Some states in the U.S. require students to take and pass a standardized test in order to graduate from high school with a diploma. If you live in the state of New York, you’ll have to take and pass a standardized test called the Regents Exam in order to earn your high school diploma.
There are several individual Regents Exams, each covering a different subject area. If you want to get a high school diploma in the state of New York (called a Regents Diploma), you’ll have to take and pass at least one science Regents exam.
The Living Environment Regents Exam is one of four science exams offered, and we’re here to help you learn everything you need to know to help you decide if taking the Living Environment Regents exam is the best choice for you.
In our full guide to this exam, we’ll cover the following:
- What the Living Environment Regents Exam is
- Who should take the Living Environment Regents Exam
- Important information about the exam for quick reference
- The format of the exam
- Sample questions from the exam
- The topics and subtopics covered by the exam sections
There’s a lot to cover here, so let’s get going!
(Alberto G. / Flickr)
What Is the New York State (NYS) Living Environment Regents Exam?
The Living Environment Regents exam is one of four science exams that high school students can take to fulfill the single science exam requirement for receiving either a local or a regents diploma. The Living Environment Regents exam replaced the Biology Regents Exam and covers various topics and categories pertaining to biology based on the New York State Core Curriculum.
To receive a Regents Diploma with Advanced Designation, students need to take and pass two science Regents exams: one life science exam and one physical science exam. The Living Environment exam is the only life science Regents exam offered, so if you want to receive the Advanced Designation diploma, you’ll have to take and pass the Living Environment exam.
To sum it up: this is one test that you can take it to meet your science exam requirement if you’re graduating with a regular Regents Diploma—but you have to take the Living Environment Regents Exam if you’re trying to get an Advanced Designation diploma.
Who Can Take the Living Environment Regents Exam?
So, who can take the Living Environment Regents Exam?
Any 9-12 grade New York secondary school student “all students who have completed the course of study leading to a Regents Examination” can take the Living Environment Regents Exam. Put another way, if you’ve completed the necessary biology coursework, you’re allowed to take the test.
This means that students both who have taken a biology course in school and students who have learned the material independently through alternative means are eligible to take the exam. Additionally, you cannot be barred from taking the test because you’ve had disciplinary problems or didn’t make As or Bs in your biology classes. As long as your course record indicates that you’ve taken the necessary classes, you should be allowed to take the exam!
There’s one other prerequisite for taking the Living Environment Regents exam: you have to successfully complete 1200 minutes of laboratory experience and produce adequate written reports for each lab investigation. Students who meet this laboratory requirement are eligible to take the exam! For most students, this requirement can be met by taking two to three science courses that have lab components in high school.
Now that you know what the exam is and who might benefit from taking it, let’s dig into the most important facts you need to know before taking the exam!
Living Environment Exam FAQs
To get started, we’re going to give you a quick guide to the most essential facts about the Living Environment Regents Exam. Think of this like your cheat sheet!
Exam dates: The Living Environment Regents Exam is offered in January, June, and August annually (the August 2021 date has been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic).
Who can take the exam: Students in grades 8 through 12 are eligible to take the Living Environment Regents exam as long as they have attained the minimum number of required laboratory hours and are approved by a school administrator.
Exam question formats: The Living Environments exam tests your knowledge using a combination of multiple choice and open response questions.
Exam sections: The exam consists of five sections, or parts, labeled Part A, Part B-1, Part B-2, Part C, and Part D. Each section has the following number of questions:
Part A consists of 30 multiple choice questions.
Part B-1 consists of 13 multiple choice questions.
Part B-2 consists of 12 multiple choice and open response questions.
Part C consists of 17 open response questions.
Part D consists of 13 multiple choice and open response questions.
Exam scoring: Exam takers must attain an overall score of 65 in order to pass the exam.
Exam length: Exam takers are allowed a maximum of three hours to complete the Living Environment exam, with no specific time allotments for the individual sections of the exam.
