GCSE Biology Syllabus

The GCSE biology syllabus covers a number of subjects, with topics ranging from cloning to global warming. In this article, we take a look at the topics students are expected to know ahead of the exam.

 

The GCSE biology syllabus covers seven subject areas, split across two separate papers:

 

  1. Cell biology
  2. Organisation
  3. Infection and response
  4. Bioenergetics
  5. Homeostasis and response
  6. Inheritance, variation and evolution
  7. Ecology

 

Paper one covers topics 1-4: cell biology; organisation; infection and response and bioenergetics. Paper two covers topics 5-7: homeostasis and response; inheritance; variation and evolution; ecology and key ideas.

 

The information below highlights what students should prepare for ahead of the GCSE exam. For further information on the GCSE biology syllabus subjects, please visit the AQA website.

 

Cell biology  

 

Students could be asked questions on the following topics:

 

  • Animal and plant cells

 

Students should be able to explain how the main subcellular structures, including the nucleus, cell membranes, mitochondria, chloroplasts in plant cells and plasmids in bacterial cells are related to their functions.

 

  • Eukaryotes and prokaryotes 

 

Students should be able to demonstrate an understanding of the scale and size of cells and be able to make order of magnitude calculations.

 

  • Cell specialisation and differentiation

 

Students should be able to explain the importance of cell differentiation.

 

  • Microscopy

 

Students should be able to understand how microscopy techniques have developed over time and explain how electron microscopy has increased understanding of subcellular structures.

 

  • Cell culture

 

Students should be able to describe how to prepare an uncontaminated culture using aseptic technique. They must also explain why:

 

  • Petri dishes and culture media must be sterilised before use
  • Inoculating loops used to transfer microorganisms to the media must be sterilised by passing them through a flame
  • The lid of the Petri dish should be secured with adhesive tape and stored upside down
  • In school laboratories, cultures should generally be incubated at 25°C

 

Students should be able to calculate the number of bacteria in a population after a certain time if given the mean division time.

 

  • Cell division

 

Students need to understand the three overall stages of the cell cycle but do not need to know the different phases of the mitosis stage. They should also be able to recognise and describe situations in given contexts where mitosis is occurring.

 

  • Transport in cells 

 

For this topic, students should be able to:

 

  • Explain how different factors affect the rate of diffusion
  • Calculate and compare surface area to volume ratios
  • Explain the need for exchange surfaces and a transport system in multicellular organisms in terms of surface area to volume ratio
  • Explain how the small intestine and lungs in mammals, gills in fish, and the roots and leaves in plants, are adapted for exchanging materials

 

Organisation

 

Students could be asked questions on the following topics:

 

  • Organisation principles

 

Students should be able to develop an understanding of size and scale in relation to cells, tissues, organs and systems.

 

  • The human digestive system

 

Students should be able to:

  • Relate knowledge of enzymes to metabolism
  • Describe the nature of enzyme molecules and relate their activity to temperature and pH changes
  • Carry out rate calculations for chemical reactions

 

  • The heart and blood vessels

 

Students should be able to:

  • Know the structure and functioning of the human heart and lungs, including how lungs are adapted for gaseous exchange
  • Explain how the structure of these vessels relates to their functions
  • Use simple compound measures such as rate and carry out rate calculations for blood flow
  • Recognise different types of blood cells in a photograph or diagram, and explain how they are adapted to their functions

 

  • Non-communicable disease (heart disease)

 

Students should be able to:

 

  • Evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of treating cardiovascular diseases by drugs, mechanical devices or transplant
  • Health issues

 

Students should be able to:

 

  • Describe the relationship between health and disease
  • Understand the principles of sampling as applied to scientific data

 

  • Lifestyle effects of some non-communicable diseases

 

Students should be able to:

 

  • Discuss the human and financial cost of non-communicable diseases to an individual, a local community, a nation or globally
  • Explain the effect of lifestyle factors including diet, alcohol and smoking on the incidence of non-communicable diseases at local, national and global levels
  • Cancer

 

Students should be able to describe cancer as a result of changes in cells that lead to uncontrolled growth and division. This part of the GCSE physics syllabus covers benign tumours and malignant tumours.

