SAT Biology E/M Subject Test

Part I Orientation

Chapter 1 Introduction


They are a series of one-hour exams administered by Educational Testing Service (ETS). Unlike the SAT, the SAT Subject Tests are designed to measure specific knowledge in specific areas. There are many different tests in many different subject areas, such as biology, history, French, and math. They are scored separately on a 200–800 scale.


Because the tests are given in specific areas, colleges use them as another piece of admissions information and, often, to decide whether an applicant can be exempted from college requirements. For example, a certain score may excuse you from a basic English class or a foreign language requirement.


About one-third of the colleges that require SAT I scores also require that you take two or three SAT Subject Tests. Your first order of business is to start reading those college catalogs. College guidebooks, admissions offices, and guidance counselors should have this information as well.

As to which tests you should take, the answer is simple:

1.   Take those Subject Tests that you will do well on.

2.   Take the tests that the colleges you are applying to may require you to take.
The best possible situation, of course, is when the two match.

Some colleges have specific requirements, others do not. Again, start asking questions before you start taking tests. Once you find out which tests are required, if any, part of your decision making is done. The next step is to find out which of the tests will show your particular strengths and to contact colleges to see which tests they suggest or require. Evaluate your own strengths and skills. Possibilities range from English literature, U.S. or world history, biology, chemistry, and physics to a variety of foreign languages.

As for when, take tests that are as close as possible to the corresponding coursework you may be doing. If you plan to take the SAT Chemistry Test, for example, and you are currently taking chemistry in high school, don’t postpone the test until next year.


In general, you can take from one to three Subject Tests per test date in October, November, December, January, May, and June at test sites across the country. Not all subjects are offered at each administration, so check the dates carefully.


You can register at the College Board website at This site contains other useful information such as the test dates and fees. If you have questions, you can talk to a representative at the College Board by calling 866-630-9305.

You may have your scores sent to you, to your school, and to four colleges of your choice. Additional score reports will be sent to additional colleges for, you guessed it, additional money. The scores take about five weeks to arrive.

A Couple of Words About Score Choice

As of February 2009, you can choose which SAT Subject Test scores you want colleges to see. This is great news! For one thing, if you take more than one SAT Subject Test on a given date, you’ll be able to choose which tests from that date you’d like to submit to colleges. So if, for example, you take the Biology M test followed by the French test, but you don’t think that the French test went very well, you can simply opt out of having that French scores sent to your schools.

This score reporting policy is optional for students. This means that you aren’t required to opt in and actively choose which specific scores you would like sent to colleges. If you decide not to use the Score Choice reporting feature, then all of the scores on file will automatically be sent when you request score reports.

For more information about this score-reporting policy, go to the College board website at


That’s hard to say, exactly. A good score is one that falls within the range of scores the college of your choice usually accepts or looks for. However, if your score falls below the normal score range for Podunk University, that doesn’t mean you won’t get into Podunk University. Schools are usually fairly flexible in what they are willing to look at as a “good” score for a certain student.

Along with your score, you will also receive a percentile rank. That number tells you how you fit in with the other test takers. In other words, a percentile rank of 60 means that 40 percent of the test takers scored above you and 60 percent scored below you.


The Princeton Review is a test-preparation company based in New York City. We have branches across the country and abroad. We’ve developed the techniques you’ll find in our books, courses, and online resources by analyzing actual exams and testing their effectiveness with our students. What makes our techniques unique is our approach. We base our principles on the same ones used by the people who write the tests. We don’t want you to waste your time with superfluous information; we’ll give you just the information you’ll need to get great score improvements. You’ll learn to recognize and comprehend the relatively small amount of information that’s actually tested. You’ll also learn to avoid common traps, to think like the test writers, to find answers to questions you’re unsure of, and to budget your time effectively.

You need to do only two things: trust the techniques, and practice, practice, practice.


This book is for students who want to raise their scores on the SAT Biology Ecological (Biology E) Subject Test or SAT Biology Molecular (Biology M) Subject Test. At The Princeton Review, we know what standardized test makers are up to. That’s because we study their tests. We know how these tests are put together, and we’ll use that information to help you raise your score.

How exactly will we do that? In two ways:

1   We’ll show you how to approach the test strategically.

2   We’ll teach you the biology you need to know to do well on the exam.


As a student of biology, you can opt to take either the Biology E (Ecological) test or the Biology M (Molecular Biology) test. You may not take both tests on the same test day. Here’s how you should decide which test to take:

Take the Biology E test if you are more comfortable with questions about energy flow, biological interactions, and populations and communities. This section of the biology test is focused on ecology.

Take the Biology M test if you are more comfortable with topics such as biochemistry, cellular biology, and processes such as photosynthesis and respiration. This section of the test concentrates on molecular biology.


You can improve your score on any multiple-choice exam by knowing a few basic strategies and test-taking techniques. The SAT Biology E/M Subject Test is no different. You should study the types of questions that show up on the exam, you should be wise to their design, and you should be familiar with the techniques that systematically lead to correct answers.

