The QCE Syllabus – how to understand it for your QCAA ATAR Subject

So what are the QCAA Senior Subject Syllabi? What use can they be when it comes to deciding on subjects? Or whether you want to do senior studies? Keep reading to find out.

15 days ago   •   4 min read

By KIS Academics
Photo by Thought Catalog / Unsplash

While generally overlooked by students, QCAA Senior Subject syllabi are very useful tools when it comes to your studies.

Whether you decide to take on applied or general subjects, the syllabus has something to offer (if you haven’t heard these terms, this link may be of use). In any case, the syllabus for all subjects can be found here under the “Syllabus” tab of the respective subject.

So why use the syllabus? The syllabus has two notable use cases, those being: subject selection and senior studies. Without further ado, here’s what it has to offer:

Subject Selection

It should go without saying, but one of the most important factors in making your subject selections is knowing what they actually teach you. For this, the “Course overview” section of a subject’s syllabus has you fully handled.

For the most part, the “Rationale” section of a course’s syllabus should provide everything that you might need to know for the purposes of choosing subjects. This includes:

-          The subject’s context

-          Any assumed knowledge

-          What you can expect to take away from the subject; and,

-          The pathways that the subject leads into

For those looking to take an even deeper look into the course, the syllabus also lays out the objectives of the subject and how it addresses the underpinning factors (literacy, numeracy, and 21st-century skills), and further information regarding assessment, subject matter or reporting standards depending on the type of subject.

Senior Studies

As addressed before, there are two types of subjects offered by QCAA in senior years – these being either applied or general. When getting into the course specifics, the two diverge in terms of formatting, so they’ll need to be considered independently.

Applied Subjects

Applied subjects are notably less standardised than General subjects, and as such have just two key sections for current senior students, the subject matter and the assessment.

The subject matter section of the syllabus lays out all of the core focuses of the course as well as the electives that each school may choose to cover. The focusses of the course is broken down into further concepts, which are again broken down into specific points of knowledge, understanding and skills that are to be covered throughout the course. As the subject matter of the course is broken down so specifically, it makes it easy for you to be able to understand exactly what you will cover and be expected to know for the course.

The assessment section lays out the requirements that all pieces of assessment must follow, giving you the chance to ensure that you understand exactly what will be expected of you in order to achieve highly. While it doesn’t give you the assessments early, it gives you the opportunity to hone the abilities required for each task and get a thorough understanding of the assessment criteria before assignment specifications are released.

General Subjects

As general subjects are designed to set students up for higher education, they have highly standardised curriculums to ensure that you are adequately educated regardless of which school that you attend. The massive benefit of this is that the syllabus is highly specific and tells you exactly what you will need to know and will be assessed on. Every general syllabus breaks itself into four units, each of which detail the topics covered and the assessments associated.

In my experience preparing for external exams, the general subject syllabus (alongside practice papers) is the most important resource you have. This is thanks to the highly detailed topic breakdown provided for each unit. Every unit of each course breaks itself down into a number of topics, which are further broken down into sub-topics which themselves are broken down into very specific dot points. These dot-points serve both as a means to give you a head-start on the content that will be covered throughout your senior years and (as I used them), a checklist of the knowledge and skills that you need to ensure you have in preparation for assessment tasks.

The other point of note in general syllabi while you are in your senior years is the assessment section. For units 1 and 2, this is only expressed as simple guidance, but schools typically reflect similar assessment tasks as those outlined in units 3 and 4 respectively.

The unit 3 and 4 assessment sections outline a description of the task, the objectives of the assessment, assessment specifications, and the instrument-specific marking guide (the marking rubric). While the specific context of any given assessment task will vary by school, they will be of the same format and assess the same content.

Hopefully, this article helped break down just how useful the QCAA Senior Subject Syllabi can be to your studies. While every school will have some variations to the specifics of how a course is run, the syllabus sets out the standard for all schools across the state. Especially for those in general subjects who will be sitting external exams at the end of their studies, the syllabus is the best resource to understand exactly what you’re expected to know.

If you’re after resources to understand the content that the syllabus sets out for you, you can check out the KIS Online Course library, or find a tutor to help you with your studies. Additionally, you can check out our other articles for more information about conquering high school.


Written by KIS Academics Tutor, Quinn Horton. Quinn is currently pursuing a Bachelor's (Honours) and Master of Engineering [Mechatronics] at the University of Queensland. You can view his profile here if you would like to find out more about him or request him as a tutor.

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