HSC Subjects: what science, maths and english subjects can I choose?

Ever wondered what subjects you can choose from in the HSC? Learn about the maths, science and english subjects NESA let's you choose from when completing your Year 11 and 12 HSC studies.

2 years ago   •   4 min read

By KIS Academics
Photo by Tom Hermans / Unsplash

The HSC is pretty complicated as it stands, and we've done our best to explain it in prior blog posts.

If you've read our "How the HSC works: Understanding New South Wales' Year 12 ATAR System" article, you might recall that there are quite a few options when it comes to your subjects for English, Maths and Science. If you're still on the fence when choosing the right HSC subject, it might be helpful to check out our comprehensive HSC Subject Selection Guide.

Let's take a look!


2 units of English is compulsory and will count towards your ATAR. In year 11 for most students their choices are (listed by increasing difficulty):

  • Standard English (2 units)
  • English Advanced (2 units)
  • English Advanced and English Extension 1 (3 units)

There are also EAL courses and English studies, but these are uncommon choices. The biggest difference between Standard and Advanced is that in Advanced you have to do a Shakespeare text. English advanced and extension syllabuses changed in 2019.

In year 12 students taking advanced and extension 1 can choose to pick up extension 2 as well. This is a major work where the students write a narrative (there is no exam component).

For both Standard and Advanced there are 4 modules, including a “common module” which both Standard and Advanced do. The 4 Modules are:

For advanced across all the modules you study 4 texts (1 in common, 2 in A and 1 in B). There must be at least one:

  • Shakespearean drama
  • Prose fiction
  • Poetry or drama

Mod C is completely separate from this. You also have to study a related text (of your choosing) in the common mod.

For standard, it is the same but instead of Shakespeare they have a digital text.

For Extension 1 there are only 2 modules (as it is only one unit, it is half the work). There is the common module called “Literary Worlds” and then a choice of elective module. The choices are:

  1. Literary Homelands
  2. Worlds of Upheaval
  3. Reimagined worlds
  4. Literary Mindscapes
  5. Intersecting worlds

For each elective students study at least 3 prescribed texts as well as 2 related texts of their choosing (yes, all for one module).

The exam is a 25-mark common module response (critical or creative or both) and a 25-mark essay on the chosen elective.


Maths is optional, but obviously, lots of students take it. In year 11 for most students their choices are (listed by increasing difficulty):

  • Standard 2 (2 units)
  • Advanced (2 units)
  • Advanced and Extension 1 (3 units)

There is also standard 1 but few schools offer this. The main difference between standard and advanced is that advanced is a calculus course and the standard is not. The standard syllabus changed in 2019, and the advanced and extension syllabuses changed in 2020.

In year 12 students taking advanced and extension 1 can choose to pick up extension 2 (1 unit) as well. This is a very challenging course. In contrast to English, if you choose to do extension 2 maths you do NOT sit the advanced exam. Here is an in-depth guide to the difference between HSC maths subjects.

Technically, you are enrolled in advanced (therefore doing 4 units of maths) but by the time you get to the HSC you take the 2-hour Extension 1 exam and the 3-hour Extension 2 exam only. This means your extension 1 and 2 marks (each out of 50) get doubled to make up your 4 units' worth of marks.

The year 12 topics covered are:


In year 11 science choices include:

  • Biology (2 units)
  • Chemistry (2 units)
  • Psychics (2 units)
  • Earth and Environmental (2 units)
  • Investigating Science (2 units)

In year 11 you can choose MAX 6 units of science courses.

In year 12 you can pick up:

  • Investigating science (2 units)*
  • Science extension (1 unit)**
  • Year 11 investigating science is not a prerequisite for this course. It is an easier course which some choose to replace their year 11 science with, in year 12.
  • *Science Extension is a course with a focus on the authentic application of scientific research skills to produce a Scientific Research Report generally acceptable for publication.

In year 12 you can choose MAX 7 units of science courses.

For every science course, there is a depth study requirement. A depth study is an investigation/activity that allows the further development of one or more concepts found within or inspired by the syllabus. Normally this is an experiment/series of experiments where you “find out” things. Your teacher isn’t supposed to help you. For example, my year 12 chemistry depth study was a series of acid/base titrations.

Science labels their year 12 modules as 5, 6, 7 & 8 (continuing from the 4 years 11 modules) and they are:

In Conclusion...

The HSC system can be quite complex, and understanding what's going on can be very daunting for new students and parents. If you ever need some assistance with HSC studies or subject specific help, KIS Academics tutors have a thorough understanding of their subjects and can assist in understanding curriculum requirements. Our tutors are able to provide materials and teaching on how to prepare for HSC internal and external assessments. Learn about our HSC tutoring and book a free study skills consultation with a KIS Academics tutor here.

Written by KIS Academics Tutor and State Consultant for New South Wales (HSC), Emma Ashley. You can view Emma's profile here and request her as a tutor.

Disclaimer: KIS Academics is not affiliated with the New South Wales Education Standards Authority (NESA). For a more detailed overview of the HSC, please refer to NESA materials.

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