Choosing subjects is hard. We know that. And it’s made even harder when your school doesn’t give you enough info or can’t answer your questions. So here’s a guide from one of our forum members that should help all you Year 9s, 10s, and 11s get through the subject selection process.

How do subjects work?

In VCE, each subject is intended to take two years (generally, Year 11 and 12), and has four units: 1, 2, 3 and 4.  Each unit is one semester of work.  Units 1 and 2 aren’t assessed by VCAA and don’t contribute to your final subject score; you don’t actually need to do them, but they generally provide a good foundation for Units 3/4.  Some subjects have Units 1/2 as prerequisites, meaning that you cannot complete Units 3/4 of that subject without having done 1 and 2. Many other subjects, though, can be chosen at a 3/4 level without the introductory 1/2 content.

You MUST do both Units 3/4 together.  You need at least 4 of these Unit 3/4 subjects to receive an ATAR. And at least one of these must be an English subject (i.e. English, EAL, Literature or English Language).

In terms of subject selection, for each Unit 3/4 subject you do, you’ll receive a final number called your Study Score, between 0 and 50.

Study Score Calculation

This number is based on your scores in:
• SACs (School-Assessed Coursework): assessments your school organises and marks throughout the year (VCAA then modifies them, attempting to equalise between schools).
• the VCAA exam, where everyone sits the same externally marked exam.
• (and in arts subjects) the SAT: a school-assessed task; the school assesses a product which you design and create.

Where things get confusing is in the fact that different subjects are calculated differently. The best way to consider this is that VCAA plugs a huge bunch of numbers into a big whirly machine that spits out a final number, and you should just do your best.

Study Scores are a bell curve, with 30 as the mean.  So, in any one subject:
• ~93% of people get 20 or over
• ~79% get 25+
• ~53% get 30+
• ~26% get 35+
• ~9% get 40+
• ~2% get 45+

This score is the ‘raw’ score; it is then turned into a ‘scaled score’ (a few points added or taken away) based on how competitive the subject and cohort are.  For instance, Specialist Maths scales up to compensate for the fact that it’s harder (and picked by people with a higher average IQ) than, say, Health.

They take these scaled scores to make your aggregate.  Your English-subject’s score is added to your next best 3 subjects. You’ll also get  plus 10% of the next two scores (if you do 5+ subjects).

Then your ATAR is how your aggregate compares to others.  If you get a 77.00, for instance, your aggregate was higher than 77% of people doing VCE.

So how does subject selection work?

In short, you SHOULD pick subjects based on:

•   Your interests.
•   Your strengths.
•   What you’re thinking of doing at Uni.
•   Any prerequisites you might need to for Uni courses.
•   Their difficulty.

Your subject selection should NOT be based on:
•   Scaling.
•   The fact that they sound prestigious, or that your parents want you to do them.
•   What your friends are doing.

For another great guide to how your subject selection should work, check out this post!

Think to the future

Prior to subject selection, consider what you’re interested in doing long-term.  First check for prerequisites for ALL courses that are on your radar – if you don’t fulfil a prereq, you probably won’t be able to do your dream course even if you get the ATAR. (Or rather, you’ll have to transfer in afterwards and you won’t be able to do your dream course right away. You can still get there eventually, but it’s most efficient if you think about prereqs sooner rather than later.)

Then look at your possible careers.  If you’re interested in commerce, pick Economics or Accounting; or if you’re considering law, do Legal Studies.   If you have a few ideas, try to broadly taste everything.  VCE is your chance to get a taste for what various fields are like, so you can decide if they’re for you or not.  VCE subject selection can sometimes prepare you with the basic skills for related first-year Uni courses, making first year easier.

Consider your skills and what you enjoy

Sit down and think what you’re good at, and what stuff you enjoy doing.  Ask teachers, parents and friends for their opinions of your strengths.  If you’re hopeless at essay writing, don’t take humanities subjects or two Englishes. If you and maths don’t go well together, don’t take two maths.  Play to your strengths – look at where you perform well, and go with subjects like that.

Similarly, if you hate a subject, you’ll not only get a poorer score in that subject because you’ll procrastinate, but the stress and frustration will have a flow-on effect to your other subjects and how much you enjoy the year as a whole.  Picking a subject you’ll at least enjoy will both improve your score and your overall enjoyment of the year.