Now that you know some quick facts about how the exam works, let’s look a little more closely at the testing format for this exam.
Living Environment Regents Exam Testing Format
Knowing what to expect from the format of a standardized test before you actually sit for the exam can really give you a leg-up. Here’s an overview of the format of the Living Environment Regents Exam.
How Many Questions Are There Per Section?
The Living Environment Regents Exam has 85 questions total, and these questions are divided up among the five exam sections (Part A, Part B-1, Part B-2, Part C, and Part D).
Each section has the following number of questions:
|Test Part||Number of Questions|
|Part A||30 multiple choice questions|
|Part B-1||13 multiple choice questions|
|Part B-2||12 questions, mix of multiple choice and open response|
|Part C||17 open response questions|
|Part D||13 questions, mix of multiple choice and open response|
How Much Time Is Allotted Per Exam Section?
Students taking the Living Environment Regents Exam are allotted three hours to complete the entire exam--that’s three hours from the time that the test proctor begins the exam.
But, unlike many other standardized tests, each section of the Living Environment Regents Exam isn’t timed individually. That could make it difficult to know how to pace yourself as you take the exam!
If you want to finish all 85 exam questions and have time to check your work before time is up, you’ll want to spend no more than two minutes on each exam question. That will leave you with a ten minutes to review and/or tackle questions you skipped along the way.
How Is the Exam Scored?
In order to pass the Living Environment Regents Exam, you need to achieve a score of 65. To pass with distinction, you need a score of 85.
But those scores don’t indicate that you’ve answered 65% of the exam questions correctly, and they also aren’t raw scores. Rather, that passing score of 65 is a scaled score: it indicates that you’ve successfully achieved the set learning standards determined by the New York State Education Department. Generally speaking, you’ll end up receiving more points for answering harder questions correctly...hence the scaled scoring. (Also: there’s no penalty for guessing. So don’t leave any answers blank!)
The big takeaway is this: your exam score isn’t based on the number of questions you answer correctly. You could take the exam in June, and your friend could take it in August, and you could answer a different number of questions correctly and both still achieve a passing score of 65 on the exam. It all depends on which questions you answer correctly, and there’s no reliable way to figure that out while you’re taking the test.
Scaled scoring can be a little confusing, so if you want to learn more about how this scoring method is applied for the Living Environment Regents, review this page on the New York State Education Department website.
Topics Covered on the Living Environments Regents Exam
Since the Living Environment Regents Exam took the place of the Biology Regents Exam, the five sections of the exam cover a range of major topics pertaining to biology. These topics are determined by Standard 4 of the New York Common Core State Standards and include seven “Key Ideas” encompassing scientific concepts, principles, and theories.
If you want to learn more about the Living Environment Core Curriculum, which determines what topics appear on the Regents Exam, visit New York’s State Education Department website. But for now, we’re going to give you a general overview of what topics each Key Idea covers.
Key Idea 1: Living Vs. Nonliving Things
Key Idea 1 states that, “Living things are both similar to and different from each other and from nonliving things.”
Put another way, this Key Idea asks you to show what you know about how living and nonliving things rely on certain processes to stay alive and reproduce.
So, what specific concepts fall under this key idea? Here’s a short list of the concepts you need to understand and be able to explain pertaining to Key Idea 1 on the Living Environment Regents Exam:
- Diversity of populations within ecosystems and stability of ecosystems, which includes
- How populations are categorized based on the function they serve in the food web (e.g. producers, consumers, decomposers)
- How nonliving environments and living populations interact to compose a total ecosystem
- How different species hold each other in check
- How disruptions in the numbers and types of species and/or environmental changes can upset ecosystem stability
- Structures and functions of the human body at different organizational levels (e.g. systems, tissues, cells, organelles), which includes
- The human digestive, respirative, reproductive, circulatory, and excretory systems, as well as human movement, coordination, and immunity; how these systems interact to perform the life functions.
