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English 11-12

Should I Study HSC English Standard or Advanced?

Unsure about which level of English you should take for Stage 6? In this post we give you the information you need to make an informed decision.

Year 10 and Year 11 students are faced with a difficult decision – do they undertake English Standard or Advanced? Often students are unsure which level of English is right for their level of skills, or for their goals for the HSC and university. In this post, we answer some commonly asked questions:

  • What does English Standard involve?
  • Is English Advanced that much harder?
  • Does it matter which English subject I take?


Increasingly, universities have been requiring students to have a minimum result in either English Standard or Advanced.

Read on as we will look at the differences between the two courses so you can make the choice that is right for you!


English Advanced, English Standard? – Which is best for you?

The HSC splits English into three main streams:

The majority of students choose between English Advanced and English Standard. Often students are unsure which level of English they should choose. According to NESA (formerly BOSTES) in 2019,

  • 25366 students studied English Advanced course and
  • 30635 students studied English Standard course.


English is a time-intensive subject. Below is an overview of what’s involved in the study of English:

  • Reading the texts at least twice
  • Compiling notes on them
  • Textual analysis
  • Writing multiple practice essays
  • Receiving feedback and editing your responses
  • Developing and refining creative pieces.

If you are time poor, or struggle with English, this can be a daunting process.

Students often wonder if it is worth the extra time required to undertake the English Advanced course which is more time-consuming process. They are not sure about what the extra workload entails or what the benefits of taking on that work load are.

Therefore it’s important that the students understand the differences between English Advanced and Standard clearly before they make the decision. Let’s have a look at what the differences are.


English Advanced, English Standard – What’s the difference?

Year 12 English Standard Year 12 English Advanced
Difficulty of Texts

Students study easy texts that contain straightforward themes and ideas. Can be read once.

Students engage with complex texts. These texts have a variety of complicated ideas and themes. Must be read at least twice.
Literary Analysis
Introduces students to the basics of literary analysis. Standard students must be able to identify common literary techniques and comment on them. Advanced students must be able to identify a wide variety of literary techniques and discuss them in detail. Students must demonstrate that they understand how composers use techniques to represent meaning. This prepares students for tertiary study by engaging with complex concepts and advanced textual analysis.
Language Skills
Teaches students competence in grammar and communication. Teaches students a high level of written and oral communication, preparing them for a modern world. Students must be able to communicate complex ideas in a concise and accessible manner.


English Standard requires you to study four text types over the four modules – a novel, poetry, drama, and non-fiction. It shares the common AOS module with English Advanced. Rather than requiring students to take a Shakespeare, teachers have the option of choosing Shakespeare for the dramatic text.

The texts offered for English Standard lack the complexity of the texts found in English Advanced or the standard modules.

The modules for English Standard are easier and less complex than the English Advanced offerings.

There is no comparative study of texts, where students are required to study two texts and compare them and their themes. The approach taken to the texts is simpler, too.

Let’s consider the differences between the courses. Students sitting the HSC in 2019 will study the new syllabus. The new syllabus looks like this,

Year 12 English Standard (2019) Year 12 English Advanced (2019)
Common Module for all levels of English
Common Module: Texts and Human Experience
Common Module: Texts and Human Experience
Module A
Language, Identity and Culture

Students study a text in detail to see how language shapes identity.

Textual Conversations

Students study a pair of texts to explore the relationship between them.

Module B
Close Study of Literature

Students study a text in detail to see how composers use literary techniques to represent a variety of ideas.

Critical Study of Texts

Students study a text in great detail to see how composers represent a variety of ideas. They consider the text in relation to its context and discuss why the text is, or is not, a significant work of literature.

Module C
Common Module: Craft of Writing

Students learn how to write imaginatively and critically

Common Module: Craft of Writing

Students learn how to write imaginatively and critically


As you can see, the modules for English Advanced are far more complex and demanding than those for English Standard.

Yes, English Standard will take less effort and less of your time.

