Prior knowledge needed for IG Biology

girl microscopeThe Cambridge International IG biology course (Code 0610) is a comprehensive course that covers many interesting and exciting topics. It is designed to be a practical and relevant study pertaining to the student's own environment and circumstances, so keep South Africa's beautiful and diverse habitats in mind when you work through the course.

A student will appreciate the study much more if they have a good foundation in the study of biology built up over the earlier school years. Cambridge International recommends that students have met the requirements of the key stage 3 of the national curriculum for England or a local equivalent. Using the English key stages as a basis and my own experience in teaching the IG biology syllabus to my own children and others, I have compiled the following list as a suggestion for what students should already know before starting the IG biology of the course. Some of the material can be introduced as early as Grade R, but the material needs to be developed to at least a Grade 10 level before starting on IG.

The list is by no means exhaustive but aims to give a general idea of the subject matter that should have been dealt with before starting on IG biology. This may help some of you to know what to look for when evaluating biology textbooks and curricula for the earlier grades.

The study of biology should be practical and so I have often used the word 'observe' in the list. There are many exciting activities that you can do to observe biology in action. It will make the learning so much easier if the student can see a seed growing than just reading about it in a book. The other word that appears often in the list is 'describe'. This is the essential skill in biology to describe what is observed. This can start very young as you encourage the child to describe what they are seeing either in front of them or in book. Teach them the correct terms from an early age and use these terms in describing things.

Cambridge International encourages students to be aware of their own environment when studying the sciences and this is especially important in biology. In South Africa we are blessed with a rich wildlife, both in terms of plant and animal life. We have some amazingly diverse habitats and ecosystems from deserts (like the Karoo, and Kalahari and even the Namib Desert is not too far away!), a long and diverse coastline, the fynbos of the Western Cape, the Natal Midlands, various mountainous ares, the Highveld, the Lowveld, but to name a few. Holidays at the seaside can be turned into wonderful informal biology lessons as you explore the rock pools or study the vegetation on the sand dunes! Teach biology in such a way that our children will appreciate our country's beauty and help to conserve this land for the future generations.

Living organisms

  • Observe, explore and compare the differences between things that are living, dead and things that have never been alive.
  • Name and be familiar with the various disciplines within biology such as botany, zoology, human physiology and anatomy.
  • Observe and describe how living things are classified into broad groups according to common observable characteristics and based on similarities and differences, including micro-organisms, plants and animals.
  • Explore and use classification keys to help group, identify and name a variety of living things in their local and wider environment. This would include the use of field guides.

Botany (plants)

  • Observe that almost all life on earth is dependent on green plants that are able to produce their own food using photosynthesis.
  • Describe the ingredients needed and the process of photosynthesis, as well as the products of photosynthesis.
  • Identify and observe a variety of common wild and garden plants, including deciduous and evergreen trees.
  • Observe and describe what plants need to grow - light, nutrients from the soil, space to grow, suitable temperature, etc.
  • Observe, identify, and describe the characteristics of the common seed producing families of plants.
  • Observe, identify and describe the structure and importance of the grass family.
  • Describe and observe the external structure of a leaf including various adaptations that different plants have to their leaves to survive in different habitats.
  • Observe and describe the internal structure of a leaf.
  • Describe the process of photosynthesis and the function of the leaf.
  • Describe the role of leaf stomata in gas exchange in plants.
  • Be able to describe why leaves change colour in autumn and fall off the tree.
  • Describe and observe the structure of the flower.
  • Describe and observe the importance of the flower in pollination.
  • Describe and observe the different methods of pollination.
  • Describe fertilization in seed bearing plants.
  • Describe and observe the development fruit and seeds.
  • Describe the external and internal structure of a seed.
  • Observe and describe the growth and development of a seed into a mature plant.
  • Investigate the conditions needed for a seed to germinate and grow into a healthy mature plant.
  • Describe and observe the external and internal structure of woody stems.
  • Describe and observe the external and internal structure of herbaceous stems.
  • Describe and observe how water and food is transported within the plant.
  • Describe and observe the process of vegetative reproduction.
  • Observe and describe how bulbs grow into mature plants.
  • Describe special stems including bulbs and corms, rhizomes, stolons, tendrils, tubers and thorns.
  • Describe and observe the external structure of roots.
  • Describe and observe the internal structure of roots.
  • Describe the functions of roots in anchoring the plant and obtaining water and mineral salts for the plant.
  • Describe tropic responses of plants – including the way a plant will grow towards light and the roots will grow towards water etc.
  • Be aware of the difference between monocotyledonous and dicotyledonous plants.
  • Describe the conifers and other gymnosperms.
  • Be familiar with the structure and reproduction of ferns and other spore plants.
  • Be familiar with the study of algae.
  • Be familiar with the study of mosses and liverworts.


