FTCE Biology 6-12 Practice Test and Prep

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Welcome to our FTCE Biology 6-12 practice test and prep page. On this page, we outline the domains and key concepts for the FTCE Biology 6-12 exam. It is a free resource we provide so you can see how prepared you are to take the official exam.

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FTCE Biology 6-12 Test Information


The FTCE Biology 6-12 (002) consists of 120 multiple-choice questions that test a total of 10 competencies. You are given 2 hours and 30 minutes to take the test.




A scaled score of 200 is needed to pass. Approximately 71% of answers need to be correct to pass.

Pass rate: 

In 2018, 76% of first-time test takers passed this test.

Study time: 

Allow plenty of time to review each of the 10 competencies and take multiple practice tests. At the minimum, you should allow several weeks so you do not feel rushed. Each of the 10 competencies covers at least 4 and up to 16 skills that are covered in the test.

Tips that test-takers wish they’d known: 

  • Take the time to understand the format of the test.
  • Take practice tests to see where your weaknesses are.
  • Read each question slowly and carefully.
  • Answer all questions. (Only correct answers will be scored.)
  • Plan to arrive at the test site early.

Information and screenshots obtained from the FTCE and NES website.

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FTCE Biology 6-12 Competencies

Competency 1

This competency tests your knowledge of the investigative processes of science. You can expect to see about 22 multiple-choice questions from this competency, which accounts for about 18% of the entire exam.

Let’s explore some specific topics within this competency.

Microscopes – Types

There are many types of microscopes that scientists use in their research. Four of the most common are bright-field microscopes, phase-contrast microcsopes, scanning electron microscopes (SEM), and transmission electron microscopes (TEM).

Bright-field and phase-contrast are both examples of optical microscopy. This means that they use visible light to magnify a specimen. Bright-field microscopy is a very basic type of microscopy in which the specimen appears as dark and the surrounding field of view is light. This works by placing a slide on the stage of the microscope and focusing light on it from a condenser underneath. Bright-field microscopy is used in most science disciplines and can be used to view live or fixed specimens. When the specimen is transparent, scientists use a stain to view it with more contrast.

Phase-contrast microscopy is also a type of optical microscopy. Scientists use phase-contrast to view minute contrasts that would not be visible under a bright-field microscope. Specimens can be fixed or live, but a benefit of using phase-contrast is that live specimens can be viewed without stain and seen in great detail. Look at the images below and notice the higher contrast in the phase-contrast micrograph.

There are two types of microscopy commonly used by scientists that use a high-intensity beam of electrons instead of visible light: scanning electron microscopy and transmission electron microscopy. A scanning electron microscope shoots a beam of electrons at a specimen and can collect information such as 2D images, chemical composition, and crystalline structure. In biology, the SEM can be used to view the morphology of insects, tissues, bacteria, and viruses.

Transmission electron microscopy is similar to scanning electron microscopy. A significant difference is that in scanning electron microscopy, electrons reflect off the specimen, while in transmission electron microscopy, electrons pass through the specimen. A TEM is similar to a light microscope in that you are seeing through a specimen. Internal structures are visible but at a much higher magnification. Scientists use TEM to view specimens at the cellular level. Look at the SEM and TEM micrographs below and notice the differences.


Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR)

Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is the process of taking a small amount of DNA and amplifying it. First, DNA is heated, which causes it to separate into two pieces of single-stranded DNA. Next, an enzyme called Taq polymerase binds to the end of one of the single strands of DNA and builds the other half. Now there are two strands of DNA. This repeats over and over again until there are billions of copies. Scientists use PCR for many applications, including detecting bacteria or viruses and diagnosing genetic disorders.

Hypothesis vs. Theory vs. Law

A hypothesis is a possible explanation for a phenomenon. A hypothesis must be testable. It is based on observations but is usually proposed before the research has begun. An example of a hypothesis is: If the plant receives more sunlight, it will grow larger.

The difference between a hypothesis and a theory is that a hypothesis has not been proven yet, while a scientific theory has been tested over time using a lot of data and observations. Scientists can use theories to make predictions. All scientific disciplines have their own theories. One example in biology is the theory of evolution by natural selection.

