How to select subjects for Year 11 and 12

Looking for advice on how to choose your senior high school subjects? Read our guide and discover how Cluey can help you find your way.

subject selection
Casey Standen Thursday, 18 March 2021

This is it. It’s your last two years of schooling. Everything rests on this choice you’re making at the end of Year 10. Do you game the system? Do you spread your net wide? Do you follow your heart? Do you focus on your tertiary education goals? Do you revel in the joy of finally choosing your own educational path?

TLDR? Jump to each section below and see how Cluey can help

Subject selection can be a stressful time. There is more advice out there than any student, parent or tutor can digest, and even if they could, the formula for perfect subject selection is as elusive as life beyond our planet. Why? Because every student is special and has their own set of needs from their final school subjects.

Before we start, a word to the wise: nothing is forever.

If you get your subject choice (or even your first-year-out-of-school choice) “wrong”, you can recover. There is no secret knowledge that can only be attained in a classroom on your sixteenth birthday that unlocks your One True Career. Every choice can be unmade later, and some day, like Steve Jobs and JK Rowling, you might be glad of any “mistakes” you make in this arena.

Ready to start?

Collate a list of all the Year 11 subjects you can do in school and/or outside of school

We’ll assume that you’ve settled which final qualification you’re going for (your State’s high school certificate, TAFE, ATAR, whether the International Baccalaureate (IB) is on the table, or whether you’ll need an ATAR at all in two years’ time).

Within each qualification, there will be a limited number of subjects on offer, most offered through your school and some with options to explore beyond your school. For example, some TAFE courses can be completed while at school but this may impact ATAR eligibility, some universities offer subjects that contribute to State certificates, and if you’re interested in a language that isn’t offered at your school, you can go elsewhere for that subject.

You’re only going to get to choose a small percentage of the available subjects in any program, so once you’ve collected all the subject options, you can go ahead and cut out at least half of them based purely on instinct.

Next, consider what’s compulsory in your chosen qualification.

In the IB there are certain categories from which you must choose, in most State certificates you’ll have to do a minimum amount of English and in many religious schools you’ll be required to do a subject involving religion.

What are the requirements for your state certificate, ATAR or IB?

Start with learning more about the requirements for an ATAR, the IB, New South Wales’s HSC, Victoria’s VCE, Queensland’s QCE, Western Australia’s WACE, South Australia’s SACE, the Northern Territory’s NTCET, Tasmania’s TCE and the ACT’s SSC.

At the other end of the compulsory equation, if you know what you’d like to do after school and know that there are pre-requisites (like Maths for any science, engineering, environmental, commerce or business degree) or ways to get ahead (like Visual Art if you want to do Fine Arts after school, Drama if you want to act or first aid courses through TAFE if you want to be in the emergency services) that can guide your decisions even further.

How to maximise your ATAR and ATAR Scaling when selecting subjects

Historically, some subjects scale better than others but as private tutors who want the best outcome for our students, we always recommend that you choose subjects that you have a genuine interest in, not purely because of scaling.

Too many students spend too much time worrying about how a subject will scale. The fact is, you have no control over how the UAC will scale a particular subject in your given HSC/VCE/WACE/SACE year.

That being said, if you’re good at the following types of subjects consider the following courses:

English – Advanced or Extension English

Mathematics – Mathematics Ext 1 or Ext 2

Science – Physics, Chemistry or Biology over Senior Science

Languages – Continuers courses over beginner courses

Humanities – Economics over Business Studies or Legal Studies

Read our guide on how to calculate your and maximise your ATAR

If you don’t know what you want to do after school (and are quite frankly sick of everybody asking, thank you very much), don’t worry. There are normally two extremes in not knowing what you want to do after school. Either you haven’t thought about it at all (and perhaps don’t want to) or you’ve thought about it far too much (and would like to stop thinking about it ASAP).

Haven’t thought about what you want to do in the future?

Designate an afternoon to ‘future shopping’. Look at the TAFE and UAC websites to shop for courses that might be of interest (these are like ASOS/the Iconic of education – they pool together all the options from all the providers in one searchable place).

Hot tip: If you’re looking at university handbooks, they can be a tad overwhelming and confusing. The secret is that universities offer ‘units’ and ‘courses’ which are their individual subjects. You’ll need a set number of these subjects to earn an undergraduate (or Bachelors) degree. You have to go through undergraduate degrees to get to graduate qualifications or postgraduate (or Masters) degrees. So for now, just select ‘undergraduate’.

Top questions to ask yourself when thinking about – What job would you like in the future?

Would you like to join the armed services? Emergency services? The United Nations? How important is the size of your pay cheque likely to be? Do you want to work for environmental sustainability? Think about everything from where you might want to work (in the world, in your city, indoors or outdoors), who you might want to work with, what meaning you’d like to get from your work, what clothes you might want to wear to work (or to avoid – suits aren’t for everyone, and neither are steel-capped boots. If you want a job where you wear these together, maybe look at engineering), and how much and when you’d like to work.

Once you’ve started future shopping, plan to do it across a few more sittings with a time limit and track what websites you tend to revisit or bookmark. You may not get the Answer To Your Future but you will get some direction. Once you have that direction, you’ll either have a better idea of what year 11 subjects to choose, or you’ll be ready for the next step, below.

Paralysed by choice?

First, take a deep breath because it will be ok and you’re not alone in feeling the anxiety of freedom of choice. When it all gets a bit much, remember to focus on the positives – you’re overwhelmed with positive options, all of which are attainable with some hard work, and the ambition that’s paralysing you now will serve you well once it’s spread out a bit in time.

