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How to help your child pick their school subjects

Mum and daughter sitting at the kitchen table looking at books

Choosing school subjects is an emotional time for your high school student. They’re dreaming about the future, which can be simultaneously exciting and terrifying.

While they may not ask for your help, with the right guidance from you even the most independent teenager will be prepared for university and the career of their choice.

Your teenager is getting a lot of information from their high school about what’s needed to be successful at uni. Unfortunately, they’re likely to get competing advice depending on whom they speak with. Good teachers can influence a student’s choices but the subject might not be suitable as a career option for your child – or even interesting in the absence of daily interaction with a favourite teacher. School counsellors may suggest a career pathway that isn’t challenging enough, especially if your child hasn’t performed well on standardised testing. Add in unrealistic dreams about mega-stardom and advice from friends who definitely know more than you – about everything – and parenting advice can quickly drift into confrontation. So what do you need to know to help your teenager choose school subjects?

What are the most important subjects to choose in high school?

If your child is planning on applying for university, they should select subjects in high school for the degree they want to pursue. This means ATAR subjects are the most desirable because the ATAR is used to determine eligibility for university entrance.

If your teenager isn’t sure what they want to do, encourage them to select subjects they’re interested in. These courses are more likely to keep their attention and give them the best chance for achieving a high ATAR. Guide them to subjects that will give them a diverse range of career and study options. English and STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and maths – provide school leavers the most flexibility in both study and career pathways.

How prerequisites fit in the decision-making process

Students expecting to achieve an ATAR must complete a minimum of four Year 12 ATAR courses. The Year 12 courses will be dependent on the completion of previous coursework, or what are called prerequisite subjects.

It’s important your student understands the pathway of their chosen ATAR coursework before they begin to select subjects. Here’s why: Units 1 and 2 for a course of study are generally taken as a pair in Year 11. Units 3 and 4 for the same course of study are then taken as a pair in Year 12. Units 1 and 2 are a prerequisite and must be completed before Units 3 and 4.

What you need to know about scaling

Every student in WA is given a fair and equal chance for university admission through a scaling process. Raw marks are adjusted so students are not unfairly discriminated against if they choose an ‘easy’ course and they’re not given an advantage for choosing a ‘difficult’ course. It ensures students are not impacted by the school they attend. The way scaling works levels the playing field for all students.

Busting scaling myths

  • The scaling process is reconfigured every year based on the student performance of that year – there are no guarantees about what courses are scaled up or down. Check out the TISC website for more information on scaling statistics.
  • There’s no advantage to choosing courses that are usually scaled up. If your child does not have the aptitude for a particular subject, they won’t excel and will likely receive a lower score than people who do well in the subject.
  • There is no direct comparison between WACE combined scores and Average Marks Scaling (AMS). A WACE combined score shows student performance in relation to the other students in the same course. So, a combined mark of 65 in English ATAR is not the same as a 65 in Physics ATAR. By contrast, a scaled score is comparable across all ATAR courses. A scaled score of 65 in Dance ATAR is equivalent to a scaled score of 65 in Math ATAR.

Is the ‘List A, List B’ thing true?

High school subjects are divided into List A and List B categories to ensure students receive a breadth and depth in their education. List A includes arts, languages, and social sciences. List B is for maths, sciences and technology. One list is not better than the other and WACE requires a minimum of one pair of units be taken from each list.

Is your student struggling with high school? Read more about the warning signs and what you can do to help. 

Posted on:

5 Feb 2020

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