VCE Biology

VCE Biology Pathways


Other subjects that complement Biology are:

Biology careers image

Environmental Science  | Chemistry | Physical Education | Psychology |

Biology Units 1 and 2 will typically be studied in Year 11.  Students undertaking acceleration may do these units in Year 10. It is recommended that both Units 1 and 2 be taken before attempting Units 3 and 4 but students with strong results in Unit 2 who are prepared to catch-up on the relevant Unit 1 content in their own time will still be accepted into the Unit 3&4 course.

Studying Year 10 Chemistry and VCE Chemistry Units 1 & 2 will also help to prepare students for the content of the VCE Biology Units 3 & 4 course.



Unit 1:      How do living things stay alive?

In this unit students are introduced to some of the challenges to an organism in sustaining life. Students examine the cell as the structural and functional unit of life, from the single celled to the multicellular organism, and the requirements for sustaining cellular processes in terms of inputs and outputs. They analyse types of adaptations that enhance the organism’s survival in a particular environment and consider the role homeostatic mechanisms play in maintaining the internal environment. Students investigate how a diverse group of organisms form a living interconnected community that is adapted to, and utilises, the abiotic resources of its habitat. The role of a keystone species in maintaining the structure of an ecosystem is explored. Students consider how the planet’s biodiversity is classified and the factors that affect the growth of a population.
A student practical investigation related to the survival of an organism or species is undertaken in Area of Study 3. The investigation draws on content from Area of Study 1 and/or Area of Study 2.

Areas of Study
•    How do organisms function?
•    How do living systems sustain life?
•    Practical investigation
In the first area of study, you will learn how to design, conduct and report on a practical investigation associated with the structure of cells or their organisation and processes.
 In the second area of study, you will learn how to describe and explain the relationship between features of living organisms and what they require to function correctly.  You will investigate how these organisms are classified.
Assessment for Outcomes 1 and 2 may include: a report of a fieldwork activity; annotations of a practical work folio; a bioinformatics exercise; a media response; problem-solving; data analysis; learning blog or a test. Outcome 3 will be assessed by a report of a student designed or adapted investigation related to the survival of an organism or a species using a scientific poster, practical report, oral communication or digital presentation.

Unit 2:    How is continuity of life maintained?

In this unit students focus on cell reproduction and the transmission of biological information from generation to generation. Students learn that all cells are derived from pre-existing cells through the cell cycle. They examine the process of DNA replication and compare cell division in both prokaryotic and eukaryotic organisms. Students explore the mechanisms of asexual and sexual reproductive strategies, and consider the advantages and disadvantages of these two types of reproduction. The role of stem cells in the differentiation, growth, repair and replacement of cells in humans is examined, and their potential use in medical therapies is considered.
Students use chromosome theory and terminology from classical genetics to explain the inheritance of characteristics, analyse patterns of inheritance, interpret pedigree charts and predict outcomes of genetic crosses. They explore the relationship between genes, the environment and the regulation of genes in giving rise to phenotypes. They consider the role of genetic knowledge in decision making about the inheritance of autosomal dominant, autosomal recessive and sex-linked genetic conditions. In this context the uses of genetic screening and its social and ethical issues are examined.
A student-directed research investigation into, and communication of, an issue related to genetics and/or reproductive science is to be undertaken in Area of Study 3. The investigation draws on content from Area of Study 1 and/or Area of Study 2.
Areas of Study
•    How does reproduction maintain the continuity of life?
•    How is inheritance explained?
•    Investigation of an issue
In the first area of study, you will learn how to compare the advantages and disadvantages of asexual and sexual reproduction, explain how changes within the cell cycle may have an impact on cellular or tissue system function and identify the role of stem cells in cell growth and cell differentiation and in medical therapies.  In the second area of study, you will learn how to apply an understanding of genetics to describe patterns of inheritance, analyse pedigree charts, predict outcomes of genetic crosses and identify the implications of the uses of genetic screening and decision making related to inheritance.  In the third area of study, you will investigate and communicate a substantiated response to a question related to an issue in genetics and/or reproductive science.
Assessment tasks for Outcomes 1 and 2 may include: a report on fieldwork; annotations of a practical work folio; a bioinformatics exercise; media response; data analysis; problem-solving; a learning blog or a test.  Outcome 3 will involve a report of an investigation into genetics and/or reproductive science using a digital presentation, oral communication or written report.


