Units 1 and 2 in 2017 follow the VCE syllabus (2016- 2020). Units 3 and 4 in 2017 follow the VCE syllabus (2017 -2021).

Unit 1: Semester 1 - How living things stay alive?

Area of Study 1: How do organisms function?
Students examine the structure and functioning of cells and how the plasma membrane contributes to survival by controlling the movement of substances into and out of the cell. Although the internal structure of the cell varies, all cells require a relatively stable internal environment for optimal functioning. Despite the great diversity among living things, all individual organisms are faced with the challenge of obtaining nutrients and water, exchanging gases, sourcing energy and having a means of removal of waste products.

Area of Study 2: How do living systems sustain life?
Students examine the structural, physiological and behavioural adaptations of a range of organisms that enable them to survive in a particular habitat and to maintain a viable population size over time. Students consider the distinction between the external and internal environment of an organism and examine how homeostatic mechanisms maintain the internal environment within a narrow range of values. They explore the importance and implications of organising and maintaining biodiversity and examine the nature of an ecosystem. They identify a keystone species, explore an organism’s relationship to its habitat and evaluate the impact of abiotic factors on the distribution and abundance of organisms within the community. Factors affecting population size and growth are analysed.

Area of Study 3: Practical Investigation
Survival requires control and regulation of factors within an individual and often outside the individual. Students design and conduct a practical investigation into the survival of an individual or a species. The investigation is related to knowledge and skills developed in Areas of Study 1 and/or 2 and is conducted by the student through laboratory work, fieldwork and/or observational studies.

1. Coursework (class tests and practical work) (40%)
2. Practical Investigation (10%)
3. Examination (50%)  

Unit 2: Semester 2 – How is the continuity of life maintained?

Area of Study 1: How does reproduction maintain the continuity of life?
Students consider the need for the cells of multicellular organisms to multiply for growth, repair and replacement. They examine the main events of the cell cycle in prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells. Students become familiar with the key events in the phases of the cell cycle. They investigate and use visualisations and modelling to describe the characteristics of each of the phases of mitosis. Students describe the production of gametes in sexual reproduction through the key events in meiosis and explain the difference between asexual and sexual reproduction. Finally, students consider the role and nature of stem cells, their differentiation and the consequence for human prenatal development and their potential to treat injury and disease.

Area of Study 2: How is inheritance explained?
Students build on their understanding of the nature of genes and the use of genetic language to read and interpret patterns of inheritance and predict the outcomes of genetic crosses. They gain an understanding that a characteristic or trait can be due solely to one gene and its alleles or due to many genes acting together, or is the outcome of genes interacting with external environmental or epigenetic factors. They apply their genetic knowledge to consider the social and ethical implications of genetic applications in society including genetic screening and decision making regarding the inheritance of autosomal and sex-linked conditions.

Area of Study 3: Investigation of an issue
Students apply and extend their knowledge and skills developed in Areas of Study 1 and/or 2 to investigate an issue involving reproduction and/or inheritance. Students communicate their findings and explain the biological concepts, identify different opinions, outline the legal, social and ethical implications and justify their conclusions.

1. Coursework (class tests and practical work) (40%)
2. Investigation of an issue (10%)
3. Examination (50%)

Unit 3: Semester 1 – How do cells maintain life?

Area of Study 1: How do cellular processes work?
This unit focuses on the cell as a complex chemical system. Students examine the chemical nature of the plasma membrane and compare how various substances move across it. They model the formation of DNA and proteins from their respective subunits. The expression of the information encoded in a sequence of DNA to form a protein is explored and the nature of the genetic code outlined. Students explain gene regulation in prokaryotes in terms of the ‘switching on’ and ‘switching off’ of genes. Students also learn why the chemistry of the cell usually takes place at a relatively low, and within a narrow range, of temperatures. They examine how reactions, including photosynthesis and cellular respiration, are made up of many steps that are controlled by enzymes and assisted by coenzymes. Students explain the mode of enzyme action and the role of coenzymes in the reactions of the cell and investigate the factors that affect the rate of cellular reactions.

Area of Study 2: How do cells communicate?
Students focus on how cells receive specific signals that elicit a particular response. Students apply the stimulus-response model to the cell in terms of the types of signals, the position of receptors, and the transduction of the information across the cell to an effector that then initiates a response. Students examine unique molecules called antigens and how they elicit an immune response, the nature of immunity and the role of vaccinations in providing immunity. They explain how malfunctions in signalling pathways cause various disorders in the human population and how new technologies assist in managing such disorders.

Unit 4: Semester 2 – How does life change and respond to challenges over time?

Area of Study 1: How are species related?
Students study changes to genetic material over time and the evidence for biological evolution. They investigate how changes to genetic material lead to new species through the process of natural selection as a mechanism for evolution. Students examine how evolutionary biology and the relatedness of species is based upon the accumulation of evidence. They learn how interpretations of evidence can change in the light of new evidence as a result of technological advances, particularly in molecular biology. The human fossil record is explored to identify the major biological and cognitive trends that have led to a complex interrelationship between biology and culture.

Area of Study 2: How do humans impact on biological processes?
Students examine the impact of human culture and technological applications on biological processes. They apply their knowledge of the structure and function of the DNA molecule to examine how molecular tools and techniques can be used to manipulate the molecule for a particular purpose. Students describe gene technologies used to address human issues and consider their social and ethical implications. Scientific knowledge can both challenge and be challenged by society. Students examine biological challenges that illustrate how the reception of scientific knowledge is influenced by social, economic and cultural factors.

Area of Study 3: 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.

The investigation requires the student to identify an aim, develop a question, formulate a hypothesis and plan a course of action to answer the question that complies with safety and ethical guidelines. The student then undertakes an experiment that involves the collection of primary qualitative and/or quantitative data, analyses and evaluates the data, identifies limitations of data and methods, links experimental results to science ideas, reaches a conclusion in response to the question and suggests further investigations which may be undertaken. The results of the investigation are presented in a scientific poster format. A practical logbook must be maintained by the student for record, authentication and assessment purposes.

1. Coursework – Unit 3 (16%)
2. Coursework – Unit 4 (24%)
3. Examination (60%)


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