Description of the Examination
The Natural Sciences examination covers a wide range of topics frequently taught in introductory courses surveying both biological and physical sciences at the freshman or sophomore level. Such courses generally satisfy distribution or general education requirements in science that usually are not required of nor taken by science majors. The Natural Sciences exam is not intended for those specializing in science; it is intended to test the understanding of scientific concepts that an adult with a liberal arts education should have. It does not stress the retention of factual details; rather, it emphasizes the knowledge and application of the basic principles and concepts of science, the comprehension of scientific information, and the understanding of issues of science in contemporary society.
The primary objective of the examination is to give candidates the opportunity to demonstrate a level of knowledge and understanding expected of college students meeting a distribution or general education requirement in the natural sciences. An institution may grant up to six semester hours (or the equivalent) of credit toward fulfillment of such a requirement for satisfactory scores on the examination. Some may grant specific course credit, on the basis of the total score for a two-semester survey course covering both biological and physical sciences.
The examination contains approximately 120 questions to be answered in 90 minutes. Some of these are pretest questions that will not be scored. Any time candidates spend on tutorials and providing personal information is in addition to the actual testing time.
Knowledge and Skills Required
The Natural Sciences examination requires candidates to demonstrate one or more of the following abilities in the approximate proportions indicated.
- Knowledge of fundamental facts, concepts, and principles (about 40 percent of the examination)
- Interpretation and comprehension of information (about 20 percent of the examination) presented in the form of graphs, diagrams, tables, equations, or verbal passages
- Qualitative and quantitative application of scientific principles (about 40 percent of the examination), including applications based on material presented in the form of graphs, diagrams, tables, equations, or verbal passages; more emphasis is given to qualitative than quantitative applications
The subject matter of the Natural Sciences examination is drawn from the following topics. The percentages next to the main topics indicate the approximate percentage of exam questions on that topic.
10% Origin and evolution of life, classification of organisms
10% Cell organization, cell division, chemical nature of the gene, bioenergetics, biosynthesis
20% Structure, function, and development in organisms; patterns of heredity
10% Concepts of population biology with emphasis on ecology
7% Atomic and nuclear structure and properties, elementary particles, nuclear reactions
10% Chemical elements, compounds and reactions, molecular structure and bonding
12% Heat, thermodynamics, and states of matter; classical mechanics; relativity
4% Electricity and magnetism, waves, light, and sound
7% The universe: galaxies, stars, the solar system
10% The Earth: atmosphere, hydrosphere, structure features, geologic processes, and history
The examination includes some questions that are interdisciplinary and cannot be classified in one of the listed categories. Some of the questions cover topics that overlap with those listed previously, drawing on areas such as history and philosophy of science, scientific methods, science applications and technology, and the relationship of science to contemporary problems of society, such as environmental pollution and depletion of natural resources. Some questions are laboratory oriented.
Want to get a feel for the tests? Try out sample questions from actual CLEP exams in the subject of your choice.
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