How does WACE work?
Western Australia is currently implementing the final stage of its senior secondary reforms. Intended to increase the standard of literacy and numeracy and simplify course options, the reforms were introduced in 2015 for Year 11 students and 2016 for Year 12 students. Under the new system, Stage 1, 2 and 3 courses have been replaced by General and ATAR courses. The new course structure is as follows:
• ATAR courses: examined by the School Curriculum and Standards Authority and designed for students who intend to go to university, with results contributing to the calculation of a student’s ATAR.
• General courses: designed for students aiming to enter VET study or the workforce. General courses do not have external exams, instead using an externally set task (EST) set by the Authority for assessment.
• VET industry-specific courses: include a full Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) qualification, and mandatory workplace learning, and contribute to the certificate II requirements for the WACE. Like General courses, VET industry-specific courses are for students aiming to enter further VET study or the workforce.
• Foundation courses: focus on functional literacy and numeracy skills, practical work-related experience and skills for life and work. These courses are for students who have not been able to demonstrate the minimum standard for literacy and/or numeracy before Year 11 and are unlikely to do so in Year 12 without substantial support. They are not intended or designed as an alternative entry pathway.
• Preliminary courses: for students with learning difficulties or intellectual disabilities. Preliminary courses provide an option for students who cannot access ATAR, General or Foundation courses; are unable to progress directly to training from school; require modified education plans; or have a disability.
• VET qualifications: for students wishing to participate in nationally recognised training. VET qualifications are delivered through a Registered Training Organisation (RTO), with certificate II qualifications or higher contributing to the WACE.
• Endorsed programs: provide access to areas of learning not covered by WACE courses or VET programs. These courses contribute to the WACE as unit equivalents.
ATAR, General and Foundation courses are offered at two levels — Year 11 (Units 1 and 2) and Year 12 (Units 3 and 4). Students can obtain unit equivalence through the completion of VET qualifications or endorsed programs.
To be awarded the WACE, students must meet requirements relating to breadth and depth of study, as well as minimum achievement standards. Students looking to pursue tertiary study must complete a minimum of four ATAR courses in Year 12 to achieve an ATAR.
General requirements of WACE
• Minimum standard of literacy and numeracy
• Completion of a minimum of 20 units or equivalent, including:
o a minimum of 10 Year 12 units or equivalent
o two completed Year 11 units from an English course and one pair of completed Year 12 units from an English course
o one pair of Year 12 units from List A (arts/languages/social sciences) and List B (mathematics/science/technology)
• At least four Year 12 ATAR courses or a certificate II (or higher) VET course
• At least 14 C grades or higher (or equivalent) in Year 11 and 12 units, including at least six C grades in Year 12 units
In addition to the general requirements for WACE, students must complete the Online Literacy and Numeracy Assessment (OLNA) and demonstrate achievement at a minimum standard or above, unless they achieve Band 8 or above in NAPLAN at Year 9 level. Students sit the OLNA at the beginning of Year 10 for any components (reading, writing and numeracy) that they did not achieve a Band 8 or above in NAPLAN at Year 9 level. If they do not meet the minimum requirement, they sit the test again at the start of Semester 2 Year 10 and, if required, Semester 1 Year 11. Students who meet the minimum standard for numeracy are unable to enrol in Foundation Mathematics or List B Foundation courses, while students who meet the minimum literacy standard cannot enrol in Foundation English or List A Foundation courses.
How is the WACE assessed?
WACE is assessed using a student’s school-based assessment and examination marks. School-based achievement in ATAR, General and Foundation courses is recorded in grades (A, B, C, D or E) and is marked out of 100.
For Year 12 courses, students receive one mark and one grade for each pair of units they complete. For Year 11 courses, students may receive one mark and one grade for a pair of units or a separate mark and grade for each unit (that is, two marks and two grades in total).
Students receive a WACE course score for each study completed, which is based on their examination mark (or combined examination mark for courses with both written and practical exams) and moderated school assessment mark, with each counting for 50 per cent of the student’s total course score.
WACE course score standards
• 75 or above — excellent achievement
• 65 to 74.9 — high achievement
• 50 to 64.9 — satisfactory achievement
• 35 to 49.9 — low achievement
• 0 to 34.9 — inadequate achievement
Once WACE course scores have been calculated, subjects are scaled for university admission to accommodate for differences in difficulty between courses and to ensure that students who study difficult subjects are not disadvantaged in their ATAR. For each course, the Tertiary Institutions Service Centre (TISC) looks at the overall achievement of students in their other subject areas to create scaled scores.
Once scores have been scaled, students are awarded a Tertiary Entrance Aggregate (TEA), which is converted to an ATAR. The TEA is calculated by adding a student’s top four scaled scores. A Language Other Than English (LOTE) bonus — 10 per cent of the student’s best LOTE scaled score — is awarded if the student decides to study a language.