Higher School Certificate
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The award of the Higher School Certificate is governed by the Education Act 1990 (NSW). The Board of Studies, under this Act, grants certificates to students who comply with the Act and the Board's requirements.
The main rules and requirements for the award of the HSC are set out in a booklet entitled Rules and Procedures for 2005 Higher School Certificate Candidates, which is published on the Board's website each year.
Students can obtain more detailed explanations of the rules and requirements by referring to the Assessment, Certification and Examination (ACE) Manual. A copy of the manual is also kept in every secondary school and college of TAFE in New South Wales and many council libraries.
Units of Study
Most courses offered for the Higher School Certificate have a 2 unit Preliminary and a 2 unit HSC component. Each unit requires approximately 60 hours of classroom study per year. VET courses are not divided into HSC and Preliminary components and may be counted as Preliminary or HSC courses. However, only VET courses of at least 120 hours duration will be accredited for the Higher School Certificate.
Studies of Religion may be undertaken either as a 120 hour course (1 unit Preliminary plus 1 unit HSC) or as a 240 hour course (2 unit Preliminary plus 2 unit HSC). Some Board Endorsed Courses and most HSC extension courses are 1 unit courses. Extension study is available in English, Mathematics, History, Music, some languages and some VET courses. Extension courses build on the content of the 2 unit course, and require students to study beyond the 2 unit course.
English is the only compulsory Higher School Certificate subject.
To be eligible for the award of the Higher School Certificate students must have:
- gained the School Certificate or such other qualifications as the Board of Studies considers satisfactory;
- attended a government school, an accredited non-government school, an institute of TAFENSW or a school outside NSW recognised by the Board;
- satisfactorily completed courses that comprise the pattern of study required by the Board for the award of the Higher School Certificate;
- sat for and made a serious attempt at the required Higher School Certificate examination(s).
To qualify for the Higher School Certificate students must satisfactorily complete a Preliminary pattern of study comprising at least 12 units and an HSC pattern of study comprising at least 10 units. Both patterns must include:
- at least six units of Board Developed Courses;
- at least two units of a Board Developed Course in English;
- at least three courses of two unit value or greater (either Board Developed or Board Endorsed Courses);
- at least four subjects.
The Preliminary component of a course must be completed before commencing the HSC component. (Different requirements apply to Mathematics Extension 1.) To satisfy pattern of study requirements for the Higher School Certificate, students may count a maximum of six Preliminary units and six HSC units from courses in science. In the Preliminary study pattern, Senior Science may not be studied in combination with either Biology, Chemistry, Physics or Earth and Environmental Science. Other exclusions that may affect course choices are listed in the ACE Manual.
Acceleration gives more able students the opportunity to progress through their study requirements at a faster rate than usual by completing the course content in a shorter time and accumulating results. Students who have completed a course of study at the highest level ahead of their year group may be able to undertake further study at university or TAFE, or take additional units for the Higher School Certificate.
Students may accumulate HSC courses towards the Higher School Certificate over a period of up to five years. Preliminary courses may also be accumulated. The five-year period will commence in the first year the student completes an HSC course. It will apply regardless of whether the student defers their studies for one or more years during the five-year period. Accumulation of HSC courses cannot extend beyond a five-year period. This five-year period is a 'rolling period' and students wishing to go beyond the five years will have the earliest year's presentation deleted. Students who are accumulating courses for the Higher School Certificate will receive a Record of Achievement for each calendar year of study. These cumulative transcripts will record all Preliminary and HSC courses satisfactorily completed in the previous five years, including repeat attempts. On completion of the accumulation, all requirements must have been met for both the Preliminary and HSC patterns of study.
Students may repeat one or more HSC courses, but they must do so within the five-year accumulation period. The most recent result will be used in the calculation of the Universities Admission Index (UAI).
A subject is the general name given to an area of study; a subject may offer one or more courses. There is a wide variety of subjects to choose from for the Higher School Certificate, with about 150 Board Developed Courses and a large range of Board Endorsed Courses.
English, Mathematics, History, Studies of Religion, Music, VET industry curriculum frameworks and some languages are subjects that offer more than one course. The other subjects each offer one 2 unit course.
Types of Courses
There are two broad categories of courses: Board Developed Courses and Board Endorsed Courses.
Board Developed Courses
Board Developed Courses are the courses for which the Board of Studies develops a syllabus, setting out the objectives, outcomes, structure, content and assessment requirements. The Board also develops Higher School Certificate examinations for most of these courses.