Categorise your interests and choose one subject to keep your opportunities open

If your future shopping has revealed no clear trends in your interests, but rather a general interest in everything, think about how you can categorise your interests and make one subject representative of that interest area. For example, you might choose one of Design and Technology, Drama and Visual Arts instead of all three, so that you have room to do a single Science (instead of all of the Physical Sciences) as well as the compulsory English and a Social Science. You can’t do everything but you can use your final years of schooling as an educational degustation.

On the flip side, sometimes you know what you love and what you don’t. If numbers are everything to you and you have no time for essays – go for it. All of the Maths, Design, Chemistry and Music for you. Or, in the alternative, if essays are your sweet spot or you’ve not had a good experience with school maths – go for the Histories, Visual Arts, Languages and Business Studies. You’ll hear it over and over again – you will do better if you’re interested in the subjects you’re doing.

A quick word about Maths.

A lot of us learn at school that Maths just isn’t for us, that because we don’t know what happens in the middle of the times table we can never be a doctor, landscaper, architect or banker. Much like the idea that ‘I’m not creative’, ‘I can’t do Maths’ is simply untrue. You can hone any skill with the right instruction, attitude and motivation and there are ways to learn these things that don’t involve classrooms, peers or assessments. Perhaps Maths-at-school (or Art-at-school) isn’t for you, but don’t do yourself or the world the disservice of writing off whole sections of your mind for the rest of your life because a curriculum, teacher or classmate wasn’t right for you.

After all this, you should be starting to know whether you’re going for a degustation or a skill-weighted subject menu. You’ll have some subjects that you’re really interested in and they will be balanced against State requirements and your own post-school goals. There is just one final hurdle between you and submitting the subject selection form.

How to navigate your family and the generation gap

Families can be quite forceful in subject selections. It is, after all, a big step towards the future. However, communication around a teenager’s future can be fraught on both sides – everyone wants the subject selector to be happy and financially secure for the long haul but adults and teenagers often have different ideas of what happiness and financial security might look like. The key here is to communicate proactively and openly.

If you’re the student – remember that while it is your life and no one can make your choices for you, your family’s opinions come informed with a bit more life experience, a genuine concern for you and usually with a knowledge of you, your interests and your talents that you might not be conscious of.

If you’re the family – it’s not about you so don’t take your teenager’s choices personally. You may believe that a particular career, and therefore subject choice, is the ticket to prosperity but once you’ve explained your thinking to your teenager it’s time to step back and let them make their choices for themselves.

Speaking of gaps…

Gap years can be very divisive, but if you’ve got a plan, use your subjects to help you on your way. You might want to earn some money straight out of school, go travelling (maybe only locally for now but there’s no reason your backpack can’t collect as many adventures in Australia as it can on any other continent) start your own business or just take a breather for a few months.

Whatever you’re planning, consider it as a factor in your subject selection. General Maths will help you with currency conversions, budgeting, saving plans and financial tracking. Business Studies might give you a useful framework for thinking about your future while you’re working or travelling (or both). Chemistry or Biology might help if you’re hoping to do some voluntary conservation work, or languages might be useful for teaching or navigating life overseas. Life is about more than just your career, and it’s ok to direct your learning to your shorter term goals as well as your lifelong ones.

Who can help me with choosing my subjects?

One of the hardest things about subject selection is feeling that you’re on your own, on the precipice of your future with no safety net or instruction manual. This is where friends, family, teachers and tutors come in. Subject selection is an emotional and a practical decision, so use your team appropriately. Friends and family, who are emotionally invested in you, tend to be best at helping with the emotional aspect of this choice.

Teachers and tutors, while you may have an emotional connection, will be more help on the practical side of things. They may have a clearer picture than you or your family about your academic skills, talents and interests. They will also have a better idea of available pathways, jobs and tertiary practice because it’s their job to know that kind of thing. So, if you’re wanting help with freedom paralysis, fear or frustration – friends and family are your first stop. If you’re trying to decide between the different levels of English or Maths, or which science, history or social science to take, talk to your teachers and tutors.

How can Cluey help?

Cluey has expert tutors who are experienced in helping students just like you through subject selection. Once they’ve helped with this decision, Cluey can provide ongoing tutoring support throughout your senior years in English, Maths and Chemistry. If you’re struggling with a tricky topic, need help with an assignment or essay, or wanting to hone your exam technique and study notes we’ve got you covered. Our tutors are patient, talented and calm, and have been in your position before so they can help you through your hardest years of schooling.

Learn more about Cluey’s ATAR tutoring for high school students

What NOT to do when choosing senior years subjects:

Don’t just chose the subjects your siblings, cousins or friends chose

Don’t box yourself into a corner with your subject choices – if there’s any chance you might change your goals in the next two years, go for the subjects that will keep the most doors open later.

Don’t stick your head in the sand – you will have to choose and it’s better to be informed, even if you want to avoid all this as much as you can

Don’t waste your time fighting with your folks about the Right Path. Every decision is recoverable!

What to do when choosing senior years subjects:

Do collect your options with an open mind – this step will help you to avoid the educational equivalent of food envy later on

Do keep an eye on your goals, even if that goal is as broad as ‘finish school and decide later’

Do shop around – you’re exploring your options, not clicking ‘buy it now’

Do talk to people you trust, who know you and who have a bit more experience than you if you’re struggling

Do enjoy it!

Cluey Newsletter

Our expert tips. Your inbox.

Follow us on Facebook