Academic terminology glossary

If you find yourself completely lost when trying to understand the school system in your state, you're not alone! The range of acronyms and specialist terms can be confusing, especially as your child enters their final years of school. If you feel like you're trying to learn another language, read on as we explain some of the jargon you may encounter during your child's schooling years.


  • Apprenticeships and traineeships: Training programs that allow students to combine practical work with structured training to gain a VET qualification. Apprenticeships offer training in a skilled trade, with apprentices becoming a qualified tradesperson, while traineeships offer training in a vocational area such as hospitality, retail or business. Students have the opportunity to start this training in school through a school-based apprenticeship or traineeship, where they combine secondary study with training and paid work.

  • Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR): A percentile ranking from 0.00 to 99.95 awarded to students in all states and territories except Queensland (see Overall Position) upon completion of their senior secondary certificate, provided they meet the requirements in their state. A student's ATAR is used for tertiary entrance and indicates their performance compared to the rest of the students in their year. For example, a student with an ATAR of 90 performed better than 90 per cent of their cohort in their state or territory.
  • Commonwealth Supported Place (CSP): A government-subsidised place in a tertiary course. All domestic undergraduate students at public universities are offered a CSP place, as well as selected postgraduate students and at some private education providers. CSP students pay a student contribution instead of full tuition fees.
  • Cut-off score: The minimum score (ATAR or OP) needed to gain admission to a tertiary course in a given year.
  • FEE-HELP: A government loan scheme available to eligible full-fee students that allows them to defer the payment of their tuition fees until they are earning above the minimum repayment threshold ($53,345 in 2014 “15).
  • Full-fee place: A tertiary place where students are required to pay full tuition fees (as opposed to receiving a CSP see above). Courses at private education providers and postgraduate programs are usually full fee.
  • HECS-HELP: A government loan scheme available to CSP students that allows them to defer the payment of their student contribution until they are earning above the minimum repayment threshold ($53,345 in 2014 “15).
  • International Baccalaureate (IB): An internationally recognised senior secondary qualification that offers an alternative to state-based senior secondary certificates. The IB is offered in select schools around Australia and the world. It is available at primary and secondary school levels.
  • National Assessment Program Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN): A general skills test sat by all students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 across Australia each year. NAPLAN tests measure students' skills in reading, writing, spelling, grammar, punctuation and numeracy.
  • Pathways: Alternative ways of gaining entry to a course if a student doesn't meet initial entry requirements. Pathways may include studying a lower-level qualification before commencing more advanced study or studying a course with a lower cut-off score (see above) before applying to transfer.
  • Prerequisites: Subjects that need to be completed in order to be considered for a tertiary course. University courses generally require students to have studied English (sometimes with a minimum score), although some ask for specific studies such as mathematics or sciences.
  • Registered Training Organisation (RTO): An organisation, including TAFE institutes, private colleges and secondary schools, which is accredited to deliver VET programs.
  • Technical and Further Education (TAFE): Government-funded RTOs that offer VET courses. Some TAFEs also offer bachelor degrees or other higher education qualifications.
  • Vocational Education and Training (VET): Courses at certificate and diploma level that provide students with practical, hands-on training. Students have the opportunity to study VET subjects while still at school through the VET in Schools program.

New South Wales

  • Assessment mark: The mark given to students based on their results in school-based assessment, such as assignments, tests and practical activities. Students receive an assessment mark for each subject they study. School-based assessment accounts for 50 per cent of a student's HSC mark, with results from examinations contributing the other 50 per cent.
  • Board Developed Courses: Courses that have external examinations conducted by the Board of Studies and contribute towards a student's ATAR.
  • Board Endorsed Courses: Courses that count towards a student's HSC but not an ATAR. These courses have been developed by schools, universities and TAFE institutes but do not have any external examinations.
  • Examination mark: Students receive an examination mark for each Board Developed subject they study, based on their performance in HSC examinations. A student's examination mark contributes to 50 per cent of their final HSC mark.
  • Higher School Certificate (HSC): The senior secondary certificate in New South Wales.
  • HSC mark: The final mark a student receives for each subject. The HSC mark is calculated by averaging a student's assessment mark and examination mark for each subject.
  • HSC units: Usually studied in Year 12. Students must study 10 HSC units to gain their HSC. Each unit is equivalent to one semester of study and most courses are worth two units.
  • Performance band: HSC marks are divided into one of six performance bands, with Band 6 being the highest level of performance and Band 1 the lowest.
  • Preliminary units: Usually studied in Year 11. Students must complete 12 preliminary units to meet HSC course requirements. Each unit is worth one semester of study and most subjects are worth two units.
  • Record of School Achievement (RoSA): Students who leave school after Year 10 but before completion of their HSC will receive the RoSA. The RoSA is a formal record that allows students to accumulate their academic results right up until they leave school.
  • Universities Admissions Centre (UAC): The tertiary admission centre responsible for processing applications to tertiary courses in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory. See the UAC website for more information.


