How does the HSC work?

The Higher School Certificate (HSC) is a certificate that recognises the successful completion of secondary education in New South Wales. It is a valuable pathway to further study at university or TAFE institutes, and to the world of work.

There are four different types of courses (or subjects) that students can choose from to make up their HSC:

  • Board Developed Courses: Students can choose from a large range of Board Developed Courses, which are examined by the Board of Studies and contribute towards a student's ATAR.
  • Board Endorsed Courses: These courses have been developed by schools, universities and TAFE institutes. They count towards a student's HSC, but they are not examined and do not contribute towards an ATAR calculation.
  • Life Skills Courses: These courses have been designed for students with special education needs. While they do count towards the HSC (provided that the student still meets general HSC eligibility), they do not contribute to the calculation of the ATAR.
  • Vocational Education and Training (VET) courses: VET courses can be studied through school, TAFE NSW or other Registered Training Organisations. There are various types of VET courses, including Board Developed VET Curriculum Frameworks and VET Board Endorsed Courses some of which involve mandatory work placement. VET courses contribute towards the HSC, and some Board Developed Courses can contribute to the calculation of the ATAR if students choose to sit the optional HSC exams. See the VET in New South Wales section for more information.

To graduate with the HSC, students must complete Years 11 and 12, satisfy HSC course requirements and sit for state-wide examinations. To satisfy the HSC course requirements, students must complete 12 preliminary units (usually studied in Year 11) and ten HSC units (usually studied in Year 12). A unit represents one semester, or a half year of work. In Years 11 and 12, course selections must include at least six units of Board Developed Courses, two of which must be English; three courses of two units or greater; and four subjects. Although most courses are worth two units, some HSC Extension courses are worth 1 unit, meaning that students must first complete the Preliminary course before progressing to study the extension in their HSC. To gain an ATAR, students need to be studying at least ten units of eligible Board Developed Courses.

The HSC also offers pathways for students with different needs and capabilities. Some students may choose to accumulate their studies and complete the HSC over a maximum of five years to lighten the workload or balance the HSC with other commitments. On the other hand, very capable students may accelerate through courses and sit for the course's HSC exam at the end of Year 11. Others may combine HSC study with paid work and training by completing a school-based traineeship or apprenticeship. See the VET in New South Wales section for more information about apprentceships and traineeships.

How is the HSC assessed?

The HSC is assessed using student assessment marks for school-based assessment, as well as examination marks. These two marks are averaged to give an HSC mark on a scale of 1 “100, with 50 being the minimum expected standard. Marks of 50 or more are accompanied by a description of the standard that the mark represents.

School-based assessment throughout the HSC course (including written tests, written assignments, practical activities, fieldwork and projects) accounts for 50 per cent of the HSC mark and is reported on each student's Record of Achievement. Assessment marks are submitted by each school to the Board of Studies. Students also receive examination marks for completing the exams for Board Developed Courses, which may be in the form of written exams, submitted works or practical examinations.

A student can graduate with the HSC as long as they meet the requirements for satisfactory completion in each study. Students will be considered to have satisfactorily completed a course if the principal believes that they have followed the course; applied themselves with ˜diligence and sustained effort' to the course's set tasks and experiences; and achieved some or all of the course outcomes. In courses where assessment marks are submitted by the school, the student must have genuinely attempted tasks that total more than 50 per cent of the available school assessment marks for that course.

Students completing VET studies with mandatory work placement components are also assessed on this. VET students will receive a VET certificate or Statement of Attainment in addition to the HSC Record of Achievement, and will only receive HSC marks for the Board Developed accounting course and Industry Curriculum Framework courses for which they completed an examination.

Students receive HSC results in December and will have HSC documentation posted to them in January, including a Higher School Certificate testamur (if all requirements have been met), a Record of Achievement and a Course Report for each Board Developed Course.

What is the ATAR?

The Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) was introduced to nationalise the Year 12 university ranks across Australia (with the exception of Queensland). The ATAR is used by higher education providers around the country when deciding whether to offer a place to a prospective student, and is calculated by the Universities Admissions Centre (UAC).

The ATAR uses study scores from HSC studies and, where appropriate, VET programs and extension studies. The scores in each study are scaled against other students in NSW to yield a percentile ranking for each student, reflecting their performance against all other candidates across the state. Some VET units result in a study score that contributes to an Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank (ATAR) for university entrance, while others contribute to HSC only. Students completing the International Baccalaureate (IB) are also given a ranking.

For more information about the ATAR, visit the UAC website.

Further information

Parents and students can find further information about tertiary study at The Good Universities Guide. The Good Universities Guide provides course and institution searches, institution ratings and helpful editorial for prospective tertiary students.

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