A teacher’s guide to the new VCE Biology Study Design

A teacher’s guide to the new VCE Biology Study Design changes
Important information about the 2021–2025 VCE Biology Study Design


In response to the ongoing disruption caused by COVID-19, the VCAA has delayed the implementation of the new 2021–2025 VCE Biology Study Design by twelve months. The current Study Design is now accredited until the end of 2021.

As a result, Biology for VCE will now be published to support Units 1–4 early commencement in Term 4, 2021.


A change is coming for VCAA VCE Biology

Biology is a diverse discipline that underpins the world we live in. It seeks to understand the function, structure and evolution of all living organisms. As a scientific study, it explores the diversity and origins of life – from the single cell to the whole living organism – and examines the operations of continuous life.

Changes to the VCAA VCE Biology study design affect all aspects of teaching and learning – new key knowledge, new course structure and a new approach to assessment. VCE Biology is evolving to help students develop 21st-century inquiry, scientific and problem-solving skills, alongside a clear understanding of ethical approaches and concepts. These abilities allow students to communicate from an informed position and equip them for success.

Register your interest below to receive Study Design updates, sample content and information about upcoming professional development events.

Further information on the 2022 VCE Biology Study Design can be found on the VCAA website.



What does the new VCE Biology Study Design look like?

UnitStudy Design Area of StudyAssessmentAssessment grading
Unit 1: How do organisms regulate their functions?
  1. How do cells function?
  2. How do plant and animal systems function?
  3. How do scientific investigations develop understanding of how organisms regulate their function?

Assessment procedures for Unit 1 level of achievement is a matter for school decision.

A list of suitable tasks include: case study analysis, bioinformatics, data analysis, logbook entries, media analysis, modelling, problem-solving, response to issues, laboratory or fieldwork report, or a scientific poster. A task cannot be repeated across Outcomes 1 & 2.

Levels of achievement schools may choose are using grades, descriptive statements or other indicators.

Unit 2: How does inheritance impact on diversity?

  1. How is inheritance explained?
  2. How do inherited adaptations impact on diversity?
  3. How do humans use science to explore and communicate contemporary bioethical issues?

Assessment procedures for Unit 2 level of achievement is a matter for school decision.

A list of suitable tasks include: case study analysis, bioinformatics, data analysis, logbook entries, media analysis, modelling, problem-solving, response to issues, laboratory or fieldwork report, or a scientific poster. A task cannot be repeated across Outcomes 1 & 2.

Levels of achievement schools may choose are using grades, descriptive statements or other indicators.
Unit 3: How do cells maintain life?
  1. What is the role of nucleic acids and proteins in maintaining life?
  2. How are biochemical pathways regulated?

Specific VCAA assessment procedures, determined by School-assessed Coursework (SAC), apply to students undertaking scored assessment in Unit 3. (Study scores are reported on a scale of 0–50).

For Outcomes 1 and 2, select one of 4 tasks: case study analysis and evaluation, data analysis and evaluation, comparison and evaluation of 3 practical investigations, and ethical analysis and evaluation. Each task can only be selected once between Units 3 & 4.

Study score percentages are:

  • Unit 3 School-assessed Coursework: 20 per cent (10 per cent per assessment task)
Unit 4: How does life change and respond to challenges?
  1. How do organisms respond to pathigens?
  2. How are species related over time?
  3. How is scientific inquiry used to investigate cellular processes and/or biological change?

Specific VCAA assessment procedures, determined by School-assessed Coursework (SAC), apply to students undertaking scored assessment in Unit 4. (Study scores are reported on a scale of 0–50).

For Outcomes 1 and 2, select one of 4 tasks: case study analysis and evaluation, data analysis and evaluation, comparison and evaluation of 3 practical investigations, and ethical analysis and evaluation. Each task can only be selected once between Units 3 & 4.

For Outcome 3 students use experimental design relating to cellular processes and/or how life changes and responds to challenges in order to produce a poster and logbook entry.

Study score percentages are:

  • Unit 4 School-assessed Coursework: 30 per cent (10 per cent per assessment task)
  • End-of-year Units 3 and 4 external assessment: 50 per cent.

Source: Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority Biology VCE Study Design


Students studying the VCE Biology Study Design from 2022 will:

  • develop employability skills as they harness key science skills throughout assessment tasks
  • develop creative and critical thinking skills
  • apply ethical understanding and scientific investigation methodologies to real world concepts
  • understand the importance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ development of science through observations, repetition, predictions and generalisations
  • use newly acquired skills to explain scientific phenomena with evidence to support or refute claims
  • develop skills in working individually and collaboratively on scientific issues
  • analyse, evaluate and clearly communicate scientific ideas.

Need to know: the basics

The new VCE Biology Study Design will include:

    1. More concise and clear content

  • Overlap of content across Units 1–4, junior science and other science subjects has been removed.
  • Units 2 and 4 have a specific focus on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples' knowledge and perspectives.
  • There is now a focus on both humans and animals in biological application.
  • There is a clear progression from the Victorian Curriculum F–10.
  • There is a focus on scientific methodologies and method.