Most Board Developed Courses contribute to the calculation of the Universities Admission Index (UAI).
Board Endorsed Courses
There are three types of Board Endorsed Courses:
- School Developed Courses — These are courses developed by individual schools in response to local interest or need that have been endorsed by the Board.
- University Developed Courses — These are developed by universities in conjunction with schools to suit the particular needs of high ability students.
- Content Endorsed Courses (CECs) — These courses are based on School Developed Courses in the most popular areas of study. They fall into two categories: general CECs and VET CECs including many delivered by TAFE.
Board Endorsed Courses count towards the Higher School Certificate and are listed on your Record of Achievement. However, Board Endorsed Courses do not count towards calculation of the UAI.
Vocational Education & Training Courses
Vocational Education and Training (VET) industry curriculum frameworks are Board Developed Courses that allow you to gain both HSC qualifications and Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) VET accreditation.
Special restrictions apply to the contribution of VET courses towards the calculation of the UAI.
Refer also to the Moderating article.
For most Board Developed Courses, school-based assessment throughout Year 12 contributes 50% of your HSC mark, and is reported on your Record of Achievement. For each course, schools prepare and administer an assessment program in accordance with specifications in the syllabus. These specifications identify the components of the course to be assessed and their weightings. However, the timing and weighting of tasks is determined by the school. Assessment tasks are designed to measure knowledge, skills and understanding in relation to a wide range of outcomes. They may include tests, written assignments, practical activities, fieldwork and projects. When you commence studying the HSC course, your school will provide you with details of your assessment tasks. All work presented in an assessment task must be your own. Malpractice (cheating) or plagiarism (claiming someone else's ideas or work as your own or using them without acknowledgement) could lead to your receiving zero marks.
At the conclusion of the HSC assessment program, your school will submit a schoolbased assessment mark to the Board for each of your courses. (You do not receive an assessment mark for VET courses.) The mark will be based on your performance in the tasks outlined in your school's assessment program. The school assessment marks for each course will be moderated by the Board according to the performance of the students in your school in the HSC examination for that course. Your position in the course assessment rank order will not be altered by the moderation process.
If you believe that your performance in the examination was diminished because of circumstances beyond your control, you can lodge an illness/misadventure appeal.
(i) You may appeal for a variation to your results if you were prevented from attending an examination, or you consider that your performance was affected by illness or misadventure immediately before or during the examination.
Appeal forms are available from the presiding officer or your principal. Further details of appeal procedures are on the form and on the Illness/Misadventure Information Guide for Students sheet. It is your right and responsibility to lodge an appeal.
(ii) You must retain the acknowledgment slip from the illness/misadventure appeal form signed by the presiding officer or principal.
(iii) The illness/misadventure appeals process does not cover:
- difficulties in preparation or loss of preparation time;
- alleged deficiencies in tuition;
- loss of study time or facilities prior to the formal study vacation;
- misreading of the timetable;
- misreading of examination instructions;
- failure to enter for the examination in the correct course;
- long-term illness such as glandular fever, asthma and epilepsy – unless there is evidence of a sudden recurrence during the examination;
- courses which are undertaken as a self-tuition student.
(iv) If you have been granted special examination provisions such as extra time, you are generally not eligible for illness/misadventure appeals unless you experience additional difficulties during the examinations.
(v) If your appeal is upheld, you will be awarded the higher of your examination mark and your moderated assessment mark as your examination mark. Your Record of Achievement will indicate if the assessment mark is used.
(vi) Illness/misadventure appeals for HSC written examinations must be lodged with the Board of Studies (not UAC) shortly after the examination in question. Appeals for practical examinations, performances or submitted works must be lodged within one week of the date of the examination, performance or submission.
(vii) Late appeals will be considered only in the most exceptional circumstances. The results of the appeal will be notified at the same time as the printed examination results. It is most important that you follow the instructions on the appeal form. If you do not, the chance of a successful appeal will be seriously jeopardised.
Assessment Ranking Appeals
22. Assessment ranking appeals
(i) After the final HSC examination, you can obtain your rank order for assessment in each course via Students Online or from your school. If you feel that your placement in any course is not correct, you should talk to your teacher and you may apply to your principal for a review/appeal.
(ii) There is no provision for a review of marks awarded for individual assessment tasks. Reviews are limited to the assessment process. The only matters that the school will consider are whether or not:
(a) the weightings specified by the school in its assessment program conform with the Board’s requirements as detailed in the relevant syllabus; and/or
(b) the procedures used by the school for determining the final assessment mark conform with its stated assessment program; and/or
(c) computational or other clerical errors have been made in the determination of the assessment mark.