Scaling and prestige

The scaling (or Asian-Five-ness) should not be a major factor in your subject selection.

Remember, scaling aims to balance it all out.  If you have ‘equal’ skill levels in the two subjects, and spend the same amount of time on each, you will probably get a much lower raw score in an up-scaling subject than a down-scaling subject, and theoretically scaling will make them equal.  (I do confess that the harsh scaling on Arts subjects is just plain mean and unfair.)

But this ignores the fact that the subject that scales down may better match your strengths and enjoyments.  If that’s the case, you’ll end up doing better in the subject, ever after scaling.

Case study: in HHD, I’m certain I got a far better scaled score than I could have got if I did Specialist or Latin.  I did well because: I enjoyed it; it matched with my strengths; it’s overall an ‘easier’ subject; and there’s little competition.

You can get 99+ ATARs with any combination of subjects (though 99.95 requires subjects that scale over 50).  There’s nothing wrong with up-scaling subjects, just the scaling itself should not be (or even influence) your subject selection.

How to research subject selection

Once you’ve gone through and listed out your strengths and interests, it’s time to match them up with the subjects you have available!  Don’t just fly in blind.

For each subject on your shortlist, check out the VCAA subject page.  You can read the Study Design, but first try the simpler Study Summary document, the last document under ‘Curriculum’ in each subject page.  Also skim a few past exams to see what sort of questions they ask, and check the question format (MC, short answer, extended response, essays, solving maths problems, etc.) to see if it’ll match your strengths.  Ask teachers or anyone who’s done the subject what the subject involves. You can also swing by the forums to get a precis of the subjects selection for your specific circumstances.

Subject Selection FAQs

Should I do a Unit 3/4 subject in Year 11?

If possible, yes.  (Or two, even). See Year 12 subjects in Year 11: A guide to starting VCE early.

How many subjects should I do in total?

Case study: none of my family did year 11 3/4s.  I did 5 3/4 subjects in year 12.  Doing 5 + uni subject in year 12, one brother got exactly the same ATAR as me, and another got 0.05 above me.   Moral: whether you do 5 or 6 subjects total, you can get a similar ATAR; the extra workload balances out the extra 10% aggregate.

However, I’m a fan of doing more subjects, because more breadth gives you more opportunity to find out more about different fields.  So you’ll have more well-rounded knowledge, and may unexpectedly land on a passion which totally changes your career choice.

My school doesn’t offer what I want. Should I consider Distance Education?

I did one subject through DECV, and found it worked very smoothly.  If you really struggle with time management, organisation and self-motivation, you’ll probably find it very difficult (however, great practise for Uni).  But if you’re self-motivated, and really want to do a particular subject, definitely consider it, as the teachers do keep in touch.  The fees are something like $400/unit if you go to a private school, or $80/unit for a public school.  Discuss your options with your VCE coordinator, but if you’re passionate about a subject, don’t miss your chance!

Can I swap subjects if I hate them and pick up 3/4s without 1/2s?

This depends on the subject, but in general, yes.   As a broad generalisation, it’s less likely to work with strongly skills-based subjects like Methods or Spesh, English.  But for most content-based subjects (e.g Psych, Biology, Business Management, Legal Studies, History, or HHD) you should be absolutely fine.  Just make sure that before the summer holidays you check with your teacher what knowledge is ‘assumed’ so you can learn it before the year starts.

Should I avoid rare subjects with few resources?

Non-mainstream subjects are, in some ways, far more difficult, because it can be hard to know what you’re even doing. If you have an awful teacher, it’s worse, because you often don’t have anywhere to go for help.  You’re much more ‘on your own’, so if you really need support, steer clear of this sort of subject.

However, remember everyone else is flying blind just like you, and ultimately the competition is far less fierce than really mainstream subjects.  Being forced to do your own research is challenging, rewarding, and even fun. If you’re considering such subjects because you have a particular passion for them, then do it.  DO IT.

I speak another language at home.  Should I do this subject?

If you know a second language fairly fluently, DO IT.  The scaling is brilliant and, if you’re very familiar with the language, you should find it relatively easy.

Which English should I do?

