How to choose subjects for Year 11 and 12

Find out how easy subject selection for senior high school can be

Choose subjects that maximise your options


Subject Selection is tricky, but your senior subjects should allow you to prepare for what happens once school is over. In these subjects, you’ll tackle complex topics and learn about an area in-depth, building solid foundations for further study or the workplace.

Each school offers a different range of subjects, depending on the strengths of their teachers and student body, and you’ll only be able to choose a set number of subjects that fit into the senior timetable. Each state also has different eligibility criteria you’ll need to meet if you want to qualify for an ATAR and Senior Certificate.

According to UAC, in NSW alone each year HSC students study around 27,000 combinations of courses.

Start by setting some career goals

It’s normal to not know what you want to do in Year 10, so set some goals and then choose subjects to give you options at the end of year 12.

The subjects you choose now will either unlock possibilities or throw up barriers, so it’s a good idea to spend some time thinking about what you want to do once school is over.

You can use the Goal Generator to help you write some SMART Goals, just go here.

You don’t need to know what you want to do when you ‘grow up’


If you’re one of the many people with no idea, then don’t worry. Instead of trying to choose subjects based around a specific career, choose subjects that meet these three criteria:

  • You enjoy it
  • You’re good at it
  • It will give you variety

If you pursue a subject you enjoy and are good at then you increase your chances of success, because you’re more likely to pay attention, put in more effort, and persevere when it gets difficult. You’ll also enjoy your senior years more.

Choosing subjects that give you variety, and are not all from the same subject area, will increase your ability to pivot to something else if you change your mind at the end of Year 12, which is perfectly normal.

7 Steps for Selecting Senior Subjects


Step 1 – Find out which subjects are on offer at your school

Your school should have given you a list with the available subjects.

Step 2 – Identify how many subjects or units you need to choose

Usually you’ll need five or six subjects as a minimum.

Step 3 – Select any compulsory subjects (religion/sport)

If your school insists you take religion or sport add them first.

Step 4 – Choose an English subject

If you’re doing well in Year 10 English then consider one of the more difficult subjects, if you’re struggling to keep up them you could take the base level or seek out support to raise your marks.

Step 5 – Choose a Maths

Even if you absolutely hate maths and are terrible at it you should try to take the base level – you’ll need those skills to manage a budget and basic maths is required for just about every job out there. If you’re doing well take the more advanced courses because they’ll give you more options down the track.

Step 6 – Find out if there are any prerequisites for degrees in the fields you’re considering

For example, engineering requires a high level of science and maths competence, and choosing an engineering or design subject could also be helpful. Some universities may require you to have studied a number of sciences before you can start your degree. Some universities are now requiring the ‘standard’ level of English, so even if the basic level will contribute to your ATAR it may not be enough.

Step 7 – For the remainder, choose subjects you like and are good at

If you have too many them give them all a score out of 10 for the following factors and choose the subjects with the highest overall score:

  • How much do you like it?
  • How good are your marks?
  • Does it give you variety?
  • Will it challenge you?

Want more help?

The Subject Selection Workbook walks you through each of the steps in detail, making it even easier to choose senior subjects.

Subject Selection and ATAR scaling

Scaling is a process conducted by the people who provide your ATAR, and it allows them to compare scores from different subjects. It’s confusing, and complex, and the aim is to ensure no student is disadvantaged because they chose a ‘harder’ subject.

In a nutshell, it stops very capable students from choosing the easier versions of subjects so they can increase their marks. A subject score of 90 in English Standard is easier to get than a score of 90 in English Advanced, so they have to make an adjustment before they can calculate the ATAR.

The way subjects are scaled changes depending on the cohort because it reflects the strength of the competition in the course, not its difficulty, which means scaling can (and does) give a different outcome each year.

But, (and it’s a big but), you SHOULD NOT be choosing your subjects based on scaling. If you’ve gone through every other variable and still can’t choose between two subjects, then you could consider investigating scaling as a last resort, but only then.

What does all this mean?

  • If you’re capable of the work in the harder subject, then take it.
  • Choosing an ‘easy’ course doesn’t mean you can’t get a good ATAR – for example, in 2017 a student took Visual Art and had an ATAR of 99.90.
  • The scaling doesn’t have a huge impact on your ATAR, but choosing a subject you don’t like because it scales well could…

Looking for an easier way to choose your subjects?


Designed for students, the Subject Selection Workbook from Ponder walks students through the process of choosing subjects for Year 11 and 12 from start to finish. By the end of the workbook, students have a clear picture of what they’re going to choose and where they plan to go.


“The workbook looks really good, and I think it would be very helpful to the students to get them thinking in the right direction.”

– Mrs Wells, Blue Mountains Grammar School

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