When you sit down to take the SAT Biology E/M Subject Test, you’ll see some questions whose answers you don’t know right away. Without knowing the techniques that improve your chances of getting the correct answer, you might panic. In Chapter 2 of this book, we’ll show you eight strategies that will help you outsmart the SAT Biology E/M Subject Test. Learn our strategies, and if you do see an unexpected question or a question that tests an unfamiliar topic, you won’t panic. Why? Because you have the ammunition you need to improve your chances of getting the right answer.

Practice and Practice Tests

This book is interactive. We rehearse you over and over again on the subjects and strategies we teach. We don’t present a long array of drill questions at the end of a chapter. Instead, we watch your progress paragraph by paragraph, page by page. We take what you need to know and drive it into your head, word by word, and sentence by sentence.

We also present two full-length practice SAT Biology E/M Subject Tests in Chapters 16 and 18. They’re complete with solutions and explanations that don’t just give you the right answer but also remind you of the strategies and techniques you should be applying to help you solve the question.

Should I Buy Practice Material from ETS?

It’s not a bad idea. If you want to take additional tests beyond the ones we provide, then buy The Official Study Guide for All SAT Subject Tests, Second Edition, which is published by the College Board. You can go to the College Board’s website,, for more information and practice questions. Take the SAT Biology E/M SAT Subject Test and see how much easier it is after you’ve read and studied this book.


ETS says its SAT Biology E/M Subject Test covers, among many other topics, aerobic respiration, anaerobic respiration, and the biochemical differences between the two.

If you sat with your biology textbook and read about these subjects, you’d read about a whole lot of information that definitely will not be tested. You’d read about the roles of various enzymes, coenzymes, and cofactors. You’d see pictures like the one on the following page.

And you’d read text like this:

Glycolysis is a prime illustration of the manner in which vital biochemical processes occur through a series of steps. The complete catabolism of glucose may be considered to embody nine steps. We’ll examine the details of glycolysis and notice that the 6-carbon skeleton of the glucose molecule is sequentially degraded, each step being catalyzed by a specific enzyme, to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP) via the phosphorylation of adenosine diphosphate. Blah, blah, blah … acetyl CoA … blah, blah, blah … NADH and NAD+, blah, blah, blah … FADH2 … blah, blah, blah … cytochrome carrier system, blah, blah, blah …

The text would go on and on, scaring and boring you, but offering nothing that would help you raise your test score. You’d become so sick of it that you’d stop reading (which is fine, because reading your textbook might not help you raise your score anyway).

When we teach you about aerobic and anaerobic respiration, we’ll tell you exactly what you have to know, and a little bit beyond (just to make sure there are no surprises on test day). As we do that, we drill you with questions and quizzes so you can check your understanding as you go along. The details that won’t be tested are left out so that you can focus on understanding and remembering the main points: the material that will be tested. We’ll summarize and list these important points for you so that they stand out.

At the end, you’d know that both aerobic and anaerobic respiration involve breaking down glucose to form ATP. You’d also know that aerobic respiration has to do with

(1)   the presence of oxygen,

(2)   more ATP,

(3)   the Krebs cycle,

(4)   the electron transport chain, and

(5)   oxidative phosphorylation.

And you’d know that anaerobic respiration has to do with

(1)   the absence of oxygen,

(2)   less ATP, and

(3)   lactic acid.

Even without completely understanding the biochemical differences between the two processes, these simple associations can help you answer questions. Review the few summary lines above about aerobic and anaerobic respiration, then answer these two SAT Biology E/M Subject Test–like questions:

      Among the following, which is associated with BOTH aerobic and anaerobic respiration?

  I  ATP production

 II  Krebs cycle

III  Oxidative phosphorylation

(A)  I only

(B)  II only

(C)  I and II only

(D)  II and III only

(E)  I, II, and III

      Which of the following substances is produced as a result of anaerobic respiration but NOT of aerobic respiration?

(A)  Carbon dioxide

(B)  Lactic acid

(C)  ATP

(D)  Glucose

(E)  Glycogen

The answer to the first question is A. Both anaerobic and aerobic respiration produce ATP, but only aerobic respiration is associated with the Krebs cycle and oxidative phosphorylation. The answer to the second question is B. Anaerobic respiration is associated with the production of lactic acid, and aerobic respiration is not. (Note that on this question, you may not have known about carbon dioxide or glycogen. But you did know that you could eliminate ATP and glucose as choices, and that lactic acid fit the criteria described in the question, making it a better choice than carbon dioxide or glycogen. We’ll talk more about this technique later on.)

Our Job and Your Job

This book is designed to help you raise your SAT Biology E/M Subject Test score. It’s written, it’s published, and you’re holding it in your hands. That means our job is done. Your job is to read it, study it, tackle the questions and practice exams, and learn what it has to teach. We had fun doing our job, and believe it or not, you’ll have fun doing yours. So, let the fun begin!

For book updates, links to more information, and last-minute test changes, visit our website at