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GCSE Biology Notes: What’s on the GCSE Biology Curriculum

By Laura, published on 31/01/2018 Blog > Academia > Biology > GCSE Biology Syllabus: Topics At A Glance

Studying towards a GCSE in Biology equips with you with some of the fundamental details and knowledge that you will need to be able to contemplate how life works.

With topics spanning from diet and nutrition to food chains and living organisms to reproduction, each lesson is taught with everyday relevance so students will learn about the role of Biology and how it affects not only their lives but life in general day in, day out.

Because it is known as the Science of Life, Biology is relevant to all students and is a key transferrable subject. Offered by multiple exam boards, the syllabi all have the same purpose, which is to teach pupils about their place within the world, raise awareness and to build a passion for Biology.

Studying The Sciences At GCSE Level

GCSE stands for General Certificate of Secondary Education, and is a certification traditionally taken by those aged around sixteen years-old.

One very important thing to note as you enter your first or second year of GCSE is that this course has undergone many changes in the last couple of years. This means that the structure of courses may be different than before, as well as how you are assessed.

However, it is not just the grading in general that has been adapted over the years. The Sciences in particular have recently undergone some specific changes that might affect you. Keep reading to find out more.

Most GCSE pupils will be familiar with the historical grading system, which awarded marks ranging from A*-G. However, a new grade system is currently being phased into the UK education system whereby pupils are marked against a 9-1 system instead.

This new grading method will have been applied for the first time on this year’s Year 11 students who studied English Language, English Literature and Mathematics, with the remaining subjects being changed over the course of the next couple of years.

Ofqual, the exams watchdog, has advised educators not to make direct comparisons between the two because the boundaries do differ and it could be misleading for pupils.

Moreover, if you have already selected your GCSE options, you will already understand that Science courses are marked differently now than before.

Whereas in previous years you would have studied Biology, Chemistry and Physics as part of a Double or Triple Science award, you now choose one Core Science, which will be your academic focus during the course of the two years, and then select an additional subject, which will have a more vocational aspect.

You get separate grades for each Science studied now which allows students more opportunities to excel in Science.

GCSE Biology Subjects At A Glance

For some, a Biology GCSE might be their last formal study of the Science yet for others, it could be the start of continued studies within the field, leading the way to a profession within the Live Sciences sector. Either way, Biology provides the foundations for understanding the natural world and how Science is continuously changing our lives.

The primary topics covered by the AQA GCSE Biology (4401), one of the more common specifications, are Keeping Healthy, Nerves and Hormones, The Use and Abuse of Drugs, Interdependence and Adaptation, Energy and Biomass in Food Chains, Waste Materials from Plants and Animals, Genetic Variation and its Control, Evolution, Cells and Simple Cell Transport, Tissues, Organs and Organ Systems, Photosynthesis, Organisms and their Environment, Proteins – their Functions and Uses, Aerobic and Anaerobic Respiration, Cell Division and Inheritance, Speciation, Movement of Molecules In and Out of Cells, Transport Systems in Plants and Animals, Homeostasis and Humans and their Environment.

Plants', humans' and animals' characteristics evolve to help them to survive better. Evolution, including natural and artificial selection, is just one of the topics you can expect to learn about in Biology lessons. Photo by Internet Archive Book Images on VisualHunt.com

Reproduction In Humans

One of the topics covered by Biology at GCSE Level is Reproduction, which examines the human body, in particular the sexual organs, and how women and men reproduce.

While you may have been taught about the human body during sex education in earlier years or even during discussions with your parents, this more advanced course will explain a little more about the functions of the male and female sex organs, as well as exploring hormones, puberty and how a fetus grows.

Before moving onto how the respective sex organs work together to create life, we first of all need to have an understanding of how each works independently.

Genetics & Inheritance

You will already know that you inherit genes and characteristics from your biological parents, yet what this topic does is exposes just how our DNA structure is made up and how one of each pair of chromosomes comes from your mother and father.

Alleles can be dominant or recessive. One of each pair of chromosomes you inherit is from your biological mother – the other from your father. Photo by Hey Paul Studios on Visualhunt

While you inherit equal amounts of chromosomes from both parents, this does not mean to say that the physical or emotional characteristics you display and feel will be split half and half. One child may take after their father more than their mother in a variety of ways and siblings will often develop their own unique features.

After learning about the structure of DNA, including base pairs, you will turn your attention to alleles. These are different versions of the same gene and are referred to as either dominant or recessive.

Finally, you will explore the different types of cell division and the stages that they go through. You will discover that Mitosis, for example, produces two identical cells with the same number of chromosomes as in the original cell. Meanwhile, Meiosis, which produces gametes, creates four genetically different haploid cells. The latter is called a reduction division because the chromosome number is halved from diploid to haploid.

GCSE Biology Evolution

Evolution describes how particular or accidental gene changes have occurred over time to give the living organism characteristics they need to survive better.

During this topic, you will learn about natural selection and how this causes genetic variation, including how bacteria can become resistant to certain antibiotics. Your teacher will explain how the increasing strains of antibiotics due to misuse have resulted in more infections that are difficult to control. You will thus be made aware of the wider dangers of misusing antibiotics or not completing a full course.

In addition, this fascinating module will cover selective breeding, i.e. causing changes to genes on purpose to improve crops or livestock. As a direct result of human intervention, selective breeding causes new varieties of species to be born and is therefore referred to by some as artificial selection.

With a focus on continuous and discontinuous variation, you will also find out what types of characteristics fall into which category as well as exploring the effects of gene mutation.

Living Organisms

Living organisms are categorised according to their characteristics. During this part of the Biology course, you will find out about the different kingdoms that exist on our planet and how species are classified within them.

Vertebrates, which are animals with backbones, include amphibians, birds, bony fish, mammals and reptiles. Invertebrates, on the other hand, do not have backbones and include annelids, arthropods, molluscs and nematodes.

Flowering plants make up two groups: monocotyledons and eudicotyledons. The first includes plants such as grasses, orchids and palms whilst the latter consists of buttercups, dandelions and oak trees.

Keys are used to identify and classify the different species, asking questions that can only have one of two possible answers. These dichotomous keys are usually displayed in the form of a branching diagram, similar to those you see in magazine quizzes (i.e. “Are you X or are you Y?” style).

As your course develops, you may begin to learn about the variety of living organisms and the levels at which they are organised.

Nutrition, Digestion And Excretion

While this area of Biology covers a wide spectrum of subtopics which will be covered by biology tutors, the two that are the most directly linked with humans are those related to diet and digestion.

When learning about diets, you will start to understand the different types of foods and their functions. For instance, you will be taught about carbohydrates, proteins and lipids and their functions  in relation to the human body. You will then discover sources of vitamins and how deficiencies in these areas can affect us too.

Did you know that your energy requirements change according to your age and weight? With Biology classes, you will find out about the different food types, vitamins and what makes up a balanced diet. Photo by Army Medicine on VisualHunt.com

Whilst encouraging you to seek out your specific energy requirements and how to maintain a healthy, balanced diet, you will additionally be taught how other influences can affect our diets including pregnancy, activity levels and illness.

When it comes to learning about our digestive system, you will explore how each of the food types, once ingested, are broken down and absorbed and how the chewed ball of food then moves through the body before being excreted. In addition, you will be told how certain foods impact on our teeth and cause decay.

Note: Having a list of key terminology can be very useful when you come to revise for your exam, so be sure to consult glossaries for each topic that comes up.


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