IBO Syllabus

The IBO is an association that organises annual Biology competitions for secondary school students. It is one of the most popular International Science Olympiads. The first IBO exam was held in Czechoslovakia in 1990, and to date, the exam is conducted annually. The competition has students participating across 75 countries and five continents. All participating countries send the four winners of their National Biology Olympiad to the IBO. These students are accompanied by two adults who are members of the international jury for the duration of the competition.

About the Examination

One must have heard of many olympiad exams, and IBO is also one of the prominent olympiad exams that emphasise biology. First of all, the IBO full form is the International Biology Olympiad. The learner who is keen on learning about anatomy and knows the biological facts of animals and plants can take this examination and pursue a career in the biology field. As we all know that biology is a vast subject with many branches such as botany, zoology, anatomy, physiology, biotechnology, ecology, immunology, genetics and microbiology. The IBO exam is a combination of all these subjects. A student with an interest and curiosity to learn in any of these branches of biology can write the exam.

Purpose of IBO

The main purpose of this olympiad exam is to inspire and empower the upcoming generation in the field of life sciences and showcase their talent on an international platform. Listed below are the few purposes of the IBO examination.

  • The main motto is to respect the curiosity and eagerness shown by the candidate in the life sciences subject.
  • To enrich young biologists and young scientists to develop their interest in this field.
  • To bring closer connections to frame an international network of biology scientists and their talent and future biologists.
  • To recognise highly gifted biology students and to promote their talents in the long run.
  • To develop intercultural conversations and nations by taking biology students from around the world and develop strong bonds between the countries worldwide.
  • To set up high standards in the field of education and evaluation of highly dexterous biology students.
  • The Olympiad exam brings out the opportunity to compare the syllabi and educational trends of biology on a global aspect across different countries.
  • To promote and boost the exchange of ideas and knowledge about life sciences.

Highlights of the examination

The International Biology Olympiad is conducted once a year. The exam is held in July of every year.

  • All disciplines of biology are accepted for the IBO.
  • In addition, widely oriented topics should encourage the candidates to showcase not only their knowledge and skills but also their capability to think independently and creativity towards the new research and advancements.
  • The exam consists of two parts, namely the theoretical and practical parts.
  • The content of the theoretical part is the main syllabus for the examination, and the practical part includes the basic skills required for the life science subject.
  • There should be at least a one-day interval between the two sections of the examination.
  • In a practical examination, it is taken care that no experiments are carried out that cause deterioration of the living conditions of vertebrates.

Syllabus for the Exam

The syllabus plays an important role in the preparation of any examination. A prescribed syllabus is framed for every exam. The IBO exam syllabus is designed in such a manner that students taking the examination from any country can study easily as per the curriculum. The syllabus includes various topics, such as cell biology, molecular biology, plant anatomy and physiology, animal anatomy and physiology, ethology, genetics and evolution, ecology, and biosystematics.

Syllabus for Theoretical Examination

The questions in the theory test are separately grouped by domains with different preference and weightage for the topics depending on the concepts.

  • Cell biology has a weightage of around 20% in the examination.
  • Animal anatomy & physiology has a weightage of around 25% in the examination.
  • Plant anatomy & physiology has a weightage of around 15 % in the examination.
  • Ethology has a weightage of around 5% in the examination.
  • Genetics & evolution has a weightage of around 20% in the examination.
  • Ecology has a weightage of around 10% in the examination.
  • Biosystematics has a weightage of around 5% in the examination.

The column below has detailed information on the theoretical exam syllabus of the International Biology Olympiad examination.

Name of the Chapter

Name of the Topic

Cell Biology

All living organisms are made of cells. Cell biology is a branch of biology that deals with the structure, function and behaviour of cells. The topics in this lesson include:

  • Structure and function of cells
  • Microbiology
  • Biotechnology

Plant Anatomy and Physiology

Plant anatomy refers to the detailed structure of the parts of the plant. Plant physiology is concerned with the processes that occur within the plant that help it be alive and productive. The topics in this lesson include:

  • Photosynthesis, transpiration and gas exchange
  • Transport of water, minerals and assimilates
  • Growth and development, reproduction (including ferns and mosses)

Animal Anatomy and Physiology

Animal anatomy describes the science that deals with the form and structure of animals. Physiology deals with the study of functions of the body or any of its parts. The topics in this lesson include:

  • Digestion and nutrition
  • Respiration
  • Circulation
  • Excretion
  • Regulation (neural and hormonal)
  • Reproduction and development
  • Immunity


Ethology is described as the scientific study of animal behaviour, usually with a focus on behaviour under natural conditions and viewing behaviour as an evolutionarily adaptive trait. The topics in this lesson include:

  • Methodology of ethnology
  • Innate and learned behavior
  • Communication and social organization
  • Foraging behaviour
  • Defensive behaviour
  • Mating systems and parental care
  • Biological rhythms

Genetics and Evolution

Evolution and genetics deals with the study of how genetic variation leads to evolutionary change. The topics in this lesson include:

  • Variation
  • Mendelian inheritance
  • Multiple allelism, recombination, sex linkage
  • Hardy-Weinberg principle
  • Mechanism of evolution


Ecology is the study of organisms and how they interact with the environment around them. The topics in this lesson include:

  • Individual organisms
  • populations
  • Biotic communities
  • Ecosystems
  • Biosphere and man


Biological systematics is the study of the diversification of living forms, both past and present, and the relationships among living things through time. The topics in this lesson include:

  • the structure and function of evolutionary and ecological relationships among typical organisms in the following groups.
  • Knowledge of scientific terms will not be required much. Yet, one should have knowledge of this.