  • Identify, describe and observe the external structure of various fungi such as yeasts, bread mould, and mushrooms.
  • Describe the nutrition of fungi.
  • Describe how fungi reproduce.
  • Discuss why a fungi is no longer classified as a plant.

Zoology (animals)

  • Name and give the characteristics of the two main groups of animals, namely, vertebrates and invertebrates.
  • Name the five classes of vertebrates.
  • Name and discuss the characteristics of mammals.
  • Be able to discuss a general overview of the different orders of mammals.
  • Be able to identify common mammals in each of the different orders of mammals.
  • Describe the life cycle of mammals.
  • Name and discuss the characteristics of birds.
  • Describe avian anatomy and how these adaptions make flight possible for birds.
  • Describe the life cycle of birds.
  • Be able to identify common birds to South Africa.
  • Name and discuss the characteristics of reptiles.
  • Identify some common reptiles and their adaption to their life style and habitat, eating habits, breeding etc. – especially the crocodile, some common South African snakes and lizards.
  • Describe the life cycle of reptiles.
  • Name and discuss the characteristics of amphibians.
  • Discuss and observe the life cycle of frogs.
  • Name and discuss the characteristics of bony fish.
  • Discuss and observe the internal organs of a bony fish.
  • Identify some common bony fish – both fresh water and sea water fish.
  • Describe the life cycle of fish.
  • Name and discuss the characteristics of cartilaginous fish.
  • Identify and name a variety of common animals that are carnivores, herbivores, and omnivores.
  • Name and discuss the characteristics of invertebrates.
  • Name and discuss the characteristics of arthropods.
  • Name and discuss the characteristics of the different classes of arthropods.
  • Discuss the characteristics of insects and give reasons why this is such a successful group.
  • Have a good knowledge of the different orders of insects.
  • Discuss the external and internal structure of an insect.
  • Discuss the life cycle of insects with reference to complete and incomplete metamorphosis
  • Identify common insects.
  • Name and discuss the characteristics of arachnids.
  • Discuss the external and internal structure of an arachnid.
  • Discuss the life cycle of an arachnid.
  • Identify common arachnids.
  • Name and discuss the characteristics of crustaceans.
  • Discuss the external and internal structure of crustaceans.
  • Describe the life cycle of crustaceans.
  • Name and discuss the characteristics of centipedes and millipedes.
  • Discuss the external and internal structure of centipedes and millipedes.
  • Be familiar with molluscs, their structure, and life cycle.
  • Be familiar with echinoderms and rotifers.
  • Be familiar with coelenterates and porifera.
  • Be familiar with annelids, especially the earthworm – its external and internal structure and its benefit to soil.
  • Be familiar with flatworms and roundworms.
  • Be familiar with protozoa.
  • Be familiar with bacteria.
  • Be familiar with viruses.

