Natural Sciences

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CLEP® Natural Sciences Examination Guide

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

2017 CLEP Official Study Guide

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This study guide provides practice questions for all 33 CLEP® exams. The ideal resource for taking more than one exam. Offered only by the College Board.

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Natural Sciences

Knowledge and Skills Required

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 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 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.

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% of the examination)
  • Interpretation and comprehension of information (about 20% of the examination) presented in the form of graphs, diagrams, tables, equations, or verbal passages
  • Qualitative and quantitative application of scientific principles (about 40% 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.

Biological Science (50%)

  • 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

Physical Science (50%)

  • 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.

Study Resources

To prepare for the Natural Sciences exam, it is advisable to study one or more college textbooks (selecting at least one biological science and one physical science textbook). When selecting a textbook, check the table of contents against the knowledge and skills required for this test.

If you maintain an interest in scientific issues, read science articles in newspapers and magazines, watch public television programs such as Nova, or work in fields that require knowledge of certain areas of science, such as nursing and laboratory work, you will probably be knowledgeable about many of the topics included on the Natural Sciences exam.

Score Information

Passing Score for Natural Sciences
ACE Recommended Score*: 50
Semester Hours: 6

Each institution reserves the right to set its own credit-granting policy, which may differ from that of ACE. Contact your college as soon as possible to find out the score it requires to grant credit, the number of credit hours granted, and the course(s) that can be bypassed with a satisfactory score.

*The American Council on Education’s College Credit Recommendation Service (ACE CREDIT) has evaluated CLEP processes and procedures for developing, administering, and scoring the exams. The score listed above is equivalent to a grade of C in the corresponding course. The American Council on Education, the major coordinating body for all the nation’s higher education institutions, seeks to provide leadership and a unifying voice on key higher education issues and to influence public policy through advocacy, research, and program initiatives. Visit the ACE CREDIT website for more information.