Syllabus for Practical Examination

The practical examination determines the overall skills of the candidate. The practical knowledge of the subject is also given like theoretical knowledge. The column shown below has detailed information on the practical exam skills of the International Biology Olympiad examination.

Type of Skills

Name of the Topics

Science Process Skills

Science process skills are described as the ability used by scientists during their work and the competencies displayed in solving scientific problems.

  • Observation during the experiment
  • Measurement from the instruments
  • Grouping or classification of organisms
  • Determining the relationship between the given quantities
  • Calculation of the data obtained
  • Data organization and presentation: Tables, graphs, diagrams and charts, photographs
  • Prediction/projection
  • Hypothesis formulation
  • Operational definition: Scope, condition, assumption
  • Variable identification and control
  • Experimentation: Experimental design, experimenting, result/data recording, result in interpretation and drawing conclusions
  • Representing numerical results with appropriate accuracy

Basic Biological Skills

Basic biological skills are a collection of skills or tasks that demonstrate a wide range of biological concepts and processes via practical.

  • Observation of biological objects using magnifying glasses
  • Working with a microscope and handling it
  • Work with a stereomicroscope drawing of preparations (from a microscope, etc.)
  • An exact description of a biological drawing using tables of biological terms marked with a numerical code

Biological Methods

The various methods involved in determining the biological quantities. Listed below are a few methods:

  • Cytological methods
  • Methods to study plant anatomy and physiology
  • Techniques to study animal anatomy and physiology
  • Ethological methods
  • Ecological and environmental methods
  • Taxonomic methods

Physical and Chemical Methods

The various methods involved in determining the physical and chemical quantities involved in a biology experiment. Listed below are a few methods:

  • Separation methods such as chromatography, filtration, centrifugation
  • Basic standard tests for monosaccharides, polysaccharides, lipids, protein (Fehling, I2 in KI(aq), biuret)
  • Titration
  • Measuring quantities by drip and strip methods
  • Dilution methods
  • Pipetting, including the use of micropipettes microscopy, including the use of counting chambers
  • Determination of absorption of light
  • Gel electrophoresis

Microbiological Methods

Microbiology techniques are methods used for the study of microbes, including bacteria and microscopic fungi and protists. They include techniques to survey, culture, stain, identify, engineer and manipulate microbes. Listed below are a few methods:

  • Preparing nutrient media
  • Aseptic techniques (flaming and heating glass material)
  • Inoculation techniques

Statistical Methods

Statistical methods are mathematical formulas, models, and techniques that are used in the statistical analysis of raw research data. The use of statistical methods extracts information from research data and provides different ways to assess the robustness of research outputs.

  • Probability and probability distributions
  • Application of mean, median, percentage, variance, standard deviation, standard error, T-test, chi-square test

Handling Equipment

Handling equipment refers to the handling of mechanical equipment that is utilised in experiments. Handling includes moving, storing, controlling, and protecting products and materials throughout the cycle processes of experimenting.

  • Proper handling of the microscope, slides
  • Systematic usage of biological tools such as scissors, tongs
  • Handling of chemicals
  • Cleanliness maintained during the process of experiment

Tips to Study for the Examination

As the exam indicates it is an international exam, one may feel nervous and wonder how to study. Listed below are a few tricks to crack the examination easily

  • Learn the syllabus as per the weightage. The topic with more weightage can be studied on priority.
  • Practise more questions and solve numerous sample papers and previous years’ papers to get acquainted with the exam pattern.
  • Solving more questions helps the student to know about the difficulty rating of the exam.
  • More focus can be given to important concepts such as scientific names, classification of organisms and diagrammatic-based questions.
  • The student has to understand the life process such as photosynthesis, digestion in animals and another process rather than mugging up instantly.
  • To improve practical skills, the student can perform experiments in labs and improvise themselves.
  • Handling an apparatus, such as a microscope and slides, can be learnt by doing experiments, not by theoretical knowledge.
  • Time management plays an important role in the examination. Spending too much time on a single question is a waste of time; one has to move to further questions and come back to existing ones when done with other questions.
  • Key biology skills, such as diagrams, handling the equipment, and technical biology practical methods, must be grasped thoroughly for a smooth practical examination.

Frequently Asked Questions on IBO exam

What is the basic criteria for taking the International Biology Olympiad?

The basic criteria for taking the International Biology Olympiad is to stand in the first or top-four position of the National Biology Olympiad conducted every year during the current school year and is open to only secondary school students in general education.

What is the benefit of the IBO examination?

The IBO exam focuses on bringing up the students to the international level and face the competition worldwide in life science and spread the knowledge globally in their coming years.

Into how many sections is the IBO exam divided?

The IBO exam has two sections. They are theoretical and practical. First, the candidate must write the theoretical examination and then face the practical examination. Scores will be given based on their performance in both exams.

What skills are developed by writing the IBO examination?

The student will gain confidence to face the top students of other countries and gain knowledge by exchanging ideas and performing at the international platform.

When is the IBO examination conducted?

The IBO examination is conducted in the month of July every year.

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