GRE Biology Test: What Is The Exam Content and How To Prepare For This Subject Test?

The GRE Biology Subject Test comprises 180 multiple-choice questions, comprehensively and equally covering some of the major branches of biology like ecology, evolution, organismal biology, and molecular biology. The test is based on real findings in laboratories from experimental studies grouped together to be created into questions. Prospective applicants for Biological and Biomedical Sciences graduate program need GRE Subject Test official scores as one of the application materials. Test takers won’t have difficulty preparing for the GRE Biology Test so long as you already have a prior experience or background of studying biology or any other field related to it. Your undergraduate books, syllabi, handouts, and worksheets will very much help you with studying. It will almost be like refreshing what you already know of. [1]

Who takes the GRE Biology Subject Test?

Aspiring applicants for PhD programs or Biological and Biomedical Sciences graduate programs take the GRE Biology Subject Test. This is because admissions or fellowship panels look into your test results along with your undergraduate transcript of records, letters of recommendation, and other requirements for admission, depending on which institution you are applying to. Furthermore, it serves as a common parameter of the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses and whether they are qualified to enter graduate school, regardless of their diversified background. [2]

What’s tested on the GRE Biology exam?

The GRE Biology Examination was created to test if a student applicant has the potential and has what it takes to deserve a slot for various graduate and post-graduate degree programs in Biology and in all other fields under or related to it.

What categories are covered on this test?

The GRE Biology Subject Test covers these three categories as stated under:

  • Cellular and Molecular Biology (33–35%). This is the study of cells and the parts that make up their macromolecular composition (such as DNA, RNA, protein, lipids, and carbohydrates) and how each one functions, respectively. [7]
  • Organismal Biology (33-34%). Being one of the major branches of Biology, Organismal Biology is concerned with the aspects of organisms’ life patterns, how they are made up, what role they play in the environment, and how these functions enable them to adapt and survive in nature. [9]
  • Ecology and Evolution (33-34%). This is an interdisciplinary field of study that merges two distinct sciences, ecology and evolutionary biology, to make sense of how the interaction of organisms is correlated to the changes in the environment. Ecology is the study of how every organism interacts with the environment. Evolutionary biology, on the other hand, is the study of how evolution impacts the changes that cause the diversity of life on the planet. [10]

Effective prep for the GRE Biology Subject Test will be easier for you when you already have prior knowledge of these aforementioned essential concepts or if you have taken these subjects in your undergraduate years. Focusing on the biology categories above will greatly contribute to acing a higher score for your application process.

What are the subtopics of Cellular and Molecular Biology?

Under the Cellular and Molecular Biology category, you can find the covered subtopics below:

  • 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

The subtopics above are mainly about cells and the macromolecules that compose them.

What are the subtopics of Organismal Biology?

The Organismal Biology Category has these for its subtopics:

  • Animal Structure, Function, and Organization (10%)
    • Integration and control mechanisms of nervous and endocrine systems
    • Exchange of nutrients/salt/water, gas, and energy with the 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

The subtopics are generally about animal life and plant life and the processes they go through as they exist in the environment.

What are the subtopics of Ecology and Evolution?

For the Ecology and Evolution category, here are the subtopics you must look out for:

  • 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

Generally focused on interactions between organisms observed and how these interactions impact evolutionary processes, these make up the subtopics for the ecology and evolution category.

What are the testing dates and locations?

GRE Biology is conducted three times a year, on a Saturday in September, October, and April, respectively. Keep in mind to take note of the application deadline for your desired school. Test centers are vastly spread worldwide, which means you can take the test in the location nearest you. [3]

How to register for the GRE Biology Subject Test?

To register for the GRE Biology Subject Test, there are two options you can choose from:

  • Online Registration

First, create an ETS account, which you will use to register. The accepted credit/debit cards for transactions are American Express®, Diners Club International®, Discover®, JCB®, MasterCard®, RuPay™ Global, Union Pay®, or VISA®. US Bank e-checks, PayPal, and voucher numbers are also accepted, except for Nigeria, where Visa, PayPal, and voucher numbers are the only ones accepted. Enter your payment details and click on “Process Payment”.

However, test takers with disabilities or special needs are not allowed to transact through this mode of payment. Instead, they will have to register themselves through the mail.

  • Mail Registration

Fill out the Registration Form that is available on the ETS Website, and make sure to mail it in with the payment to the address on the form. Make sure you allot ample time to process all the requirements and that it is mailed on time for the registration deadline. Faxed registration is not allowed. Accepted modes of payment are money orders, certified checks, or voucher numbers. In Nigeria, only Visa and Voucher numbers are accepted.

Whether you opted to go for online application or mail registration, a confirmation email will be sent to you containing the details of the date of your test, your test center, and the score recipients. Should there be any errors in your entry details or application status, contact GRE Services at least on the Friday before your indicated test date.

What is the most convenient way to register for this exam?

Online registration is the best way to go. Given that we are in a pandemic and technology comes in so handy now that face-to-face cash transactions are avoided as much as possible, this is the best and most convenient way to register for the GRE. For international admissions, mail registration is a little too tedious if you are applying from overseas.

However, individuals with disabilities or special needs will have to opt for mail registration instead.

How is the GRE Biology Subject Test scored?

A conversion to the 200-990 point scale will be applied to your raw score (the number of your correct answers), which will then serve as your overall score. A subscore for each respective examination category, which are cellular and molecular biology, organismal biology, and ecology and evolution, will also be added to your overall score. The final score report is presented on a 20-99 point scale. [6]

Is GRE Biology available for computer-delivered exams?

