Should you choose high-scaling subjects? VCE Explained

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Latin, French, Spesh, Chem, Methods. What do all of these subjects have in common? They scale like crazy. So should you take them? Well… maybe.

Years of tutoring VCE students means that when it comes to scaling, I’ve been asked every question you could possibly think of.

Read on as I break down the most commonly asked questions about VCE scaling.

How are raw scores calculated?

Contrary to popular belief, VCAA doesn’t pull these scores out of thin air.

Study scores are a rank in disguise.

Students are placed on a bell curve with a mean (average) of 30 and a standard deviation around 7. For the non-mathematically inclined, this means study scores represent a percentile.

Here’s a quick summary:

Raw scorePercentile

Why do VCE subjects scale?

Ask your mates this question and they’ll probably tell you that some subjects scale up because they’re hard, and others scale down because they’re easy.

This isn’t exactly true.

After all, who decides what’s easy and what’s hard?

Albert Einstein was probably rubbish at sociology but you’d still back him to get a 50 in physics. Charles Darwin was famously terrible at maths but is now one of the most celebrated biologists of all time.

Scaling has nothing to do with how difficult the content is to learn. Instead, it’s a reflection of how competitive the cohort for your subject is.

Imagine you’re an average student competing against a cohort of very strong students. You’re at a disadvantage because the other students will probably outperform you. Even though you’re an average student, you’ll end up with a below average score.

The scaling system takes the strength of your cohort into account and will scale your score up to compensate.

How does VCE scaling work?

Let’s use French as an example. In 2020, scoring a raw 30 in French would have earned you a scaled score of 41.

This means that if you took every single French 3/4 student who scored a raw 30 in 2020, and averaged their study scores across all of their other subjects, you would get 41.

In simpler terms, students who scored a raw 30 in French were likely to score around 41 in their other subjects.

Will high scaling get me a good study score?

The short answer is… it depends.

High scaling subjects will reward you with a good study score if and only if you are good at that particular subject.

The maths that underpins the scaling system makes it impossible to game the system and get free bonus points for your study score.

If you are a perfectly average maths student (remember, an average score is 30) and you take specialist maths, you are likely to score a raw 22 because this would scale to a 30.

What’s more, choosing a high-scaling subject that you don’t enjoy or that you aren’t good at can have a number of detrimental effects on your study, namely:

  1. burnout
  2. feeling overwhelmed
  3. spending more time studying, and neglecting your other subjects

On the flip-side, choosing interesting subjects that you are good at will lead to:

  1. less effort required to study
  2. less time studying
  3. better marks
  4. sparking genuine new interests, which may even help you choose a career.

It’s a no brainer if you ask me.

Written by

  • Mayu is a doctor, researcher, and founder of Intuition Academics. His passion for education has culminated in years of teaching high school and medical students. In his spare time you'll find him perched on a mountain with a camera in one hand, and a tripod in the other.

One thought on “Should you choose high-scaling subjects? VCE Explained

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