Format of the SAT II Biology
Format of the SAT II Biology
Whether you take the SAT II Biology E or Biology M, the test will last an hour and consist of 80 questions. These questions will be organized in two main groups. The 60 core questions will come first, followed by a 20 question specialty section.
The core section of the test (and occasionally the specialty sections) contains two different types of questions. Classification questions make up the first 10–12 questions of the core, while the last 48–50 questions of the core are multiple choice.
Classification Questions
A classification question presents you with five possible answer choices and then a string of three to five questions to which those answer choices apply. The answer choices are usually either graphs or the names of five related laws or concepts. Because they allow for several questions on the same topic, classification questions will ask you to exhibit a fuller understanding of the topic at hand.
The level of difficulty within any set of questions is generally pretty random: you can’t expect the first question in a set to be easier than the last. However, each set of classification questions is generally a bit harder than the one that came before. In the core questions, for example, you should expect questions 10–12 to be harder than questions 1–3.
Classification Question Example

Directions: Each set of lettered choices below refers to the numbered questions or statements immediately following it. Select the one lettered choice that best answers each question or best fits each statement, and then fill in the corresponding oval on the answer sheet. A choice may be used once, more than once, or not at all in each set.

Questions 1–3 refer to the following organelles.

(A) Chloroplast
(B) Mitochondria
(C) Nucleus
(D) Cytoplasm
(E) Cell membrane
1. Location of cellular respiration in prokaryotes
2. Maintains proper concentrations of substances within the cell
3. Found in plant cells, but not in animal cells
You can usually answer classification questions a bit more quickly than the standard five-choice completion questions, since you only need to review one set of answer choices to answer a series of questions. Don’t worry if you didn’t know the answers to these questions. The material in this question (and more) will be covered in the chapter on Cell Structure. This example is meant mainly to show you how a classification question is formatted. If you’re burning with curiosity, though, the answers to the questions are C, E, and A, respectively.
Five-Choice Completion Questions
These are the multiple-choice questions we all know and love, and the lifeblood of any multiple-choice exam. You know the drill: they ask a question and give you five possible answer choices, then you pick the best one.

Directions: Each of the questions or incomplete statements below is followed by five suggested answers or completions. Some questions pertain to a set that refers to a laboratory or experimental situation. For each question, select the one choice that is the best answer to the question and then fill in the corresponding oval on the answer sheet.

As the directions imply, some five-choice completion questions are individual questions in which the five answer choices refer to only one question. But more than half of the five-choice completion questions are group questions, in which a set of questions all refer to the same biological scenario, figure, or experiment.
5. Giraffes with longer necks can reach more food and are more likely to survive and have offspring. This is an example of
(A) Lamarck’s principle
(B) natural selection
(C) adaptive radiation
(D) convergent evolution
(E) speciation
A series of about 20 individual multiple-choice questions are found in the core section just after the classification questions. About five individual multiple-choice questions will begin each specialty section. In both the core and the specialty sections, there is a general tendency for the questions to become progressively more difficult. The answer to the example question is B; we cover this material in the chapter on evolution.
There are actually two types of group questions. Group questions that refer to figures often test your knowledge in a very straightforward manner. For example, the test might contain a figure of a flower, with each part labeled with a number. The questions will ask you to match a function with the correct part of the flower. Group questions that deal with an experiment or scenario are usually more complicated. Some of the questions in the group may test your ability to read the data in the experiment; others may test your understanding of the experiment itself by asking you how the experiment might have been improved, or how the results of the experiment might have changed along with a particular variable.
In both the core and specialty sections, group questions appear after the individual multiple-choice questions. The difficulty of the questions within a group follows no pattern, but each group will generally be more difficult than the last. We provide examples of both kinds of group question below.
Figure-Based Group Questions
Figure-based group questions present you with an image or graphic and ask you to identify the structures or functions being represented. The questions are all five-choice multiple-choice questions. Most of the questions dealing with figures demand only simple recognition and recall. The first two questions in the following sample fit this type: you either know the name for a structure or you don’t. Some figure-based questions go further, though, and ask about the major processes associated with the images you’re identifying.

Questions 5–7 refer to the diagram below.