Unit 3:      How do cells maintain life

The cell is a dynamic system of interacting molecules that define life. An understanding of the workings of the cell enables an appreciation of both the capabilities and the limitations of living organisms whether animal, plant, fungus or microorganism. The convergence of cytology, genetics and biochemistry makes cell biology one of the most rapidly evolving disciplines in contemporary biology.In this unit students investigate the workings of the cell from several perspectives. They explore the importance of the insolubility of the plasma membrane in water and its differential permeability to specific solutes in defining the cell, its internal spaces and the control of the movement of molecules and ions in and out of such spaces. Students consider base pairing specificity, the binding of enzymes and substrates, the response of receptors to signalling molecules and reactions between antigens and antibodies to highlight the importance of molecular interactions based on the complementary nature of specific molecules.

Students study the synthesis, structure and function of nucleic acids and proteins as key molecules in cellular processes. They explore the chemistry of cells by examining the nature of biochemical pathways, their components and energy transformations. Cells communicate with each other using a variety of signalling molecules. Students consider the types of signals, the transduction of information within the cell and cellular responses. At this molecular level students study the human immune system and the interactions between its components to provide immunity to a specific antigen.


Areas of Study
•    How do cellular processes work?
•    How do cells communicate?

During this unit, you will learn how to explain the dynamic nature of the cell in terms of key cellular processes including regulation, photosynthesis and cellular respiration, and analyse factors that affect the rate of biochemical reactions. You will also learn how to apply a stimulus-response model to explain how cells communicate with each other, outline human responses to invading pathogens, distinguish between the different ways that immunity may be acquired, and explain how malfunctions of the immune system cause disease.

Unit 4:     How does life change and respond to challenges over time?

In this unit students consider the continual change and challenges to which life on Earth has been subjected. They investigate the relatedness between species and the impact of various change events on a population’s gene pool. The accumulation of changes over time is considered as a mechanism for biological evolution by natural selection that leads to the rise of new species. Students examine change in life forms using evidence from palaeontology, biogeography, developmental biology and structural morphology. They explore how technological developments in the fields of comparative genomics, molecular homology and bioinformatics have resulted in evidence of change through measurements of relatedness between species.

Students examine the structural and cognitive trends in the human fossil record and the interrelationships between human biological and cultural evolution. The biological consequences, and social and ethical implications, of manipulating the DNA molecule and applying biotechnologies is explored for both the individual and the species.

Areas of Study

•    How are species related?
•    How do humans impact on biological processes?

During this unit, you will analyse evidence for evolutionary change, explain how relatedness between species is determined, and elaborate on the consequences of biological change in human evolution. You will also learn to describe how tools and techniques can be used to manipulate DNA, explain how biological knowledge is applied to biotechnical applications, and analyse the interrelationship between scientific knowledge and its applications in society.

Unit 3 or 4: Practical Investigation

A student-designed or adapted investigation related to cellular processes and/or biological change and continuity over time is undertaken in either Unit 3 or Unit 4, or across both Units 3 and 4. The investigation is to relate to knowledge and skills developed across Units 3 and 4 and may be undertaken by the student through laboratory work and/or fieldwork.

Assessment for Units 3 & 4
•    School assessed coursework for Unit 3 contributes 16 per cent to the study score

•    School assessed coursework for Unit 4 contributes 16 per cent to the study score
•    Unit 3 and/or 4 Practical Investigation contributes 8 per cent to the study score
•    An end-of-year examination contributes 60 per cent to the study score

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