Not sure what level of maths to study? Not sure whether to drop maths entirely? In our HSC Maths FAQ, we hope you will find your answers!

In terms of picking subjects, Maths has to be the most complicated decision of all – there are 6 possible choices, and it can hard to get an unbiased opinion on any of them.

So we’ve compiled this handy guide to try and iron out what level of maths is best for you, and what you’ll stand you gain from it.

Q1. How do I pick what level of maths I should do?

The simplest way is to ask your teacher for their thoughts – they probably have a good fix on your abilities and can help you figure out where you sit.

Here’s a handy flow chart to help you along though! 

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Q2. Should I drop maths altogether?

I can’t see any circumstance in which maths would not be a benefit, so I’d save this for when you’re overstocked on units and need to relieve something somewhere.

I also wouldn’t recommend General 1 – it has all the workload of General 2, but then can’t contribute to your ATAR, so in some ways it’s a waste of time. But I don’t know your personal circumstances, so if either of those has benefits for you I didn’t foresee, the choice is ultimately yours.

That being said, Elizabeth disagrees with me on this area. Elizabeth’s strengths were never in mathematics, and so she made the conscious decision not to take any mathematics for the HSC, instead, opting for English, humanities, history and languages. She still got a 98.5+ (she doesn’t like disclosing her ATAR), and another girl in her grade attained 99.95 without taking maths only because they smashed every other course they took.

However, Elizabeth admits that her basic arithmetic could be a lot better.

As a final note, it’s a lot easier to drop than it is to go up, so when in doubt, start higher rather than start lower.

Q3. What can I gain career-wise from each level?

This shouldn’t be a principal concern – most careers with maths at heart will have further education, but here’s a rough outline on what you stand to gain.

General Maths

Since there’s no calculus in the General course, lots of careers involving mathematical modelling, like finance, accounting and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) become a more difficult sell. Keep in mind, it’s not ground you can’t make up, but you’ll have to put in more hours in the future to make up for it.

2U Maths

2U is very much the base level. There are very few careers that will prove difficult to someone who was capable at 2U mathematics – basically, just the STEM fields.

3U Maths

3U is less a necessity and more a head start onto university material – it’ll definitely give you the leg up for Chemistry or Physics, but if you’re looking at pure maths or engineering you’ll still be on the back foot a little.

4U Maths

Lots of more specialised careers would benefit from 4U – actuaries, scientists and pure mathematicians all stand to benefit hugely from the background they’ll gain. The course is has the most benefit for would-be engineers however, with plenty of applications and basic physical modelling. In particular, imaginary numbers will be indispensable to future physicists and electrical engineers.

Q4. Why don’t they just teach us how to do taxes?

Actually, they do! It’s part of the 7-10 syllabus as well as a topic in Prelim General.

All the basic mathematical skills you will need in life are in at least one of the 7-10 or General syllabus.

2U expands a little further and gives an introduction to basic modelling techniques and functions, which are helpful for processing information as sets rather than singular points.

3U and 4U just expand on that same notion – they’re the mathematics of handling large amounts of data with minimal effort. It’s all just a matter of which skill set you need.

Q5. How exactly does 4U work?

Principles in the 4U syllabus are an extension of 3U content, and as such it cannot be taken in year 11 (excepting accelerants) and typically schools will not allow students that have not taken the 3U course and performed well to take 4U (technically they can’t stop you but if they tell you it’s a stupid idea it probably is).

A student that takes 4U cannot also take 2U – even if the student has already completed the 2U course by acceleration, those marks will not count towards the student’s ATAR.

Instead, both the 3U and 4U courses count as 2 units apiece.

In terms of difficulty, 4U is roughly equivalent to a first-semester maths course at a university for a student in STEM. It has a much heavier calculus focus than the lower courses.

Q6. What’s this General 1/General 2 business?

General 1 is a course designed to give students necessary maths knowledge without disrupting their studies.

General 1 does not count towards a student’s ATAR and does not contain some of the less immediately applicable material of General 2, as well as having no final exam.

General 2 is probably what you think of when you say General.

Q7. Why should I take a harder course when I could cruise through and easy one and get a better ATAR?

Have a read of Elizabeth’s articles on how ATARs are calculated and on scaling and how it works

Suppose you were to be accepted into a finance course at university after doing General Maths for your HSC. You may find yourself needing to learn 2U and maybe even 3U content in a much shorter time frame that what you had at school – except this time, it’s not just a mark, but a career as employers will look at your marks when looking for new grads. 

You may even need to learn additional content on top of the two years worth you’ve already missed, and you may only have six months to do it.

Let it be known that this isn’t much fun, and you could have nullified a lot of the workload in far less pressured, more easygoing HSC environment.

Q8. I’m in the middle of the course and I don’t understand anything!

Relax! That’s totally normal.

First, approach a friend, teacher or tutor for help. You’re probably just trying to find that missing piece that’ll solve the puzzle.

If you reapproach the fundamental theory from a different angle, you might just find it’s all a whole lot easier than what you thought.

If you get really stuck and you’re just not understanding anything, start considering if you’re at the right level. Remember, it’s all about what level is the right pace for you. You can always do more maths later if you need to catch up, so there’s no shame and minimal detriment to dropping a level.

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Matt Saunders is a huge nerd who first got into writing through fanfiction. He’d known science was the path for him since a young age, and after discovering a particular love of bad chemistry jokes (and chemistry too), he’s gone onto to study Forensic Chemistry at UTS. His HSC in 2014 was defined in equal parts by schoolwork and stagecraft, which left him, weirdly enough, with a love of Maths strong enough to inspire him to tutor any level, along with 7-10 Science and HSC Chemistry.