Getting some basic college courses out of the way before stepping foot on your campus can keep you from needing a fifth-year victory lap (even though they are rather fun!). In participating colleges, you can use your hard-earned knowledge from high school to test out of a basic biology course. This article will show you exactly what you need to study in order to pass the College Level Examination Program (CLEP) Biology exam on the first try!

The CLEP Biology exam consists of approximately 115 questions. You’ll have 90 minutes to complete the test. There are three main subjects from which the questions are drawn: molecular and cellular biology, organismal biology, and population biology. Keep in mind these questions will determine your knowledge of biological process, principles, and facts. They will also gauge your understanding of the scientific process and the social consequences of the biological sciences.

A third of the questions will cover topics relating to molecular and cellular biology. Be sure you’re comfortable with the chemical composition of organisms. This includes the origin of life, bonds and chemical reactions, the chemical makeup of the building blocks of life, and special properties of water. Cellular components and properties should be covered, as well, along with cellular division (meiosis, mitosis, and cytokinesis). Familiarize yourself with all things enzymes – inhibition and regulation, the roles of coenzymes and inorganic cofactors, and the enzyme-substrate complex. Photosynthesis and other forms of energy transformations such as glycolysis, anaerobic pathways, and respiration will make an appearance as question topics. Brush up on genetics, too. You’ll have to answer questions on the Watson-Crick model of nucleic acids, the replication, mutation, function, and transformation of DNA. Be comfortable with describing the process of protein synthesis – transcription and translation, as well as what happens to proteins after they are transcribed. The genetics of viruses are also covered.

The next third of the questions cover organismal biology; that is, the study of organisms. The structure and function of plants, specifically flowering plants, will be on the exam. Practice labeling the various parts of the plants and recalling their functions. You’ll need to remember how plants transport and absorb water, minerals, and food. Describe the life-cycle of plants as well as how they reproduce. These processes include the generational alternation in a flowering plant, conifers, and ferns, the formation and fertilization of gametes, and tropisms and photoperiodicity. Increasing in complexity are vertebrates. Familiarize yourself with the structure and function of the major systems in vertebrates, such as the gas exchange, circulatory, digestive, nervous, skeletal, and immune systems. The various homeostatic mechanisms of vertebrates make great questions for the CLEP Biology exam. Be able to discuss animal reproduction and development. The formation and fertilization of gametes, the processes by which fertilized gametes become embryos (cellular cleavage, how a blastula becomes a gastrula, formation of the germ layers, and finally, organ system differentiation), is sure to be on the exam. You’ll need to be able to describe how the development of vertebrates is analyzed experimentally. Be familiar with the mammalian placenta – its function and how it is formed – and the other extraembryonic membranes found in vertebrates. You should also know how blood circulates in a human embryo. Genetics makes another appearance on the biology CLEP exam in the principles of heredity. Understand Mendel’s contributions to the study of genetics and brush up on your Punnett squares to be able to describe Mendelian inheritance – independent assortment, segregation, and trait dominance. Discuss how chromosomes are inherited, and how sex-linked conditions are passed down to offspring. Be prepared to discuss polygenic inheritance and conditions based on multiple alleles (think human blood groups).

The final third of the exam covers population biology – ecology, evolution, behavior, and social biology. When studying ecology, be sure to cover productivity and the flow of energy through ecosystems. Biogeochemical cycles will make an appearance on the test, as well. Describe how populations grow and are regulated (birth, death, migration, competition, population density, K-selection, and r-selection). Have an understanding of the structure of communities in major biomes as well as their growth and regulation. Be familiar with the abiotic and biotic factors of various habitats and the concept of niches. You should also be able to describe evolutionary ecology: think kin selection, altruism, and life history strategies. Island biogeography questions are fair game. Be prepared to discuss the principles of evolution and their history. Natural selection is a common question topic, which may refer to mutation, differential reproduction, speciation, Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium, and punctuated equilibrium. You may encounter questions on the major features of plant, animal, and human evolution. Be sure to understand how living organisms are classified. You will also need to have a firm grasp on the processes through which evolution occurs – genetic drift, convergence, balanced polymorphism, and extinction. Lastly, be able to describe homology and analogy as they relate to evolution. Questions about the principles of behavior will cover social behaviors that are learned and stereotyped as well as insect and animal societies. Social biology questions will likely refer to the growth of human population, how humans intervene in nature, and the advances made in biomedicine. Look at the age composition of the human population, the birth and death rates, and demographic transition. Be prepared to discuss how humans manage resources and the effects of environmental pollution. When studying biomedical progress, focus on human reproductive control and genetic engineering.

In addition to reviewing a college biology textbook, consider using Pocket Prep’s CLEP Biology exam prep app to familiarize yourself with the wide variety of questions covered on the exam. You might also find it helpful to use this article as a study guide – write down everything you know about each topic and focus on the items with which you are not as familiar. While studying a topic of this magnitude isn’t easy, all your hard work will pay off when you can step onto campus with a head start on your degree!