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1. About this Course

Its covers the fundamentals of Biology that are usually taught throughout a one-year college course. The goal of the creator of this course – Modern States Education Alliance, a non-profit organization – is to prepare you to pass the College Board's CLEP examination and obtain college credit for free.

"Biology is a huge discipline with a lot of information, but I’ll help you learn the material that is most critical to passing the CLEP exam. When you finish this course, you’ll have the prerequisite knowledge needed to take more advanced biology classes," explains our lead professor, Dr. Athena Anderson from Purdue University.

Our course is organized into three topical chapters or modules that contain short video lessons, exercises and readings. It covers the broad field of the biological sciences, organized into three major areas: molecular and cellular biology, organismal biology, and population biology.

The CLEP exam, which contains approximately 115 questions to be answered in 90 minutes, gives approximately equal weight to these three areas.

Our “Biology” course is completely self-paced. There are no prerequisites to take this course, and it is entirely free. Any student who wants to save time and money while completing freshman year in college can take it.

2. About Athena Anderson, Continuing Lecturer of Biological Sciences at Purdue University

Athena Anderson earned her Ph.D. from the prestigious Odum School of Ecology at the University of Georgia in 2012. Her research was the first to record seasonal activity patterns and pollen collection behavior of native bees, important crop pollinators, in the southeastern United States. She also investigated the use of social media as an outreach tool, maintaining a pollinator information website that reached over 130 countries in every region of the world.

In addition to her doctoral work, Dr. Anderson earned the University of Georgia’s Interdisciplinary Certificate in University Teaching, proving her dedication to excellence in higher education. She is a pioneer in the use of innovative teaching methods, including inquiry- and team-based course redesign, online animal dissection, implementing the flipped classroom model, and making higher education more accessible by designing online sections of freshman biology courses.

3. Required Knowledge and Skills

The CLEP exam requires you to demonstrate the following knowledge as indicated:

  • Knowledge of facts, principles, and processes of biology.

  • Understanding the means by which information is collected, how it is interpreted, how one hypothesizes from available information, and how one draws conclusions and makes further predictions.

  • Understanding that science is a human endeavor with social consequences.

4. Course Modules

Following are the main topics and percentages of the exam’s questions, mostly based on the College Board's description of the course:

Module 1: Molecular and Cellular Biology  

  1.1  Chemical composition of organisms

1.1.1 Simple chemical reactions and bonds

1.1.2 Properties of water

1.1.3 Chemical structure of carbohydrates, lipids, proteins, nucleic acids

1.1.4 Origin of life

 1.2  Cells

1.2.1 Structure and function of cell organelles

1.2.2 Properties of cell membranes

1.2.3 Comparison of prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells

 1.3  Enzymes

1.3.1 Enzyme-substrate complex

1.3.2 Roles of coenzymes

1.3.3 Inorganic cofactors

1.3.4 Inhibition and regulation

 1.4  Energy transformations

1.4.1 Glycolysis, respiration, anaerobic pathways

1.4.2 Photosynthesis

 1.5  Cell division

1.5.1 Structure of chromosomes

1.5.2 Mitosis, meiosis, and cytokinesis in plants and animals

 1.6  Chemical nature of the gene

1.6.1 Watson-Crick model of nucleic acids

1.6.2 DNA replication

1.6.3 Mutations

1.6.4 Control of protein synthesis: transcription, translation, posttranscriptional processing

1.6.5 Structural and regulatory genes

1.6.6 Transformation

1.6.7 Viruses

Module 2: Organismal Biology (34%)

  2.1  Structure and function in plants with emphasis on angiosperms

2.1.1 Root, stem, leaf, flower, seed, fruit

2.1.2 Water and mineral absorption and transport

2.1.3 Food translocation and storage

  2.2  Plan reproduction and development

2.2.1 Alternation of generations in ferns, conifers, and flowering plants

2.2.2 Gamete formation and fertilization

2.2.3 Growth and development: hormonal control

2.2.4 Tropisms and photoperiodicity

  2.3  Structure and function in animals with emphasis on vertebrates

2.3.1 Major systems (e.g., digestive, gas exchange, skeletal, nervous, circulatory, excretory, immune) 

2.3.2 Homeostatic mechanisms

2.3.3 Hormonal control in homeostasis and reproduction

  2.4  Animal reproduction and development

2.4.1 Gamete formation, fertilization 

2.4.2 Cleavage, gastrulation, germ layer formation, differentiation of organ systems

2.4.3 Experimental analysis of vertebrate development

2.4.4 Extraembryonic membranes of vertebrates

2.4.5 Formation and function of the mammalian placenta

2.4.6 Blood circulation in the human embryo

  2.5  Principles of heredity

2.5.1 Mendelian inheritance (dominance, segregation, independent assortment)

2.5.2 Chromosomal basis of inheritance

2.5.3 Linkage, including sex-linked

2.5.4 Polygenic inheritance (height, skin color)


Module 3: Population Biology (33%)

  3.1  Principles of ecology

3.1.1 Energy flow and productivity in ecosystems

3.1.2 Biogeochemical cycles

3.1.3 Population growth and regulation (natality, mortality, competition, migration, density, r- and K-selection)

3.1.4 Community structure, growth, regulation (major biomes and succession)

3.1.5 Habitat (biotic and abiotic factors)

3.1.6 Concept of niche

3.1.7 Island biogeography

3.1.8 Evolutionary ecology (life history strategies, altruism, kin selection)

  3.2  Principles of evolution

3.2.1 History of evolutionary concepts

3.2.2 Concepts of natural selection (differential reproduction, mutation, Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium, speciation, punctuated equilibrium)

3.2.3 Adaptive radiation

3.2.4 Major features of plant and animal evolution

3.2.5 Concepts of homology and analogy

3.2.6 Convergence, extinction, balanced polymorphism, genetic drift

3.2.7 Classification of living organisms

3.2.8 Evolutionary history of humans

  3.3  Principles of behavior 

3.3.1 Stereotyped, learned social behavior

3.3.2 Societies (insects, birds, primates)

  3.4  Social biology 

3.4.1 Human population growth (age composition, birth and fertility rates, theory of demographic transition)

3.4.2 Human intervention in the natural world (management of resources, environmental pollution)

3.4.3 Biomedical progress (control of human reproduction, genetic engineering)

5. How CLEP Works

Developed by the College Board, CLEP (College-Level Examination Program®) is the most widely accepted credit-by-examination program.

CLEP’s credits are accepted by 2,900 colleges and universities, according to the College Board. These tests assess college-level knowledge in 33 subject areas.

Modern States Education Alliance is the non-profit organization behind these edX-style courses. Its project is called “Freshman Year for Free” and its mission is to make college more accessible and affordable through free, high-quality online education.

• CLEP® Biology: at a Glance

• 'Passing the CLEP and Learning with Modern States' orientation course