by Key Foster
The Biology Regents Exam, officially known as the Living Environment Regents Exam, is one of four science regents available to New York State students who are pursuing a regents diploma. The test itself consists of a multiple choice portion and a free-response portion. Although there isn’t a lab component, students must have completed at least 20 hours of lab work to be eligible to sit for the exam.
Students normally take the Biology Regents after one year of high school biology. Not surprisingly, the test covers the topics one would expect to find in an introductory, survey course in biology. Cell structure, genetics, evolution, ecology, and classification all make an appearance. Experimental design and data analysis are also important parts of the exam.
Merely passing the biology regents requires a grade of 65 and isn’t very difficult. In fact, it can be done with shockingly little actual knowledge of biology because a significant portion of the test consists of reading comprehension questions and questions that test students’ ability to create and understand graphs and charts. However, because of the comprehensive nature of the exam, doing very well does indicate that a student has attained a meaningful level of proficiency.
If a student fails the Biology Regents (or appears to be in danger of failure), there is usually an underlying problem that needs to be addressed, above and beyond that student’s knowledge of biology. Study habits, English language proficiency, basic literacy, learning disabilities, and commitment to school are possible problems to be considered. Possibly, the teacher’s performance should be looked into, as well.
One often-cited reason for not passing the biology regents is that the student was not allowed to take the test because he or she lacked sufficient lab hours. Unless the student was seriously ill during the school year, this almost certainly indicates a chronic problem with cutting class. If you are a parent and your child tells you that he or she wasn’t allowed to take the Biology Regents, you should look into the situation very carefully.
If your child is struggling in his or her biology class, it is important to find and address the cause sooner, rather than later. Parents should start by talking to their child about the class. Talking with the teacher, either in person or by phone, is usually the best second step. If the problem has behavioral roots (i.e., not paying attention in class, cutting class, or not doing homework) there is a lot that parents can do to help. Asking your child about the class every day, looking at his or her notebook and homework regularly, and staying in touch with the teacher are all useful. Setting clear goals and consequences is also a good idea. An example would be something like, “If you want to go out with your friends on Saturday, I need to see you spend at least 30 minutes every weekday evening on this class.” I prefer goals that relate to effort rather than results because a student who is used to failure may feel that good results are impossible to achieve, and therefore not try.
If the root of the problem is academic, then it is important to get appropriate help for the student. For example, if your child is having trouble in biology class because of a low reading level, you might want to look into after-school tutoring. Ideally, that tutoring should address literacy and biology together. In New York City, public schools should have at least some help available after school. Private tutoring can also be very helpful.
Sometimes, the problem is not with the child, it is with the class. Perhaps the teacher is not very competent or other students are so troubled that even the best teacher would be hard-pressed to do much more than classroom management. In either case, it is a sad situation, but a motivated student with reasonable skills could still look after his or her own interests and do well on the regents (and maybe even learn some biology).
If a class is useless, I recommend either a course of self-directed study, or study overseen by a tutor. As an aside, let me say that it is my opinion that self-directed study is sometimes needlessly dismissed. It is not always realistic, but it can work- I know this from personal experience. As an eighth grader, I recognized that my teacher was not competent and took charge of preparing myself for the Earth Science Regents. I passed with a score in the high 80s (with no adult help). For students who wish to study on their own, I recommend they start by first reading the textbook and answering the study questions included in it. Next, if they can talk about what they are learning with their parents, that would be very helpful. Finding relevant documentaries to watch and perhaps popular science books to read is also a nice supplement. In the month or two leading up to the exam, studying old regents exams is a very good idea.
Of course, this type of self-study is appropriate only for highly motivated students who are starting out with very solid academic skills. For other students, private tutoring can make all the difference. If you are seeking a tutor for this exam, you should look for someone with excellent references and a strong background in biology. After one or two lessons, your child should feel like he or she is really starting to learn a lot.
When studying for the Biology Regents Exam, it is important to remember that passing the test (while important) is not the main point. The main point should be to acquire a basic knowledge of life science, and the test provides a framework for people working towards this goal.
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