And yes, English Advanced requires more commitment in terms of time and effort. But there is a reward for this.

Having said that, students should not take on English Advanced if they feel it is too much work or that they won’t get the marks. It’s always better to well in English Standard than perform poorly in English Advanced.

Why do English Advanced?

  • Studying English Advanced will challenge you
  • English Advanced is the pathway to the Extension units – it’s perfect for creative students
  • The extra complexity of English Advanced attracts greater scaling.


If English Advanced has a higher workload, involves more complex ideas, and is more time consuming, why bother doing it? Both English Advanced and English Standard contribute to your ATAR, right?

There are two reasons.

Firstly, if you wish to do Extension 1 or 2 then you need to do English Advanced.

This is because the complex requirements of the extension units require you to demonstrate aptitude in English Advanced in Year 11. If you are interested in studying English at university, doing an extensive creative writing project, or furthering your deepening your knowledge of English you will want to consider the Advanced course.

Secondly, Advanced Students benefit from the scaling process.

English Standard and Advanced are obviously not the same. They have different levels of difficulty.


So how can they be assessed the same? They aren’t!

In the HSC, all students for English Standard and English Advanced do the common paper – Area of Study. The remainder of the courses are quite different in levels of difficulty.

This means that students’ marks from their standard exams and assessments are not going to be equal to those of their peers who do Advanced English.

To reflect this and make it more equitable, the NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) applies scaling to harder subjects like English Advanced.


How are English Subjects Scaled?

Scaling is the process of converting HSC marks into scaled marks for comparison across different subjects. This conversion, or ‘scaling,’ is required as students undertake different levels of English.

So, comparing students’ performance using their HSC English mark is not an accurate way of assessing students with different English subjects.

A different level of scaling is applied to each subject to reflect different demands of the subject. As a general rule, the “harder” the unit of study, the “better” the scaling it receives.

English Advanced scales better than English Standard.

Please note that students should not be choosing subjects based on scaling. Instead, scaling should be used as a tool to determine your position/rank in the state in order to obtain your desired ATAR.

For example,

  • A student in 90th percentile (top 10 percent in the state) in English Advanced will receive a scaled mark of 42.5/50 which equates to 85/100 whereas a student in 90th percentile in English Standard will receive a scaled mark of 28/50 which equates to 56/100. Note that you will only need to be in the 30th percentile (top 70 percent in the state) in English Advanced to obtain a scaled mark of 56/100!
  • A student in the 30th percentile in English Advanced will obtain higher scaled mark than a student is in the 90th percentile (top 10 percent in the state) in English Standard.
English Scaling 2019 UAC Table

This graph shows how significant the bump to grades is. You will notice that English Standard Students have to score much higher in relation to their peers to get a substantial boost to their final marks!

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


Yes, English Advanced is hard. Yes, English Advanced is time-consuming. But it provides a substantial boost to your final mark to reflect the investment in time and effort you need to put into it.

Remember, as universities raise their standards, more and more courses are going to require a band 5 or above in English.

English Advanced attracts scaling that will make that easier to achieve.


You should read our Beginner’s Guide to Acing HSC English for comprehensive tips on how to get Band 6 results.


So, what should you do?

  1. Reflect on your previous English marks. Are they strong, average or weak?
  2. Ask yourself if you are ready to put in more time and effort to study for English.
  3. Ask yourself if you want to study a higher level of English (eg. English Extensions or English in University).
  4. Research about your desired University course. Do they require a specific English grade?

Learn how to ace HSC English Advanced

We’ve helped thousands of students ace HSC English over the last 19 years. Learn our secrets to HSC success at our free Secrets to Acing HSC English Seminar! Learn more.

Written by Patrick Condliffe

Patrick has a Bachelor of Arts (Hons. 1st Class - Australian Literature) from USYD. His poetry, short stories, and essays have been published online and in print and he regularly reviews film and other media. Patrick is the editor of the popular Matrix blog and has been an English teacher at Matrix since 2012.


© Matrix Education and, 2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Matrix Education and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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