Year 10 is a critical time for prospective HSC students. The reason is that the Preliminary subjects you choose in year 10 for year 11 will determine what subjects you ultimately do for the HSC. If you get your subject selection wrong, you may be stuck doing subjects you don’t particularly enjoy, or subjects that offer limited benefit in terms of scaling.
HSC scaling – a brief reintroduction
The subjects you choose in year 10 determine how much you will benefit from the process of scaling. Briefly, scaling refers to the process by which raw assessment marks (e.g. from your internal exams and external HSC exams) are converted into scaled marks, which are marks on a common scale that allows the degree of achievement in different subjects to be compared against one another in a statistically fair way. The scaling process is undertaken by the UAC and the result of this process – your aggregate scaled mark (out of 500) – is the sole determinant of your ATAR. Therefore we can safely say that HSC scaling is a big deal if you intend on scoring a high ATAR.
In order to maximise the positive effect of HSC scaling, one must choose courses that are ‘scaled high’ – or in technical terms, have a high scaled mean. The scaled mean for a subject is an important statistic, which tells us the average scaled mark obtained by the subject’s cohort. The higher this statistic for a subject, the higher the subject is scaled generally. Scaled means are publicly available in Table A3 published each year by the UAC.
For full technical details on how the scaling process works, see our article on the topic: http://www.duxcollege.com.au/hsc-scaling-i-49.html
So why is subject selection important
It’s important to get your subject selection right the first time, because there’s limited to no chance to change after you’re well into year 11. Also the beneficial effect of scaling could be huge, or could be non-existent, depending on which subjects you chose. If your goal is to maximise your ATAR, you should also consider the scaling of a subject on top of whether you think you’ll enjoy it. The general rule is to select subjects you’ll be good at, amongst the subjects that offer a scaled mean of 29/50 or above.
What are some good subjects?
Have you noticed a pattern with graduates that score an ATAR of 99+? A significant portion of them do a combination of the following subjects:
What these subjects all have in common is that their scaled mean is all above 28/50 (most are around 30, with the best scaling from Maths Ext1 and Ext2 which goes as high as 45/50).
These subjects have higher scaled means due to the way in which the scaling process works. Year after year, the candidature of these subjects does comparatively better than their peers who do other subjects, including compulsory 2 units of English, which is used as a common scale to compare. What this means is that a high scaled mean often indicates higher subject difficulty, due to the fact that those students who do high-scaling subjects tend to do comparatively better than their peers in other subjects.
However, when it comes to advising students on what subjects to choose for year 11, we always advise students to go for as many of the aforementioned subjects as possible – so long as they can handle them. For example, a student with aptitude and interest in maths should always choose Maths Ext 1 in year 11 – this opens the possibility to take up Extension 2 in year 12, which has a massively positive scaling effect (the majority of ATAR 99+ graduates have completed the Extension 2 course). If a student absolutely hates maths, that’s OK – choose some sciences and some humanities subjects (e.g. English Extension 1 and Modern History with History Extension, or Economics). Many graduates with a combination of humanities and social sciences have scored 99+ without having done any level of maths! What’s important is the ability to understand your own strengths and weaknesses, and choosing decently-scaled subjects based on this understanding.