National and international large-scale assessments (LSA) have a major impact on educational systems, which raises fundamental questions about the validity of the measures regarding their internal structure and their relations to relevant covariates. Given its importance, research on the validity of instruments specifically developed for LSA is still sparse, especially in science and its subdomains biology, chemistry, and physics. However, policy decisions for the improvement of educational quality based on LSA can only be helpful if valid information on students’ achievement levels is provided. In the present study, the nature of the measurement instruments based on the German Educational Standards in Biology is examined. On the basis of data from 3,165 students in Grade 10, we present dimensional analyses and report the relationship between different subdimensions of biology literacy and cognitive covariates such as general cognitive abilities and verbal skills. A theory-driven two-dimensional model fitted the data best. Content knowledge and scientific inquiry, two subdimensions of biology literacy, are highly correlated and show differential correlational patterns to the covariates. We argue that the underlying structure of biology should be incorporated into curricula, teacher training and future assessments.