GRE Biology Subject Exam question
October 14, 2011 11:49 AM   Subscribe

Folks that have taken the GRE Subject Exam in Biology: Is it absolutely necessary to take Biochemistry before tackling the exam, or can I study for the exam and still knock it out of the park? (specifics follow)

I need to take the GRE Biology subject exam when it's offered in April of next year. I also need to register for classes for next semester sometime in the next two weeks. I'll be taking Organic Chem II for sure, but I'd like to postpone Biochem until next Fall if at all possible (just to maximize my potential for making A's in both).

If it's relevant, I've been making very good grades in my core science courses (4.0 in Biology courses so far, including Microbio, Zoology and currently Animal Genetics and Chemistry doesn't intimidate me as long as I have the time to sit down and learn it). The program I'll be applying to is very competitive, and grades and test scores are extremely important.

However I work (more than) full-time in addition to taking classes, so I'd like to set myself up as best I can for success. Am I a fool for thinking I can learn/study the relevant parts of Biochem and still do well on the GRE Subject exam? Or is it necessary to be in that course before the exam?

Suggestions for Study Guides also very happily accepted!
posted by Ufez Jones to Education (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Yes you need biochem to do well.on the Bio GRE. And botany, genetics, micro bio etc. etc. It's really oriented towards lab stuff. As for study guides, you're best bet is to take a million practice tests looking up the answers as you go. You'll get a much better handle on the kind of info they use that way.

I personally think the Bio GRE is a ridiculous exam and should be split into at least 4 subject specific exams. There is no way a zoologist, for example, is going to really know half that stuff. [/rant]
posted by fshgrl at 11:59 AM on October 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

No, not at all -- if you are solid on the biochem/mol bio material covered in first-year bio. I took it before I had taken Biochem 1 or finished O-Chem 2, and did very well.

The Krebs cycle, Na/K pumps, the action potential, DNA, ATP... these are the kinds of questions asked on the general Bio GRE, and if you were paying attention (and still remember in detail) your first year, you should be fine.
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 12:31 PM on October 14, 2011

And Princeton Review makes the very best study guides, I think. Also get the actual past-year tests -- not the dumb study guide -- from ETS.
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 12:42 PM on October 14, 2011

I took the Bio GRE several years ago ... whoa, I guess about a decade ago now that I think of it (where did the time go??) ... so it might be different these days, but what I remember is it's useful to know some biochem at a very basic level. The GRE (when I took it) is very broad but shallow, so you need to know a little botany, a little biochem, cell bio etc but nothing more complicated than what you'll find in a good basic textbook. If you have one of those thick first-year general bio textbooks, skim through that, even for subjects where you've taken classes.

Good luck!
posted by phoenix_rising at 1:33 PM on October 14, 2011

I disagree with those saying you need biochem.

I never took biochem and did extremely well (something like 91st percentile overall). I studied mainly out of Campbell's biology.
posted by zug at 1:36 PM on October 14, 2011

A link to my old answer about preparing for the Biochemistry GRE -- not the Biology one -- but you might find parts of it relevant.
posted by peacheater at 1:44 PM on October 14, 2011

I did very well on the Biology GRE, and I never took biochemistry. You absolutely don't need to have taken the course. (I basically took a bunch of ecology & evolution classes, FWIW, and still did fine.) Definitely brush up on the fundamentals from first year bio, though. I studied with my old textbook from first-year bio (we had Raven; I also like Campbell). I also had one of the GRE Bio review books to thumb through. I think going through the past-year tests was the most useful prep I did.
posted by pemberkins at 1:49 PM on October 14, 2011

Just realized my answer wasn't very clear; what I meant to say was you don't need to take a biochem class to do well on the GRE, just a basic-level understanding like what you'd get from a general bio textbook that includes a chapter or 2 on just about everything. I think I also used Campbell to study, and it was excellent.
posted by phoenix_rising at 2:19 PM on October 14, 2011

My first year bio classes were not at all adequate for the GRE (admittedly 15 years ago) because I was on the quarter system and we just didn't cover that stuff in adequate detail till we did the subject specific classes. It's possible the test itself was different back then but most people took it ASAP after completing their biochem/ micro quarters.
posted by fshgrl at 3:18 PM on October 14, 2011

From what I've seen of new kids on the lab either starting MScs or PhDs or volunteering/being-paid-as-techs to "interview" as MSc/PhD candidate, candidates...