 

  • Plant tissues and organ system of plants

 

Students should be able to:

 

  • Explain how the structures of plant tissues are related to their functions
  • Explain how the structure of root hair cells, xylem and phloem are adapted to their functions
  • Understand and use simple compound measures such as the rate of transpiration

 

Infection and Response

 

  • Communicable (infectious) diseases

 

Students should be able to:

 

  • Explain how diseases caused by viruses, bacteria, protists and fungi are spread in animals and plants
  • Explain how the spread of diseases can be reduced or prevented

 

  • Vaccination

 

Students should be able to explain how vaccination will prevent illness in an individual, and how the spread of pathogens can be reduced by immunising a large proportion of the population.

 

  • Antibiotics and painkillers

 

Students should be able to explain the use of antibiotics and other medicines in treating disease.

 

  • Discovery and development of drugs

Students should be able to describe the process of discovery and development of potential new medicines, including preclinical and clinical testing.

 

  • Monoclonal antibodies

 

Students should be able to describe how monoclonal antibodies are produced and how they can be used. Students are not expected to recall any specific tests or treatments but given appropriate information they should be able to explain how they work.

 

  • Plant disease

 

Students should be able to describe physical and chemical plant defence responses.

 

Bioenergetics

 

  • Photosynthesis reaction

 

Students should be able to:

 

  • Describe photosynthesis as an endothermic reaction in which energy is transferred from the environment to the chloroplasts by light
  • Explain the effects of temperature, light intensity, carbon dioxide concentration, and the amount of chlorophyll on the rate of photosynthesis

 

  • Rate of photosynthesis

 

  • Measure and calculate rates of photosynthesis
  • Extract and interpret graphs of photosynthesis rate involving one limiting factor
  • Plot and draw appropriate graphs selecting appropriate scale for axes
  • Translate information between graphical and numeric form

 

  • Aerobic and anaerobic respiration

 

Students should be able to:

 

  • Describe cellular respiration as an exothermic reaction which is continuously occurring in living cells
  • Compare the processes of aerobic and anaerobic respiration with regard to the need for oxygen, the differing products and the relative amounts of energy transferred
  • Response to exercise

 

Students should be able to describe how the human body reacts to the increased demand for energy when exercising, such as heart rate, breathing rate and breathing volume.

 

  • Metabolism

 

Students should be able to explain the importance of sugars, amino acids, fatty acids and glycerol in the synthesis and breakdown of carbohydrates, proteins and lipids.

 

Homeostasis and Response

 

Students should be able to explain that homeostasis is the regulation of the internal conditions of a cell or organism to maintain optimum conditions for function in response to internal and external changes.

 

  • Structure and function of the human nervous system

 

Students should be able to:

  • Explain how the structure of the nervous system is adapted to its functions
  • Explain how the various structures in a reflex arc – including the sensory neurone, synapse, relay neurone and motor neurone – relate to their function
  • The brain

 

Students should be able to identify the cerebral cortex, cerebellum and medulla on a diagram of the brain, and describe their functions.

 

  • The eye

 

Students should be able to relate the structures of the eye to their functions. This includes  accommodation to focus on near or distant objects and adaptation to dim light.

 

  • Body temperature control

 

Students should be able to explain how the human body controls its temperature in a given context.

 

  • Hormonal coordination in humans

 

Students must be able to describe the principles of hormonal coordination and control by the human endocrine system. From a diagram of the human body, students should be able to identify the position of; pituitary gland; pancreas; thyroid; adrenal gland; ovary; and testes.

 

  • Maintaining water and nitrogen balance in the body

 

Students should be able to:

  • Explain the effect on cells of osmotic changes in body fluids
  • Describe the function of kidneys in maintaining the water balance of the body
  • Translate tables and bar charts of glucose, ions and urea before and after filtration
  • Know the basic principles of dialysis

 

  • Hormones in human reproduction

 

Students should be able to describe the roles of hormones in human reproduction, including the menstrual cycle.

 

  • Contraception

 

Students should be able to evaluate the different hormonal and non-hormonal methods of contraception.

 

  • Infertility 

 

Students should be able to explain the use of hormones in modern reproductive technologies to treat infertility.

 

  • Plant hormones

 

Students should be able to describe the effects of some plant hormones and the different ways people use them to control plant growth.

 

Inheritance, Variation and Evolution

 

  • Sexual and asexual reproduction

 

Students should understand that meiosis leads to non-identical cells being formed while mitosis leads to identical cells being formed.

 

  • Meiosis cell division

 

Students should be able to explain how meiosis halves the number of chromosomes in gametes and fertilisation restores the full number of chromosomes.

 

  • DNA structure and genome definition

 

Students should be able to describe the structure of DNA and define genome.

