Planning to take the GRE Biology test? Then the first thing you should know is the GRE Biology Syllabus. The GRE biology test consists of approximately 188 questions. Most of which are categorized in groups towards the end of the exam and are classified on the basis of diagrams or experimental results, descriptions of field and laboratory situations. The time duration for the test is 2 hours 50 minutes; there are no separately-timed sections. 

Now, let us look at the GRE Biology Syllabus in detail. The test is broadly categorized into 3 major areas: 

  • Cellular and molecular biology 
  • Organismal biology 
  • Evolution and ecology

All of the above 3 topics are given equal significance. The total score is reported along with a sub score in each of the sub field areas.

Now let’s take a look at the 3 major areas mentioned above in detail. 

Cellular And Molecular Biology 

Basics of molecular biology, cellular biology  and genetics are addressed here. Some of the other major topics are cellular function and cellular structure which consists of metabolic pathways and their regulation, organelles, cytoskeleton, membrane dynamics, cell surfaces and cell cycle. The mechanisms of antigen-antibody interactions and the cellular basis of immunity, cell pathogen interactions are included as well. 

Also, major areas in molecular biology and genetics consist of genomic maintenance and organization, the regulation of gene expression and chromatin and chromosomal structure are also discussed, along with distinctions between eukaryotic and prokaryotic cells. There is also a lot of importance given to experimental methodology.

Cellular Structure and Function-16 − 17% Receptor binding, Enzyme activity and regulation
Methods –




Major metabolic pathways and regulation- Degradation and synthesis of macromolecules;

Fermentation,photosynthesis and respiration ;

Intracellular messengers and hormonal control 

Cell cycle – growth, division and regulation
Organelles: Structure,synthesis, function and targeting –

Mitochondria, plastids and nucleus;

Golgi apparatus and secretory vesicles;

Endoplasmic reticulum and ribosomes;

Peroxisome, Lysosomes and vacuoles

Biological compounds –

Abiotic origin of biological molecules;

Macromolecular structure and bonding

Membrane dynamics and cell surfaces – 

Electrical potentials and neurotransmitters ;

Cell wall and extracellular matrix 

Mechanisms of cell recognition, cell junctions and plasmodesmata;

Transport, endocytosis, and exocytosis;

Biological compounds – 

Macromolecular structure and bonding;

Abiotic origin of biological molecules 

Genetics and Molecular Biology-16 − 17% Genome maintenance –

DNA repair and mutation

DNA replication; 

Immunobiology – 

Cellular basis of immunity; 

Antibody diversity and synthesis Antigen-antibody interactions 

Gene expression and regulation: Effects –

Control of normal development; 

Regulation of gene expression by RNAi (eg.siRNA);

Whole genome expression(eg. microarrays);


Cancer and oncogenes

Recombinant DNA methodology- 

Restriction endonucleases; 

Hybridization and blotting;

Polymerase chain reaction;

DNA cloning, analysis, and sequencing ;

Restriction fragment length polymorphisms 

Genetic foundations – 

Pedigree analysis ;

Prokaryotic genetics (transduction, conjugation and transformation);

Mendelian inheritance; 

Genetic mapping

Genome sequence organization-

Transposable elements

Introns and exons; 

Repetitive and single-copy DNA 

Gene expression and regulation in eukaryotes and prokaryotes: Mechanisms 


Promoters and enhancers; Transcription factors; 

The operon;

Protein synthesis and RNA;

Modifications and processing of both protein and RNA

Chromatin and chromosomes –  


Chromosomal aberrations


Polytene chromosomes 

Organismal Biology 

Around 33 − 34% questions come from this section. Physiology, behavior, structure, and development of animals and plants are part of the syllabus. The topics covered comprise gas exchange, reproduction in heterotrophic and autotrophic organisms, nutrient processing and procurement, internal transport, effectors and control mechanisms and regulation of fluids. 

Also, examples of developmental phenomena could be from a wide range — from fertilization through morphogenesis to differentiation. Perceptions and responses to environmental stimuli are evaluated as they belong to both animals and plants. Major features and phylogenetic relationships of selected groups from the various kingdoms are included as well. 

