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Biology vs Chemistry vs Physics

In this post, we explain the differences between Biology, Chemistry, and Physics in the new syllabus starting 2019.

The New Year 11 & 12 (Stage 6) Science syllabus

The new Year 11 & 12 (Stage 6) Biology, Chemistry and/or Physics Syllabus was introduced from the 2018 Year 11 cohort. The syllabus introduced new content not taught in the previous syllabus. In 2019, the Extension Science course was introduced and allowed Year 12 students to take an additional unit of science for the first time.

In this post, we answer some frequently asked questions from Year 10 students about choosing the right Science courses for Year 11.

  • What are the differences between Biology, Chemistry and Physics?
  • Should I choose Biology, Chemistry and/or Physics?
  • Which science course should I study if I am interested in studying Health, Medicine or Dentistry at University?
  • Is it true that there is an overlap between Chemistry and Physics?


Introducing the  Year 11 Biology, Chemistry and Physics syllabuses

Year 11 Science is the first year of Stage 6 Science. Stage 6 refers to years 11 and 12.  Year 9 and 10 Science is known as Stage 5 Science.

Stage 6 Science offers three different science courses – Biology, Chemistry, and Physics. More details about Stage 6 can be found on the NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) website.

Year 11 Biology, Chemistry and Physics courses are split into a skills component and four modules of study. The skills components will be covered within the four modules of study. The modules for the Year 11 curriculum are:

Year 11 Biology Year 11 Chemistry Year 11 Physics
Working Scientifically Working Scientifically Working Scientifically
Module 1
Cells as the Basis of Life Properties and Structure of Matter Kinematics
Module 2
Organisation of Living Things Introduction to Quantitative Chemistry Dynamics
Module 3
Biological Diversity Reactive Chemistry Waves and Thermodynamics
Module 4
Ecosystem Dynamics Drivers of Reactions Electricity and Magnetism

Please note that Year 11 students at Matrix start the course one term ahead of school. This means Year 11 students will start their studies in October of the previous year (when they are in Year 10 at school). Learn more about Matrix Year 11 courses.


Comparing Science courses: Biology vs Chemistry vs Physics

The Year 11 Science course structure is outlined in the table below:

Biology Chemistry Physics
Aim Develop an appreciation and understanding of biological concepts that are used to explore the diversity of life, from a molecular to a biological systems level, and the interactions between living things and the environments in which they live. Develop an appreciation and understanding of materials and their properties, structures, interactions and related applications. Develop an appreciation and understanding of the application of the principles of physics, and of the theories, laws, models, systems and structures of physics.
Objective Develop knowledge and understanding of the structure and function of organisms and the Earth’s biodiversity and the effect of evolution Develop knowledge and understanding of the fundamentals of chemistry and the trends and driving forces in chemical interactions Develop knowledge and understanding of fundamental mechanics, electromagnetism, and energy.
 Overview A detailed study at all levels of organisation of life, spanning from organelles and cells in an organism to communities and ecosystems. Chemistry is the study of matter and how it interacts. Year 11 chemistry establishes the fundamentals of chemistry. Students develop an understanding of the conceptual foundations of physics – of mechanics, electromagnetism and energy.

They also develop logic and problem solving skills, including calculation skills.

 Summary Year 11 Biology begins by investigating cells as the basis of living things, and considering the structure and function of cells.

Students then examine how cells build into tissues, organs and organ systems, and how these different systems form individual plants and animals.

Students then study how the individual fits into a community and ecosystem, and how environmental pressures can drive the evolution of living things through a handful of case studies.

Year 11 Chemistry studies the fundamental concepts required to understand the properties of matter and chemical reactions.

Students first learn the about the structure of atoms and how this determines the reactivity of different elements, and how atoms are arranged in different compounds and mixtures.

Students learn to make calculations relating to the amounts of matter involved in reactions, and gain a deeper understanding of why substances behave in certain ways in terms of their physical and chemical properties.

Year 11 physics covers fundamental concepts from classical physics.

They study forces and motion and learn to use vector arithmetic and graphing methods.

Students also learn about wave properties and motion, and how energy may be transferred by a wave or in the form of heat.

Students learn how charged objects interact by covering electricity and magnetism.



Choosing the right Science course (Biology, Chemistry and/or Physics)

Students should consider the following when making a decision:

  • What subjects they are interested in.
  • What they are good at.
  • How much time they may need to commit to each course, in the context of their entire Year 11 and Year 12 workload.
  • What they would like to pursue at university.

Through the Year 9 and 10 modules – The Living World, The Chemical World, and The Physical World – students will have sampled Biology, Chemistry and Physics. These modules form a basis for the Stage 6 syllabus, and enable students to determine which of the science subjects they are interested in. Students should also consider how they performed in each of the modules and how challenging they found them.

The different science courses may be recommended courses or assumed knowledge for certain university courses. The flowchart below shows the general progression from high school to university courses.  More detailed information for specific university courses is provided in following sections.


Science Progression Chart


Identifying recommended Science subjects for different university courses

Listed below are the minimum ATAR results needed for domestic students to have been accepted into some popular university courses in 2017, and each course’s assumed knowledge and recommended subjects. Students who do not satisfy the assumed knowledge requirements should undertake a bridging course prior to the commencement of their degree. (Bridging courses are intensive courses that attempt to cover large portions of the Stage 6 syllabus over short periods of approximately 10 days.)