- How disruptions in any human system can cause imbalance in homeostasis
- The different types of cells in the human body and their various functions
- The structure of the different types of cells in the human body
- The functions performed by specific structures within cells, including cytoplasm, mitochondria, ribosomes, cell membrane, vacuole, and nucleus.
- The role of receptor molecules in cellular communication
- How one-celled organisms are able to function, specifically
- How the structures present in some single-celled organisms cause them to act in a manner similar to the tissues and systems found in multicellular organisms.
Key Idea 2: Genetics and DNA
Key Idea 2 states, “Organisms inherit genetic information in a variety of ways that result in continuity of structure and function between parents and offspring.”
This Key Idea is all about how genetics and reproduction work in organisms from all kingdoms. This requires a full understanding of DNA!
Here are the concepts you’ll need to understand related to Key Idea 2 on the exam:
- How the structure and replication of genetic material result in offspring that resemble their parents, including
- How genes can be modified by interactions with the environment
- Where genetic information is located within cells
- How reproduction works in asexually reproducing organisms
- The role of sperms and eggs in sexual reproduction
- The structure and function of DNA in the reproductive process
- Gene mutations
- The types of molecules that carry out the work of the cell, particularly protein molecules
- How the technology of genetic engineering allows humans to alter genetic makeup of organisms, which includes
- Selective breeding
- Use of different enzymes to cut, copy, and move DNA segments and insert them into new organisms
- Altering genes through insertion, deletion, or substitution of DNA
- New fields of healthcare geared toward fighting diseases that are the result of genetic mutations
Key Idea 3: Evolution
Key Idea 3 states, “Individual organisms and species change over time.” In other words, Key Idea 3 is all about evolution.
This idea asks students to be able to explain how evolution works, be able to distinguish between evolutionary change and the changes that occur in the lifetime of an individual organism, and describe the role of natural selection in biological evolution and the diversity of life on Earth today.
Here are the main concepts you’ll need to know pertaining to Key Idea 3:
- Explain the mechanisms and patterns of evolution, including
- The basic theory of biological evolution
- Genetic mutations, sorting, and recombination
- Natural selection
- Extinction of species
Key Idea 4: Reproduction, Growth, and Aging
Key Idea 4 states, “The continuity of life is sustained through reproduction and development.” This key idea involves knowledge about asexual reproduction and sexual reproduction, growth, development, aging, and reproductive technology.
Concepts you need to know for this key idea include:
- How organisms, including humans reproduce their own kind
- Asexual reproduction
- Sexual reproduction, including knowledge of
- Meiosis and fertilization
- Gametes and zygotes
- The role of gene expression, hormones, and the environment in human reproduction and development
- The structures and functions of the female reproductive system
- The structures and functions of the male reproductive system
- Human embryonic development and possible risks to the embryo due to genetic faults and/or exposure to environmental factors
Knowing the process of photosynthesis is one of the elements of Key Idea 5.
Key Idea 5: Homeostasis
Key Idea 5 states, “Organisms maintain a dynamic equilibrium that sustains life.”
The central concept to this key idea is homeostasis. Organisms have a diversity of homeostatic feedback mechanisms that maintain dynamic equilibrium. When these mechanisms fail, it can result in disease or even death. You’ll need to understand how homeostasis works in order to successfully communicate your knowledge of this Key Idea.
Here are some specific concepts you’ll need to be able to explain:
- Explain the basic biochemical processes in living organisms and their importance in maintaining “dynamic equilibrium,” or homeostasis. These processes include:
- Photosynthesis, the structure of plant cells, and the structure of one-celled organisms
- Organic compounds and chemical energy
- Cellular respiration
- The storing of energy in ATP molecules
- The biochemical processes of breakdown and synthesis and the role of enzymes in biochemical processes
- How the specific shapes of enzymes, hormones, receptor molecules, antibodies, and other molecules influence their interactions with each other
- Explain disease as a failure of homeostasis
- How viruses, bacteria, fungi, and other parasites interfere with the normal life functions of plants and animals
- The immune system and white blood cells
- Allergic reactions
- The role of biological research in responding to diseases in plants and animals
- Relate processes at the system level to the cellular level in order to explain dynamic equilibrium in multi-celled organisms
- Explain feedback mechanisms that maintain homeostasis
Key Idea 6: Ecology
Key Idea 6 states, “Plants and animals depend on each other and their physical environment.”
