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Education

ASBMB exam

All students who are enrolled in an ASBMB-accredited program are invited to take the ASBMB exam in their junior or senior year. Students may attempt the exam only once during their undergraduate career regardless of outcome. The ASBMB does not require accredited programs to administer the exam, and each accredited program which chooses to offer the exam may make it optional for students completing that program. Registration instructions and proctoring guidelines will be emailed to faculty contacts at all accredited schools.

2024 exam dates and deadlines

  • Jan. 18: Online registration opens for exam administrators
  • Feb. 16: Deadline for exam administrators to register students (no roster changes after this date)
  • March 8: Exam payment due date
  • April 1–19: Mock exam available to familiarize students with ExamSoft platform
  • April 4–19: Exam administration
  • July 12: Exam results released to students and programs

ASBMB exam purpose

The ASBMB exam has been designed to test students’ knowledge and understanding of the core competencies in biochemistry and molecular biology developed by the ASBMB and its members. Questions have been structured to assess these concept and skill areas at both foundational and advanced levels of cognitive processing.

Preparing for the exam

The exam is administered electronically and includes 12 questions, primarily free response format, to be completed in 60 minutes. Please refer to the following for information on the learning goals and objectives around which exam content is built by a community of ASBMB Education Associates and the practice questions provided:

Exam administration

Each year, registration instructions and proctoring guidelines will be emailed to faculty contacts at all accredited schools. If you are a student in an ASBMB-accredited program, contact your faculty coordinator for more information about registering for the exam. Students cannot register directly with the ASBMB.

Exam fee

There is a fee of $45 per student for the ASBMB exam to help defray the costs involved in the preparation, administration and scoring of the exam. Accredited programs must submit payment on behalf of their students.

Exam delivery

A new ASBMB exam is constructed each yaer. The exam is administered within a two-week period in spring. Exact dates of the exam period change each year to avoid conflict with the ASBMB annual meeting. Key dates associated with the current exam cycle are provided below.

Scoring and results

A volunteer team of scientist-educators scores the exams using detailed rubrics. Every evaluator participates in a training experience to enhance uniformity of scoring. Each student's response is reviewed by multiple independent scorers. Answers exhibiting unusually disparate scores are investigated further to resolve the outliers. Learn more about our scorers and scoring process.

The ASBMB compiles all scores and reviews national performance on all questions in conjunction with the ASBMB exam steering group prior to finalizing results. We communicate the results to each student individually via email. In addition, each program receives a report of the aggregate scores achieved by their students on each question.

Categories for exam results

The exam consists of a total of 12 questions assessing core competencies that span the areas of energy and metabolism, macromolecular structure and function, information storage and transfer and scientific skills. One of these questions is used for piloting and does not count towards the student’s score. The number of questions a student answers correctly (i.e., at a level of “proficient” or above) determines the resulting scoring category.

The ASBMB reports student exam results using the five categories described below. All students who take the exam, as well as their accredited programs, receive information about the student’s exam performance. Students whose performance falls into either of the top two categories (Mastery and Proficiency) receive a digital certificate acknowledging their achievement and a complimentary one-year membership to the ASBMB. Programs receive a report containing overall results for each student in their program that took the exam as well as question-by-question comparison of their students’ performance versus the national cohort.

The list below explains the current criteria for each ASBMB scoring category:

  • Mastery: 10 or 11 core exam questions answered correctly
  • Proficiency: 8 or 9 exam questions answered correctly
  • Approaching Proficiency: 6 or 7 exam questions answered correctly
  • Developing Proficiency: 4 or 5 exam questions answered correctly.
  • Emerging Proficiency: 3 or fewer exam questions answered correctly

Each of the four core concept and skill areas is typically represented by three exam questions. To achieve a score of “Proficiency” or “Mastery”, a student must correctly answer at least eight questions (of a total of 11 exam questions). Thus, both a breadth and a depth of knowledge — together with the ability to clearly express this knowledge in response to the exam questions — are required to demonstrate proficiency or mastery of BMB core concepts. In comparison, correct answers on six or seven questions are required to place in the category “Approaching Proficiency”. A student attaining a score of “Approaching Proficiency” would have exam responses that demonstrated either breadth or depth of BMB learning.

Interpretation of exam results

Like any assessment tool, the ASBMB exam provides one perspective on performance. Exam results should therefore be used as only one part of a holistic evaluation of learning. Certain technical, research, and oral communication skills, for instance, cannot be fully assessed using this exam format.

While multiple factors may contribute to a score below the proficiency threshold, it is important to note that performance on this exam is not a measure of an individual’s potential to grow as a scientist. Instead, the score is a snapshot of academic performance on the day of the exam, in response to the questions selected for the current exam. The society expects that completion of an ASBMB-accredited undergraduate program will have given students the opportunity to build a foundation as a molecular life-scientist. Therefore, all students who graduate from an ASBMB-accredited program, regardless of whether they participate in the ASBMB exam or how they perform on the exam, are encouraged to note on their CVs or resumes that they received a degree from an ASBMB-accredited program.

Get involved

Each year, the success of exam development and scoring is largely dependent on a volunteer community of scientist–educators. In recognition of their time and efforts, volunteers are appointed ASBMB Education Associates. To find out more about what this work entails and to sign up to volunteer, see below:

  • Exam question writing — Specific details coming soon; general information about exam development can be found in a .
  • Exam scoring

2023 exam results by the numbers

  • 926 exams administered at 80 ASBMB-accredited programs
  • 294 total students achieved mastery or proficiency
    • 65 students achieved mastery of core concepts
    • 229 students demonstrated proficiency of core concepts

Questions?

If you have any questions regarding the ASBMB exam, please contact certexam@asbmb.org.