UCL Centre for Languages & International Education (CLIE)



Find out more about the Biology foundation subject on the UPC. Learn about what you will study, teaching methods, assessments and recommended reading.

Key information

Subject title: Biology

Subject type: optional

UPC pathway: UPCSE

Subject leader: Karen Keenan

Number of students (2023-24): 35

Subject description

In this subject, you will be introduced to the core principles of biology. It is a part of the Undergraduate Preparatory Certificate for Science and Engineering (UPCSE) pathway.

You will be taught a wide range of topics to give you a broad and in-depth understanding of the subject. You will also study how to interpret data and complete a variety of assessments throughout the international foundation year.

The course focuses on eight main topics:

Molecules and Cells

  • Molecules nucleic acids
  • Replication and protein synthesis
  • Enzymes
  • Cell structure and cell membrane
  • Cell organelles
  • Chromosome structure and mitosis
  • Recombinant DNA technology

Exchange and Transport

  • Movement of molecules
  • Gas exchange in plants and simple organisms
  • Gas exchange in mammals
  • Transport in mammals: blood
  • Transport in mammals: vessels
  • Transport in mammals: heart transport in plants
  • Transport of water through the plant
  • Translocation in plants

Ecology, Energy and the Environment

  • Autotrophic and heterotrophic nutrition
  • Energy flow in the ecosystem
  • Food chains and food webs
  • Ecological pyramids
  • Recycling of nutrients
  • Population growth and control
  • Resource management and human influences

Metabolism, Respiration and Photosynthesis

  • The role of ATP in metabolism
  • Aerobic respiration
  • Anaerobic respiration and energy budgets
  • Photosynthesis
  • Biochemistry of the light dependent stage
  • Biochemistry of the light independent stage

Regulation and Control

  • Homeostasis
  • The kidney
  • Functioning of the kidney
  • Plant growth substances
  • Effect of light on plant growth
  • Nerves
  • Synapses
  • The central nervous system
  • Sensory receptors
  • The eye


  • Types of microorganisms
  • Growth and culture techniques
  • Fermentation
  • Pathogens and human disease
  • Protection against disease
  • Immunology
  • Applications and contemporary issues

Reproduction and Genetics

  • Pollination and fertilisation
  • Seed development and germination
  • Variation
  • Meiosis
  • Mendel’s laws
  • Deviations from Mendel’s laws and sex linkage
  • Mutations

Classification, Biodiversity and Evolution

  • Principles of taxonomy
  • Seven kingdom classification
  • Population genetics
  • Evolution and selection
  • Isolation and speciation
  • Biodiversity

The organisms used to illustrate these topic areas will include mammals, flowering plants and microorganisms, such as bacteria and viruses.

How we teach Biology

You will have a mixture of lectures, tutorials and practical laboratory work. Alongside these sessions, we expect you to complete your own independent investigations.

To support your learning, the subject includes a five-night residential field trip to Somerset, England. You will also have educational visits to London Zoo, Down House (the home of Darwin) and the Natural History Museum. These experiences will allow students to understand the principles of biology first-hand.

Intended learning outcomes

By the end of the subject, you should be able to:

  • present your understanding of the principles of biology using a variety of media
  • use some sophisticated manual laboratory skills
  • interpret data relating to statistical analysis and graphical representations
  • evaluate data collection and manipulation processes
  • complete a wide range of assessments
  • develop excellent technical subject language and terminology

Overview of Summative Assessment

OneWritten Exam (2 hours 10 minutes)10%
TwoWritten Exam (2 hours 10 minutes)10%
ThreeOral Exam (10 mins)
Final Written Exam (3 hours 10 minutes)
Throughout the yearCoursework15%
 Practical Work15%
  100% Total

Assessment weighting is for the 2022-23 academic year. This may change for 2023-24 entry.

Recommended reading

If you want to do some reading on the subject of biology before you arrive, we recommend the following:

  • Edexcel International GCSE (9-1) Biology Student Book
    ISBN-13 978-0435966881
  • OCR AS/A level Biology – A student Book 1 + Active Book
    ISBN-13 978-1447990796
  • A Dictionary of Biology in English (Penguin)
    ISBN 978- 0141013961

Additional costs

  • Biology field trip contribution: approximately £100
    (the contribution is subject to change based on the cost of the trip)

Subjects selection guide

Please check out our optional subject selection guide for information on suitable subjects for your future degree plans.

Please note the information on all the UPC subject pages, including this one, reflects the subject as it was taught in the 2022-23 academic year (unless otherwise stated).