While theories explain something, a law describes something, usually using mathematics. An example of a law in biology is Mendel’s law of independent assortment, which states that the alleles of two or more different genes get sorted into gametes independent of one another. This is a law because it describes the phenomenon.

Competency 2

This competency tests your knowledge of the interactions between science, technology, and society. You can expect to see about five multiple-choice questions from this competency, which accounts for about 4% of the entire exam.

Since this is a smaller competency, let’s explore one topic from it.

Implications Concerning Population Growth and Control

The human population has been growing exponentially. If growth continues this rapidly, food shortages, global warming, and disease could become a problem. Some countries have tried methods of population control. In the 1970s, China introduced the “one-child” policy. Each couple was only allowed to have one child. There were many ethical concerns with this. China was trying to reduce the number of malnourished people in the country. The policy had to strike a balance between individual freedom and the collective good.

Population growth has a direct impact on the environment. As a population grows, it uses more resources. This can lead to deforestation or inadequate water supply. Food supply can also be affected. An increase in carbon dioxide emissions is also related to population growth. These emissions contribute to global warming and sea-level rise.

Competency 3

This competency tests your knowledge of the chemical processes of living things. You can expect to see about 17 multiple-choice questions from this competency, which accounts for about 14% of the entire exam.

Let’s explore some specific topics within this competency.


Proteins have many different jobs in cells and organisms. They play a role in transport, structure, defense, muscle contraction, and storage. Two relevant groups of proteins are enzymes and hormones. While enzymes speed up reactions, hormones coordinate certain physiological processes. Salivary amylase is an enzyme that breaks down starch into smaller sugars. Insulin is an example of a hormone that helps regulate blood sugar levels.

The structure of proteins is variable except for one commonality, which is that they are all made up of amino acids. An amino acid has an amino group (NH2), a carboxyl group (COOH), and a hydrogen atom all bonded to a central carbon atom. Each amino acid has an R group bonded to the central atom. The R group, which is another group of atoms or a single atom, identifies the amino acid. Proteins have one or more polypeptide chains, which are amino acids joined together in a particular order. Peptide bonds connect the amino acids that make up a polypeptide.

Protein shape is vital to its structure. There are four levels of protein structure; primary, secondary, tertiary, and quaternary. Exposure to changes in temperature, pH, or chemicals can denature a protein. Denaturation means it loses its 3D structure and returns to a primary sequence. Usually, when a protein becomes denatured, it cannot function. Cooking an egg in a frying pan is an example of denaturation.

denaturation image

Cellular Respiration – Aerobic vs. Anaerobic

The process organisms use to break down glucose into a form that is more usable by a cell is called cellular respiration. It can either be aerobic, which requires oxygen, or anaerobic, which does not require oxygen. During aerobic cellular respiration, glucose and oxygen react and form ATP, which can be used by the cell. There are three stages of aerobic cellular respiration: glycolysis, the Krebs cycle, and oxidative phosphorylation.

There are two significant differences between aerobic and anaerobic cellular respiration. One is that aerobic cellular respiration requires oxygen to take place, while anaerobic cellular respiration does not require oxygen. The other difference is that the energy yields of aerobic respiration (36 ATP) are much higher than the energy yields of anaerobic respiration (2 ATP).


Chemiosmosis is the process of creating a proton gradient by pumping protons across the membrane. In cellular respiration, 80% of ATP made is because of chemiosmosis. Protons are pumped inside the mitochondria. This forms a proton gradient, which allows protons to go through the gradient. Then phosphate pairs with ADP and forms ATP. Chemiosmosis is seen in photosynthesis also. After photosynthesis begins, the electron transport chain pumps hydrogen ions into the thylakoid space, which forms an electrochemical gradient. The next step is chemiosmosis, in which ions flow from the thylakoid space into the stroma to form ATP.

Competency 4

This competency tests your knowledge of the interactions between cell structure and cell function. You can expect to see about 8 multiple-choice questions from this competency, which accounts for about 7% of the entire exam.