University of New South Wales

Course Name 2018 ATAR Cut Off Assumed Knowledge Recommended Subjects
Actuarial Studies 97.30 Mathematics Extension 1 English Advanced, Mathematics Extension 2
Aerospace Engineering 92.00 Mathematics Extension 1, Physics Chemistry, Engineering Studies, Mathematics Extension 2, Information Processes and Technology, Software Design and Development
Architectural Studies 95.60 None English Advanced, Ancient History, Modern History, Design and Technology, Visual Arts
Commerce 96.30 Mathematics English Advanced, Mathematics Extension 1
Electrical Engineering 91.00 Mathematics Extension 1, Physics Mathematics Extension 2, Chemistry, Biology, Engineering Studies, Software Design and Development, Information Processes and Technology
Medical Studies/Doctor of Medicine 96.00* English Standard (Band 4) Chemistry

 University of Sydney

Course Name 2018 ATAR Cut Off Assumed Knowledge Recommended Subjects
Commerce (Liberal Studies) 95.00 Mathematics None
B Advanced Computing New Degree Mathematics Extension 1 None
Medical Science 90.00 Mathematics, Chemistry plus Biology or Physics. None
Oral Health 83.00* Chemistry None
Pharmacy 90.00 Mathematics, Chemistry Biology, Physics
Veterinary Biology/
Doctor of Veterinary Medicine
* Mathematics, Chemistry, Physics Biology
Science/ Law 99.50 Mathematics None
Advanced Science New Degree Mathematics None

Macquarie University

Course Name 2018 ATAR Cut Off Assumed Knowledge Recommended Subjects
Actuarial Studies 97.00 Mathematics Extension 1 (Band E4) Mathematics Extension 2
Arts – Psychology/Laws 96.70 None Mathematics

University of Technology

Course Name 2018 ATAR Cut Off Assumed Knowledge Recommended Subjects
Design in Architecture/Creative Intelligence and Innovation 96.10 English (any 2 units)Mathematics Visual Arts, Design and Technology, History (any 2 units)
Engineering (Hons) Civil, Diploma in Engineering Practice 92.00 English Standard, Mathematics Extension 1, Physics English Advanced

* ATAR + additional selection criteria



Scaling of Biology, Chemistry and Physics Courses

Scaling is the process of converting HSC marks into scaled marks for comparison across different subjects. This is required as students undertake different courses, and a certain mark in one course may not equate to the same mark in another course, e.g. if courses differ in difficulty. Essentially, comparing the marks of students studying different science courses is not accurate in terms of comparing students to one another.

A different level of scaling is applied to each subject, as this reflects the different demands of the subject.

As a general rule, the “harder” the unit of study, the better the scaling it receives.

Chemistry and Physics scales better than Biology.

For example,

    • A student in 90th percentile (top 10 percent in the state) in Chemistry and Physics will receive a scaled mark of 41.5/50 and 42/50 which equates to 83/100  and 84/100 respectively.
    • A student in 90th percentile in Biology will receive a scaled mark of 39/50 which equates to 78/100, whereas a student in the 96th percentile will receive a mark around 84/100. A biology student will need to be ranked in 96th percentile to obtain the same scaled mark as a Chemistry and Physics student ranked in the 90th percentile.

Please note that students should not be choosing subjects based on scaling. Instead, scaling graphs should be used as the tool for determining your required position/rank in the state for you to obtain your desired ATAR. The scaling graph should tell you how well you would need to do in a certain subject, which can be considered along with the student’s abilities and workload. Consider the following examples:

  • A student is interested in and has been performing well in Physics, and Physics scales quite well. The student is likely to get good “value” for their effort if they study Physics.
  • A student is not interested in Physics and finds it difficult. They perform better in Biology and find it more interesting, but are considering Physics as it scales better. The student will be required to work harder if they study Physics, which will consume time they could be devoting to other subjects. The student should consider how well they could do in either Physics or Biology, and their other subjects, with the time they would devote to each.

Scaling is a complex idea. If you would like to know more you should read All About ATAR Scaling


Similarities between Chemistry and Physics

Chemistry and Physics both appeal to students with stronger logical thinking as both subjects involve calculations, conceptual understanding and explanations of processes. However, is there really any overlap between the two? The short answer is no.

Whilst there is some small overlap in the Stage 6 content such as energy transfer and the structure of atoms, the details, context, approach and emphasis differ between Chemistry and Physics.


Popular combinations

Some students take multiple science subjects depending on their interests, strengths and future plans. Here are popular subject combinations undertaken at Matrix:

Biology Chemistry Physics
42% of Biology students also studied Chemistry 12% of Chemistry students also studied Biology 11% of Physics students also studied Biology
15% of Biology students also studied Physics 39% of Chemistry students also studied Physics 56% of Physics students also studied Chemistry


Extension Science

Extension Science has been available as an option to Year 12 students since 2019. It is a 1-unit course and can be taken in Biology, Chemistry or Physics in addition to the regular courses.

The extension unit is not like traditional courses. Whilst it contains some theory content (mostly based on analysing data and statistics)  it is instead more like a research project. Students must perform their own research or data analysis and write a research report that reviews the scientific literature and also their own results. The investigation can be in collaboration with a university research group, depending on what arrangements the student/school are able to make. Students can refer to the NESA website for more information.


Want to take your Science marks to the next level?

Matrix offers term and holiday courses for Biology, Chemisty, and Physics to help you refine your knowledge and understand complex issues. Our science courses run one term ahead of school to give you the edge in class. Book a free trial lesson and find out how Matrix helps thousands of students each year!

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Written by DJ Kim

DJ is the founder of Matrix Education and has over 20 years of HSC Physics teaching experience. He is the co-author of the Matrix Science program, course materials and assessments. He is also renowned for his ATAR & Scaling seminars and development of the first ATAR Calculator.


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