This key idea asks you to be able to articulate how ecological processes work, including competition between members of different species and within species, and to be familiar with the concept of food chains and webs.
Specific concepts related to ecology that you need to know include
- Factors that limit growth of individuals and populations, including
- How energy flows through ecosystems;
- How the atoms and molecules on the Earth cycle among the living and nonliving components of the biosphere
- How the chemical elements that make up the molecules of living things pass through food webs
- How available energy, water, oxygen, and minerals limit the number of organisms a habitat can support
- The various types of relationships that organisms can have, e.g. producer/consumer, predator/prey, or parasite/host
- The importance of preserving diversity of species and habitats
- How the living and nonliving environments change over time and respond to disturbances, including
- Ecological succession
- The role of climate change and natural disasters in altering stable ecosystems
Key Idea 7: Human Impact on the Environment
The seventh and final Key Idea that is included on the Living Environment Regents Exam states, “Human decisions and activities have had a profound impact on the physical and living environment.”
This Key Idea is asking you to think about how human activity affects and changes the living environment, causing or perpetuating phenomena like pollution, deforestation, extinction of species, global warming, and alteration of the ozone shield. This key idea is also politically oriented: it asks students to think critically about how they can make a difference environmentally literate citizens in the world.
You’ll need to know the following concepts:
- The range of interrelationships of humans with the living and nonliving environment, which includes
- How increased human consumption diminishes the earth’s finite resources
- How natural ecosystems provide basic processes that affect humans, and how human activity changes these processes in negative ways
- How human destruction of habitats threatens current global stability
- The impact of technological development and growth in the human population on the living and nonliving environment, which includes
- How land use and pollution degrades ecosystems and results in a loss of diversity in environments
- Consequences of adding or removing specific organisms from ecosystems
- Effects of industrialization, particularly fossil fuels and nuclear fuels, on humans and ecosystems.
Question Formats (With Sample Questions!)
Like we mentioned earlier, there are five sections on the Living Environment Regents Exam comprised of a mix of multiple choice and open response questions.
Now, we’re going to look at each question type (with examples) to help familiarize you with the test.
All five sections of the Living Environment Regents exam include at least some multiple-choice questions. Your selected answer for each multiple choice question should be recorded on a separate answer sheet that will be provided with your exam.
Unlike many multiple-choice questions, this exam uses numbers for each answer choice rather than letters. Each multiple-choice question has four possible answers, designated by the numbers (1), (2), (3), and (4). For each multiple choice question, there is only one possible correct answer.
On each section of the exam, the multiple-choice questions can vary in type, but there are two main types of multiple-choice questions on the Living Environments exam:
- Statements that you will complete with the correct answer choice
- Questions that you will answer with the correct answer choice
These question types may also include diagrams, passages of text, photographs, or data charts that you’ll be asked to use to determine the correct answer as well.
Let’s look at some examples of multiple-choice questions from the August 2019 Living Environment Regents Exam to help you get a clearer picture of what to expect from this type of question on the exam!
We’ll start with a sample exam question that presents a statement that you must complete by selecting the correct answer choice:
To answer this question, you’ll need to use your knowledge of biology to determine the correct answer that completes the sentence. Specifically, this question asks you to show your knowledge of Key Idea 6 from the Living Environment Core Curriculum, which is all about ecology. If you tried to answer this question and chose answer choice (3) parasite, you got it right!
