Understanding the VCE

Students with hands raised

How does the VCE work?

The Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE) is the main senior secondary certificate in Victoria. It recognises successful completion of secondary education and provides a valuable pathway to tertiary study and employment.

A VCE program includes a number of different VCE studies (or subjects), with the majority consisting of four units that can be completed over the two years (a unit represents one semester or half a year of work). Units 1 and 2 are typically taken in Year 11, while Units 3 and 4 are usually completed in Year 12. Many schools provide the opportunity for students to study Units 1 and 2 of some VCE studies in Year 10 and Units 3 and 4 in Year 11.

While Units 3 and 4 must be taken as a sequence in a single year, Units 1 and 2 can be taken as single units that need not form a sequence and do not need to be continued into Units 3 and 4. Often students are advised to do the full four units of each study, acquiring foundational knowledge before progressing to Units 3 and 4. Likewise, students are encouraged to begin VET studies at the Unit 1 and 2 level in Year 11 before continuing on at Unit 3 and 4 level in Year 12.

To graduate with the VCE, students must satisfactorily complete a minimum of 16 units, although 20 to 24 units is generally the norm. Regardless of how many units are completed, students must complete a minimum of three units from the English group in order to graduate. This includes:

  • Foundation English (Units 1 and 2)
  • English (Units 1 to 4)
  • English as an Additional Language (Units 3 and 4)
  • English Language (Units 1 to 4)
  • Literature (Units 1 to 4).

At least one of the English units must be a Unit 3 or 4.

Students must also satisfactorily complete at least three other Unit 3 and 4 sequences. Any number of these sequences may be drawn from VET. Some, but not all, VCE VET units result in a study score that contributes to an Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) for university entrance; other VET sequences contribute to the ATAR through an increment. There are also some restrictions on certain combinations of VCE and VET studies that may affect students’ ATAR calculations. To gain an ATAR, students need to complete four Unit 3 and 4 sequences that must include a Unit 3 and 4 study from the English group.

There are more than 90 studies (or subjects) to choose from in the VCE, and there are choices within those studies as well. For example, within history, students can choose studies on revolutions, Australian history or Renaissance Italy. Students can also choose from more than 40 languages, from Arabic to French, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese and Spanish.

As well as the 90-plus VCE studies, there are 30 VCE VET programs. Students integrating vocational education into their senior school program progress towards a nationally recognised vocational qualification as they earn their senior certificate. Students can include up to 13 units of VET studies in their VCE program (out of the minimum 16 units required to satisfactorily complete the VCE). It is even possible to undertake a part-time apprenticeship or traineeship within the VCE. For details about VET programs and apprenticeships, see Understanding VET in Victoria

How is the VCE assessed?

In Unit 1 and 2 VCE studies, students are assessed on their coursework and are awarded ‘satisfactory completion’ by the school if they meet the requirements of each unit. In Unit 3 and 4 studies, students undertake formal graded assessments, including school-based coursework and at least one examination (written, oral or performance exams according to the study), which are set and marked by VCAA. A student can still graduate with the VCE without undertaking graded assessments for the calculation of a study score, as long as this student has met the requirements for satisfactory completion in each study.

A study score is awarded to each student for every Unit 3 and 4 study that has been graded. To calculate the study score, the total for each student for all graded assessments in a study is ranked, and the rank is converted into a whole number score. The conversion spreads out scores so that the top mark becomes 50 and the average mark (or mean) across the state is 30. Scores above 40 represent high achievement by students in specific subjects or studies. Three graded assessments for each VCE study contribute towards a study score (two for VCE VET studies that offer a study score), and these scores are, in turn, used to calculate an ATAR. Note that only selected VCE VET programs will yield a study score. A VCAA-approved higher education study (university study) can also be undertaken by VCE students. This study will contribute towards satisfactory completion of the VCE, as a Unit 3 and 4 study without a study score.

In 2014, schools began to offer the Victorian Baccalaureate. Nested within the VCE, this certificate recognises students who take on higher-level study. To receive the award of the VCE (Baccalaureate), students must complete:

  • a Unit 3 and 4 sequence in English, English language or Literature with a study score of 30 or above, or a Unit 3 and 4 sequence in English as an Additional Language with a score of 33 or above
  • a Unit 3 and 4 sequence in Mathematics Methods (CAS) or Specialist Mathematics
  • a Unit 3 and 4 sequence in a VCE language
  • at least two other Unit 3 and 4 sequences.

What is the ATAR?

The Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) is a means of statistically treating study scores and is used by tertiary institutions when deciding whether to offer a place to a prospective student. Its calculation is undertaken by the Victorian Tertiary Admissions Centre (VTAC). The ATAR uses study scores from Unit 3 and 4 VCE studies and, where appropriate, VCE VET programs and higher education studies. The scores in each study are compared or ‘scaled’ against other studies to yield a percentile ranking for each student that reflects their comparative performance against all other candidates across the state. Students completing the International Baccalaureate are also given a ranking, which can be converted to an ATAR for tertiary admission purposes. VTAC imposes some restrictions on subject combinations.

For further information about the ATAR, visit the VTAC website.

The General Achievement Test

The General Achievement Test (GAT) examines students’ general knowledge and their skills in written communication, mathematics, science and technology, humanities, the arts and social sciences. The GAT is an important part of VCE assessment procedures. Although it does not count towards VCE results, it plays an important role in ensuring that school assessments and examinations have been accurately assessed.

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