Let’s explore some specific topics within this competency.

Eukaryotic vs. Prokaryotic

Prokaryotes are bacteria, while animals, plants, fungi, and protists are eukaryotes. There are a few differences between these two different types of cells. Both types of cells contain DNA. DNA in eukaryotes is linear and found in the nucleus, while DNA in prokaryotes is circular and floats around the cytoplasm. Only eukaryotes have a nucleus and membrane-bound organelles. Prokaryotes are small (1-5 micrometers) and always unicellular. Eukaryotes are larger (10-100 micrometers) and can be unicellular or multicellular.

Prokaryotic vs eukaryotic cells

Types of Membrane Transport

Active cellular transport requires the cell to use energy, while passive cellular transport does not. Diffusion is a type of passive cellular transport and happens when a substance moves from an area of higher concentration to an area of lower concentration. For example, in a cell that has a higher salt content than the surrounding fluid, salt will flow out of the cell until the salt content is the same in the cell as out of the cell.

Facilitated diffusion is another type of passive cellular transport. Charged particles such as chlorine cannot pass through the phospholipids of the cell membrane without help from membrane proteins. Charged particles move with the concentration gradient but through transport proteins, which protect them from the hydrophobic region as they pass through.

Active cellular transport requires using ATP from the cell to move a substance against its concentration gradient. The cell uses a carrier protein called a pump to do this. One example is the sodium-potassium pump, which uses energy to move three sodium ions and two potassium ions to an area of higher concentration. Then sodium ions can move out of the cell, and potassium ions can move into the cell.

Competency 5

This competency tests your knowledge of genetic principles, processes, and applications. You can expect to see about 13 multiple-choice questions from this competency, which accounts for about 11% of the entire exam.

Let’s explore some specific topics within this competency.

DNA Replication

DNA replication begins at the replication fork, where an enzyme called helicase breaks the hydrogen bonds between the base pairs and unwinds the DNA. The DNA has a tendency to return to a double helix, so to keep that from happening proteins called single-strand binding proteins coat the separate strands of DNA. Primase gets DNA started by making an RNA primer that is complementary to the template. DNA polymerase extends this primer by adding nucleotides to it. DNA polymerase makes DNA in the 5’ to 3’ direction, so the leading strand is simple. However, the lagging strand runs in the 3’ to 5’ direction, so the DNA polymerase has to come off at the fork and reattach. This creates fragments called Okazaki fragments. Finally, DNA replaces RNA primers, and DNA ligase seals any gaps.

DNA replication

Incomplete Dominance

Sometimes one allele is not dominant over another. This is called incomplete dominance. When an organism is heterozygous for a trait, it will have a third phenotype that is a blend of the two alleles. For example, a red flower (FRFR) crosses with a yellow flower (FYFY); the offspring will be an orange flower (FRFY).

Competency 6

This competency tests your knowledge of the structural and functional diversity of viruses and prokaryotic organisms. You can expect to see about five multiple-choice questions from this competency, which accounts for about 4% of the entire exam.

Since this is a smaller competency, let’s explore one topic from it.

Major Types of Bacterial Genetic Recombination

Bacteria reproduce by binary fission, and have three mechanisms by which they share genes: transduction, transformation, and conjugation. In transduction, a virus accidentally transmits bacterial DNA of one bacterium to another bacterium. In transformation, bacteria receive DNA from the environment. In conjugation, bacteria transfer DNA to each other through a structure called a pilus. Usually, the DNA being transferred is a plasmid, which is circular DNA.

Competency 7

This competency tests your knowledge of the structural and functional diversity of protists, fungi, and plants. You can expect to see about 10 multiple-choice questions from this competency, which accounts for about 8% of the entire exam.

Let’s explore some specific topics within this competency.

Plant Reproduction – Asexual

Many types of plants can asexually reproduce, which allows them to quickly make new plants without expending time and energy on flowers, pollinators, or dispersing seeds. The root structure of a daffodil is called bulbs. A new bulb will grow from a lateral bulb on the side. Eventually, this will become two plants. Plants can also reproduce asexually using stolons, which are long stems that grow on top of the soil. One example of this is strawberries, which use runners. At the end of each runner is a new plant that is genetically the same as the parent plant.