Next, let’s take a look at a sample exam question that asks a question that you need to answer correctly:
Like the previous sample question, this one corresponds with a key idea from the Core Curriculum: Key Idea 1. Key Idea 1 asks you to demonstrate what you know about the components of living systems, from single cells to ecosystems, and how they interact to maintain balance in the living environment.
So, what’s the correct answer to this question? You got it right if you picked (2) mitochondria!
Open Response Questions
The other type of question on the Living Environment Regents Exam is open response. In other words, instead of being given a set of answers to choose from, you will write out your own correct answer using your existing knowledge of biology.
Three of the five sections of the exam will include a variety of open-ended response questions: Part B-2, Part C, and Part D (and Part C is all open response questions). The open response questions on the exam may ask you to provide correct answers in one or more of the following formats using space provided in the exam booklet itself (not on the separate answer sheet):
- Use information from a data table to construct a graph
- Provide a short answer in writing (often in response to a written passage)
- Fill-in-the-blank with correct answers
- Read a short passage (anywhere from one to five short paragraphs) and answer several questions in single written response addressing two or more specific points, usually in paragraph form
That means that in order to do well on these questions, it’s important that you know the material and can articulate your answer in writing.
Now, here are a few sample open response questions to familiarize you with what this type of question will look like on the exam!
First, here’s a sample question that asks you to provide a short answer in writing:
Explain why biomass is considered a renewable energy source.
In the exam booklet, you’ll be given two to three lines to write out an explanation for why biomass is considered a renewable energy source. Like the multiple choice questions, the open response questions on the exam correspond with Key Ideas from the Core Curriculum. This question corresponds with Key Idea 7, which covers the interrelationships of humans with the living and nonliving environment.
According to the Living Environment Rating Guide for exam scorers, the following would be considered acceptable responses to the question above:
- Biomass is continually being produced by plants and animals.
- More plants or trees can be grown to replace those used for fuel.
- Humans will always be generating food wastes and garbage.
- Biomass is an energy source that is quickly replaced by natural processes.
The Living Environment Regents Exam also includes fill-in-the-blank open-response questions, like this one:
________________________________ and _______________________________
For questions like this one, the exam will instruct you to record your answers directly in the blanks provided in the exam booklet.
So, what do you need to know to answer this open response question? You’ll need to know the content that corresponds with Key Idea 5, which covers the biochemical processes of living organisms and homeostasis.
The exam Rating Guide states that the following answers would be considered acceptable responses to the question above:
- carbon dioxide/CO2
We’ve covered shorter questions and answers for the open-response questions on the exam, so let’s finish up here with a sample question that asks you to read a short passage and answer several questions in paragraph form:
Hummingbirds evolved from an insect-eating ancestor. The genes that detect the savory flavor of insects underwent changes, making hummingbirds more sensitive to sugars. These new sweet-sensing genes give hummingbirds a preference for high-calorie flower nectar. Hummingbirds actually reject certain flowers whose nectar is not sweet enough!
Discuss how sweet sensitivity in hummingbirds has developed. In your answer, be sure to:
- identify the initial event responsible for the new sweet-sensing gene
- explain how the presence of the sweet-sensing gene increased in the hummingbird population over time
- describe how the fossil record of hummingbird ancestors might be used to learn more about the evolution of food preferences in hummingbirds
In the exam booklet, you’ll be provided with approximately ten lines to write out an explanation in paragraph form that addresses all three bullets. Your answer will draw upon your knowledge of biological evolution, which corresponds with Key Idea 3.
The Rating Guide states that the following would be considered adequate responses to this question:
Allow 1 credit for explaining how the presence of the sweet-sensing gene increased in the hummingbird population over time. Acceptable responses include, but are not limited to:
- Birds selecting for sweeter nectar survived and produced many offspring with the trait.
- Sweeter nectar provided more energy, increasing the birds’ chance to survive and
- It was an adaptation that increased the birds’ ability to survive and reproduce.
