CLEMSON — More than 600 middle and high school students from across South Carolina will meet on the Clemson University campus Friday to test their knowledge of biology and become acquainted with the university atmosphere. For many students, the Biology Merit Exam serves as a source of inspiration to get them involved in science and pursue college educations.

Clemson’s biological sciences department has a long history of hosting the exam, this year marking 36 years of competition and tradition.

“We encourage these students to tour museums and science labs, visit special biology exhibits that include live animals and push themselves to excel in STEM fields by competing for honors,” said event coordinator Stephanie Evans.

The Biology Merit Exam is 40 multiple-choice questions of varying difficulty that test students’ aptitude in major biological areas. Each year, the exam has a different theme, such as the biology of the Bengal Tiger, the yellow jacket or the blue whale. This year, the test is centered on biological concepts represented by the common octopus, Octopus vulgaris.

During the day, these 600 students will visit various exhibits and tour the Clemson University campus. Displays range from carnivorous plants and live animals to a health station where students can check their reaction times or record their electrocardiograms and blood pressure.

“Young people have a vital interest in learning about the Earth as home for people and wildlife. Watching students’ curiosity overcome their fear as they hold a corn snake or marvel at a ‘living dinosaur’ like the American alligator is one of my favorite parts of the job. These hands-on experiences stay with them for a lifetime,” said Patricia Whitener, who will be exhibiting live animals on behalf of Greenville’s 4-H club.

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


Biology Merit Exam
Since 1998, grants from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) have supported more than 3,252 students who participated in the exam, science activities and a career expo the night before the exam. This year, the grant sponsors 210 students and 27 teachers from seven schools who might not otherwise be able to attend. Interested parties may support the future of the Biology Merit Exam by making a donation to the Clemson University Foundation. For more information, contact Margaret Owens at