The HSC Syllabus - what it is and how to understand it for your subject to ace the HSC

If you're curious about the HSC syllabus, you're in just the right place - we go through the Maths, English, Legal Studies and much more in this article!

2 years ago   •   8 min read

By KIS academics
Photo by Mikołaj / Unsplash

The HSC syllabus is an essential and extremely helpful tool to enable you to excel in all your subjects.

It outlines in detail what you should be learning for each subject and thus provides insight into all the possible areas that can be assessed in your internal and external examinations.

Always keep a hard copy of your syllabus on hand so it can be easily referred to throughout the year as this will be your best friend and Bible for each of your subjects and a key to your success. 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.

Hop onto the NESA website to access the syllabus for each of your subjects. Have a good read and use this guide to grasp how to read the syllabus and use it to your advantage.

What is the HSC Syllabus and how is it helpful?

As previously stated, the syllabus is essential for providing a framework for each of your subjects, providing a checklist of what you should expect to cover in class and the outcomes that will be assessed. What these means are particular skills or concepts that will be assessed to test your understanding.

Guides examination expectations

The main benefits of the syllabus are to guide your expectations for what will come up in your exams. These include both trials and HSC exams as well as other assessment tasks completed throughout the year.

For instance, the Legal Studies syllabus practically provides you with a checklist of what you are expected to have learnt in the ‘Students learn about. Moreover, the ‘students learn to’ column indicates the way in which you should be able to apply the concepts studied. For example, by learning about the meaning of crime and elements of a crime, students should be able to describe the nature of the crime as this description would involve those points learnt.

Structure study and notes

As each syllabus is divided into a few separate sections and subsections, it provides ease with the structure of your notes by providing clear sections where you can note down useful information to recall for exams.

This helps you create a direct link between what is being taught in class and where to include it in your notes to ensure you have notes on all the required areas of the subject. It thus enables you to identify any concepts that haven’t been covered in class so that you can fill in any blanks to ensure you are prepared for your exams.

Identify what markers are looking for

Although a question may not explicitly address a concept studied in class/within the syllabus (by avoiding using the exact same wording as the syllabus), by having a good understanding of the syllabus, you will gain ideas on how to answer questions. Notably, the markers will expect you to answer questions that may appear vague by drawing on the topics covered in the syllabus.

Subject Specific Advice


English Standard syllabus

English Advanced syllabus

English Extension 1 syllabus

For all English subjects, rubrics are provided for each module completed. It is important to deconstruct keywords to identify the concepts of focus. This process is important as these should guide the analysis of your texts, guide your note taking and how to approach answering exam questions. Notably, these concepts should be embedded throughout your extended responses and guide your analysis of the unseen texts.

Looking at a part of the English Advanced common module rubric:

Students explore how texts may give insight into the anomalies, paradoxes and inconsistencies in human behaviour and motivations, inviting the responder to see the world differently, challenge assumptions, ignite new ideas or reflect personally. They may also consider the role of storytelling throughout time to express and reflect particular lives and cultures. By responding to a range of texts they further develop skills and confidence using various literary devices, language concepts, modes and media to formulate a considered response to texts.

The first step is to highlight any key points made and identify how this is to impact the way in which you break down the text being studied for each module and how it could impact the possible questions you may expect and what you should aim to include in your responses.

  1. When going through the text, identify different anomalies, paradoxes and inconsistencies
  2. Notably looking at human behaviour and motivations rather than anomalies, paradoxes and inconsistencies in other things.
  3. When studying the text, note ways in which assumptions are challenged - what is the assumption, and how is it challenged? What is the text that ignites new ideas and how? What kind of ideas?
  4. Use of storytelling (through the text type, e.g storytelling through the novel form) to reflect human behaviour, particularly those related to those the context of the novel. E.g the use of the character of Shylock (a Jew), in the Merchant of Venice, reflects on the treatment of Jews in Venetian society.
  5. Use literary devices, language concepts, modes and media to communicate arguments. Therefore, while breaking down a text and extracting quotes, identify literary devices and their effect, and their use in communicating previous points.