Plant Structure, Function and Organization with more Emphasis on Flowering Plants-6 − 7% Reproductive structures 
Plant energetics (like respiration and photosynthesis)
Mineral nutrition
Tissues, tissue systems and organs
Phloem transport and storage
Water transport including absorption and transpiration
Animal Reproduction and Development-5 − 6% Early development (like gastrulation, cleavage and polarity) 
External control mechanisms (like photoperiod) 
Developmental processes (like induction, morphogenesis, differentiation, metamorphosis and determination) 
Gametogenesis, fertilization and meiosis
Reproductive structures
Animal Structure, Function and Organization-9 − 10%Movement and support –  Movement systems (muscular, ciliary and flagellar)
Support systems (hydrostatic,internal and external) 
Internal transport and exchange –  Circulatory, gastrovascular and digestive systems
Exchange with environment – 
Nutrient, salt, and water exchange;
Gas exchange;Energy
Metabolic rates (Body size ,activity and temperature)
Integration and control mechanisms
Nervous and endocrine systems 
Behavior (communication, orientation, learning and instinct)
Plant Reproduction, Growth and Development with more Emphasis on Flowering Plants 4 − 5% – Fertilization and gametogenesis
Sporogenesis and meiosis
Control mechanisms (like hormones, photoperiod and tropisms) 
Reproductive structures 
Seed development and embryogeny
Growth, differentiation, morphogenesis and meristems.
Diversity of Life 6 − 7%  Archaea –  Morphology, physiology and identification 
Protozoa, autotrophic Protista and other heterotrophic Protista (Oomycota and slime molds)
Bacteria-  Morphology, physiology, pathology and identification
Fungi – 
Lichens; Generalized Life cycles Distinctive features of major phyla (sexual,  asexual reproduction and vegetative);
Importance (eg- decomposition,antibiotics, pathogenicity, biodegradation);
Lichens –
Plantae with emphasis on major phyla- 
Alternation of generations;
Major distinguishing characteristics;
Phylogenetic relationships
Major characteristics of phyla (vegetative, asexual and sexual reproduction)
Animalia with emphasis on major phyla – 
Major distinguishing characteristics;
Phylogenetic relationships
Ecology and Evolution

Evolutionary and ecological topics are given equal weightage in the exam. Although principles are given more importance, a few of the questions are also applicable to current environmental problems. Additionally, ecological questions range from physiological adaptations to the functioning of ecosystems.

Moreover, questions in evolution can be from genetic foundations through evolutionary processes and the consequences owing to it. Evolution is considered at the population, individual , molecular and higher levels. Principles of Genetics, evolution and ecology are closely linked in many questions. Few questions might also require the use of quantitative skills which consist of the interpretation of simple mathematical models. 

 Evolution-16 − 17% 
Genetic variabilityOrigins (Linkage, mutations, chromosomal alterations and recombination) Levels (like heritability and polymorphism) 
Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium
Spatial patterns (like ecotypes and clines) 
Evolutionary processesGenetic drift and gene flow;
Natural selection; Levels of selection (like group and individual) 
Evolutionary consequences:  Fitness and adaptation; 

Extinction, divergence, and convergence, Speciation,

Phylogeny and Systematics
History of life: Origin of eukaryotic and prokaryotic cells

Paleoecology and paleontology 

Fossil record
Ecology-16 − 17% 
Environment/organism interaction Biogeographic patterns
Adaptations to environment
Change and succession Ecosystems Productivity and energy flow
Temporal patterns Behavioral Ecology Habitat selection;
Community structure and diversity;
Demography and life history strategies Communities Interspecific relationships
Social systems
Chemical cycling
Mating systems
Resource acquisition Population structure and function Population dynamics/regulation

We hope this GRE Biology Syllabus information helped. Moreover, feel free to download the GRE Biology Syllabus pdf from the ETS website, so that you can find more information in details. 

IMPORTANT UPDATE: The GRE BIOLOGY TEST HAS BEEN DISCONTINUED  from the month of April or May 2021, hence, make sure you find out these details from the official website or concerned person before you proceed with your preparation. 


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