Subject selection for the Englishes comes down to three choices: mainstream English (or EAL), Literature, or English Language.


This is most like what you do in high school English – it’s the mainstream subject that most people of all abilities do.  It’s entirely (except for one persuasive oral SAC) about writing essays, including:
– Text Response (where you answer an essay question about a book/film you’ve studied, analysing events, characters, quotes, literary devices, themes, and structure).
– A short creative piece about that text.
– A language analysis, where you look at how people use language to persuade/manipulate others.
– Comparative essay between two texts and the ways they present different values and ideas on a theme/topic.

Goods about English include heaps of resources and that fact that heaps of people are doing it, including the borderline illiterate.


This is a subject for English nerds. In other words, it’s about deep thinking, analysis, and excellent invention skills.  It’s focused on closely analysing passages in particular texts, to look at how language creates meaning.

Pros: great fun if you are, as above, an ‘English nerd’ who loves inventing and analysing creatively.
Cons: more competitive, as you’re competing against other English nerds, rather than the general populous.  If you hate deep analysis/creation of fancy ideas in a text with no basis, you’ll hate Lit.

English Language

If you’re the science-y type, and hate airy-fairy fluffy-wuffy fancy-sounding vague inventions, this is more for you.  It’s more about linguistics, how the language is used or structured.  You’ll have to develop an understanding of why we use language the way we do, why we choose the words we do, and so on.

Pros: more clearly defined, more scientific – great if you’re a maths/science nerd.
Cons: less room to move, so if you’re the free thinking creative analytical type or want to get free of science and the syntax language, do Eng or Lit.

Which Maths should I do?

There are three main streams of Maths in VCE: Further, Methods, and Spesh. Your subject selection should take the following things into account.


Further is the ‘easiest’ type of Mathematics available, but this doesn’t mean it is inherently easy. For a lot of people, this level is quite difficult, and there are plenty examples of people doing Methods, assuming they’ll do well in Further and so not studying for it, then getting bad scores as a result.

I won’t go into too much detail, but as a course pre-req, Further is sort of useless. Some courses will ask that you’ve done it, but if they do want this, they’ll also accept Methods.


This is, in general, your safest option. A lot of courses (in particular, Medicine, Commerce and Science degrees, among others) require that you have done Methods. Furthermore, Methods has this history of being “super hard.” Whilst it’s definitely not easy, that doesn’t mean that it’s hard. It’s very doable if you put effort in and try to approach less like “apply formula blah” and more like “concept means thing”.

Furthermore, Methods 1/2 (minus area of study 4, on Probability and Statistics) is very similar to Methods 3/4. So, if you can do decently in Methods 1/2, you can very easily do well in Methods 3/4.


THIS is the hard maths. In Methods, you can get away with brute force and hard effort. For specialist, you do need to have a decent grasp on the processes, or you very quickly get lost. The content is harder than Methods, but there’s also less of it. Furthermore, the exam questions for Specialist end up nicer than the ones for Methods, because comparatively the ideas in specialist are much more complex.

However, Specialist is worth doing if you want to do a Maths or Engineering based degree. If you don’t do Specialist now, you will be playing catch-up later, so you may as well put in the hard yards. Also, nice scaling; who wouldn’t want that?

Further vs. Specialist

Of course, in principle, you should not pick something because it has good scaling… But, picture this:

You do Further, work really really hard, and get a 46. Decent score, yeah? And in another dimension, you do Specialist, work really really hard, get a 35. Not as nice, but it’s Specialist.

Now, here’s the kicker; your scaled scores are going to be:
Further: 46—–>45.2
Specialist: 35—>47

So, even though your raw score was worse in Specialist, it very easily becomes a higher addition to your aggregate. And it’s not as if you’d be putting more effort into specialist for this. Obviously if Specialist is beyond your skill-set, choose Further – but if you’re tossing up between the two at all, this tells me you’re probably capable of handling Specialist).

Most importantly

Don’t stress too much about subject selection!  No subject will be exactly what you imagined – for better or for worse – and you’re sure to have some regrets no matter what.  Your interests and career goals are also sure to change over time.  But ultimately, it’s up to your attitude.  If you’ve picked a subject, commit yourself to enjoying it and getting the most out of it!