KCSE Subject Selection Definitive Guide

Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education is a mandatory entrance requirement for any student living in Kenya to advance to a tertiary education whether university or college. Even then, mere possession of this secondary education certificate is not enough to guarantee entry. Whether a Bachelor's Degree, Diploma or Certificate any career course has a required minimum pass mark which varies each year, according to gender and tertiary institutions. Usually a degree has the highest minimum pass mark of around pass mark of C+, followed by diploma then certificate.

Consequently your future career or future range of career options is tied to the subjects a student picks. KCSE examination has its subjects requirements which constitute the basic foundation of education. This article shall focus on subject requirement for KCSE for a valid certificate.

Kenya Secondary Schools have a variety of subjects which are examinable by the Kenya National Examination Council (KNEC). There are 30 secondary school subjects specified by the Kenya Curriculum Education dictated by the Ministry of Education of Kenya.  A school registers and picks from the designated 30 subjects to teach. Usually at the start of the secondary school year, a Form 1 student can take up to 11 or 12 subjects to study. Depending on the school, subject selection may be allowed at the second year (Form 2) or third year (Form 3). Either way, at their second year students are faced with this decision of which subjects to drop in preparation for their KCSE examination. A student who is set to sit for KCSE is designated as a candidate a term given to Form 4, students on their 4 year of study.

The following are the major factors to consider:
1. School Factor
2. KNEC Factor

School Factor

Though KNEC has its subject requirements a candidate must follow, the school where a candidate attends also impose their very own subject selection requirements. This pertains to what a school can offer Eg. a majority of schools do not offer Art and Design (442), Woodwork (444), Metalwork (445) and others, because of this, students in the respective school cannot pick subjects not taught by the school. Moreover, the school may dictate that certain subjects be compulsory Eg. Biology and Chemistry as such students must also take the subjects and choose from the rest.

KNEC Factor
The following are what is considered during Subject Selection:
1. Subject Count
KNEC dictates that a candidate can sit for a MINIMUM OF 7 SUBJECTS to A MAXIMUM OF 9 SUBJECTS. Any deviation from this subject count range results in a student graded a mean grade of Z. A mean grade of Z indicates that the candidate did not meet the regular requirements. In addition to this, each and every student must choose a subject according to a certain criteria.

2. Subject Criteria
KNEC categorizes all secondary school subjects into 5 subject Group:
  • GROUP I - These consist of compulsory subjects all student must sit for
  • GROUP II - These consist of Science Subjects
  • GROUP III - These consist of Humanity Subjects
  • GROUP IV - These consist of Applied Sciences
  • GROUP V - These consist of Technical Subjects

Consist of:
English (101)
Kiswahili (102)
Mathematics Alt. A (121)
Mathematics Alt. B (122)

All candidates must take all of the above subjects, no exceptions. In the past there only used to be Mathematics(121) but has been split into Mathematics Alt. A (121) and Mathematics Alt. B (122). At the moment a school decides whether to pick one or all. Many schools usually have Mathematics Alt. A hence a student can only pick the subject a school registered for.

For schools offering all options, then a student  must pick one of the 2 Mathematics options. Be informed, Mathematics Alt. B is tied to General Science (these are considered soft sciences). Be advised, students with these subject combinations are barred from pursuing a career in the hard sciences ie, careers whose knowledge and application is purely science based such as pharmacist,  analytical chemist, microbiologist, electrical engineer.

Given that this is a compulsory subject group a student has a subject count of 3.

Consist of:
Chemistry (233)
Physics (232)
Biology (231)
Biology Braille (236)
General Science (237)

KNEC dictates that a candidate MUST HAVE A MINIMUM OF 2 SCIENCE SUBJECTS. From the above subject group, a school may impose at least 1 compulsory science subjects. Most schools usually offer Chemistry (233), Physics (232) and Biology (231). From this, a student may wish to pick one more from the other two left, this would be a total of 2 science subjects. Or may choose 2 more and hence have a total of 3 science subjects.

For schools offering General Science, based on the 2019 examination timetable, we can deduce that for any student who picks General Science (237) must take Biology (231) or Biology Braille(236). This is deduced from its exact time sitting where candidates sitting for a Chemistry Paper or Physics Paper while have General Science Paper sat along side. Check out for more on General Science (237).

A student can pick either 2 or 3 science subjects from this subject group.

From the first 2 subject groups. Any candidate will have a subject count of either 5 (3 compulsory subjects + 2 science subjects) or 6(3 compulsory subjects + 3 science subjects).

Geography (312)
History and Government (231)
Christian Religious Education (313)
Islamic Religious Education (314)
Hindu Religious Education (315)

KNEC requires that a candidates must sit for at least one(1) of the above humanity subject.
A candidate may choose to sit for more than 1 humanity subject. A candidate is only allowed to take one(1) of the Religious Education NOT more than 1.

Computer Studies (451)
Agriculture (443)
Home Science (441)
Art and Design (442)
Woodwork (444)
Metalwork (445)
Building Construction(446)
Power Mechanics (447)
Electricity (448)
Drawing and Design (449)
Aviation Technology (450)

Business Studies (565)
French (501)
German (502)
Arabic (503)
Kenya Sign Language (504)
Music (511)

From the above left subject groups, KNEC gives the student a choice to pick from the above groups to add up to a total of either 7, 8 or 9 subject count.

Though there are a variety of subjects left, a candidate usually find themselves with less subjects to pick from as schools usually do not teach some of the subjects Eg. Most secondary schools have Subject Group IV in Computer Studies (451), Agriculture (443) and Home Science (441). If this is what the school offers the candidate can only pick from one of them.

In conclusion, subject selection is a very delicate area, one that requires a considerable amount of time and thought. A candidate must also be aware that the subject they do pick will determine the range of career options that one can pick from. It is advised that students seek consultation from their teachers or informed people. For more on this check out our article on how to choose KCSE subject in relation to career.
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