Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology Test

The GRE® Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology (BCM) Test will not be administered in the 2016–17 testing year. ETS plans to resume testing for the GRE Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology Test in 2017–18.


  • The test consists of approximately 170 multiple-choice questions, a number of which are grouped in sets toward the end of the test and based on descriptions of laboratory situations, diagrams or experimental results.
  • The content of the test is organized into three major areas: biochemistry, cell biology, and molecular biology and genetics. In addition to the total score, a subscore in each of these subfield areas is reported. Because these three disciplines are basic to the study of all organisms, test questions encompass both eukaryotes and prokaryotes.
  • Throughout the test, there is an emphasis on questions requiring problem-solving skills (including mathematical calculations that do not require the use of a calculator) as well as content knowledge.
  • While only two content areas in the following outline specifically mention methodology, questions on methodology and data interpretation are included in all sections.
  • In developing questions for the test, the test development committee considers both the content of typical courses taken by undergraduates and the knowledge and abilities required for graduate work in the fields related to the test.
  • Because of the diversity of undergraduate curricula, few examinees will have encountered all of the topics in the content outline. Consequently, no examinee should expect to be able to answer all questions on the edition of the test he or she takes.
  • The three subscore areas are interrelated. Because of these interrelationships, individual questions or sets of questions may test more than one content area. Therefore, the relative emphases of the three areas in the following outline should not be considered definitive. Likewise, the topics listed are not intended to be all-inclusive but, rather, representative of the typical undergraduate experience.

Content Specifications


  1. Chemical and Physical Foundations
    • Thermodynamics and kinetics
    • Redox states
    • Water, pH, acid-base reactions and buffers
    • Solutions and equilibria
    • Solute-solvent interactions
    • Chemical interactions and bonding
    • Chemical reaction mechanisms
  2. Structural Biology: Structure, Assembly, Organization and Dynamics
    • Small molecules
    • Macromolecules (e.g., nucleic acids, polysaccharides, polypeptide, complex lipids)
    • Supramolecular complexes (e.g., membranes, ribosomes, multienzyme complexes)
    • Macromolecular structure and function
  3. Catalysis and Binding
    • Enzyme reaction mechanisms and kinetics
    • Ligand-protein interaction (e.g., receptors, substrates and effectors, transport proteins, antigen-antibody interactions)
    • Interplay between structure and function
  4. Major Metabolic Pathways
    • Carbon, nitrogen and sulfur assimilation
    • Anabolism
    • Catabolism
    • Synthesis and degradation of macromolecules
  5. Bioenergetics (including respiration and photosynthesis)
    • Energy transformations at the substrate level
    • Electron transport
    • Proton and chemical gradients
    • Energy coupling (e.g., phosphorylation, transport)
  6. Regulation and Integration of Metabolism
    • Covalent modification of enzymes
    • Allosteric regulation
    • Compartmentation
    • Hormones
  7. Methods
    • Biophysical approaches (e.g., spectroscopy, x-ray crystallography, mass spectroscopy)
    • Isotopes
    • Separation techniques (e.g., centrifugation, chromatography, electrophoresis)
    • Immunotechniques
    • Macromolecular structure


Methods of importance to cellular biology, such as fluorescence probes (e.g., FRAP, FRET, GFP) and imaging, cell sorting and proteomics will be covered as appropriate within the context of the content below.

  1. Cellular Compartments of Prokaryotes and Eukaryotes: Organization, Dynamics and Functions
    • Cellular membrane systems (e.g., structure, function, transport across membranes, water regulation)
    • Nucleus (e.g., envelope, matrix, nuclear transport)
    • Mitochondria and chloroplasts (e.g., general function, biogenesis, evolution)
  2. Cell Surface and Communication (in context of development and adult organisms)
    • Extracellular matrix (including cell walls)
    • Cell adhesion and junctions
    • Signal transduction
    • Receptor function
    • Excitable membrane systems
  3. Cytoskeleton, Motility and Shape
    • Regulation of assembly and disassembly of filament systems
    • Motor function, regulation and diversity
    • Muscle function
    • Cell motility
  4. Protein, Processing, Targeting and Turnover
    • Translocation across membranes
    • Posttranslational modification
    • Intracellular trafficking
    • Secretion and endocytosis
    • Protein turnover (e.g., proteosomes, lysosomes, damaged protein response)
  5. Cell Division, Differentiation and Development
    • Cell cycle, mitosis and cytokinesis
    • Meiosis and gametogenesis
    • Fertilization and early embryonic development (including positional information, homeotic genes, tissue-specific expression, nuclear and cytoplasmic interactions, growth factors and induction, environment, stem cells and polarity)
    • Stem cells (embryonic and adult, role in development)


  1. Genetic Foundations
    • Mendelian and non-Mendelian inheritance
    • Transformation, transduction and conjugation
    • Recombination and complementation
    • Mutational analysis
    • Genetic mapping and linkage analysis
  2. Chromatin and Chromosomes
    • Karyotypes and genetic diagnostics
    • Translocations, inversions, deletions and duplications
    • Aneuploidy and polyploidy
    • Structure
    • Epigenetics
  3. Genomics
    • Genome structure
    • Physical mapping
    • Repeated DNA and gene families
    • Gene identification
    • Transposable elements
    • Bioinformatics
    • Molecular evolution
  4. Genome Maintenance
    • DNA replication
    • DNA damage and repair
    • DNA modification
    • DNA recombination and gene conversion
  5. Gene Expression
    • The genetic code
    • Transcription/transcriptional profiling
    • RNA processing
    • Translation
  6. Gene Regulation
    • Prokaryotic gene regulation including operon control
    • Promoter recognition by RNA polymerases
    • Prokaryotic attenuation and anti-termination
    • Cis-acting regulatory elements
    • Trans-acting regulatory factors
    • Gene rearrangements and amplifications
    • Small non-coding RNAs (e.g., siRNA, microRNA)
  7. Viruses
    • Genome replication and regulation
    • Virus assembly
    • Virus-host interactions
  8. Methods
    • Restriction maps and PCR
    • Nucleic acid blotting and hybridization
    • DNA cloning in prokaryotes and eukaryotes
    • Sequencing and analysis
    • Protein-nucleic acid interaction
    • Transgenic organisms
    • Microarrays
    • Proteomics and protein-protein interaction

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