Mathematics A, B or C – which should my child study?

Maths Methods leads to more careers

2018 Update: With the transition from OP to ATAR, the names and structure of Queensland senior maths subjects changed. The below is still generally applicable if you change the names:
Maths A – General Mathematics
Maths B – Mathematical Methods
Maths C – Specialist Mathematics

Here is our UPDATED post incorporating the NEW Australian Curriculum maths subjects.

“Lock in B, Eddie!”

We say students should have Mathematics B as their default expectation, and aspire to it from early on.

In Year 10, students choose which maths subjects to study in year 11 and 12 for their QCE. But the road to Maths B starts years before then.

Keep options open.

Predicating the future is hard. Careers advisers and school maths teachers give good advice in most cases, balancing student goals, career pathway, academic aptitude, workload, stress, OP/ATAR score, university course prerequisites, school timetable… Here I’ll be speaking very generally, as individual situations vary.

But we find that the mid-high-school ideas that students have about their future careers are not often what they eventually decide to follow in adulthood. So, the best strategy is to keep academic options as wide as possible for as long as possible.

We say “aim for the top”, academically, and then if you so choose, it’s easier to do anything below that. Fact is, it’s easier for an engineer to become a gardener, than the other way around. That’s not to judge how worthwhile or fulfilling these professions are for individuals; but one requires a higher level of academics than the other.

The best time to get that academic knowledge under your belt is during schooling. Once you enter the workforce, take on responsibilities, start a family, it’s harder to find the resources for further study. That doesn’t mean it’s not happening – in fact, Australians are changing careers more often than ever – but education is easier earlier, when you are given the time to focus on it.

Maths B opens more doors.

If you haven’t already, do read our overview of Maths A, B and C.

The default expectation at ELC is that our students are heading for Maths B. Wider career choices, higher-level thinking skills, more focused peer group. We advocate that ELC students be placed in higher maths groups all along until they choose for themselves in year 10 which maths to study in year 11.

Some schools start ‘streaming’ students into higher- and lower-level maths groups way before they start actively talking about career pathways – sometimes as early as year 8. This presupposes that students in lower level maths streams will not study Maths B or C in years 11 and 12.

Should schools stream? – now that’s a topic that needs its own discussion: here.

NOTE: ‘Streaming’ is so commonly conflated with ‘setting’, that I’ll just be calling everything streaming. But here’s a nice explanation of the difference.

The tendency is to expect that higher stream students are headed for Maths B (and C if they choose). The lower stream is headed for Maths A. Once you’re in that lower stream, it’s hard to convince teachers to move you up. On the other hand, if you’ve been holding your own in Maths B, strategically swapping to Maths A is no problem at all.

There is a safety net

While projecting high (yet realistic) expectations, it’s also necessary to avoid pressure. Pressure can hinder learning and results, not to mention metal health. To avoid undue stress, it is healthy to keep in mind that if a student doesn’t study the prerequisite subjects or score the ATAR/OP they need to proceed immediately to their preferred carer pathway, there are always other ways to reach their goals.

Maths B is a prerequisite for some university courses, so taking it at school can streamline entry to those courses. But universities do offer intensive bridging courses (for example, Griffith)  for students who have not taken the subject in school but need it for course entry. As the name suggests though, these are intensive courses – it’s comparatively leisurely to study the content over two years at school.

(Check the lists of prerequisites for Queensland university courses from 2021)

So, in summary:

  • At ELC our default position is that all our students aim for Maths B in years 11 and 12.
  • If your school streams in maths, advocate for your child to be in the higher stream.
  • As at ELC they learn beyond their peers, we support and advocate for our students to be in higher streams.

To discuss your child, call 54781172 or email

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About the Author: Dan Blore
Dan Blore manages and teaches at Extended Learning Centres. He has spent 20 years in education, having studied secondary education at University of the Sunshine Coast. He has taught in Australia and Germany and studied at university in Italy. He most enjoys teaching and studying mathematics and languages, both of which he focused on at university.

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