Choosing upper school subjects: 5 tips for year 10s

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We understand that year 10 can start to feel a little worrying when you have to choose your upper school subjects. Suddenly you not only have to think about years 10, 11 and 12, but university and your future career as well!

If you’re feeling nerve-racked or just after a bit of advice, here are some handy tips to help you out with choosing your upper school subjects:

1) Pick subjects that will let you build your ideal career

Your best bet is to start by thinking about your ideal career. What are your interests? What do you like and dislike? What do you want to be? What type of job you want?

Then, all you have to do is backtrack. What university courses should you study to build your ideal career? What year 11 and 12 subjects do you need to pick to study those university courses? Once you begin the legwork, the pieces should fall into place.

2) Pick broad subjects that will open up your career options

Not every year 10 student knows what career they want to have after they graduate high school, so if you’re in that boat, your best bet is to choose year 11 and 12 subjects that will allow you to gain entry into multiple university courses and therefore open up your career options.

For example, if you’re interested in a career in engineering and mining, health, IT and computing, or physical sciences, there are a bunch of year 11 and 12 subjects that will allow you to gain entry into most university courses related to these areas (Chemistry ATAR, Mathematics: Methods ATAR, Mathematics: Specialist ATAR and Physics ATAR). Then, when you reach year 12 and have a better idea of what you want to do in the future, you’ll be able to study the right university course to begin your ideal career.

3) Make sure your choices are realistic

This might sound like a no-brainer, but it’s important to think about whether your upper school subject choices are going to be realistic. Here are some important things to note:
  • If you pick a subject that you didn’t enjoy in lower school, there’s no guarantee that you’ll miraculously start enjoying it.
  • If you pick a subject that you did badly at in lower school, there’s no guarantee that you can suddenly improve upon it.
  • Don’t pick a subject just because your friends have chosen it.

Instead, try to pick subjects that you’re personally interested in or that you’ve done well in before. Make sure you follow your passions, your strengths and your interests.

4) How to choose between English and Literature

To graduate, you need to study English or Literature. While both subjects are similar, it’s important to recognise there are key differences. Make sure you pick the subject that you like the sound of more.


Similarities to lower school: Upper school English is taught similar to lower school English in that you’ll study a range of written and visual texts:

  • fiction, which might include novels, short stories, poems, song lyrics, films and television shows
  • non-fiction, which might include biographies, essays, news reports and documentaries
  • other media, which might include newspaper articles, magazine articles, advertisements and photographs.

Exams: You’ll have to write essays referencing written and visual texts that you’ve studied; plus there’s a creative composition component where you have to write on-the-spot short stories based on prompts.

Assessments throughout the year: The same as what you’ll have to do during exams, but you may also be asked to give spoken presentations about the texts you’ve studied.


Similarities to lower school: In contrast to upper school English, you’ll only study printed fictional literary texts, such as:

  • poetry, including short and long poems
  • prose, including short stories and novels
  • drama, or in other words, scripts of plays.

Exams: You’ll be asked to write essays referencing texts that you’ve studied across the areas of poetry, prose and drama.

Assessments throughout the year: The same as what you’ll have to do during exams, but there may also be creative composition components where you’ll be asked to create your own poem or short story, and give spoken presentations about the texts you’ve studied.

5) Don't overwhelm yourself

Choosing six ATAR subjects

You might hear stories of people who’ve studied six ATAR subjects, but the decision to take on that much work shouldn’t be taken lightly. While some students can manage the increased workload, the reality is that your ATAR will only be determined by your four best ATAR subjects.

Choosing five ATAR subjects

If you choose five ATAR subjects, you’ll have one extra ATAR subject to back you up, plus room for a general subject in year 11. General subjects are great because they can add some fun to your school life. If you like doing physical, outdoor activities, why not do Outdoor Education General? If you like art, why not try Visual Arts General?

You can then continue your general subject in year 12, or ask for a study period so you can spend more time studying for your ATAR subjects.

Ask for help!

No matter what you decide, it’s always good to remember that there are resources you can use, events you can attend and a few different people you can go to for help:

  • Career expos: Talk to organisations and ask them about how you can get into the type of career you’re interested in.
  • Myfuture: Use this tool to help recognise your interests, build your career profile, discover occupations and explore different industries.
  • University course pages: Browse courses at each university to determine the prerequisite year 11 and 12 subjects you need to pick for direct entry.
  • University open days: Discuss your future career options with lecturers and current university students, and resolve any unanswered questions you may have.
  • Your parents, school career advisor and teachers.

If you still have any questions about choosing your upper school subjects, feel free to leave a comment below!

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  • admin
    Studentbox User
    edited October 2017
    Do minimum methods and chemistry as that covers 95% of relevant degrees pre reqs
    Only do literature if you're a god at writing or actually enjoy writing essays on fiction book/poetry as that be a lot of work in 11&12
    Don't do things like PE studies or Drama unless you are really desperate, do real subjects that won't get dunk slammed on scaling
  • admin
    Studentbox User
    Urm no,
    @Specmain ; you can do whatever subjects that you want as long as you plan to excel on those subjects.

    PE Studies IS still and ATAR subject despite it being "not real". Subjects like Food Science and Tech, Drama, PE Studies are not termed "real" simply because they do not pertain to certain categories of Science or Humanities. For instance, in PE Studies, subjects like Hbio and Physics are integrated into that subject.

    If you enjoy PE, and think that PE Studies is beneficial for your future career, do it, instead of doing chemistry or physics if you have no plan to pursue those in the field of work. Furthermore, these subjects that are " not real" DO NOT give you a "dunk slammed" scaling. According to my knowledge Drama gets scaled down by 2 marks. 2 MARKS! It WILL NOT make a significant difference for your final WACE score. See, this is where your enjoyment becomes advantageous in doing these subjects. Essentially, if you enjoy doing a subject, you will do more of it hence resulting in you getting a higher grade (and landing higher than average). The higher your score is from average, the less scaling drags your mark down. 

    Even if you do "real" subjects, like Physics or Methods, if you don't enjoy them, you won't put in much effort. Which just brings your average down???!

    Chemistry, however and Methods (as 
    @Specmain ; mentioned )does account for a lot of undergraduate pre-requisites. So those subjects are definitely recommended. 

    I was also in Year 11, and I struggled so much with deciding for subjects. I experimented with a few different ATAR subjects and switched one for the other repeatedly. In the end all that matters is whether you are motivated or not.

    Motivation will ultimately determine your actions. Actions will lead you to or deter you from success. 

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