As we have discovered, Biology is a very broad subject covering a huge number of topics. As such, there is also a vast amount of terminology to get your head around.
But what if you only plan to take Biology at GCSE level, and then want to move onto a whole different area of studies? Do you still need to put in effort learning lots of scientific terminology even though you may never use it again?
Since Biology is the Science of Life, and therefore teaches us all about humans, as well as our environment, the chances are that you will naturally stumble upon basic Biology terminology during your everyday life, so learning this key vocabulary shouldn’t exactly be much of a strain.
Also, by grasping the key terminology of GCSE Biology, then you will find it much easier to grasp new biological words and terms should you choose to further your education within the subject area.
However, because we are aware that not everyone aspires to study Biology through to A Level and beyond, we will focus primarily on the bare essentials, starting with the topics that you will study as part of your two-year course.
Learning scientific terms can be like learning a whole new vocabulary for some. Photo via Visualhunt.com
At this foundation level, though, you will surely come to realise that the language you first thought was a bit baffling actually isn’t that difficult at all!
The national curriculum seems to be a sensible place to start when discussing GCSE terminology, so let’s take a look at the titles of the topics covered by the AQA syllabus, one of the most common Biology specifications across the UK. Hopefully, by the end of this blog you will be well on your way to loving the interesting subject!
AQA officials have worked alongside teachers to create a specification that will stimulate and motivate students. As such, they’ve introduced the new 8461 specification, which has been designed in line with new government changes to GCSE exams and is set to replace 4401, whose last exams were taken this summer.
This updated course incorporates a range of practical as well as evaluative topics, designed to answer that big question: How does Science work?
The specification is based on a series of topics related to the living world and relevant to students. It is designed to help them understand how Science can be used to explain the world in which they live and the impact humans have on it.
The topics covered are: Cell Biology, Organisation, Infection and response, Bioenergetics, Homeostasis and response, Inheritance, variation and evolution and Ecology.
The assessment offered by AQA is split into two exams, covering roughly equal proportions of the topics covered. Each exam is worth 50% of the final grade so performance is purely based upon the exam.
Here are the topic terms explained to put you one step ahead when you begin your GCSE Biology course.
Cell Biology is the study of the structure and the function of cells, exploring the concept that the cell is the fundamental unit of all living organisms. The term encompasses the characteristics of a cell, meaning the tissues and organisms that each one composes. Since the cell is the smallest unit of a living organism, these building blocks of life must be examined under microscope.
Organisation is a biological term used to describe the hierarchy of biological systems and structures. Plants and animals have different types of cells which share some similar structures. Scientists use the term with a reductionist approach, meaning that the levels in the hierarchical chart represent an increase in organisational complexity based on the previous level’s basic unit.
As a word that is quite familiar to most societies, you may recognise this term as one which describes the process or state wherein an infectious agent invades the tissues of the hosting organism and multiplies, forming a disease or illness. Infectious agents, which are not normally found in the body, can be viruses, bacteria or parasites.
Infections can develop as a result of an invasion of bacteria among other external threats. Photo via Visualhunt
Bioenergetics is concerned with both Chemistry and Biology simultaneously, looking at the energy that makes and breaks chemical bonds in molecules found in living organisms.
Homeostasis is a term which refers to the ability of a cell or group of cells to look for and maintain a stable condition when dealing with external changes. This is commonly used to describe the functions of body parts like the kidney, liver and skin, which each strive to maintain a constant internal environment no matter what the body is up against externally.
As a biological term, inheritance means the process of transmitting characteristics genetically from parent to offspring.
Inheritance describes the process of passing characteristics from parent to child. Photo credit: manhhai via Visualhunt / CC BY
Variation, in biological terms, refers to any differences between cells, organisms or groups of organisms caused by genotypic variation. This can also indicate any differences caused by environmental factors, specifically called phenotypic variation.
Evolution is the natural change in heritable characteristics of living organisms over consecutive generations. There is usually a change in the genes of a population from one generation to the next, resulting from mutation, genetic drift or natural selection. The reason for such evolution is for the organism to adapt physically or in behaviour.
Ecology is a branch of Biology which is concerned with the relationships between organisms and their physical surroundings. The interdisciplinary field includes aspects of Biology and Geography.
As we have explored in some of our other posts re GCSE Biology, contemporary scientists don’t feel that educational courses reflect the new advancements in Biology.
Advances in technology are forever changing what we are capable of doing and finding out, not just in the world of science, so it is inevitable that this modern technological era has has a huge influence on Biology in recent years, as shown by the outstanding breakthroughs within the field,
In fact, modern molecular Biology relies very heavily on new technologies. However, the technological components of Biology courses at this level have scarcely changed over the last few decades.
Scientists believe that modern Biology courses, if they want to really encourage young biologists and give them a real insight into the live science as it exists today, should bring courses up to date and make them more relevant to the discipline.
While it seems that Physics is growing with the times, professionals from the Biology sector do not feel that their subject field is given the same level of sophistication within education and therefore aren’t given the basics needed to truly understand things like DNA sequence alignment or gene prediction algorithms.
These concepts, which are described as bioinformatics, are important to contemporary biologists and therefore so is the vocabulary linked to them too.
If you are keen to discover more biological words and their definitions, then why not turn to your textbook first of all for some help. Most scientific textbooks will include a glossary of terms which can be used as revision or to simply be on top of the complex language that crops up during each lesson.
Alternatively, if you are on the search for a far wider list of biological terms, then you can find many vocabulary lists online. Sites such as vocabulary.com and myvocabulary.com, for instance, have compiled a collection of 100+ words each that have relevance to Biology.
Meanwhile, revision websites such as memrise.com and getrevising.co.uk also have digital flash cards and/or guides to key words within the subject, not forgetting BBC Bitesize which too has a section dedicated to the essential vocabulary of Biology at GCSE level.
If you do happen to be struggling in Biology and think a bit of extra tuition might help to relieve some of the pressure of exams, why not hire a tutor who may be able to go over key terminology with you every week and help you out create flash cards containing essential vocabulary on them.
Although a good tutor can be a bit pricey, it is money well invested if it means that you complete your course with a top grade, or even manage to attain a higher grade than you had previously thought possible.
If you are more creatively driven, you might be interested in the links between Art and Biology revision.