Biology updates

This page contains the latest updates on the Diploma Programme (DP) biology course.

The new DP biology course will be launched in February 2023 for first teaching in August 2023. First assessment will take place in May 2025.

Overview of the new course

A relevant and effective biology education needs to reflect societal change with a greater focus on skills and the interconnectedness of concepts, contexts and content, and facilitate deep learning and student understanding. Developments have taken place to address these needs.

The biology curriculum is built on four broad organizing themes, each comprising two concepts, together with four levels of organization.

DP biology chart

The roadmap above illustrates how the scaffolding of the 40 topics of the biology course is arranged. The topics are placed in nodes that encourage the content to be delivered through one or both concepts framed for each theme. Further, the node also indicates an appropriate level of organization that illustrates a possible lens through which learning and teaching of the topic can take place. The biology roadmap enables teachers to create their own learning pathway for the two-year programme.

Conceptual learning

The new biology course is moving towards a reduction in content, highlighting concepts that underpin learning. The course aims to develop understandings that connect factual, procedural and metacognitive knowledge and recognizes the importance of connecting learning with conceptual understanding. This includes a non-linear, ongoing process of adding new knowledge, evolving understandings and identifying misconceptions. Conceptual understanding will enable students to be aware and critical of their own knowledge, and to transfer and apply skills and understandings to new or different contexts in creative, generative, autonomous and dynamic ways.

Greater emphasis on skill development

The practical nature of the subject is emphasized by the inclusion of a section in the guide ‘Skills in the study of biology.’ These are framed by the approaches to learning (ATL) skills and categorized into different aspects, including inquiry skills and techniques appropriate at this level of study.

DP sciences graphic

Nature of science

Nature of science (NOS) is an overarching theme in the DP biology, chemistry and physics courses that explores conceptual understandings related to the purpose, features and impact of scientific knowledge. DP biology students will have the opportunity to analyze, discuss, challenge, and refine their understanding of the scientific ideas and concepts encountered during the course. An understanding of NOS is valuable on several levels:

  • it develops scientific literacy
  • it provides a framework in which students can more easily access the biology course content
  • it supports student learning.

Experimental programme

Practical work

Practical work continues to be a central aspect of the DP biology course. Teachers are encouraged to develop their own practical scheme of work allowing students to gain a deeper understanding of the subject content and associated concepts, as well as to provide opportunities to develop a wide range of practical and investigative skills. The practical scheme of work should be broad and balanced to provide students with the opportunity to experience a wide range of tasks, from closed to open inquiry, and from hands-on experimentation through to the use of simulations and modelling, incorporating technology where appropriate.

Collaborative sciences project

The collaborative project from the current course will be given a refresh.

The collaborative sciences project is an interdisciplinary sciences project that addresses real-world problems that can be explored through the range of subjects in the sciences group.

Through this project students will:

  • integrate factual, procedural and conceptual knowledge developed through the study of their science discipline(s).
  • apply their collective understanding to develop solution-focused strategies that address the issue
  • develop an understanding of how interrelated systems, mechanisms and processes impact a problem
  • evaluate and reflect on the inherent complexity of solving real-world problems
  • develop an understanding of the extent of global interconnectedness between regional, national, and local communities
  • be empowered to become active and engaged citizens of the world.
  • gain appreciation of collective action and international cooperation
  • strengthen their ATL skills, including teambuilding, negotiation and leadership.

The collaborative sciences project provides an excellent opportunity for students to work with those taking other DP sciences courses, either in their own school or from other IB World Schools.

Changes to the assessment model

External assessment

All students will only sit two external examinations.

Paper 1A includes multiple-choice questions on the syllabus and paper 1B includes data-based questions that are syllabus related, addressing all themes.

Paper 2A includes data-based questions from unfamiliar contexts and short-answer questions.

Paper 2B includes extended-response questions that focus on holistic knowledge and understanding of a wide range of syllabus content, skills, concepts and understandings.

Other changes include the removal of the option topics (neurobiology and behaviour, biotechnology and informatics, ecology and conservation and human physiology).

From the current four options some of the content was incorporated into the course at either standard level or higher level.

Internal assessment

The ‘scientific investigation’ (internal assessment) will also see a change, with the opportunity for students to collaborate and support each other within small groups. Where appropriate, students will be able to share similar methodologies, provided that the independent or dependent variable differ, and the data collected is unique to each student.

Students will continue to submit an individual report, with a maximum word count of 3,000 words.

The revised criteria will place a greater emphasis on higher-order thinking skills with 50% of the marks allocated for Conclusion and Evaluation.

What are universities saying about the subject?

"The IB Diploma’s holistic outlook and rigor fit well with the interdisciplinary education at Jacobs University. As a research university, Jacobs requires at least one of the IB experimental science subjects - Biology, Physics, or Chemistry, often at a HL. As part of the admission process, we evaluate the subject, its level, and its relation to the desired field of study. The science subjects of the IB Diploma are a great indicator of how students handle the workload. Additionally, we found insights from science teachers on their student's projects and interests in their letter of recommendation of great value."

Director of Admissions - Jacobs University Bremen, Germany

"Most IB graduates at our Medical School have taken IB Biology (HL or SL) as part of their IB Diploma programme. I myself have participated in the IB Biology Category 1 workshop to learn more about how the subject is taught. IB Biology covers a lot of content and is more detailed compared to other programs. The final assessment too is very challenging, where students need to score at least a 4 out of 7 to pass, but every bit is worth it, as the IB programme is accepted worldwide and allows students more choices in major subjects."

Sabina Mahmood MD, PhD – Okayama University, Japan