Midway through grade 9 (secondary 3), Quebec students choose which level of math to take for grades 10 and 11. The three choices are CST (“low” math), TS (“middle” math) and SN (“high” math).

This article will help you make the choice that aligns with your current strengths, and your goals after graduation.

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CST Math: The “Low” Math

CST stands for Cultural, Social and Technical. It is the “lowest” level of math you can take in grades 10 and 11. You need grade 10 CST to graduate.

Although CST math will give you the credits you need to graduate high school, it will not get you into courses that require specific math prerequisites.

So, if you have no interest in pursuing a program that contains math or science, take CST. This is the right choice for students who want to pursue art, literature, and general social sciences.

CST is the easiest option, and will give you the best chance of scoring a high grade. This will boost your report card and improve your college applications.

TS Math: The “Middle” Math

TS stands for Technical and Science math. It is only offered at some schools (most only offer CST or SN). TS math is harder than CST, but easier than SN, so it’s often called the “middle” option.

Today, almost all programs that have a math prerequisite accept both TS and SN, so they “open the same doors” in most cases. For example, as I write this (December 29, 2023), John Abbott College accepts both TS or SN math for all their math and science programs. However, it’s possible your program specifically requires SN, so go to the program’s admissions website to double check.

In most cases, it’s tempting to say “Why would I ever take SN? I’ll just take TS — it’s easier and I’ll get a better grade.” The unspoken fact is that TS and SN teach different things, so even though they get you to the same place, TS can sometimes under-prepare you and cause you to fall behind.

TS is a good idea if the program you’re taking is non-science based, like commerce or business. The topics they teach in SN won’t be applicable in those programs, so TS is the right choice here.

However, if your program is science based, then TS does not cover everything you need to know. I know this from direct experience. In high school, I took TS math, and then took Calculus I Commerce in CEGEP. Since this was a commerce-based course, TS prepared me wonderfully. The following year, I did Calculus I Science. I expected it to be a breeze, given that I’d been strong in Cal I Commerce. It was as if chunks of information were missing — entire concepts, like the unit circle, were going right over my head, while everyone around me seemed at ease. I chalked this up to university being too fast for me, when in actuality, it was because the others had taken SN, and I’d taken TS. It took me months to realize that I was missing pre-requisite concepts, and had to self-teach them.

You might be thinking, “why would these programs accept TS math if students actually need SN”? That is a fair question, and we can be confused about it together. It’s an imperfect system, and I’m writing this article to share the information I missed out on a decade ago.

Take TS if you’re going into commerce/non-science math. Take SN if you’re going into pure math or science.

SN Math: The “High” Math

SN math, short for Natural Science Math (or sciences naturelles in French) is the highest and hardest option. This option will sufficiently prepare and qualify you for all programs.

Most high schools require that your grade 9 (sec 3) math grade is above 75% to be considered for SN.

If you are a strong math student and unsure of which programs you want to take in CEGEP or university, you can SN math now, or you can take it later.

However, if math is not your strong suit, be wary of SN. It is not for the faint of heart. Grade 10 SN is theoretical, proof-heavy, and extremely rewarding for those who can keep up. Students who succeed in the course build strong foundations for post-secondary classes. Call me if you need help staying on track with SN 10/11 — it is easy to fall behind.

How to “Keep Your Doors Open”

There are several reasons to stick with CST math for now. Here are some reasons to choose CST:

  • you don’t see yourself in a math or science program in CEGEP or university
  • you aren’t sure of what program you want to take, and want to keep your doors open, but taking high math would cause you a lot of stress
  • you hate math

If you do choose to take low math, you are “closing doors” in the sense that you can’t apply to certain math or science programs straight out of high school. However, these doors are not permanently closed. In fact, they stay open indefinitely:

  • If you took CST in grade 10 and want to continue with TS or SN in grade 11, you can take a bridge course over the summer.
  • If you finish high school with CST math and change your mind after graduation, you can do the Pathways program in CEGEP. Pathways is a “springboard” program that lets students obtain missing pre-requisites in math and science. The semesters are also used to take mandatory classes like French and gym, so you’re lightening your load for when you move into the main program.
  • If you are missing pre-requisites in university, you can temporarily register into another program, or as an independent student. During this time, you can do your prerequisites at the university, and switch into your program of choice the following semester.
  • Adult Education centres offer pre-requisite math courses which you can take on a self-paced timeline. You can do adult ed. courses at the same time as CEGEP/university, or you can do adult ed. on its own.

All of these “fixes” will cost you time, usually one semester’s worth (15 weeks, which is 3.75 months). Loosing time can be scary; it can feel like you are “falling behind” your peers. A word of advice from experience on this: you’re not. Things move differently for adult learners — many students take an extra year or semester to finish their programs, turning two year programs into three. Other students take a semester off to travel or work. It becomes increasingly normal in the years that follow your time in high school, and you will see this first hand in your college classes, where the general age range of students is 3-5 years.

In high school, staying back a grade is something you can really feel. In college, I assure you things are very different. Only a select group of students fast-track through a BA, MA and PhD to finish by 26 years old. The average age of PhD graduates is 31.5 years old — you have time, and you will be okay.

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