HSC subject selection

Choosing your HSC courses or ‘subject selection'

Your aim is to attain the best HSC result you can. So, you should choose courses that you are good at, interested in and may use in the future.

When considering which courses to study, explore the content of a course. For example, what are the course outcomes? Will you be required to submit a major work, or perform, as part of your exams? Talk with your teachers about your strengths and weaknesses, as well as individual course requirements, before making your selections.

To achieve your HSC you must complete a minimum of:

  • 12 Preliminary units (usually studied in Year 11)
  • 10 HSC units (usually studied inYear 12).

In both Year 11 and Year 12 your course selection must include at least six units of Board Developed Courses, two of which must be English; three courses of two units or greater; and four subjects.

Most courses are worth two units, although some,including HSC Extension courses, are worth one unit. You must satisfactorily complete a Preliminary course before you can continue studying that course for your HSC.

If you want an Australian Tertiary Admission Rank(ATAR), check that you are studying at least 10 units of eligible Board Developed Courses.

No school can offer every HSC course to its students, so be prepared to make some compromises. Talk to your Year Adviser or Careers Adviser about the courses available at your school and individual course requirements, such as prerequisites and eligibility rules. Also, make sure you ask for information about any prerequisites for your future study or work plans.

Types of HSC courses

View a list of all HSC courses and descriptions and the relevant HSC syllabus.  View a listof all Board Developed Courses broken down by subject.

You must satisfactorily complete HSCcourse requirements. If you are not meeting requirements your principal will give you written warnings and the opportunity to correct any problems.

Board Developed courses are the large number of courses set and examined by the Board of Studies that also contribute to the calculation of the ATAR.

Board Endorsed courses are developed by schools, TAFE and universities. They count towards your HSC but do not have an HSC examination and do not contribute towards the calculation of your ATAR.

Special education (Life Skills) - If you have special education needs you can attain your HSC by studying Life Skills courses. There are specific entry requirements for the Life Skills courses and you still need to meet the general eligibility and study patterns to earn your HSC. You will need to talk with your Year Adviser or Careers Adviser to find out whether these courses are suitable for you. Life Skills courses do not count towards the ATAR.

Vocational Education and Training (VET) - VET courses can be studied either at school or through TAFE NSW and other training providers. You will need to check with your school about which courses are available and the requirements of the different courses. For example, all VET courses involve a minimum number of hours in the work place.

VET courses contribute towards your HSC and Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) VET credentials, recognised by industry and employers throughout Australia. Some of the Board Developed VET courses have an optional HSC exam so, if you choose to sit the exam, your results can also count towards your ATAR.

HSC pathways

Most students study the HSC over two years during Years 11 and 12. However, HSC pathways offer a more flexible program if you wish to combine your studies with employment or other commitments, such as family care or elite sporting or cultural pursuits.

Accumulation - You can take up to five years to complete your HSC studies. The five–year period starts in the first year you complete an HSC course. At the end of the five-year period you need to have met all of the HSC requirements.

Repeating courses - You can repeat one or more HSC courses, but it must be within the five–year accumulation period. Results of all attempts will appear on your Record of Achievement. In calculating your ATAR, the Universities Admissions Centre (UAC) will use the marks from your most recent attempt. Thereis no penalty for repeating a course.

Recognition of Prior Learning - You may be granted credit transfer – that is, be able to count courses studied in educational institutions, such as TAFE, towards your HSC. You may also be granted recognition of prior learning –that is, be exempted from some components of courses if you can show you have met the necessary outcomes in another way, eg interstate study. Recognition of prior learning may be granted for a Preliminary course, part of a Preliminary course or part of an HSC course.

Acceleration - If you accelerate in a course, you usually sit the HSC exam for that course at the end of Year 11 and accumulate your results.

School-based traineeships and apprenticeships - You can combine HSC study with a part time traineeship or apprenticeship. These combine paid work and training,lead to a recognised AQF VET credential and count towards your HSC.

HSC-University pathways for talented students

Talented students who have already accelerated in at least one HSC course and achieved high-level results can apply to begin their university studies and fast-track their first year university degrees at UNE, UNSW or Macquarie University. Students who have not accelerated in an HSC course but who have demonstrated outstanding academic achievement in other ways are also eligible to apply for this program, through Macquarie University only. Find out more about HSC-University pathways.

Useful links

Download the Studying for the NSW Higher School Certificate (PDF) flyer.