With so many subjects on offer in the VCE to cater to different people’s strengths, how do year 9 and 10 students choose the subjects that will be right for them, both in VCE and in the long run?
It would be difficult to find a year 7 or 8 student who hasn’t at least once voiced their frustration at having to take subjects that they have absolutely zero interest in. In most Victorian schools, the first two secondary years are jam-packed with everything from German to PE, and unless you’re one of those all-rounder types, the chances are you’ll have to endure a couple of years learning something that you’ll never do again. While years 9 and 10 can feel freeing as students are given autonomy to pick the subjects that align most closely with their interests, the choice also comes with risk: what if I choose the wrong subjects? As students get closer to senior years, with VCE looming around the corner, the stakes begin to feel particularly high. Especially for those who are uncertain about their future careers, choosing units can feel like an impossible task. However, with a little planning and research, plotting your VCE journey becomes a lot less stressful.
Here are some tips for students in years 9 and 10 to nail their VCE subject selections.
1: Make a list, and work through it one by one.
Each school will offer a different selection of subjects. While your initial instinct may be to go with what’s familiar, popular, or sounds fun, hold your horses. The idea of spending a year in a classroom with your best friend dissecting frogs in biology may sound great, but if you’re not up for learning the various stages of cell division or photosynthesis, perhaps you’re better off choosing something else and catching up with your friends at lunchtime. Make a list of every subject on offer in your school - you might be surprised that something you previously didn’t even know existed or didn’t properly consider is the right pick for you. Go through them one by one, thinking about whether the topics interest you, whether the types of assessments are ones you’re likely to perform well in, and how the subject will fit into your overall course load. For example, picking three content-heavy subjects at the same time might be a tough ask for some, and it might be a better option to balance something like History, which requires quite a bit of memory, with something more creative like Design Technology.
2: Gain a deeper understanding of what the subject actually covers.
Especially for the more common subject streams like maths and English, students often select a particular unit without much thought of the actual content covered. While the three most common maths subjects (Further, Methods, and Specialist) are often considered in terms of their perceived level of difficulty, and although that is true to an extent, the actual type of maths being learned is vastly different in each. Many students who are strong in maths in years 9 and 10 pick Specialist in addition to Methods, thinking it will simply be a more challenging form of Methods, only to realise mid-VCE that Specialist covers a whole area that more closely resembles Physics (which certainly isn’t for everyone). If your strengths in maths lie more in accounting-type maths than in kinematics, perhaps Further is the better option. Similarly, students who baulk at the prospect of a three-hour English exam may opt for Literature, for which the exam is only two hours. However, unless you’re truly passionate about literature, and enjoy studying texts on a deep level, right down to the structure of sentences, perhaps standard English is actually the better choice for you. Head to the VCAA website and start becoming familiar with the Study Designs of various subjects, which will not only help you in your selections, but in your study throughout years 11 and 12.
3: Think about VCE subjects in the broader context of your future.
Much is to be said about scaling of VCE subjects, and while it might be a wise choice to pick the more favourably scaled of two subjects you truly enjoy, making a selection purely based on scaling is a recipe for disaster. If you’re going to struggle to learn something that doesn’t play to your strengths, the chances are you’ll spend so much time studying for that one subject and so much time stressing that your grades in other subjects will fall behind. And even if this isn’t the case, and you survive VCE with a selection of subjects solely chosen to optimise your ATAR, you might be in for a shock when it gets to university time. If the subjects you’ve chosen are completely irrelevant to the course you preference and to the career you want to pursue, you might struggle a lot more to become the professional you want to be compared to someone with a lower ATAR who spent their VCE gaining the right building blocks to be a good architect, lawyer, nurse, or whatever it is that you’re passionate about.
4: Know the important uni course prerequisites.
While choosing subjects simply because they are prerequisites for certain highly-sought uni courses such as medicine or engineering may lead you into the same trap as choosing based on scaling, if you have a good idea of where your passions lie, it’s important to make sure you don’t rule yourself out of a particular course. While locking yourself into a career pathway in year 9 or 10 is by no means necessary, and on the contrary, often leads to future regret, spend some time familiarising yourself with the common prerequisites (e.g., Methods, Further, Chemistry), and consider them in the context of your interests and potential uni pathway.
While choosing VCE subjects can be daunting, and there’s no right or wrong answer to selection for units 1 & 2, spending some time really thinking about and learning more about the subjects on offer will give you the best possible chance of succeeding in VCE. And even if it turns out you made some wrong choices in year 11, there are units 3 & 4 subjects that you can pick up in year 12 without prior knowledge. Consider booking in a free 30-minute study skills consultation to discuss the best approach to subject selections for your individual needs.
Written by KIS Academics tutor Dee Tomic. Dee currently offers tutoring for Maths years 7-12 and for VCE Biology. Dee is completing her PhD in epidemiology with Monash University. If you have any questions for her or would like to request Dee as a tutor, feel free to reach out through her profile here.