Bio introduces placement exams

Over 200 freshmen wishing to place out of segments of the new year-long Introductory Biology course took a series of placement exams this summer, marking a departure from previous years.

In the past, students who majored in Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, or Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology were exempt from taking each department’s individual introductory course if they had received a score of five on the Advancement Placement Biology exam, or an equivalent score on another standardized test. Since those courses were eliminated this year, all students choosing one of those three majors must now take or place out of the new survey course, which consists of four one-half credit modules in different biological sciences, labeled BIO 101-104. Freshmen with a score of five on the AP Biology exam, or other equivalent score, can place out of some or all of the modules based on their performance in tests corresponding to each module.

“[The introductory] courses require students to be able to understand biology at a conceptual level, and to be able to use this understanding to evaluate and analyze new situations the way a working scientist would,” said Biology professor Surjit Chandhoke, course coordinator for the survey course. “The placement exams give students an opportunity to see at what level they will be able to think about Biology once they have completed the introductory sequence.”

The four placement exams, which were administered online through the University’s Classesv2 server between July 17 and Aug. 12, are “more rigorous” than the AP Biology exam or other comparable exams, Chandhoke added. Unlike the AP Biology test, she said, Yale’s Biology placement examination primarily tests the students’ critical thinking skills.

“We feel that in biology, just as in chemistry or physics, such skills are more important than knowing facts,” she said.

Two freshmen interviewed agreed that the placement exams were more challenging than the AP Biology tests because they required students to infer from their knowledge. Daniel Lee ‘16, a potential MB&B major, said the placement exams were “fairly sophisticated” and “much harder” than the standardized AP equivalent, but he added that he was not sure whether the tests would accurately reflect students’ preparation.

Alexander Borsa ’16, another perspective MB&B major, said he thought the questions on the placement exams were challenging but still “pretty answerable.”

“While the AP Biology exam was mostly a recitation of facts, the biology placement exam asked the test taker to consider the implications of these facts,” Borsa said.

The survey course will be co-taught by professors from Yale’s three biology departments: MB&B professor Michael Koelle, EEB professor Leo Buss, and MCDB professors Frank Slack and Mark Mooseker.

Students who placed out of the introductory courses in any of the biology majors in past years will not be required to take the survey course.

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