Life sciences involves the study of all living things and so there are numerous specialised fields of biology. And each field comes with its own unique set of scientific terms.

Now you’re probably wondering if you should even put in the effort of learning so much terminology when you may only end up needing a basic understanding of general biology. If you don’t decide to pursue a field of study involving plants and animals won’t it all be a colossal waste of time?

Does a Bigger Biological Vocabulary Enhance Your Studying?

One way of looking at it is to remember that biology is connected to pretty much all life on earth.

At least you’ll be gaining a better understanding of human physiology and ecology which is always going to be useful. And because we actually encounter biological terminology all the time without even realising it, getting to grips with all this lingo might be easier than you think.

But of course, not everyone that takes life science to matric is going to pursue biology courses after school, so we’ll just focus on the core terminology that will carry you through Grade 10, 11 and 12 as well as provide you with a good foundation for tertiary studies in natural science.

When you start getting to grips with the basics you’ll soon realise that it’s not as difficult as you think and you’ll find connections from one word to the next.

A little etymology can clear up confusion in entomology!

Understanding the Life Science Learning Objectives

Let’s begin tackling the task of learning terminology by looking at the national curriculum. By getting a broad understanding of the objectives that are set out in the CAPS documents learners will have a better understanding of what’s expected of them. It helps when you don’t feel like you’re jumping into the great unknown.

An Outline of Caps for FET Phase Life Science

According to the CAPS document the purpose for studying life science at school level is firstly to provide skills and knowledge that can be useful in everyday life.

It is also meant to introduce learners to a variety of biological sciences in an effort to encourage youngsters to pursue a specialisation in scientific study and create awareness of career opportunities.

But ultimately the aim of the life science curriculum is to provide a good foundation should learners decide to choose a biology major in their tertiary education.

female graduate wearing mortarboard
The hope is that more students will pursue a degree in biological sciences. - Unsplash

Life sciences encompass a number of sub-disciplines and specialisations such as Biochemistry, Biotechnology, Microbiology, Genetics, Zoology, Botany, Entomology, Physiology (plant and animal), Anatomy (plant and animal), Morphology (plant and animal), Taxonomy (plant and animal), Environmental Biology and Sociobiology (animal behaviour). All of these aspects are covered in the CAPS coursework in order to give learners a wider perspective of biological sciences.

The course work for Life Science is divided into four categories referred to as ‘knowledge strands’ and the idea is that students will gradually develop knowledge in all four strands over the three year FET course.

The overall objective is for the subject to be taught in such a way that topics overlap in order for learners to appreciate and comprehend the nature and 'interconnectedness' of life.

Life Science Knowledge Strands


1. Life at molecular, cellular and tissue level

Chemistry of organic and inorganic compounds, cell biology, DNA, meiosis etc.


2. Life processes in plants and animals

Photosynthesis, respiration, human reproduction, homeostasis etc.


3. Diversity, change and continuity

Biodiversity in microorganisms, plants and animals, evolution etc.


4. Environmental studies

Biospheres and ecosystems, human population, environmental issues etc.

Some Must-Know Terminology for Grade 10 to 12

Terms to Know for Knowledge Strand 1


Cell Biology

This is a scientific study that focuses on the structural and functional aspects of a cell. It covers the basic characteristics that all cells share and also delves into the particular complex functions of specialised cells.



The most common kind of cell division; where a cell divides to produce two genetically identical cells.



A kind of cell division specifically for sexual reproduction, creating gametes (such as sperm or egg cells) which only contain half the chromosomes of a regular cell.



Short for deoxyribonucleic acid, DNA is the main constituent of chromosomes and the carrier of genetic information.

Terms to Know for Knowledge Strand 2



The process by which plants and some other organisms use sunlight to convert carbon dioxide and water into energy, the bi-product is oxygen.

close up of leaves in the sunlight
Chlorophyll, a green pigment found in leaves, allows plants to absorb energy from light during photosynthesis. - Unsplashed



The ability of a living organism, cell or group of cells to maintain a consistent condition inside of them, despite changes in their surrounding environment.



The process whereby living organisms supply their cells and tissues with the oxygen needed to metabolise energy, resulting in the release of carbon dioxide.

Terms to Know for Knowledge Strand 3



The variety of plant and animal species found in a specific habitat or ecosystem and in the world as a whole.



A natural process whereby plants and animals create offspring and perpetuate life.



This is the gradual change in the genetics of a population from one generation to the next, eventually resulting in such as mutation and natural selection. The purpose of this process is for organisms to adapt for survival.

Terms to Know for Knowledge Strand 4



This is a branch of life science that deals with the relationships between different organisms as well as the interaction between organisms and their environment.



The biosphere is essentially all the ecosystems on earth, whether land, water or air.



All living organisms and the physical environment of an area that function together as one unit.

penguins in the snow
The variety of ecosystems on our planet is astounding, from ice and water to desert and sand. - Unsplash

Modern Biology Lingo

Many scientists within the field of biology don’t believe that the biology courses offered at school are relevant. This is because much of the coursework is focused on historical discoveries and doesn’t put an emphasis on the new advances that are taking place in the world of natural science.

Science advances hand in hand with technology. At the current rate of technological progression it’s fair to say that in the last few years there have been so many incredible breakthroughs because of the capabilities afforded to biologists using new technology. It’s not easy for textbooks to keep up with the pace of bioinformatics.

Modern biologists are adamant that in order for the education system to encourage youngsters to pursue a science degree in biology the curriculum needs to keep up with the times.

Many feel that while physical science in school evolves with the modern trends, life science seems to be left in its wake. Educators in biological science believe that departmental heads need to put more pressure on the professionals who write the curricula for biology programmes all over the world to be updated.

cells under microscope
It's a shame that we can't expose children to more of the wonders that are being discovered through biotechnology. - Unsplash

Great Pointers for Independent Research When Studying

In the mean time, while the rest of the world wakes up to the slow pace of biology education, learners can take matters into their own hands. Before you get too stroppy, have a glance at the glossary in the back of your life science textbook and make sure you have a good grip on the basic terminology you need for biology course.

When you’re confident you have a handle on the textbook stuff then you will know it’s time to delve into some juicier terminology. You could start by searching online for vocabulary lists specifically focused on biological terminology.

But a fun way to keep your biology vocabulary on track with new trends in science is by reading articles about the latest breakthroughs and leading biologists. And why not take a look at some BioArt?

For the sake of revision for your NSC exams you can access past papers on the government education portal which is a great way of assessing whether you’re on track studies.

Could Tutoring Help to Polish Your Biology Jargon?

We get professional instructors to prepare us for our K54 driving test, so there’s no shame in getting a little professional help when preparing for the most important examinations of your school career.

Life science tutors have loads of experience and can help you to cut through the workload by pointing you towards the essential terminology when revising. This is a wonderful way to relieve stress and boost confidence.

Perhaps the prospect of paying for a little private tuition seems excessive but in the long run it will save you hours of frustration as you sift through all the work you need to study. Not to mention the fact that you are more likely to achieve higher marks with the aid of a tutor which can prove helpful when applying for bursaries.

Need a Biology teacher?

Enjoyed this article?

5.00/5 - 1 vote(s)


Born from a family of creatives, Kyla has a passion for the arts and interior design.