New QCE Maths Subjects Explained

Mathematical Methods General maths specialist maths explained

New Senior Maths Subjects Explanation  – as briefly as possible – 2020 update

In Year 10, students select which mathematics subject/s to study in Years 11 and 12 for their Queensland Certificate of Education (QCE). Year 11s in 2019 were the first Queensland students to start the new maths subjects, which are Queensland’s implementation of the Australian Curriculum. Those same students in 2020 will be the first Year 12s to complete these subjects.

There are still three main mathematics subjects, broadly equivalent to the old Maths A, B and C, which you might be more familiar with. The new names are slightly more enlightening, but since we’re often asked, “Is Maths B General Maths?” a little explanation seems in order. (Short answer: no.)

The new ‘general’ ATAR subject: …is roughly equivalent to the old:
General Mathematics Mathematics A
Mathematical Methods Mathematics B
Specialist Mathematics Mathematics C

‘General’ subjects can count towards an ATAR, which replaced OP for Year 12s graduating from 2020, for university admission straight from school. The final exams for these subjects are ‘external’ – centrally developed, rather than by each school individually. In other words, every Queensland student studying Maths Methods, for example, will take the exact same final exam on the same day.

There is also an easier ‘Applied’ maths subject, Essential Mathematics – only one applied subject can be included in an ATAR calculation.

More explanation of how General and Applied subjects count towards an ATAR.
More information on planning for Queensland Certificate of Education (QCE) eligibility.

Our process at ELC prioritises the core topics which every student will cover. When students begin a new school year, we then use curriculum planner sheets from schools to prioritise other topics as needed per individual. In this way, ELC students can stay ahead of their class – ELC students then see school lessons as revision and consolidation, alleviating the workload they would have experienced if they had not seen the topics prior.

Choosing Maths Subjects

Our default advice is for students to aim for Mathematical Methods. Please read why here. For now though, some main points:

Students decide senior subjects midway though Year 10.

Of the ‘general’ (as opposed to ‘applied’) subjects, General Maths is the least taxing. Specialist Maths must be studied alongside Maths Methods, which increases the maths workload. However, these two subjects also complement each other, meaning engaged learners report that doing two maths subjects doesn’t feel as hard as doing two unrelated subjects.

It is possible to switch to an easier maths subject in Year 11 if the student finds that they really aren’t coping with the one/s they chose. Conversely, it’s very rare to move to a harder maths subject because students will have missed topics which will be assumed knowledge from then on.

One big factor is puberty… the brain disruption and distractions that come with it. This comes at different times and with varying effects for each student. (It is particularly ill-timed for boys.) But all students will cope much better if they know what to expect, have learnt ahead, and have set in place the right habits before their brain goes AWOL for a while.

If Maths Methods will likely be a prerequisite for their desired degree (such as engineering, science and other courses), we usually recommend doing it at school. But it’s worth keeping in mind that universities do provide bridging courses (like this one at QUT for example) for those who did not complete Maths Methods at school but who will need it for university. At school the pace is slower and there is more support. The summer bridging courses are intensive. But once students come out the other side of puberty and can think straight again, they are often better able to handle it.

With the change in curriculum, the focus of high school maths assessments has changed from routine, familiar problems to open-ended investigations. This is catching some students unprepared. Read more here.

Quick summary of each subject

The contents of the three maths differ in purpose, and they increase in complexity in this order: Essential, General, Methods, Specialist.

Mathematical Methods – recommended for most

Mostly abstract in content, based on algebraic modelling in the main. It introduces students to calculus, and involves making and applying mathematical models in real-world situations and in purely mathematical contexts, deducing properties and communicating results.

Success in Maths B demonstrates a higher level of abstract thinking, problem solving and process application. A sound foundation in most maths topics up to this point is assumed knowledge.

From early on, we encourage our ELC students to aim to study Maths Methods because it is recommended for direct career pathways in engineering, business, science, medicine, mining, information technology, mathematics, finance and economics.

Some university courses require Maths Methods or equivalent as a prerequisite for entry to these courses. For others it is very helpful for understanding and coping with course content but not mandatory for entry. Successful Maths Methods students will find intro-level university maths courses quite stress-free, despite their fast pace.


Specialist Mathematics

Maths Methods students can choose to study Specialist Maths as well as Methods, to extend their advanced maths skills to cover more specialised concepts – engineering and science related. Specialist Maths is recommended for students planning to undertake further study in mathematics – or those who have a strong interest or aptitude in maths.

Specialist Maths students will find many university maths and science courses much easier than other students. In some cases, very successful Specialist Maths students may negotiate recognition of prior learning (RPL) with their university to skip the intro-level maths courses, saving time and money.


General Mathematics

More ‘concrete’ than the others, this subject still requires some aptitude with algebra and mathematical modelling, but does not bring in calculus. Academically, it is more rigorous than the old Maths A, which is a good thing for Australia, but it is still less taxing than Maths Methods or Maths B.

Covering consumer arithmetic, length, area, shape, data, direction, distance utilising Pythagoras and trigonometry, growth and decay, Earth geometry and times zones; it focuses more on skills for life and the technical trades, for example, tool-making, sheet-metal working, fitting and turning, carpentry and plumbing, auto mechanics, as well as, tourism and hospitality, and administrative and managerial employment.

Students find the content on home loans, car loans, credit cards, budget planning useful in their personal lives. The extension of geometry, statistics and probability are useful for trade, business and managerial careers.

Assumed prior knowledge is significantly less, compared to Methods or Specialist Maths.


Essential Mathematics

A less challenging maths subject which focuses on essential life and work maths skills for students unable to undertake one of the other subjects – perhaps due to knowledge gaps or other learning challenges.

Essential Maths covers: calculations, graphs, managing money, time and motion, measurement, data summary, scale plans and models, probability, loans and interest.

All assessment is done by the school – no external exams.


The path to a successful maths mindset starts early!

Maths topics connect like the base of a pyramid to allow later topics to be built on top.

To give your child the best chance of studying Mathematical Methods talk to us years prior, when we can instil a foundation of mathematical thinking. Mid-to-late-primary school is perfect. Read how we do it.

Talk to us about your child’s future today.

Call 54781172, email principal@elc.net.au or contact us here.

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About the Author: Dan Blore
Dan Blore manages and teaches at Extended Learning Centres. He has spent 15 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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