VCE Biology Latest Study Design and Syllabus (2022-2026)

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The Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE) is the certificate that the majority of students in Victoria receive on satisfactory completion of their secondary education. The VCE provides diverse pathways to further study or training at university or TAFE and to employment.

The VCE Biology Study Design outlines the nature and sequence of learning and teaching necessary for students to demonstrate achievement of the outcomes for a unit. The areas of study describe the specific knowledge required to demonstrate a specific outcome.

VCE Biology Study Design and Syllabus
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VCE Biology Study Design and Syllabus Units

Implementation of this study commences in 2022 and the Accreditation period is from January 2022 to 31 December 2026. This is version 1.1 and updated in February 2022.

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Unit 1: How do organisms regulate their functions?

Area of Study 1- How do plant and animal systems function?

Cellular structure and function

  • cells as the basic structural feature of life on Earth, including the distinction between prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells
  • surface area to volume ratio as an important factor in the limitations of cell size and the need for internal compartments (organelles) with specific cellular functions
  • the structure and specialisation of plant and animal cell organelles for distinct functions, including chloroplasts and mitochondria
  • the structure and function of the plasma membrane in the passage of water, hydrophilic and hydrophobic substances via osmosis, facilitated diffusion and active transport

The cell cycle and cell growth, death and differentiation

  • binary fission in prokaryotic cells
  • the eukaryotic cell cycle, including the characteristics of each of the sub-phases of mitosis and cytokinesis in plant and animal cells
  • apoptosis as a regulated process of programmed cell death
  • disruption to the regulation of the cell cycle and malfunctions in apoptosis that may result in deviant cell behaviour: cancer and the characteristics of cancer cells
  • properties of stem cells that allow for differentiation, specialisation and renewal of cells and tissues, including the concepts of pluripotency and totipotency.

Area of Study 2- How do plant and animal systems function?

Functioning systems

  • specialisation and organisation of plant cells into tissues for specific functions in vascular plants, including intake, movement and loss of water
  • specialisation and organisation of animal cells into tissues, organs and systems with specific functions: digestive, endocrine and excretory

Regulation of systems

  • regulation of water balance in vascular plants
  • regulation of body temperature, blood glucose and water balance in animals by homeostatic mechanisms, including stimulus-response models, feedback loops and associated organ structures
  • malfunctions in homeostatic mechanisms: type 1 diabetes, hypoglycaemia, hyperthyroidism

Area of Study 3- How do scientific investigations develop understanding of how organisms regulate their functions?

Investigation design

  • biological science concepts specific to the selected scientific investigation and their significance, including the definition of key terms
  • scientific methodology relevant to the selected scientific investigation, selected from: classification and identification; controlled experiment; correlational study; fieldwork; modelling; product, process or system development; or simulation
  • techniques of primary qualitative and quantitative data generation relevant to the investigation
  • accuracy, precision, reproducibility, repeatability and validity of measurements in relation to the investigation
  • health, safety and ethical guidelines relevant to the selected scientific investigation

Scientific evidence

  • the distinction between an aim, a hypothesis, a model, a theory and a law
  • observations and investigations that are consistent with, or challenge, current scientific models or theories
  • the characteristics of primary data
  • ways of organising, analysing and evaluating generated primary data to identify patterns and relationships including sources of error
  • use of a logbook to authenticate generated primary data
  • the limitations of investigation methodologies and methods, and of data generation and/or analysis

Unit 2: How does inheritance impact on diversity?

Area of Study 1- How is inheritance explained?

From chromosomes to genomes

  • the distinction between genes, alleles and a genome
  • the nature of a pair of homologous chromosomes carrying the same gene loci and the distinction between autosomes and sex chromosomes
  • variability of chromosomes in terms of size and number in different organisms
  • karyotypes as a visual representation that can be used to identify chromosome abnormalities
  • the production of haploid gametes from diploid cells by meiosis, including the significance of crossing over of chromatids and independent assortment for genetic diversity

Genotypes and phenotypes

  • the use of symbols in the writing of genotypes for the alleles present at a particular gene locus
  • the expression of dominant and recessive phenotypes, including codominance and incomplete dominance
  • proportionate influences of genetic material, and environmental and epigenetic factors, on phenotypes

Patterns of inheritance

  • pedigree charts and patterns of inheritance, including autosomal and sex-linked inheritance
  • predicted genetic outcomes for a monohybrid cross and a monohybrid test cross
  • predicted genetic outcomes for two genes that are either linked or assort independently.

Area of Study 2- How do inherited adaptations impact on diversity?

Reproductive strategies

  • biological advantages and disadvantages of asexual reproduction
  • biological advantages of sexual reproduction in terms of genetic diversity of offspring
  • the process and application of reproductive cloning technologies

Adaptations and diversity

  • the biological importance of genetic diversity within a species or population
  • structural, physiological and behavioural adaptations that enhance an organism’s survival and enable life to exist in a wide range of environments
  • survival through interdependencies between species, including impact of changes to keystone species and predators and their ecological roles in structuring and maintaining the distribution, density and size of a population in an ecosystem
  • the contribution of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ knowledge and perspectives in understanding adaptations of, and interdependencies between, species in Australian ecosystems.