Human anatomy and physiology

  • Identify, name, draw, and label the basic parts of the human body and say which part of the body is associated with each sense.
  • Describe the changes as humans develop to old age.
  • Describe the structure and function of the axial skeleton.
  • Describe the structure and function of the appendicular skeleton.
  • Describe the internal structure of the bone.
  • Describe biomechanics – the interaction between skeleton and muscles, including the measurement of force exerted by different muscles.
  • Describe the function of muscles and examples of antagonistic muscles.
  • Name the structures that make up the central nervous system.
  • Understand the nerves and how they work.
  • Understand the senses and sense organs including eyes, ears, nose, touch sensors, and taste buds.
  • Describe the simple functions of the basic parts of the digestive system in humans.
  • Identify the different types of teeth in humans and state their functions.
  • Recognize the impact of diet, exercise, drugs, and lifestyle on the way the human body functions.
  • Describe the ways in which nutrients and water are transported within the human body.
  • Describe the content of a healthy human diet: carbohydrates, lipids (fats and oils), proteins, vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber and water, and why each is needed.
  • Calculations of energy requirements in a healthy daily diet.
  • Describe the consequences of imbalances in the diet, including obesity, starvation and deficiency diseases.
  • Describe the tissues and organs of the human digestive system, including adaptations to function and how the digestive system digests food (enzymes simply as biological catalysts).
  • Describe the importance of bacteria in the human digestive system.
  • Identify and name the main parts of the human circulatory system and describe the function of the heart, blood vessels and blood.
  • Describe the internal structure of the heart.
  • Identify and describe the structure and functions of the gas exchange system in humans, including adaptations to function.
  • Describe the mechanism of breathing to move air in and out of the lungs, using a pressure model to explain the movement of gases, including simple measurements of lung volume.
  • Describe the impact of exercise, asthma and smoking on the human gas exchange system.
  • Describe aerobic and anaerobic respiration in living organisms, including the breakdown of organic molecules to enable all the other chemical processes necessary for life.
  • Be able to give a word summary for aerobic respiration.
  • Describe the process of anaerobic respiration in humans and micro-organisms, including fermentation, and a word summary for anaerobic respiration.
  • Discuss the differences between aerobic and anaerobic respiration in terms of the reactants, the products formed and the implications for the organism.
  • Reproduction in humans, including the structure and function of the male and female reproductive systems, menstrual cycle (without details of hormones), gametes, fertilization, gestation and birth, to include the effect of maternal lifestyle on the foetus through the placenta.
  • Describe the Integument system.
  • Describe the excretory system.
  • Describe the endocrine system.
  • Describe the immune system.

Health and hygiene

  • Describe the importance of humans to exercise, eating the right amounts of different types of food and hygiene.
  • Describe the effects of recreational drugs (including substance misuse) on behaviour, health and life processes.
  • Discuss some common infectious diseases in terms of cause, how they are spread, how they are treated and how they can be prevented. Diseases could include flu, cholera, malaria, TB, AIDS.
  • Discuss vaccinations as a means of preventing certain diseases.

The environment (ecology and nature conservation)

  • Observe the changes across the seasons and the effect on animals and plants.
  • Observe and identify that most living things live in habits to which they are suited and describe how different habitats provide for the basic needs of different kinds of animals and plants, and how they depend on each other.
  • Identify and name a variety of plants and animals in their habitats, including micro-habitats.
  • Describe how animals obtain their food from plants and other animals, using the idea of a simple food chain, and identify and name different sources of food.
  • Construct and interpret a variety of food chains, identifying producers, predators and prey.
  • Describe the basic needs of animals, including humans, for survival (water, food, and air).
  • Recognize that environments can change and that this can sometimes pose dangers.
  • Observe and describe how organisms affect, and are affected by, their environment, including the accumulation of toxic living things.
  • Observe and describe the interdependence of organisms in an ecosystem, including food webs and insect pollinated crops.

Cellular and molecular biology


  • Observe a cell as the fundamental unit of living organisms under a light microscope.
  • Draw and label diagrams of cells seen under a light microscope.
  • Identify and state the functions of the cell wall, cell membrane, cytoplasm, nucleus, vacuole, mitochondria, and chloroplasts.
  • Observe and describe the difference between plant and animal cells.
  • Describe the role of diffusion in the movement of materials in and between cells.
  • Observe and describe the structural adaptations of some unicellular organisms.
  • Describe the hierarchical organization of multicellular organisms from cells to tissues to organs to systems to organisms.

Heredity and genetics (Inheritance, chromosomes, DNA and genes)

  • Describe heredity as the process by which genetic information is transmitted from one generation to the next.
  • Describe a simple model of chromosomes, genes and DNA in heredity.
  • Describe the part played by Watson, Crick, Wilkins and Franklin in the development of the DNA model.
  • Observe and describe the differences between species.
  • Describe natural selection as that some organisms compete more successfully, which can drive natural selection changes in the environment may leave individuals within a species, and some entire species, less well adapted to compete successfully and reproduce, which in turn may lead to extinction.
  • Describe the importance of maintaining biodiversity and the use of gene banks to preserve
    hereditary material.