How students choose which subjects to study

Findings from a new study have shown that students go through a two-stage process when selecting which subjects to study in senior secondary school, and that they are particularly cautious when taking advice from teachers.

At Research Conference 2019, Tracey-Ann Palmer, a Lecturer at the University of Technology Sydney, sat down with Teacher to discuss her research into how students choose which subjects to study. She says the findings were particularly striking for Science subjects.

‘They [students] told me that Science was a subject that was only useful if you wanted to be an engineer, or you wanted to do maths, or something really stereotypically scientific,' she tells Teacher.

On top of this, students were suspicious of teachers who recommended their own subjects.

‘We want to tell them that Science is useful going forward and perhaps they should keep it to keep their doors open, and the one person who knows the most about that, their school teacher, is someone they're not going to listen to,' Palmer explains.

To counteract this opinion of studying a Science subject, a recommendation that's come out of the research is to prioritise having visitors come into the school that students are likely to identify with, Palmer says.

This could be a former student, or someone who's working in an industry that students find particularly interesting, to talk about how Science is useful to them.


Tracey-Ann Palmer says it’s important to organise for industry professionals to visit students at the time of subject selection so they can hear the experience of someone they’re likely to identify with.

Do visits from industry professionals form a key part of the subject selection process at your school? What has student feedback been?

To find out more about her research, view the outline from ACER’s Research Conference proceedings.