Vascular and Nonvascular Plants

Nonvascular plants were the first plants on the planet. There are three types of nonvascular plants: liverwort, hornwort, and moss. They are tiny and have no stems, leaves, or flowers. They must have high moisture to reproduce because the sperm from the male gametophyte must swim through dew or raindrops to meet an egg from the female. Liverworts, hornworts, and mosses still grow in humid shaded areas all over the planet.

Plants eventually began evolving, and they developed vascular systems, or xylem or phloem. The vascular systems, along with tough cell walls, enabled plants to grow larger and live in dry and cold areas. Their deep root systems gave them the structure they needed to grow taller and taller. Xylem and phloem allowed plants to move water and minerals from the soil to the very top of the plant.

Competency 8

This competency tests your knowledge of the structural and functional diversity of animals. You can expect to see about 16 multiple-choice questions from this competency, which accounts for about 13% of the entire exam.

Let’s explore some specific topics within this competency.

Major Animal Body Plans

Animal body plans can have one of three different forms concerning symmetry: asymmetrical, radial, or bilateral. Asymmetrical animals show no symmetry. A sponge is an example of an animal with an asymmetrical form. An animal that has radial symmetry is symmetrical longitudinally. Many aquatic animals that attach to a base have radial symmetry. If an animal with radial symmetry was cut on any longitudinal plane, it would look the same inside. Bilateral symmetry is when an animal is symmetrical on the left and right. If you were to cut an animal, such as a horse, in half from the nose to the tail, it would be symmetrical on the left and right sides. All true animals have bilateral symmetry, and it is essential for movement.

Animals can also be characterized by whether or not they have a coelom. A coelom is an internal body cavity that comes from the mesoderm. It contains the digestive system, the heart, kidneys, and reproductive system. Some animals do not develop a coelom, and they are called acoelomates. Flatworms are an example of an acoelomate. Mollusks, arthropods, and echinoderms all develop a true coelom and are called eucoelomates. Other animals, such as roundworms, develop a false coelom and are called pseudocoelomates.

During embryonic development, tissues are separated into germ layers. Animals can either have two or three germ layers. Animals with radial symmetry develop two germ layers. They are called diploblasts. Examples of diploblastic animals are jellyfish and corals. Animals that have bilateral symmetry develop three germ layers. They are called triploblasts and are more complex than diploblasts. Worms, arthropods, and vertebrates are all examples of triploblastic animals.

Respiratory System

The respiratory system has two parts: the upper respiratory tract and the lower respiratory tract. The nose, mouth, and beginning of the trachea are the upper respiratory system. The lower respiratory system is in the chest cavity and includes the trachea, the bronchi, bronchioli, and the lungs.

During breathing, the nose and mouth inhale air. Air flows through the pharynx, larynx, and trachea into the lungs. Exhaled air leaves through the same path. The larynx is called the voice box, and as air passes across it, it allows us to make sound. The trachea leads to the lungs, where it is split into the right and left bronchi. The bronchi branch out into bronchioles, which then lead to the alveoli. The alveoli are where oxygen is exchanged for carbon dioxide. The diaphragm is a muscle at the bottom of the rib cage responsible for helping the lungs expand to inhale and exhale.

Feedback Loops

The body uses feedback loops to turn things on and off. Negative feedback loops will stop the stimulus that has triggered them. Negative feedback loops are usually working to keep things in equilibrium. Negative feedback loops usually control hormones in the body. One example of a negative feedback loop is thyroid regulation. The hypothalamus secretes TRH, which works on the pituitary gland to make TSH. The TSH causes the thyroid gland to secrete hormones. When the hormone level is high enough, the negative feedback loop causes the hypothalamus to stop secreting TRH, and the pituitary stops secreting TSH.

Another example of a negative feedback loop in the body is the regulation of blood sugar. As blood sugar increases, the pancreas releases insulin, which allows cells to take in glucose. As blood sugar drops, the pancreas releases glucagon, which releases glucose into the blood. This brings blood sugar levels into equilibrium.