You don't need the classes, lab classes, or even lab experience to ace the GREs.

When I took them (a while ago, admittedly), it was much more about being good at taking tests as opposed to being actually knowledgeable. Being lab-experienced, I actually found a lot of the GRE test counter-intuitive.

GRE scores are important for getting accepted into programs; for getting scholarships, I can't recall if they were even asked for.

Getting into a grad program; there are two general ways - 1) the way everyone does it; apply to the program, submit test scores and GPA. Maybe an essay. You then do rotations with a few labs, maybe a lab (maybe even not one you rotated in) accepts you. 2) apply to a specific lab; if the PI likes you, you only need to meet the minimum program requirements (and then that's not even necessary) to get into the program. The PI who accepted you is responsible.

YOU NEED TO ASK YOURSELF - do you really want to pursue a career in science? What level do you want to achieve; an MSc = you can get a decent job pretty easily doing lab stuff. It's not a bad thing, but you'll never be "the" or even "a" boss. Top of the food chain: lab manager. Can be fulfilling; if you can demonstrate working with stupid beaurocracy and being good at finances and stuff, you might be able to be a fantastic lab manager; but it's hard to get PIs to appreciate you for that. It's more a matter of keeping a a job (maybe with a pay cut) when grant money runs out rather than getting paid better when a good grant gets won.

or PhD = 1) you can get a pretty well paying job, but it's competitive unless you develop niche skills or are very good at what you do, where the what is something that industry values, or 2) you go the academic route, get the PhD, do a post-doc (or two, or three... you'll be in your mid-late-30's before you get a "real job" unless you're a superstar) and try to get a tenure-track position at an R1 university, or 3) you get the PhD and go "lecturer" route (you'll want a spouse who pulls in a real salary, in this case), or 4) you get the PhD and teach at a small private college. Decent money, but you're usually stuck in a small town.
posted by porpoise at 8:17 PM on October 14, 2011

I just spun through Campbell's Biology with some friends over the course of a month. Tip- know your plant biology and ecology- they are covered. I got a really good score and into top biology programs, but I don't think it really mattered what my GRE was. My grades, research experience, and letters got me in.
posted by rockindata at 8:41 PM on October 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I did very well on the Biology GRE and I never took biochem. The parts that I struggled with the most were all of the questions on botany and ecology- there were WAY more than I expected. Make sure you take at least 2 or 3 practice exams, then bone up on your weak areas.

I imagine that the subject test entitled Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology has a lot more biochemistry, and in hindsight, would have been the more appropriate test for me seeing as I did a PhD in Microbiology.

Good luck!
posted by emd3737 at 10:44 PM on October 14, 2011

Unless things have changed drastically since I took this exam in 2003, you absolutely do not have to have completed Biochem in order to do well. All the biochem-ish stuff was of the level covered in basic biology textbooks.

I had been out of school for 7 years and was working in an unrelated field when I decided to go back for my Ph.D. so I was incredibly rusty on, well, just about everything. Before the test I spent a few weeks going through Schaum's Outline of Biology -- which is basically a condensed version of Campbell's -- and ended up scoring in the 93rd percentile. You can totally do this!
posted by purplemonkie at 11:54 PM on October 14, 2011

Thanks folks. I'm feeling much better about my relatively easier plan of putting BioChem off until next Fall. If need be, I can retake the Bio Subject Exam in October, but I'm hoping I'll do well enough in April that I can put that behind me.

I appreciate the extra info, porpoise, but I'm actually applying to a DVM program (one of the few in the country that requires the Bio Subject Exam - most say it's "encouraged but not required")
posted by Ufez Jones at 5:52 PM on October 17, 2011

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