Area of Study 3- How do humans use science to explore and communicate contemporary bioethical issues?

Scientific evidence

  • the distinction between primary and secondary data
  • the nature of evidence and information: distinction between opinion, anecdote and evidence, and scientific and non-scientific ideas
  • the quality of evidence, including validity and authority of data and sources of possible errors or bias
  • methods of organising, analysing and evaluating secondary data
  • the use of a logbook to authenticate collated secondary data

Scientific communication

  • biological concepts specific to the investigation: definitions of key terms; use of appropriate biological terminology, conventions and representations
  • characteristics of effective science communication: accuracy of biological information; clarity of explanation of biological concepts, ideas and models; contextual clarity with reference to importance and implications of findings; conciseness and coherence; and appropriateness for purpose and audience
  • the use of data representations, models and theories in organising and explaining observed phenomena and biological concepts, and their limitations
  • the influence of social, economic, legal and political factors relevant to the selected research question
  • conventions for referencing and acknowledging sources of information

Analysis and evaluation of bioethical issues

  • ways of identifying bioethical issues
  • characteristics of effective analysis of bioethical issues
  • approaches to bioethics and ethical concepts as they apply to the bioethical issue being investigated.

Unit 3: How do cells maintain life?

Area of Study 1- What is the role of nucleic acids and proteins in maintaining life?

The relationship between nucleic acids and proteins

  • nucleic acids as information molecules that encode instructions for the synthesis of proteins: the structure of DNA, the three main forms of RNA (mRNA, rRNA and tRNA) and a comparison of their respective nucleotides
  • the genetic code as a universal triplet code that is degenerate and the steps in gene expression, including transcription, RNA processing in eukaryotic cells and translation by ribosomes
  • the structure of genes: exons, introns and promoter and operator regions
  • the basic elements of gene regulation: prokaryotic trp operon as a simplified example of a regulatory process
  • amino acids as the monomers of a polypeptide chain and the resultant hierarchical levels of structure that give rise to a functional protein
  • proteins as a diverse group of molecules that collectively make an organism’s proteome, including enzymes as catalysts in biochemical pathways
  • the role of rough endoplasmic reticulum, Golgi apparatus and associated vesicles in the export of proteins from a cell via the protein secretory pathway

DNA manipulation techniques and applications

  • the use of enzymes to manipulate DNA, including polymerase to synthesise DNA, ligase to join DNA and endonucleases to cut DNA
  • the function of CRISPR-Cas9 in bacteria and the application of this function in editing an organism’s genome
  • amplification of DNA using polymerase chain reaction and the use of gel electrophoresis in sorting DNA fragments, including the interpretation of gel runs for DNA profiling
  • the use of recombinant plasmids as vectors to transform bacterial cells as demonstrated by the production of human insulin
  • the use of genetically modified and transgenic organisms in agriculture to increase crop productivity and to provide resistance to disease.

Area of Study 2- How are biochemical pathways regulated?

Regulation of biochemical pathways in photosynthesis and cellular respiration

  • the general structure of the biochemical pathways in photosynthesis and cellular respiration from initial reactant to final product
  • the general role of enzymes and coenzymes in facilitating steps in photosynthesis and cellular respiration
  • the general factors that impact on enzyme function in relation to photosynthesis and cellular respiration: changes in temperature, pH, concentration, competitive and non-competitive enzyme inhibitors

Photosynthesis as an example of biochemical pathways

  • inputs, outputs and locations of the light dependent and light independent stages of photosynthesis in C3 plants (details of biochemical pathway mechanisms are not required)
  • the role of Rubisco in photosynthesis, including adaptations of C3, C4 and CAM plants to maximise the efficiency of photosynthesis
  • the factors that affect the rate of photosynthesis: light availability, water availability, temperature and carbon dioxide concentration

Cellular respiration as an example of biochemical pathways

  • the main inputs, outputs and locations of glycolysis, Krebs Cycle and electron transport chain including ATP yield (details of biochemical pathway mechanisms are not required)
  • the location, inputs and the difference in outputs of anaerobic fermentation in animals and yeasts
  • the factors that affect the rate of cellular respiration: temperature, glucose availability and oxygen concentration

Biotechnological applications of biochemical pathways

  • potential uses and applications of CRISPR-Cas9 technologies to improve photosynthetic efficiencies and crop yields
  • uses and applications of anaerobic fermentation of biomass for biofuel production.

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

Area of Study 1- How do organisms respond to pathogens?

