2 students and professor looking at a screen together in a lab

Comprehensive Examinations

Policy on the Biology Comprehensive Examination


  1. To complete your major in the Department of Biology, you will take two standardized tests, one in the spring of your junior year and one in your senior year prior to graduation. Completion of these tests is required for graduation, and students are expected to perform to the best of their ability, but there is no minimum performance criterion, nor punitive consequence for poor performance, for either exam. Scores are factored into students’ “departmental rank”, and this rank, if favorable, may be used in letters of recommendation.
  2. Early in the Spring semester of junior year, you will take an exam that is made up of questions in all areas of biology taken from GREs,MCATs, DATs, along with some custom questions. This test will consist of 200 multiple-choice questions, and each student will have three hours to answer the questions. We will score your test and inform you of your overall percent score, a breakdown of your score by content area, and your ranking relative to your peers.
    For more information about this type of test and suggestions for test preparation, click the Biology link at http://www.ets.org/gre/subject/about.
  3. In mid Spring (typically late March or early April) of your senior year, you will take the Biology Major Field Test (MFT). This test contains approximately 150 questions (to be completed in a 2 hour block) and is taken by thousands of students around the country. Each student’s performance is compared to all students who take the Biology MFT test nationally. You will receive an overall performance score, as well as a breakdown showing the areas of content in which you are particular strong or weak.
    For more information about the Biology MFT, see Biology at http://www.ets.org/mft/about.
  4. Your individual performance on these tests will be kept strictly confidential, and may be used in the following ways:
    • to identify your strengths as well as any serious gaps in your knowledge in order to recommend specific courses for your senior year, as appropriate.
    • to rank your performance among your peers. Such rankings, if favorable, may be used in recommendation letters, etc. Lower rankings (in the lower ¾) will be kept strictly confidential.
    • to enlighten you as to how you might expect to perform on similar standardized exams (GRE, MCAT, DAT, etc.). It is our hope that practice in taking such exams and knowledge about your performance will help guide future preparation to improve performance when you sit for “high stakes” exams.
    • to provide evidence to guide the Biology Department’s efforts to continuously improve our program so as to provide the best possible education for our students.