Just three Year 12 students were enrolled to sit the stage two biology exam this year, compared with 1691 doing the same subject at stage three level, highlighting the ongoing problems with WA's staged senior school system.
School Curriculum and Standards Authority figures show a similar disparity between the two levels of difficulty for many other courses.
In chemistry, just 23 students did the course at stage two, compared with 4794 at the more difficult stage three. Fifteen students studied stage two modern history compared with 2709 at stage three.
WA is the only State with a staged system that allows students to do Year 12 courses at different levels of difficulty, with results from exams at stages two and three counting towards university entry.
It means the authority must write, operate and mark more than 100 exams for about 50 courses. Each exam paper costs thousands of dollars to produce, after paying for a panel of exam writers, checkers and proofreaders.
Since the system was introduced two years ago in a bid to give more students the option to go to university, the number of students doing stage two courses has fallen dramatically.
But the proportion of students gaining university entrance has increased only slightly.
Many students choose courses at the more difficult stage three because they offer bonus points towards their university admission score, or the least difficult stage one, for which there are no exams.
Many principals believe more students would choose stage two courses if the exams were optional.
WA Secondary School Executives Association president Rob Nairn said he hoped to see some changes to the staged system announced this year.
"I don't think anybody would disagree that the current system that we have is not working," he said. "It's not delivering the outcomes that it was hoped to deliver."
Education Minister Peter Collier said yesterday he was aware of concerns about the structure of WACE exams and had requested advice from the authority.
Authority chairman Patrick Garnett said that soon after Mr Collier took over in July he had asked the board to advise him on the low enrolments in stage two courses.
"We are currently gathering and analysing information," he said. LEARNING CURVE 35 The number of Year 12 students who will sit the stage two physics exam, compared with 3542 for stage three