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Principles of Biology

Sample exam questions

Here are some questions from previous first tests, so that you can get some idea about the format, and the logical steps needed to get the right answer.

1. In the list below, which characteristic is NOT necessary in order to be classified as a living organism?
     A) able to reproduce
     B) more organized than its environment
     C) requires oxygen
     D) requires energy from its environment
     E) responsive to external stimuli

All organisms must reproduce, use energy, stay organized, and respond to external stimuli. All of these are characteristics of life listed in your textbook. Answer C doesn't appear in your textbook, so you should automatically be a bit suspicious of that. But don't all organisms require oxygen? NO. In fact, some are actually killed by the presence of oxygen. Organisms, as you learned in class, not only include big fuzzy things like your dog, cat or roommate, but also small gooey things like bacteria or yeast (and perhaps your roommate). Some bacteria don't need oxygen. Yeast can get by fine with, or without oxygen. You're on your own with the roommate, sorry. So the answer to this question is C, based on facts you know (the list of characteristics of life in our textbook), and supported by other facts and logic.

 
scientific method2. In the figure there are numbered boxes connected by arrows. In order to represent the scientific method, certain terms need to be written in the boxes. Which of the following is the correct match for the numbered boxes and the various steps in the scientific method?
     A) 1 - formulation of question, 2 - experimentation, 3 hypothesis, 4 - observation, 5 - conclusion
     B) 1 - observation, 2 - formulation of question, 3 - hypothesis, 4 - experimentation, 5 - theory
     C) 1 - theory, 2 - formulation of question, 3 - hypothesis, 4 - experimentation, accumulation of data
     D) 1 - observation, 2 - formulation of question, 3 - hypothesis, 4 - experimentation, 5 - conclusion
     E) 1 - conclusion, 2 - observation 3 - hypothesis, 4 - control, 5 - formulation of question

This figure is based on a figure from a previous textbook (there is likely to be a similar one in your current textbook). The exact figure isn't important; what is important is that you understand that both the figures and the text in your book can contain information that we want you to know.  Are you getting the idea that we would like you to read the textbook as well as go to class? Good! At any rate, if you read the textbook, this question should be very simple.  But even if you didn't read it, or don't remember the material very well, you can use logic to go through the choices and eliminate the obviously wrong ones. You should know that typically the scientific method uses available data to generate hypotheses; experiments are performed to test the hypotheses. So some sort of DATA should be the starting point (box 1). Based on that, you should eliminate answers A, C, and E. That leaves B and D, which are very similar. At this stage you need to remember the difference between THEORY and CONCLUSION, which are the two terms that are different in answers B and D. Once again you find out that we need you to understand the definitions of the words used in this course! So if you know that many similar conclusions allow scientists to arrive at a THEORY, or that one set of observations is not nearly enough to support a THEORY, you should eliminate answer B. Thus the correct answer is D.

 

3. A suspension of yeast cells has an absorbance of 0.6 when measured with the spectrophotometer. When this same suspension is examined under the microscope, you count 300 cells per microscope field. If there is a linear relationship between the absorbance and the cell number in yeast suspensions, how many cells per microscope field would you expect if you examined a yeast suspension with an absorbance of 0.2?
     A)     0.2                               D) 600
     B)     10                                E) 900
     C)    100

This question comes directly from an exercise that you will do in the PoB studio. Exercises that you do in the studio are fair game for exam questions, just in case you were wondering about that. And questions involving simple math (dividing or multiplying by 10, for example) are also going to show up on exams. If we ask you more complicated math questions, we will inform you ahead of time and allow you to bring a calculator just in case you feel that you need it. But this question doesn't require a calculator. An absorbance of 0.2 is one-third that of an absorbance of 0.6. That means that there will be one-third the number of yeast cells in a solution with this absorbance, compared to a solution with an absorbance of 0.6. One-third of 300 = 100. The correct answer is therefore (C).