Allow 1 credit for describing how the fossil record of hummingbird ancestors might be used to learn more about the evolution of food preferences in hummingbirds. Acceptable responses include, but are not limited to:
- Changes in the shape of hummingbird beaks could be followed. Beaks adapted for eating insects would probably be different from those adapted to drinking nectar.
- Fossils might allow scientists to learn more about the environment that hummingbirds lived in. This would provide information about the plants and insects present.
- Different beak shapes could indicate different food preferences.
As you can tell, the responses to these short passage questions are longer, more in depth, and require you to explain yourself clearly. The trick to getting full credit on these responses—beyond just being able to read critically and express yourself in writing—is answering all of the questions asked by the prompt.
In this case, the prompt breaks down the things you have to talk about in bullet points, namely identifying the event that caused the gene, explaining how that gene impacted the hummingbird population, and discussing how fossils can help us learn more about hummingbirds today. If you touch on these three points correctly, you’re well on your way to earning full credit.
(Owen Moore / Flickr)
3 Tips for Acing the Living Environment Regents Exam
Now that you’re familiar with the Living Environment Regents Exam, here are our top tips for making sure you pass with flying colors.
Tip 1: Pay Attention in Class
The majority of New York State students who take the Living Environment Regents Exam will have taken a Living Environments or biology course before sitting for the exam. The absolute best way to give you a solid foundation for the knowledge you’ll need to pass this exam is to show up to class and pay attention while you’re there.
Why? Your Living Environment teacher is required by your state education department to teach the concepts and skills that you’ll be tested on when you take the Living Environment Regents Exam. Paying attention in class is an easy way to get expert guidance on what you need to know to pass the test.
That’s also a big reason to take good notes in class. When it comes time to start your Living Environment Regents review, you’ll want to begin by rereading your course notes.
Tip 2: Use Old Exams to Start Your Living Environment Regents Review
The New York State Education Department website conveniently provides access to PDF files of all past Living Environment Regents Exams. Using these is an amazing way to help you study for the test!
Having open, easy access to all of these past exams means you have access to dozens of questions you can use for practice. You could even administer a practice test to yourself using the most recently administered Living Environment Regents Exam. Find a quiet place to work, set yourself an alarm for three hours, and work your way through the most recent exam to help you get a feel for how quickly you need to move through the exam questions in order to finish in time.
Keep in mind these are all real questions from real exams administered in past years. These tests are a fantastic way to gain practical insight into the exam before you have to take it yourself.
Tip 3: Identify Your Strengths and Weaknesses
As you take practice exams and review course materials, take note of where you do well and where you struggle, and use that info to make decisions about what content to spend a little extra time reviewing before you take the exam.
This strategy can also apply to types of questions on the exam. Maybe you’re a whiz at answering multiple choice questions, but open response questions make you pretty anxious. Knowing where you succeed and struggle will help you maximize the time you spend on your NYS Living Environment Regents review. Spending more time practicing sample open response questions can help you feel more confident in your abilities when exam day arrives!
If you’re aiming to graduate with an Advanced Designation diploma, it’s a good idea for you to take some advanced courses to prepare. Check out our articles introducing you to AP classes and IB classes, then decide which course is right for you.
If you’re already taking advanced science classes, good for you! We have resources to help you tackle your biology exams and help you get the scores you need to earn college credit. Here’s our complete guide to the AP Biology exam (and our equivalent for the IB Biology exam).
If you need extra help studying for the Living Environment Regents Exam, you may want to turn to professional study guides. Not only are many affordable, they’re also really good at explaining tough material you may not have 100% understood in class. Check out this expert guide to some of the best biology study guides on the market.
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Ashley Sufflé Robinson has a Ph.D. in 19th Century English Literature. As a content writer for PrepScholar, Ashley is passionate about giving college-bound students the in-depth information they need to get into the school of their dreams.