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VCE Science

Biology Unit 1: How Do Living Things Stay Alive?


Students are advised to complete the Year 10 Biology and either Year 10 Applied Science or Year 10 Chemistry before undertaking Biology Unit 1. 

If accelerating in VCE Biology, students should take Year 10 Applied Science or Chemistry concurrently.

Course Description

Students are introduced to some of the challenges faced by an organism to sustain 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?

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 a cell varies, all cells require a relatively stable internal environment for optimal functioning. Whether life forms are unicellular or multicellular, or heterotrophic or autotrophic, whether they live in a deep ocean trench, a tropical rain forest, an arid desert or on the highest mountain peak, 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.

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 for factors including temperature, blood glucose and water balance. They explore the importance and implications of organising and maintaining biodiversity and examine the nature of an ecosystem in terms of the network of relationships within a community of diverse organisms. Students 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.

Practical Investigation

Survival requires control and regulation of factors within an individual and often outside the individual. In this area of study students design and conduct a practical investigation into the survival of an individual or a species.

The investigation requires the student to develop a question, plan a course of action to answer the question, undertake an investigation to collect the appropriate primary qualitative and/or quantitative data, organise and interpret the data and reach a conclusion in response to the question. The investigation is to be 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.


Assessment Tasks
(school-assessed coursework)
Explain how cellular structures and systems function to sustain life.

Assessment tasks include a selection from the following:

  • A report of a fieldwork activity.
  • Annotations of a practical work folio of activities or investigations.
  • A bioinformatics exercise.
  • Media response.
  • Data analysis.
  • Problem solving involving biological concepts, skills and/or issues.
  • A reflective learning journal/blog related to selected activities or in response to an issue.
  • A test comprising multiple choice and/or short answer and/or extended response.
Explain how various adaptations enhance the survival of an individual organism, investigate the relationships between organisms that form a living community and their habitat, and analyse the impacts of factors that affect population growth.
Design and undertake an investigation related to the survival of an organism or species, and draw conclusions based on evidence from collected data. The assessment task includes a report of a student-designed or adapted investigation related to the survival of an organism or a species using an appropriate format, for example a scientific poster, practical report, oral communication or digital presentation. Where teachers allow students to choose between tasks they must ensure that the tasks they set are of comparable scope and demand.

Overall Final Assessment

End of Semester Examination – 1.5 hours.

Information can be obtained from the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority, Victoria, Australia: