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Placement Exam Information (Directly from the Instructors of BIOL)

Q: What is the BIOL Placement Exam? And, what does placing out mean and what are the benefits of placing out?

A: After you are accepted to Yale, you can choose to take an exam for particular courses that are required for your intended major or for your post-college aspirations (e.g., medical school or graduate school). If you earn a score on these exams that demonstrates to the instructors of the course that you are sufficiently knowledgable in their content of focus, you may be “placed out” of that course, and all requirements for you to take that course (e.g. for a major or as a prerequisite for upper level courses) will be waived.

BIOL 101-104, i.e., the Foundations Biology sequence, is a set of four half-semester courses that are required for many Biology majors, e.g., Molecular Biochemistry and Biophysics (MBB), Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology (MCDB), and Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB). The BIOL courses are also prerequisites for enrolling in many premedical courses. Thus, if you are interested in a major in the Biological sciences or one day applying to medical school, you will likely begin your biology journey at Yale by taking BIOL 101-104. Most Yale College students interested in Biology or medical school take BIOL 101-104 in their first or second year.

Q: What is the purpose of the placement exam?

A: If you wish to skip a particular module of BIOL, you need to demonstrate that your level of knowledge of the material covered in that module is sufficient that you could succeed in more advanced courses that have that module as a prerequisite (such as the subsequent BIOL modules or upper level biology courses).  To accomplish this, there is a separate placement exam for each BIOL module. Each placement exam is composed of questions from quizzes/exams in that module used in recent years. We choose questions that ~80% of the students enrolled in the module were able to answer correctly. Thus, taking a placement exam will familiarize you with the content of the BIOL module, and the score you receive will inform you as to how well you know that content compared to students who have taken the module.

Q: Am I eligible to take the BIOL placement exams?

A: To be eligible to take the biology placement exams, you must be an incoming first-year student. Any incoming first-year student may take these exams; no Advanced Placement Biology or equivalent standardized exam is necessary.

You are ineligible to take the placement exam after you have arrived on campus and if you are beyond your first-year.

So, if you have any interest at all in placing out of BIOL, make sure you take the placement exams before you start your first year!

Q: Am I required to take a placement exam to enroll in the Foundations Biology sequence?

A: You are NOT required to take the Placement Exam to enroll in BIOL.

If you feel that you may be underprepared for college-level Biology, or want to brush up your understanding of this subject before moving on to more advanced courses, just sign-up for BIOL 101 and BIOL 102 back-to-back in the same semester. For almost all students interested in Biology or medical school, starting the BIOL sequence in either Fall or Spring of their first year works equally well. We will see you in class!

Q: What is the process for accessing and taking the placement exams?

A: There is an individual placement exam for each of the BIOL modules. Thus, you can choose to take a total of four exams, one for each of the BIOL modules. The exams open on July 1st, 2022 @ 9 AM, and close on July 29th, 2022 @ 5 PM. These exams are NOT in-person and are only available via a website (called Canvas) titled BIOL Placement Exams. You must join the BIOL Placement Exam Canvas site in order to access the exams. Otherwise, you will get an error message that the exams are locked.

Once you have successfully joined the Canvas site, under the Quizzes tab on the left-side of the Canvas webpage, you will be able to locate an individual exam for each of the BIOL modules (BIOL 101, BIOL 102, BIOL 103, and BIOL 104). Each individual module’s exam must be completed in one sitting (they are each timed exams); however, it is not required that you complete all four exams in one sitting. You have (almost) the entire month of July, after all. The exams also do not need to be taken in order.

When taking the placement exams, be concise in your answers and note that you will be given 45-60 minutes to take each placement exam. You may only take each exam once; so, make sure you are connected to a reliable Internet source as you take the exams.

As a policy, we do not offer make-ups or extensions. Therefore, if you do not take the placement exams sometime during the month of July, eligibility to place out of any of the BIOL modules is then forfeited. These placement exams are only offered incoming Yale students during the summer before setting foot on campus as an official enrolled student.

Q: What is the expected format of each placement exam?

A: The exams generally consist of a mix of multiple choice, true-false, multiple answer questions, and short answer questions taken directly from BIOL exams used during the academic year. The questions that were chosen are ones that over 80% of our BIOL students were able to successfully answer after taking the correspondoing BIOL module.  This allows the instructors of the BIOL sequence to grade the placement exams using a grading schema similar to the ones we used during the academic years. It also allows you and us and to compare your current knowledge of biology to the level of knowledge you might attain if you completed the BIOL course.

Q: When will we find out how we performed on the individual exams for each module?

A: The exams will be scored sometime in August and you will be notified via email of your score and what is recommended for you, prior to the start of the preference selection process for registration for a section of BIOL (check out the How To Enroll in BIOL post).

Therefore, you will receive an email notifying you of how you performed and if you are eligible to place out once grading and score assessment is completed.

Q: What if I do “poorly” on the placement exam?

A: Do not be discouraged! The questions that you will encounter during the placement exam reflect the level at which we teach the BIOL modules, and we teach these courses at a more advanced level than that of a high school advanced Biology course. If you find yourself struggling to answer a question, we encourage you to just skip that question, or, if applicable, just write “I do not know.” The reason we teach the BIOL modules is that most students entering Yale have not mastered this material yet, and we are here to help students learn it. We would love to see you in our class and teach you about biology!

Your score on the placement exam is not a grade that will follow you on your transcripts. So, check out the placement exams without fear of any negative consequences; at the very least, you will see what we hope you will learn in BIOL!

Q: What is my fate in the BIOL sequence based on my placement exam score?

A: The policy depends on the module, as the policy for BIOL 101 and BIOL 102 differ from BIOL 103 and BIOL 104. It is a bit complicated, so read carefully!

For all modules (BIOL 101, 102, 103, 104), if you score above a certain score threshold set for each module’s placement exam: you will be notified via email that you are eligible to place-out of that module. Of course, you are still welcome to join and enroll in that module if you would like; however, the email confirmation is enough to waive any requirement for taking the module.

If you do not score above the threshold to place out of a module, the policy is a bit different for for BIOL 101/102 versus BIOL 103/104.

For BIOL 103 and 104, if you score below the threshold for placing out, you will be notified via email that you are ineligible to place-out of that module. You must enroll, complete, and pass the BIOL 103 and BIOL 104 courses to complete that requirement.

For BIOL 101 and 102, if you score below the threshold for placing out, you will be notified of your performance in addition to advice as to whether we think you should take or place-out of either BIOL 101 or BIOL 102 based on your score. However, the decision to place out of BIOL 101 and BIOL 102 is ultimately your own.

If you scored only a little a bit below the threshold for placing out of BIOL 101 or 102, it may or may not be a good idea to place yourself out of these modules. We will invite you to attend an online advising session with faculty from the Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry department (for 101) or Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology department (for 102). Only after attending the appropriate advising session, will you be eligible to make your own final decision as to whether or not to place yourself out of the corresponding module. We will inform you of a deadline prior to Fall registration by which you must notify us of a decision to place out of a module – if you miss that deadline you lose your eligibility to lace out of that module.

If you scored well below the threshold for placing out of BIOL 101 or 102, you may still request to attend an online advising session with Yale faculty, but we will strontgly recommend that you take the modules rather than placing yourself out, as it would be difficult for you to succeed in more advanced courses that assume knowledge of the content of these modules.


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