5. Oxygen-rich blood is pumped out to the body by structure
(A) 1
(B) 2
(C) 3
(D) 4
(E) 5
6. Structure 1 is termed the
(A) aorta
(B) right atrium
(C) left atrium
(D) pulmonary artery
(E) right ventricle
7. Which of the following muscle types are involved in circulating the blood?
  I. skeletal
 II. smooth
III. cardiac
(A) I only
(B) II only
(C) III only
(D) II and III only
(E) I, II, and III
The third question is of this second kind: it requires you to make a leap from recognizing the heart to knowing the general characteristics of the circulatory system.
Before you start answering questions within a figure-based group, try to figure out what is being depicted and remember what biological phenomena are associated with it. For instance, if you recognize a drawing of mitochondria, chances are you’ll be asked about cellular respiration. If the drawing specifies a molecule or organism, keep in mind the general characteristics of the class of molecules or organisms it represents. If you’re not sure what the image or graphic in the figure group represents, you can probably pick up hints from the answer choices. Scanning the questions above and seeing the words “atrium,” “ventricle,” and “circulating the blood” provides pretty strong clues that the image shows a heart. Be careful, though: test writers love to seed misleading answers among the correct ones.
In case you’re wondering, the answers to questions 5, 6, and 7 are E, B, and E, respectively. We’ll cover more on the heart and circulation in the chapter on Animal Structure and Function.
Experiment-Based Group Questions
The SAT II Biology uses group questions based on experiments, biological situations, and data to measure your scientific reasoning and laboratory skills. There is no standard appearance for the experiments; the data can be presented in paragraphs, tables, and/or graphs.
These groups can be the most intimidating part of the SAT II Biology test: they often describe scenarios that are more complex or advanced than what you’ve been exposed to in biology class or labs. But stay confident: the two main purposes of these group questions are to test how you understand scientific data and how you apply knowledge of biological principles to this data. Any unfamiliar terms or experimental techniques mentioned in the groups usually just mask simple concepts addressed by the individual questions. In fact, some questions might simply ask you to interpret the data. For these questions you won’t have to think much about the concept at all.

Questions 8–10 refer to the following experiment and results obtained.

Dialysis bags are semipermeable membranes, allowing the transport of small molecules while prohibiting larger ones. In an experiment, students filled dialysis bags with different concentrations of sucrose solution and placed them in a beaker of distilled water. The bags were each weighed before being placed in the beaker. After two minutes, they were removed from the beaker, dried, and weighed again.

8. Which dialysis bag experiences the largest percent change in mass?
(A) 0.2 M sucrose
(B) 0.4 M sucrose
(C) 0.6 M sucrose
(D) 0.8 M sucrose
(E) 1.0 M sucrose
9. If the 0.6 M sucrose solution bag was left in the beaker for four minutes, all of the following occur EXCEPT
(A) mass of the dialysis bag increases to more than 30.1 g
(B) water travels down its concentration gradient
(C) decrease in the bag’s molarity of sucrose
(D) sucrose leaks into the beaker
(E) volume of water in the beaker decreases
10. A glucose molecule is small enough to pass through the bag. If glucose was substituted for sucrose in the dialysis experiment above, by what process does it cross the membrane?
(A) Osmosis
(B) Active transport
(C) Simple diffusion
(D) Facilitated diffusion
(E) Transpiration
For each experiment, identify the following: What is being tested and why? What are the variables, and what factors stay the same? In this example, the mass of the dialysis bags changes with the variable of sucrose concentration. Changes in mass can only come from water entering or leaving the bags, so the question deals with osmosis. (You’ll learn all about osmosis, diffusion, and transport over membranes in the chapter covering the cell.)
The three sample questions are good examples of the various types of questions the SAT II Biology asks in experiment groups. You don’t have to know anything about concentrations, osmosis, or membrane transport to answer the first question in this group; determining percent change in mass demands only simple data interpretation. The second question requires you to extrapolate and make predictions from the data. The third question asks you to make predictions on what would occur if the experiment were slightly modified. This last type of question goes beyond the numbers and requires knowledge of the topic. If you can identify the general biological properties of the experiment in advance, you should have no trouble answering questions of this sort. The answers to the above sample questions are: 8 D, 9 D, and 10 C.
The SAT II Biology may also present data in graph form. For graphs, make sure you know what the axes represent. Think about what relationship exists between these concepts and identify in advance any general trends you can think of. If it helps, sketch out your own tables or notes to sort the data and identify trends or exceptions. For all experiment-based questions, elimination is a helpful tool. You can eliminate answer choices that do not relate to the experiment’s variables or what is being tested, or those choices that contradict your knowledge of the biological principles working in the experiment or scenario.
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