2. Changes to assessment weightings and task type

Students are required to:

  • undertake an analysis and evaluation of a biological case study
  • analyse and evaluate generated primary and/or collated secondary data
  • conduct a comparison and evaluation of biological concepts, methodologies and findings from practical activities
  • analyse and evaluate a contemporary bioethical issue
  • produce a scientific poster and logbook entry.

3. Increased focus on the development of key science skills, ethical approaches and concepts, and the application of scientific knowledge

Meet our expert author team

Helen Silvester (Lead author). Helen Silvester has been an educator for over 20 years and has held Head of Science positions in a number of schools. She was shortlisted for the 2014 and 2017 Prime Minister’s Secondary Science Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Secondary Schools and was Victoria's representative for the BHP Billiton Science Teachers Awards. Helen has a wealth of experience writing and reviewing and is an active participant in the Australian Science Teachers Association (ASTA), Australian School Science Information Support for Teachers and Technicians (ASSIST) and Science Teachers Association Victoria (STAV). Helen has also worked as a researcher at Walter and Eliza Hall Institute and the Royal Children’s Hospital. Currently Helen is Head of Programs at STEAM-focused Casey Tech School and a current reviewer and moderator of VCE Biology exams.

Anna Hawthorne (Author): Anna Hawthorne has been an educator for 5 years and has a wide range of experience teaching Science 7–10, Maths 7–10 and VCE Biology at Mentone Girls Grammar. She is currently designing a Science and Enterprise elective for year 10 students.

Sarah Edwards (Author): Sarah Edwards has been an educator for 10 years and has taught at Mentone Girls Grammar. Sarah has a wealth of experience teaching Science 7–10 and Biology, and was a previous Head of Science in New Zealand. Sarah currently works as a STEAM educator at Casey Tech School.

Jess Sautner (Author): Jess Sautner has been an educator for 8 years and has taught VCE Biology, Psychology and junior science at Bacchus Marsh Grammar. She is an experienced Biochemist and works as a STEM Outreach Coordinator at Deakin University, supporting VCE Science students entering University. Jess has also worked as a VCAA Panel Member, developing teacher’s professional development resources. Previous to her work in Science education and communication she worked at CSIRO, CSL and as a microbiologist and virologist in industry.

Dr. Gary Simpson (Reviewer): Dr. Gary Simpson has a wealth of experience teaching VCE Biology, Environmental Science and Geography. He currently teaches Junior Science 9–10 at Woodleigh High School and was previously Head of Science. Gary is fundamentally integrated with VCAA, as an assessor for Biology and Geography, a Panel Chair for Environmental Science, and a co-authored of the VCE Biology Study Designs ‘Units 1 & 2 2016–2020’ and ‘Units 3 & 4 2017–2021’. Gary received ACEL’s inaugural Teacher Leader Award in 2007 and was inducted into the Zoos Victoria Hall of Fame in 2015.

Dr. Kyi Muller (Reviewer): Dr. Kyi Muller is a highly-trained biology researcher and educator with over 8 years teaching experience. She has a doctorate in marine biology and has taught biology in both the UK and Australia. Kyi has worked at Haileybury for the last four years as Head of Science and more recently as the Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, working across all year levels and campuses. She is extremely passionate about science education and was previously the Program Director for Curious Minds – an Australian Government initiative to increase girls’ access to STEM education. Kyi was also awarded the 2019 Graeme Clarke Science Innovation in Schools Award.


What is Oxford publishing for the new VCE Biology Study Design?

The publishing team at Oxford is currently working with an expert team of Victorian authors to deliver high-quality resources directly mapped to the new Study Design. These include:

Biology for VCE Units 1 & 2 Student Book + obook assess,
Biology for VCE Units 1 & 2 Student Workbook
Biology for VCE Units 1 & 2 Teacher obook assess

Biology for VCE Units 3 & 4 Student Book + obook assess
Biology for VCE Units 3 & 4 Student Workbook
Biology for VCE Units 3 & 4 Teacher obook assess

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Why choose Oxford VCE Biology resources?

Our VCE Biology resources are designed to work for you in the classroom. They offer:

  • complete alignment and coverage of the revised VCE Biology Study Design
  • expertise from an experienced and well-respected author team
  • unparalleled digital support
  • market-leading assessment and exam preparation support
  • comprehensive student and teacher support for practicals.

All these features are designed to save you time when lesson planning, reduce the stress of syllabus implementation and ensure the best learning outcomes for your students.

‘From October 2022, VCE Biology will change with an emphasis on providing teachers with more clear and concise content to help develop students’ scientific skills and knowledge, and employability skills required for the 21st-century. As teachers across Victoria prepare for this significant change, the Secondary Science team at Oxford have been collaborating with local teachers and educators to create a range of world-class teaching and learning materials. Our goal is to make implementation of the new VCE Biology Study Design as smooth and stress-free as possible for you.’ – The Secondary Publishing Team at OUPANZ



As Secondary Publisher of the Year, Oxford University Press is committed to helping teachers and students in Victoria reach their full potential.