 
4. Which of the following best describes a "suggested explanation that can be derived from scientific observations to direct future research?"
     A) Conclusion
     B) Dogma
     C) Experiment
     D) Hypothesis
     E) Theory

More definitions. Note that the bold-faced term SUGGESTED EXPLANATION is a pretty good synonym for one of the answers, i.e. HYPOTHESIS. You can also eliminate DOGMA because it was never mentioned in your book or in your studio material as a part of the scientific method. So even if you are just guessing (which is not a recommended strategy), we often give you answers so ridiculous that you are able to guess from fewer choices! Funny how nobody ever thanks us for these easy questions; they just complain about the ones that are hard... The correct answer is D.

 

5. The scientific name of an organism is Dendroica pennsylvanica. Another organism named Dendroica petechiae belongs to the same
     A) Family
     B) Genus
     C) Species
     D) All of the above
     E) A and B above

Here is a classic case where haste and careless reading will result in poor test performance. You probably knew that Dendroica is the genus name, and petechiae and pennsylvanica are species names. So the correct answer must be B, right? Well, B is correct, but it is also incomplete. If you recall the arrangement of taxonomic divisions, you will remember that organisms in the same genus are also in the same FAMILY (as well as the same ORDER, CLASS, KINGDOM etc.) So if you read a bit further down the list of choices, the real answer appears. These organisms belong to the same FAMILY and the same GENUS; the answer is E. I hope that this example reinforces the notion that you need to READ THE ENTIRE QUESTION AND ALL THE ANSWERS before you make a mark on your answer card.

 

chromosome6. Here is a picture of a chromosome. The box labeled "A" outlines a structure called a(n)___1___; the structure labeled "B" is a(n)__2____. (blanks 1 and 2 should be filled respectively with:)
     A.  1- aster, 2-chromatid
     B.  1- chromatid, 2- centromere
     C.  1- kinetochore, 2- chromatid
     D.  1- telomere, 2- centromere
     E.  1- nucleolus, 2- kinetochore

Here is an example of a question from the Cell Biology Module, which illustrates that we often expect you to label certain structures in figures taken almost directly from your text or from the computer material. Again, it is obvious that you need to know and remember very specific terms. And again, at least one answer (E) is ridiculous if you read the material or went to class; the NUCLEOLUS is a part of the NUCLEUS of a cell, and not a part of a CHROMOSOME. After eliminating that one, you are left with four choices. And unfortunately, unless you understand the DEFINITION of all of those terms, you may not get the right answer, which is B.

 

7.  The following list contains several steps (a-d), which occur when sugar molecules are transported from leaves to roots within a plant.  Which is the correct order in which these steps occur?
                   a. Water molecules passively diffuse into the phloem.
                   b. Sugar is actively transported out of the phloem.
                   c. Sugar is actively transported into the phloem.
                   d. A positive pressure potential is created in the phloem vessel.
     A.  abcd
     B.  dcba
     C.  cdba
     D.  cadb
     E.  dacb

Here is another type of question which you will grow to appreciate during a semester in BIOL 198. We will have discussed a process (in this case transport of materials in plants) in class; this will also be covered in the textbook. Now we are testing to see if you understand that process enough so that you can place the steps in the process in the correct sequence. So try to remember the sequences of steps in some of the major processes (photosynthesis, oxidative phosphorylation, mitosis, etc.) that we discuss in this course, because you may be called upon to place them in the correct order. In this case, the correct answer is D. Sugar is actively transported into the phloem from the leaf cells which make the sugar. This change in osmotic potential causes water to diffuse into the phloem (this concept will also be covered in Module 4), creating a positive pressure potential. At the other end of the plant, the sugar molecules are transported out of the phloem to provide nutrition for the non-photosynthetic root cells.

 

8.  Which of the following levels of organization is NOT matched with the appropriate structure?
     A.  tissue : epithelium
     B.  organ : liver
     C.  tissue : nerve
     D.  organ : skin
     E.  tissue : stomach

We often ask you some matching questions, because it allows us to test over a lot of material with one question. In this case, you are asked to match specific structures with a specific level of organization (TISSUE OR ORGAN) of animals. So you need to know the levels of organization as well as the specific structures. Again, this is not a hard question if you have read the material and attended class, but it probably looks pretty hard to you right now if you haven't covered this material yet! But you don't have to panic. You probably know that the liver is an organ, and that the skin is an organ. You may not know that epithelium is a type of tissue, and that nerves are another type of tissue, so we'll go on to the final choice. You probably already knew that the stomach is an organ, not a tissue, so the answer must be E. And that would be right!

 

9.  Oxygen and _____ exit a capillary near the arterial end; carbon dioxide and ____ enter a capillary near the venous end. (Fill in the blanks with the most appropriate choices from the list provided.)
     A.  venules, arterioles
     B.  red blood cells, white blood cells
     C.  red blood cells, tissue cells
     D.  plasma proteins, plasma proteins
     E.  glucose, waste molecules

 

Another common type of question on our exam is this one, where you need to fill in the blanks in order from a list of choices. As before, some of the answers are ridiculous. Red blood cells don't change to white blood cells or to tissue cells as they pass through capillaries, so you can eliminate answers B and C. And we won't even get started on why answer A is absurd!

You also get a clue from the information in the question (didn't we tell you to read the questions carefully?), when you note that the correct answers would be things that behave in the bloodstream in an analogous manner to oxygen and carbon dioxide, respectively. Since oxygen is needed by animal cells, and since carbon dioxide is a waste product of animal cells, you probably can figure out that some necessary nutrient should go in the first blank, and some waste product should go in the second blank. Based on that logic, you can eliminate D, leading to the conclusion that the only possible answer is E. This question is probably too easy, don't you think?

 

10. Asexual reproduction

     A.  can occur in animals.
     B.  does not increase the genetic variability of the population.
     C.  involves only one parent.
     D. all of the above
 
Here is a question where you might know that one or two of the answers are correct, but remain unsure about a third one. And since one of the choices is "all of the above," you really need to know about that third one. If you studied the material and attended class, or even if you have only read a couple of books mentioning sexual reproduction, you will know that answers B and C are correct. But what about A? What sort of ANIMALS engage in asexual reproduction (besides your parents, of course)? Maybe you can't think of any. So maybe you would just circle answer C, even though you are pretty sure that answer B is also correct. Well, that would be a mistake. If you are reasonably sure that more than one answer is right, but unsure about another answer, it is almost always a good idea to conclude that "all of the above" is the correct answer. And in this case, you would be right. Don't agonize over trying to figure out if answer A is right. If you know that B and C are correct, just circle D in this case and go to the next question! By the way, animals that that CAN reproduce asexually include Hydra, and some flatworms, roundworms, sponges and echinoderms. And, with significant human intervention, it seems that even sheep can be cloned, which is a form of asexual reproduction. Isn't science fun?

 

11. Passage of water-soluble molecules across biological membranes is restricted by the membrane structural component known as 
      A) lipids. 
      B) proteins. 
      C) carbohydrates.
      D) nucleic acids.
      E) none of the above.

Here is an example of a question which was written to be as clear and simple as possible, but was missed by a significant proportion of the class. The answer is A; lipids (including phospholipids and cholesterol) are hydrophobic and thus automatically are the only logical choice for a membrane component that can restrict passage of hydrophilic (water-soluble) molecules across membranes. But that logical and simple answer was missed by many. Why? As one student wrote, "the way that it is worded indicates that you want the answer for a membrane structural component and what you have listed as choices for the answer are the four major classes of biological polymers, not membrane structural components--therefore E is the correct answer." 

This could be an example of looking for the "trick" in the question (where there is none). But actually if the answer E was correct as this student assumed, it would be a trick question! Think about it. By looking for the "trick", she mentally changed the question from a simple one to a tricky, complicated one. She changed her perspective to one that is different from that of the person who wrote the question, who wanted it to be as clear and simple as possible. And when you are not thinking along the same lines as the person who wrote the question, you probably will get it wrong.

Alternatively, it could be an example of memorization-driven blinders; memorizing the four basic biological polymers and not thinking about them in another context. This student obviously memorized the fact that there are four biological polymers. Great! But she should also know that three of the four (lipids, proteins, and carbohydrates) ARE also membrane structural components. Just because they are "biological polymers" does not mean that they automatically are excluded from any memory bin that holds the information for "membrane structural components". As noted before, memorization is not enough, and in this case, memorization of a list, in the absence of additional understanding, may have acted as a set of blinders and actually hurt the student's performance on the test.