(iii) If you wish to apply for a review you must do so by the date specified by the Board. The school will advise you of the outcome of its review, and will advise the Board of any changes to assessment marks. (iv) If you are dissatisfied with the outcome of the school review, you may advise your principal that you wish the appeal to be sent to the Board of Studies. There can be no appeal against the marks awarded for individual assessment tasks. The Board will consider only whether:
(a) the school review process was adequate for determining items (a), (b) and (c) above;
(b) the conduct of the review was proper in all respects.
(v) The Board will not revise the assessment marks or rank order. If the appeal is upheld, the Board will direct the school to carry out a further review. Further details about reviews/appeals are on the assessment appeal form which can be obtained from the school. Appeals to the Board must be lodged at the school by the date on the form. No extension will be considered.
Examination Mark Appeals
Examination marks can only be appealed by principals.
Refer to the HSC marks article.
A variety of courses are available for study, with each course being worth either 1 or 2 units. Each unit involves approximately two hours of tuition each week, and attracts a maximum mark of 50 at the final examination. To be eligible for a Universities Admissions Index (UAI), each student must study at least 12 units in year 11, and at least 10 units in year 12. A minimum of 4 subjects must be studied. Additionally, at least two of the ten units to count for the UAI must be English. Students not intending to go to university may still complete their HSC, but those wishing to study fewer subjects (thus not meeting all UAI requirements), may do so.
There is a great number of possible subjects students can study, totaling at over 100 (including languages). However, most schools offer students a smaller selection from which they must choose. Of all the available subjects, the only compulsory subject is one of English Advanced, English as a Second Language or English Standard, although some religious schools require their students to study a religious-based subject. A student's final grade in each subject is determined by a combination of in-school assessments conducted through year 12, and an externally-administered final exam held in October or November of that year. Besides accounting for half the student's final score, external exam results are also used to standardise in-school assessment results between different schools.
These exams are administered by the Board of Studies, and used as an aid to calculate the University Admissions Index (UAI) - which is calculated by the Universities Admissions Centre (UAC), for controlling university admissions, this is generally considered, by students, to be representative of how they have performed.
In this calculation, students' relative performances in different subjects are used to estimate the ability of the cohort in subjects, and adjust the combined score accordingly; a student who achieved 50th-percentile rankings in subjects with an above average cohort would gain a better UAI than one who achieved the same rankings in a subject with a less able cohort.
While year 12 is considered to be the year that "matters", meaning that assessment and exam results from that year contribute to the individual's final mark, year 11, or the Preliminary course, acts more as a preparation year, with students being introduced to the subject matter. No actual assessment marks from year 11 contribute to the student's final HSC mark, and few subjects (with the exception of maths) teach the student anything in year 11 that will be assessed in their final HSC examinations.
The HSC has been criticised for placing so much weight on the final exam, thus causing excessive stress to students and favouring those who cram for exams at the expense of those who work steadily throughout but do not cope well with pressure, even though 50% of the students mark is based on inschool assesments which are subsequently modified according to the schools performance in an exam. There is also criticism that the HSC is oriented heavily towards memorised facts rather than applied skills, meaning that the student finishes with no real understanding of the subject. This is especially true for the Science courses, particularly Physics. Evidence of this comes in the form of drop-out rates in New South Wales Universities.
Others argue that there is not enough emphasis on tests, and too many marks are taken from take-home assesment tasks, which students can cheat on. These assesment tasks which are taken home can have input from a variety of people, such as tutors and parents, and do not often reflect the students true ability. Students can score highly on assignments, without knowing the bulk of their work. Tests ensure that the student gets the marks that they independently deserve. Students may not learn all of their work thoroughly, developing bad habits for university, which may be the cause of the high drop-out rates in New South Wales Universities.
Another criticism is that artefacts of the scaling process sometimes encourage students to "play the system", taking subjects which make it easier to score the UAIs they need to enter a course rather than subjects which might be more relevant to that course (the effect of taking courses with lower candidatures, a flaw abused in the older HSC, in order to achieve a higher percentile has been minimised by the capping of subjects in which a maximum scaled mark is placed lower then the norm). As one teacher put it, "Our best students take high-level mathematics, physics, and chemistry, so they can get the marks they need to get into a law degree." There is some attempt to diffuse this with scaling of marks between the HSC Trials, the Exam and the Assessments, throughout the year, producing the final HSC Mark.