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35th Annual Biology Merit Exam set for April 11th

CLEMSON — Approximately 530 students from middle and high schools throughout South Carolina will come to Clemson University Friday, April 11, to compete in the 35th annual Biology Merit Exam. The event was established in 1979 to give students a “sneak peek” at college life and to experience how science can be fun.

The department of biological sciences in the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences, sponsors the exam. The event provides an opportunity for students to test their knowledge of biology; and for some, the exam serves as a source of inspiration to get them involved in science and pursue a college education.

This year's exam, written by Dr. Robert Kosinski, consists of 40-multiple choice questions about the wandering albatross, however the theme changes every year.

Activities are scheduled throughout the afternoon to give students opportunities to interact with with professors in the biological sciences. Museum exhibits are open to students on Friday afternoon at the Campbell Museum and the Arthropod Museum from 1:30 to 3:00 pm. Should they be inclined to know their blood pressure, have their reaction time tested, or take an ECG using the latest scientific equipment, they can do that too from 1:00 to 2:30 in 327 Long Hall.

“Some people wonder why students would want to come to a university to take an exam, but they love it!” said Barbara Speziale, PhD, project director, Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies and professor in the department of biological sciences.

“These students come from all over the state. They are competitive, bright and they get as excited about being around and competing with their statewide peers as athletes do about attending a statewide or regional championship event,” said Speziale.

“Plus there is the thrill of being treated as a “special guest” on the Clemson campus. It gives them a sense of being connected in a way that may bring some students back to Clemson as Freshman, or may motivate others to pursue a post-secondary education elsewhere.

Over 25,000 students have attended the Biology Merit Exam since it began, and many from the past several years now are enrolled at Clemson.


Not all South Carolina middle and high schools can afford to send their best and brightest to the Biology Merit Exam as there are registration fees and travel expenses. But Speziale makes sure that the Exam is an equal opportunity event.

Since 1998, Clemson grants from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute have supported more than 2,800 students from downstate middle and high schools to participate in the Exam and a Science Careers Expo on the night before the Exam.

This year the HHMI grant sponsors 220 students and teachers to come to Clemson who might not otherwise have been able to attend. The HHMI grant provides funding for bus transportation, overnight hotel accommodations for teachers, students and chaperones, academic activities on campus on Thursday and Friday, dining hall lunch passes on Friday, and Biology Merit Exam registration fees.

"The Biology Merit Exam and HHMI’s support of scientific education programs demonstrate that Clemson’s scientific outreach to middle and high school students in South Carolina, especially for under-represented groups, is an effective strategy for higher education to increase enrollment in scientific disciplines," said Speziale.