The fight-or-flight response is also a negative feedback loop. The hypothalamus activates both the sympathetic nervous system and the adrenal cortical system. The sympathetic nervous system sends out signals that tell the adrenal medulla to release adrenaline and noradrenaline. These are stress hormones and cause an increase in heart rate and blood pressure. The hypothalamus also releases corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) into the pituitary gland, causing the release of adrenocorticotropic hormone. This hormone travels to the adrenal cortex and causes the release of 30 different hormones that help the body deal with threats.

Competency 9

This competency tests your knowledge of ecological principles and processes. You can expect to see about 13 multiple-choice questions from this competency, which accounts for about 11% of the entire exam.

Let’s explore some specific topics within this competency.

Phosphorus Cycle

Phosphorus is a vital nutrient for living organisms. It is present in our bones as calcium phosphate and in the phospholipids in our cell walls. The phosphorus cycle is slow compared to the water or carbon cycles. Phosphate is present in sedimentary rocks that wear down over time. Plants can take up phosphates in the soil, and then animals eat those plants. Phosphates can also return to the soil when the plants die, and detritivores can also take up the phosphates. Surface runoff can take phosphorus to rivers and oceans. Aquatic animals take up phosphates, and then when their bodies or waste sink to the bottom, they make layers of sedimentary rock. There the phosphorus will be stored for 20,000-100,000 years.

Phosphorus is used in agriculture and on lawns. This additional phosphorus can be carried to rivers and oceans and cause an overgrowth of algae. This can eventually cause a decrease in oxygen in the water. These areas are called dead zones because nothing can live there.

Phosphorus Cycle

Ecological Relationships

Species can interact with each other in a few different ways, and these interactions can be positive, neutral, or negative. One type of interaction between species is competition. This is when two different species compete for the same resource. Both species are negatively affected. One example is lions and tigers, which compete for the same prey in an area.

Predation is when a predator eats another species, called the prey. This is a positive interaction for the predator but a negative interaction for the prey. An example is a lion that hunts wildebeests.

Parasitism is when one species uses another for shelter and nutrition. This is a positive interaction for the parasite but a negative interaction for the other species. An example of this is a tick that is on a dog.

Mutualism is when two different species have an ongoing interaction that is positive for both. An example of mutualism is the relationship between a clownfish and a sea anemone. The clownfish receives protection from the sea anemone, and the sea anemone gets scraps of food from the clownfish.

Commensalism is an on-going relationship between two species in which neither species benefits or is harmed. Birds that live in the hollows of trees are an example of this.

Competency 10

This competency tests your knowledge of evolutionary mechanisms. You can expect to see about 12 multiple-choice questions from this competency, which accounts for about 10% of the entire exam.

Let’s explore some specific topics within this competency.

Speciation – Genetic Drift

Genetic drift happens by chance and is a change in allele frequencies from generation to generation that is most noticeable in smaller populations. There are two types of genetic drift: bottleneck effect and founder effect. Bottleneck effect occurs when a population has been decimated by a natural disaster. The small population that survived might have different allele frequencies than the original population. Some alleles could be completely gone. This can significantly reduce genetic diversity for many generations.

The founder effect occurs when a small group of individuals breaks off from the larger population. This small group may not have the same allele frequencies as the population. As this group starts to reproduce, the genetic diversity will not be as high as the original population.

Punctuated Equilibrium vs. Gradualism

Species can evolve in two different ways: punctuated equilibrium or gradualism. When change happens in spurts, this is considered punctuated equilibrium. A rapid change in the environment might cause this. An example is a worm that is thriving with a specific soil pH until something causes the soil to drop in pH quickly. Some worms will die, but others will survive the rapid change in pH and pass this on to their offspring.

Gradualism is change that occurs gradually. An example of gradualism might be a type of brown moth that, over many generations, eventually changes colors until there are two distinct colored moths: brown and red.

And that’s some basic information about the FTCE Biology 6-12 test.

FTCE Biology 6-12 Practice Test

FTCE Biology 6-12 Practice Test