 

  • Genetic inheritance

 

Students should be able to understand the concept of probability in predicting the results of a single gene cross, but recall that most phenotype features are the result of multiple genes rather than single gene inheritance.

 

  • Inherited disorders

 

Students should make informed judgements about the economic, social and ethical issues concerning embryo screening, given appropriate information.

 

  • Sex determination

 

Students should be able to carry out a genetic cross to show sex inheritance and understand and use direct proportion and simple ratios in genetic crosses.

 

  • Variation and evolution

 

  • Students should be able to describe simply how the genome and its interaction with the environment influence the development of the phenotype of an organism

 

  • Students should be able to describe evolution as a change in the inherited characteristics of a population over time through a process of natural selection which may result in the formation of a new species

 

  • Selective breeding

 

Students should be able to explain the impact of selective breeding of food plants and domesticated animals.

 

  • Genetic engineering

 

Students should be able to describe genetic engineering as a process which involves modifying the genome of an organism by introducing a gene from another organism to give a desired characteristic.

 

  • Cloning

 

Students should be able to explain the potential benefits and risks of cloning in agriculture and in medicine and understand why some people have ethical objections.

 

  • Understanding genetics

 

Students should be able to:

 

  • Describe the development of our understanding of genetics including the work of Mendel
  • Understand why the importance of Mendel’s discovery was not recognised until after his death
  • Fossils

 

Students should be able to extract and interpret information from charts, graphs and tables such as evolutionary tree.

 

  • Extinction

 

Students should be able to describe factors which may contribute to the extinction of a species.

 

  • Living organism classification 

 

Students should understand how scientific methods and theories develop over time.

 

Ecology

 

  • Communities within ecosystems

 

Students should be able to describe:

 

  • Different levels of organisation in an ecosystem from individual organisms to the whole ecosystem
  • The importance of interdependence and competition in a community

 

  • Organisation within ecosystems 

 

Students should understand that photosynthetic organisms are the producers of biomass for life on Earth.

 

  • How materials are cycled

 

Students should:

  • Recall that many different materials cycle through the abiotic and biotic components of an ecosystem
  • Explain the importance of the carbon and water cycles to living organisms.

 

  • Decomposition

 

Students should be able to explain how temperature, water and availability of oxygen affect the rate of decay of biological material.

 

  • Impact of environmental change

 

Students should be able to evaluate the impact of environmental changes on the distribution of species in an ecosystem given appropriate information.

 

  • Biodiversity

 

Students should be able to explain how waste, deforestation and global warming have an impact on biodiversity.

 

  • Waste management

 

Students should understand that rapid growth in the human population and an increase in the standard of living mean that increasingly more resources are used and more waste is produced.

 

  • Global warming

 

Students should be able to describe some of the biological consequences of global warming.

 

  • Maintaining biodiversity

 

Students should be able to describe both positive and negative human interactions in an ecosystem and explain their impact on biodiversity.

 

  • Pyramids of biomass

 

Students should be able to construct accurate pyramids of biomass from appropriate data.

 

  • Food security 

 

Students should be able to describe some of the biological factors affecting levels of food security.

 

  • Farming techniques

 

Students should understand that some people have ethical objections to some modern intensive farming methods.

 

  • Sustainable fisheries

 

Understand how application of different fishing techniques promotes recovery of fish stocks.

 

  • Biotechnology 

 

At Exam Papers Plus, we publish GCSE biology revision packs that can help boost your confidence and enable you to perform at your best on exam day.

 

Our biology packs cover all eight topics in the GCSE biology syllabus and have been created by former GCSE biology examiners. As part of the process of creating our packs, we thoroughly analysed examiners’ reports from previous years to ensure we have every question type covered. To prepare you for every eventuality, we’ve even included some of the most difficult questions that you’re likely to come up against in the exam.

 

When taken under exam conditions, our practice tests can help improve your time management skills. The more timed tests you do, the more you’ll get used to answering questions quickly and under pressure.

 

Our packs focus on the key skills that you need to do well in higher tier GCSE exams and include detailed mark schemes for every question. Each question is labelled to identify the relevant exam boards.

 

We’d highly recommend the following resources to help with your GCSE biology revision:

 

GCSE Biology: Key Skills

 

All of our GCSE packs are available immediately after download.

 

Image sources:

https://flickr.com/photos/153257761@N07/37645728565

 

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GCSE Biology Revision Tips

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GCSE Biology: Key Skills Pack – Providing Essential Exams Practice and Preparation

 

 

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