Subject selection tips for Year 10

Tips For Year 10 Students Choosing HSC Subjects

If you’re in Year 10 going into Year 11, there’s some big decisions coming up

In Year 11, you start your Preliminary Higher School Certificate (HSC) courses. These continue into Year 12 where they become the HSC courses you’re assessed on to get your Australian Tertiary Admissions Ranking, or ‘ATAR’.

There are a few important questions to consider, including:

  • How do the courses I take in Year 11 affect what I can take in Year 12?
  • How many units of study should I take?
  • What subjects should I take? Does scaling matter?

Our expert team of HSC consultants has looked at years of HSC data as well as helped hundreds of students on their journeys through Year 11, and these are our tips to find the right answers to those questions.

Think about how the courses you choose in Year 11 will affect your options for Year 12

This is a really important question to be asking yourself. Though Year 12 is the only year that your school results contribute to your HSC and ATAR, your eligibility to take HSC level subjects really depends on what you’ve taken in Year 11. With all subjects in Year 12, you have to have taken the Year 11 prerequisite course, so keep that in mind – and additionally here’s a few key things to be mindful of.


If you have any intention of taking Maths Extension I or Extension II for the HSC, you need to take Maths Extension I in Year 11. If you take Extension I in Year 11 and then decide to drop down to 2 Unit or General Maths, that’s not a problem – however, you can’t go the other way. Make sure to factor this in when choosing your subjects.


At least 2 units of English will count in Year 12. It can be a very good idea (if you’re a relatively strong English student) to consider taking English Extension I in Year 11, as this will prepare you well for English Extension I in Year 12 – taking 3 units of English for your HSC can be a good insurance policy in case one of your English exams doesn’t go as well as you’d hoped; because 2 units have to count, having one up your sleeve can be useful.


With Chemistry, Physics, and Biology, if you’re torn between a couple of them, it’s better to take two than one. All three of these subjects scale quite well (see further below, as well as our article on scaling), so if even if you’re slightly interested in them it’s a good idea to take two, as then you’ll have the option to continue with at least one or both in Year 12.

RELATED: How To Study For The HSC Advanced English Exam

Pick the number of units you study so that you have some redundancy, but don’t overload yourself

This decision boils down to a couple of key factors, and so you understand why these are important, you might like to read our article on how your ATAR score is calculated.

Essentially, this is a balance between taking as many units as you can handle, and not overdoing it.

Why would you want to take more than the minimum 10 required units? Well, your ATAR is calculated from your best 10 units including English – not necessarily all your units. This means that if you can handle the extra workload, taking 11, 12 or 13 units in Year 11 is a great idea because you effectively get a ‘spare’ few units if one or more of your subjects don’t go to plan.

This is useful in two ways: firstly, you have room to drop something for Year 12 if you find out midway through the year that you’re not actually enjoying a particular subject at all and don’t want to continue with it. If you only take the minimum 10 units, this isn’t an option – you’re stuck with whatever you chose at the beginning of Year 11.

Secondly, if you choose the keep the ‘extra’ units in Year 12 as well, you essentially have a few redundant units in your HSC exams – once again, this functions as an insurance policy in case not everything goes to plan, so a dud unit or two won’t affect your ATAR.

There’s a couple of important things to remember though: firstly, 2 units of English must count. For why this is so important, see our article on scaling; but essentially, never think of English as a ‘spare’ subject – that only applies to subjects that might not necessarily be counted. Secondly, taking on extra units is only worth it if you can keep up the workload. Having spare units is no good if you do poorly across the board, so if you think you’re going to be particularly time-poor in Year 11 and 12, a better strategy may be opting for fewer units.

Think about scaling in your subject selection – it’s more important than you might realise

For a full overview of this issue, see our article on scaling. To summarise, however, not all HSC subjects are created equal. Since some subjects have stronger candidatures, these subjects have their raw marks ‘scaled’ upwards to reflect these stronger candidates; this can be an advantage if you have an aptitude for such subjects. These subjects include Maths Extension I, Extension II, Physics, Chemistry, and to a lesser extent, Biology, English Extension I, and others.

This doesn’t necessarily mean you should choose subjects only based on scaling – if you have no interest in a particular subject, scaling isn’t necessarily a good enough reason to take it. However, if achieving the highest ATAR you can is important to you, you should definitely think about the impact of scaling on your marks.

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