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Preparing for VCE: Senior Pathways Explained

Monday 27th May 2024

For students entering the final stages of Year 10, you may be considering what exactly the next two years will hold as you finish school. For many students, the end of school will involve completing the Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE): a robust and challenging curriculum that teaches important skills across a breadth of knowledge areas. This comprehensive guide will help you understand everything you need to know about the VCE, and how to prepare well.

What is VCE?

The Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE) is a major senior secondary certificate awarded to senior students in Victoria. The VCE is typically undertaken across the final two years of high school, with students allowed to select from a variety of different subjects based on their personal interests and future aspirations. Obtaining a VCE helps students gain entry into tertiary education institutions, like university and TAFE.

VCE structure

To successfully complete the VCE, students need to complete a number of VCE subjects, and multiple study units within those subjects. There are over 90 subjects available in the VCE curriculum, and over 20 VCE VET (Vocational Education and Training) programs. However, each school will choose which of those subjects they wish to offer, based on the types of teachers and students they have. At SFXC, we offer over 35 of those subjects, which can be found here.

Each VCE subject is made up of four units, with Units 1 and 2 typically taken in Year 11, and Units 3 and 4 completed in Year 12. Students must complete at least 16 units of study to receive a VCE, including at least 3 units from within the area of English/Literacy. It is assumed that students undertaking the VCE at St Francis will complete 12 Units in Year 11, and 10 Units in Year 12.

Students may apply to complete an accelerated subject, meaning they complete Units 1 and 2 of a subject while in Year 10, and Units 3 and 4 while in Year 11. This can help students gain valuable experience into how VCE subjects work earlier than normal, and the extra subject can also contribute to their final ATAR score.


VCE includes a comprehensive framework of assessment, including both those set by teachers and staff within the school and those set by external assessors. These assessments are designed to evaluate your understanding of the subjects you choose and how well you can apply the concepts in different situations. 


Throughout the year, students will complete a variety of school-based assessment tasks to evaluate their knowledge on specific areas of the subject curriculum. All of these culminate towards VCE exams at the end of the year, with each subject having one or two exams to test all of the knowledge learned across the year.

The two types of school assessments are School-Assessed Coursework (SACs) and School-Assessed Tasks (SATs). SACs take forms like oral presentations, practical experiments, essays or standard tests. SATs are more extended assessments, including research reports, portfolios or performances. Both of these assessments are built to allow teachers to evaluate your progress, provide feedback throughout the year, and help you to build important skills you will need for final exams.

In Year 11, students sit an exam at the end of Unit 1 and then another at the end of Unit 2. VCE exams in Year 12 are conducted at the end of the year and are set and marked externally by the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA). These exams assess every unit studied across the year and test the knowledge and skills that have been practised in every area of the subject’s curriculum. VCE exams are all marked to the exact same standards and criteria, and have the highest weighting in your overall subject result.

VCE results and study scores

For Units 1 and 2, students receive a grade of either Satisfactory (S) or Non-Satisfactory (N). Your school may opt to give you a specific letter or number grade as well, but only the S counts towards your VCE. In Units 3 and 4, your grades will include an S or N as well as a formal letter grade which contributes towards your final score. 

The final grade for a VCE 3&4 subject is a Study Score, which is a number between 0 and 50 that indicates your ranking in terms of all students who completed that subject in the same year. Given that the study score is a ranking, VCAA standardises them so that the average score for every subject is 30. From there, each score is also scaled based on the idea that it is harder to obtain a high study score in some subjects than others. VCE scaling is designed to keep the system fair and ensure that the different levels of competition in different subjects is considered.

All of the scaled study scores that a student earns are then used to calculate an Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR). The ATAR is a percentile rank that demonstrates how highly a student has achieved compared to the rest of the state in that year, and is used by tertiary education institutions to assess admissions. An ATAR is a number between 0.00 and 99.95. A student with an ATAR of 75.00 has achieved VCE results above 75 percent of the Year 12 cohort. However, the ATAR is not a measure of intelligence or ability, and is often only one of many criteria used by tertiary institutions as part of their selection process.

Tips for VCE

Completing the VCE requires commitment and diligence, and students should expect that it will be difficult at times, but the right strategies can help them overcome that. Some valuable VCE study tips to make the most of the experience are to:

Other options

VCE is the most common pathway for the final years of school, but there are a number of other options that students can choose from, depending on their educational goals and career aspirations.

Vocational Major

The VCE Vocational Major is a pathway that sits underneath the VCE, but is designed to combine academics with more practical learning. Completing the VCE VM helps students better prepare for careers in hospitality, health, automotive and more, with core elements of study built around actual experience, rather than theory learning. 

School-Based Apprenticeship

School based apprenticeships provide students with a pathway to transition from school to the workplace. An SBA allows a student to commence their apprenticeship while still completing their senior studies. This flexible option works well for students on the VCE VM Pathway.


Completing the VCE with confidence

Understanding the different aspects that make up the VCE is fundamental to completing it successfully, and using it to help your future. For students beginning the VCE in the next couple of years, it may be worthwhile considering the subjects you would like to do, and chatting to your teachers and career staff for advice. Find more resources on our website or from your teachers, and enter your final years with confidence in yourself.