  • Authority subjects: Subjects studied by students in Years 11 and 12 that count towards the calculation of an OP. A student needs to study at least 20 semester units of authority subjects to be eligible for an OP.
  • Authority-registered subjects: Subjects studied by students in Years 11 and 12 that are largely vocational in nature. Authority-registered subjects count towards a student's selection rank but not an OP.
  • Field Positions (FPs): Field Positions are awarded to OP-eligible students and are used to differentiate between those with the same OP during tertiary admission when places are limited. Students may receive up to five Field Positions depending on the subjects they studied.

  • Overall Position (OP): An OP is awarded to eligible students in Queensland upon completion of Year 12 and is used for admission to tertiary courses (an ATAR is used in all other states and territories). An OP indicates a student's achievement in authority subjects in comparison to the rest of their cohort. Students are placed in one of 25 bands, from OP1 (the highest) to OP25 (the lowest).
  • Queensland Core Skills (QCS) test: A test sat by all OP-eligible Year 12 students over two days in Term 3. Results from the QCS test are used to scale students in different subject groups and schools across Queensland in order to calculate OPs. The test consists of a writing task, a short response paper and two multiple-choice papers, and assesses general skills. Selection rank students are able to choose whether they would like to sit the test to boost their rank.
  • Queensland Tertiary Admissions Centre (QTAC): The tertiary admission centre responsible for processing applications to tertiary courses in Queensland. See the QTACwebsite for more information.
  • Selection rank: Students who do not meet the eligibility requirements for an OP may be awarded a selection rank instead. A selection rank may be used for tertiary entrance in Queensland but not in other states or territories.


  • General Achievement Test (GAT): A general knowledge and skills test sat by all students completing a Unit 3 and 4 study (this includes Year 11 students taking on a Year 12 subject). The GAT consists of two writing tasks along with multiple-choice questions. Results from the GAT do not contribute towards VCE results. Instead, they assist in ensuring that school-based assessments have been accurately assessed. GAT results may also be used to produce a Derived Examination Score for students who are affected by personal or health issues during the examination period. Applications for a Derived Examination Score are assessed by an external panel.
  • School assessed coursework (SACs): The internal assessment completed at school for each study. SACs may include written assignments and tests. A student's results in SACs contribute towards 50 per cent of their study score, with external examination results making up the remaining 50 per cent.
  • Studies: VCE subjects.
  • Study score: A mark that is awarded to students for each Unit 3 and 4 study they complete. Study scores indicate how a student performed compared to others in the subject and are calculated based on total achievement in all graded assessments. These scores are then ranked in comparison to others in the state and converted to a whole number score between 0 and 50. Study scores above 40 represent high achievement in a study and are awarded to only a small percentage of students.
  • Unit: One semester of study. Most VCE subjects consist of four units to be studied over two years. Students usually complete Units 1 and 2 in Year 11 and Units 3 and 4 in Year 12. Although Units 1 and 2 are not always prerequisites for Units 3 and 4, completion of a full unit sequence is usually encouraged. Some students may choose to study Units 1 and 2 in Year 10 (depending on availability at their school) and Units 3 and 4 in Year 11. Students must complete at least 16 units to meet VCE requirements.
  • VCE (Baccalaureate): Awarded to VCE students studying higher-level mathematics and a language from 2014 onwards.
  • Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning (VCAL): One of two senior secondary certificates in Victoria. The VCAL has an emphasis on practical, vocational-based learning. Students who complete the VCAL are more likely to go onto further training in the VET sector, commence an apprenticeship or move into the workforce, rather than university study after school.
  • Victorian Tertiary Admissions Centre (VTAC): The tertiary admissions centre responsible for processing applications to tertiary courses in Victoria. See the VTAC website for more information.

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