New Ph.D. students will take the diagnostic exam in the first month of enrollment. This will serve as a diagnostic tool. Performance on the exam will not affect a student’s enrollment in the program. The student’s Supervisory Committee will determine if/how a student needs to make up any deficiencies identified by the exam. A calculator is provided.

The exam uses test question from 3 undergrad courses: BIOL 1441, 1442, and 2343. If you haven't seen this material in a while, spend about an hour reviewing the material. There is no need to over-study. Mainly you should ensure your ability to test well in your area of research (e.g., evolution, microbiology, plant ecology, etc.). Getting a 70% or better is ideal, but the interpretation of your score is left to your Supervisory Committee.

This test is still under development, and content/format may change substantially from year to year. In Fall 2011, questions were not pulled from the GRE, but only from aforementioned course tests. The test was 75 questions and chemistry and biochemistry questions were well-represented.


If studying from the GRE format:

This test is supposed to be based on or is identical to the GRE biology subject exam. Assuming this is true the test will have approximately 200 five-choice questions, a number of which are grouped in sets toward the end of the test and are based on descriptions of laboratory and field situations, diagrams or experimental results. The content of the test is organized into three major areas: cellular and molecular biology, organismal biology and ecology and evolution. Approximately equal weight is given to each of these three areas. In addition to the total score, a subscore in each of these subfield areas is reported. Subject area subdivisions indicated by Arabic numerals may not contain equal numbers of questions.
The approximate distribution of questions by content category is shown below.

Sample Test

I. CELLULAR AND MOLECULAR BIOLOGY (33–34%)
  • Fundamentals of cellular biology, genetics and molecular biology are addressed.
  • Major topics in cellular structure and function include metabolic pathways and their regulation, membrane dynamics and cell surfaces, organelles, cytoskeleton, and cell cycle.
  • Major areas in genetics and molecular biology include chromatin and chromosomal structure, genomic organization and maintenance, and the regulation of gene expression.
  • The cellular basis of immunity and the mechanisms of antigen-antibody interactions are included. Distinctions between prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells are considered where appropriate.
  • Attention is also given to experimental methodology.
  1. Cellular Structure and Function (16–17%)
  2. Genetics and Molecular Biology (16–17%)
II. ORGANISMAL BIOLOGY (33–34%)
  • The structure, physiology, behavior and development of plants and animals are addressed.
  • Topics covered include nutrient procurement and processing, gas exchange, internal transport, regulation of fluids, control mechanisms and effectors, and reproduction in autotrophic and heterotrophic organisms.
  • Examples of developmental phenomena range from fertilization through differentiation and morphogenesis.
  • Perceptions and responses to environmental stimuli are examined as they pertain to both plants and animals.
  • Major distinguishing characteristics and phylogenetic relationships of selected groups from the various kingdoms are also covered.
  1. Animal Structure, Function and Organization (10%)
  2. Animal Reproduction and Development (6%)
  3. Plant Structure, Function and Organization, with Emphasis on Flowering Plants (7%)
  4. Plant Reproduction, Growth and Development, with Emphasis on Flowering Plants (5%)
  5. Diversity of Life (6%)
III. ECOLOGY AND EVOLUTION (33–34%)
  • This section deals with the interactions of organisms and their environment, emphasizing biological principles at levels above the individual.
  • Ecological and evolutionary topics are given equal weight.
  • Ecological questions range from physiological adaptations to the functioning of ecosystems.
  • Although principles are emphasized, some questions may consider applications to current environmental problems.
  • Questions in evolution range from its genetic foundations through evolutionary processes to their consequences.
  • Evolution is considered at the molecular, individual, population and higher levels.
  • Principles of ecology, genetics and evolution are interrelated in many questions.
  • Some questions may require quantitative skills, including the interpretation of simple mathematical models.
  1. Ecology (16–17%)
  2. Evolution (16–17%)