Natural Sciences

The Natural Sciences exam covers introductory level topics for nonscience majors surveying both biological and physical sciences.

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The Natural Sciences exam 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 exam 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 college credit toward fulfillment of such a requirement for satisfactory scores on the exam. 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 exam contains approximately 120 questions to be answered in 90 minutes. Some of these are pretest questions that will not be scored.

Knowledge and Skills Required

The Natural Sciences exam 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% of the exam)
  • Interpretation and comprehension of information (about 20% of the exam) presented in the form of graphs, diagrams, tables, equations, or verbal passages
  • Qualitative and quantitative application of scientific principles (about 40% of the exam), 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 exam is drawn from the following topics. The percentages next to the main topics indicate the approximate percentage of exam questions on that topic.

Biological Science (50%)

  • 10% Origin and evolution of life; classification of organisms
  • 10% Cell organization, cell division, chemical nature of the gene, bioenergetics, and biosynthesis
  • 20% Structure, function, and development in organisms; patterns of heredity
  • 10% Concepts of population biology with emphasis on ecology

Physical Science (50%)

  • 7% Atomic and nuclear structure and properties, elementary particles, and 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, and the solar system
  • 10% The Earth: atmosphere, hydrosphere, structure features, geologic processes, and history

The exam 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.

Score Information

ACE Recommendation for Natural Sciences

Credit-granting Score 50
Semester Hours 6

Note: Each institution reserves the right to set its own credit-granting policy, which may differ from the American Council on Education (ACE). Contact your college to find out the score required for credit and the number of credit hours granted.

Add Study Guides

CLEP Natural Sciences Examination Guide

The Natural Sciences exam covers intro-level topics for nonscience majors surveying both biological and physical sciences.

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Study Resources: Natural Sciences

A study plan and list of online resources.


ACE Credit Recommendations

Recommendations for credit-granting scores from the American Council on Education.