Moreover, it is important to be aware of which section of each module is being assessed. For example, as the common module is assessed in all of paper 1, the concepts drawn out of the syllabus can help guide expectations of possible questions that can be asked in regard to the unseen texts provided.

This is seen in the question below which was asked in the English Advanced 2021 HSC exam. This clearly links the overarching concept of the human experience, with the use of literary devices, specifically imagery. Therefore, by using the syllabus to prepare notes on human experiences and ensuring an understanding of what they are, anomalies, paradoxes and inconsistencies in human behaviour within the text, the syllabus effectively guides responses.

Moreover, it is important to be aware of which texts are related to each module studied. Each module has a prescribed text list, so it is important to view this well in advance to ensure you have sufficient notes on a text for each module. This is vital as in trials and HSC exams, there may be questions unique to the text studied by your cohort, which differs from other schools. For instance, if for the common module in school you studied the novel ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’, you are required to have a look through the list of questions and select option ‘c‘ which is relevant to what you have studied and the notes you had prepared.


Mathematics Standard Syllabus

Mathematics Advanced Syllabus

Mathematics Extension 1 Syllabus

Mathematics Extension 2 Syllabus

The mathematics syllabuses can be used as a checklist for content that you should have learnt, and be comfortable with, in order to provide the necessary skills and techniques to solve the questions provided in exams. Here is a quick guide on what the difference is between each math subject.

The outcomes provide a general overview of everything that you are expected to be able to do on completion of each topic and can be used as a checklist to check if you have a sufficient understanding of the content covered.

Similarly, the content section provides more specific dot points on each of the mathematical concepts and methods you should be able to understand and execute.

Using the syllabus as a checklist for your study for maths, effectively ensures you are prepared to answer all questions and that all solutions are within the scope of what you have learnt and that nothing was missed by teachers.

For instance, question 15 from the 2021 paper requires you to integrate the following:

Although not specifically noted to apply F1.1, to integrate, an index must be present to apply the usual steps of integration. By knowing how to use index laws and surds, as covered in class (as per the syllabus), you would be expected to rectify the issue by transforming the surd into index form.

Legal Studies Syllabus

Studies of Religion I Syllabus

Studies of Religion II Syllabus

These two syllabuses have been structured in a very similar style where there is a ‘students learn to’ and a ‘students learn about’ column. You should use the ‘students learn about’ column as a checklist for what has been covered in class. Whilst the ‘students learn to’ column should be used to test your understanding. This can be done by turning those points into short answer questions and seeing if you can answer them (or extended responses depending on the way in which the section is assessed in the HSC).

Moreover, in Legal Studies, the themes and challenges at the top of the syllabus for each topic (e.g. Crime, Human Rights etc.), are important to be understood. Not only this, but you should try and include them in your notes and identify which sections of the syllabus they relate to. This arises from these being commonly incorporated in HSC questions, combining a dot point from the syllabus and a theme and challenge.

Modern History, Society and Culture, Ancient History and many more

Modern History Syllabus

Ancient History Syllabus

Society and Culture Syllabus

Under each topic, many syllabuses have a list of all the content that is to be covered in this topic area (as seen below). Each of those points should act as subheadings for your notes and guide the information that you are expected to learn and retain for exams as it is all assessable.


As can be seen, each syllabus is slightly different in the way in which it has been structured. However, overall, each syllabus contains the content that should be covered as well as some outcomes that will be assessed. By directing yourself to the section of the syllabus document that contains this information on each topic, you can simply read the points provided. This will tell you all that you are expected to know.

Therefore, by structuring your notes and aligning your understanding with the syllabus, you will be adequately prepared for trial and HSC exams.

Written by KIS Academics Tutor Sandrine Maximous, for HSC Legal Studies, Maths and more! Sandrine is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Actuarial Studies and Information Technology (majoring in Data Science) at MQU. You can view Sandrine's profile here and request her as a tutor.

Spread the word

Keep reading