carefully.

    Completing a practice test or two ahead of time will make it so that you’re already comfortable with the directions going into the exam.

  • Answer every question.

    All questions are weighted equally, so don’t spend too much time on difficult questions. This could prevent you from answering many more easier questions, and potentially cause you to leave questions unanswered at the end of the exam. 

  • Use your test booklet and your answer sheet.

    Utilize your test booklet for note-taking and thought organization. Then, be sure to mark your answers clearly on your answer sheet, not in your test booklet. Answers in your test booklet will not count toward your final score. 

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