Responding to antigens

  • physical, chemical and microbiota barriers as preventative mechanisms of pathogenic infection in animals and plants
  • the innate immune response including the steps in an inflammatory response and the characteristics and roles of macrophages, neutrophils, dendritic cells, eosinophils, natural killer cells, mast cells, complement proteins and interferons
  • initiation of an immune response, including antigen presentation, the distinction between self-antigens and non-self antigens, cellular and non-cellular pathogens and allergens

Acquiring immunity

  • the role of the lymphatic system in the immune response as a transport network and the role of lymph nodes as sites for antigen recognition by T and B lymphocytes
  • the characteristics and roles of the components of the adaptive immune response against both extracellular and intracellular threats, including the actions of B lymphocytes and their antibodies, helper T and cytotoxic T cells
  • the difference between natural and artificial immunity and active and passive strategies for acquiring immunity

Disease challenges and strategies

  • the emergence of new pathogens and re-emergence of known pathogens in a globally connected world, including the impact of European arrival on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
  • scientific and social strategies employed to identify and control the spread of pathogens, including identification of the pathogen and host, modes of transmission and measures to control transmission
  • vaccination programs and their role in maintaining herd immunity for a specific disease in a human population
  • the development of immunotherapy strategies, including the use of monoclonal antibodies for the treatment of autoimmune diseases and cancer.

Area of Study 2- How are species related over time?

Genetic changes in a population over time

  • causes of changing allele frequencies in a population’s gene pool, including environmental selection pressures, genetic drift and gene flow; and mutations as the source of new alleles
  • biological consequences of changing allele frequencies in terms of increased and decreased genetic diversity
  • manipulation of gene pools through selective breeding programs
  • consequences of bacterial resistance and viral antigenic drift and shift in terms of ongoing challenges for treatment strategies and vaccination against pathogens

Changes in species over time

  • changes in species over geological time as evidenced from the fossil record: faunal (fossil) succession, index and transitional fossils, relative and absolute dating of fossils
  • evidence of speciation as a consequence of isolation and genetic divergence, including Galapagos finches as an example of allopatric speciation and Howea palms on Lord Howe Island as an example of sympatric speciation

Determining the relatedness of species

  • evidence of relatedness between species: structural morphology – homologous and vestigial structures; and molecular homology – DNA and amino acid sequences
  • the use and interpretation of phylogenetic trees as evidence for the relatedness between species

Human change over time

  • the shared characteristics that define mammals, primates, hominoids and hominins
  • evidence for major trends in hominin evolution from the genus Australopithecus to the genus Homo: changes in brain size and limb structure
  • the human fossil record as an example of a classification scheme that is open to differing interpretations that are contested, refined or replaced when challenged by new evidence, including evidence for interbreeding between Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthalensis and evidence of new putative Homo species
  • ways of using fossil and DNA evidence (mtDNA and whole genomes) to explain the migration of modern human populations around the world, including the migration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations and their connection to Country and Place.

Area of Study 3- How is scientific inquiry used to investigate cellular processes and/or biological change?

Investigation design

  • biological concepts specific to the selected scientific investigation and their significance, including definitions of key terms
  • characteristics of the selected scientific methodology and method, and appropriateness of the use of independent, dependent and controlled variables in the selected scientific investigation
  • techniques of primary quantitative data generation relevant to the selected scientific investigation
  • the accuracy, precision, reproducibility, repeatability and validity of measurements
  • the health, safety and ethical guidelines relevant to the selected scientific investigation

Scientific evidence

  • the nature of evidence that supports or refutes a hypothesis, model or theory
  • ways of organising, analysing and evaluating primary data to identify patterns and relationships including sources of error and uncertainty
  • authentication of generated primary data through the use of a logbook
  • assumptions and limitations of investigation methodology and/or data generation and/or analysis methods

Science communication

  • conventions of science communication: scientific terminology and representations, symbols, formulas, standard abbreviations and units of measurement
  • conventions of scientific poster presentation, including succinct communication of the selected scientific investigation and acknowledgements and references
  • the key findings and implications of the selected scientific investigation.

References and Sources

Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority

About Author

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Sagar Aryal

Sagar Aryal is a microbiologist and a scientific blogger. He is doing his Ph.D. at the Central Department of Microbiology, Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu, Nepal. He was awarded the DAAD Research Grant to conduct part of his Ph.D. research work for two years (2019-2021) at Helmholtz-Institute for Pharmaceutical Research Saarland (HIPS), Saarbrucken, Germany. Sagar is interested in research on actinobacteria, myxobacteria, and natural products. He is the Research Head of the Department of Natural Products, Kathmandu Research Institute for Biological Sciences (KRIBS), Lalitpur, Nepal. Sagar has more than ten years of experience in blogging, content writing, and SEO. Sagar was awarded the SfAM Communications Award 2015: Professional Communicator Category from the Society for Applied Microbiology (Now: Applied Microbiology International), Cambridge, United Kingdom (UK). Sagar is also the ASM Young Ambassador to Nepal for the American Society for Microbiology since 2023 onwards.

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