No, GRE Biology is only available for the paper-delivered type of GRE exam. Unlike the GRE General Test, it is not available for home-based testing and the questions are not computer-adaptive.

What is the passing score for the GRE Biology?

Scores of 159–166 in verbal reasoning and 153–164 in quantitative reasoning is the range of passing scores for the GRE Biology. It varies greatly from one institution to the next and is primarily determined by the university to which you applied.

What happens after I take the GRE Biology Subject Tests?

You will then be able to have online access to your official GRE Biology score report, and it will also be mailed to the institutions you applied to for free (maximum of four institutions; a $27 extra application fee will be charged per additional recipient. That happens about five weeks or 25 business days after taking the test. [3]

How should you prepare for the Biology GRE Subject Tests?

There are only two main tips you need to keep in mind for the Biology GRE Subject Test:

  1. Make use of your undergraduate biology notes and textbooks.
  2. Take a practice test to familiarize yourself with the question types found on the examination.
  3. Ensure an in-depth review for cellular biology because the actual exam has a large content specification.

Having a prior background in biology will save you so much time and energy in preparing, so cherish that stock knowledge and make use of it for the exams. For incoming students, it is also important to have an adequate review or enroll in a prep program for a competitive edge.

What are the tips when taking the GRE Biology?

On the day of the GRE Biology Test, here are three things you should keep in mind:

  • Carefully read the directions and follow what is indicated.
  • Do not skip or leave questions unanswered. Always attempt to choose from the options.
  • Utilize your test booklet and answer sheet well upon taking it. [1]

Coming to the test center on your designated date well-prepared and taking note of these three reminders will help you ease your nerves while taking.

What are the best GRE biology books for preparation?

An array of GRE Biology books for your preparation are listed below.

  • Campbell Biology by Jane B. Reece. This book contains a complete review of the entire GRE Biology Coverage Topics, written in a comprehensive language, accompanied by illustrations, pictures, and real-life elaborations.
  • Kaplan GRE Subject Test. Inside the Kaplan Test Prep book are contextual terminologies in Biology, a review of the three major test categories, practice quizzes for each category, answer keys with explanation, and strategies that have proven to boost your GRE Biology Score. They have detailed explanations of the various biology topics.
  • GRE Biology Test Secrets Study Guide. A comprehensive overview of the three respective major categories of the GRE Biology, which are cellular and molecular biology, organismal biology, and ecology and evolution, with practice tests and detailed answer keys, can be found in the book.
  • Sterling Test Prep GRE Biology Practice Questions. This is a jam-packed 1,550+ practice questions in Biology that covers the three major categories, chopped into 25 chapters, with comprehensive answer keys.
  • Cracking the GRE Biology Test by Princeton Review. This has a full-length mock GRE Biology Subject Test, advice and strategies in answering, and illustrations and diagrams for the topics where it’s applicable.
  • Sterling Test Prep GRE Biology: Review of Cell and Molecular Biology. This reviewer is targeted more at the Cell and Molecular Biology Category of the exam, discussing in an organized manner the principles and foundations needed to be remembered in answering questions under the category, as well as giving advice and strategies for taking this part of the exam.
  • Molecular Biology of the Cell. This reviewer, primarily covering everything molecular biology-related, is filled with colorful illustrations and diagrams to explain most of the topics in the easiest way possible, this reviewer is primarily covering everything molecular biology-related. An extensive revision and update have been made to its sixth edition based on the latest trends in studying cell biology.
  • Organismal Biology: Everything You Always Wanted to Know. A suitable reviewer for starters is what this is, as it covers the entire organismal biology topics in the GRE Biology Test in the simplest and easiest explanations and with illustrations for better learning, too.
  • The Ecology Book: Big Ideas Explained. The discussion in this book is mostly easy to follow and illustration-based, explaining 85+ key concepts about ecology and the chronology of discoveries dating back to the latest ones.
  • Ecology: Evolution, Application, Integration. This has shorter chapters compared to other review books, but still completely covers the ecology and evolution topics in the GRE Biology in an understandable manner. It also comes with the necessary illustrations, diagrams, pictures, and charts for most of the lessons, plus scientific reasoning-inducing texts.

[3]

It is best to pair the book mentioned above with your undergraduate notes. Prospective graduate students aiming for greater chances of admission must include this in their study materials.

When was the GRE Biology test discontinued?

The GRE Biology Test was decided to be discontinued in May 2021, after the scheduled April exams, by the ETS. [2]

What is the reason behind the discontinuity of GRE Biology?

Compromised test content in Israel from editions of the GRE® Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology (BCM) Test pushed the ETS to decide the discontinuation of the test administration worldwide. Keep in mind that if you took the test in year 2016, GRE Biology Subject Test paper score reports are still valid and reportable for admissions requirements. [11]

References:

  1. https://www.kaptest.com/study/gre/biology-gre-subject-test/
  2. https://www.ets.org/gre/subject/about
  3. https://brightlinkprep.com/gre-biology-subject-test-book/
  4. https://www.mometrix.com/academy/gre-biology-exam/
  5. https://www.qsleap.com/gre/resources/things-to-know-about-the-gre-biology-test
  6. https://www.ets.org/gre/subject/scores/how/
  7. https://web.uri.edu/cmb/cell-and-molecular-biology/
  8. https://www.ben.edu/faculty/pnovack-gottshall/Teaching/Biol197Syllabus.pdf
  9. https://www.mtu.edu/biological/undergraduate/ecology-evolution/
  10. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecology_and_Evolutionary_Biology
  11. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GRE_Biochemistry,_Cell_and_Molecular_Biology_Test