Today’s Higher School Certificate (HSC) offers more than 110 courses, including a range of nationally accredited Vocational Education and Training (VET) courses.
Depending on subject choice, NSW students can graduate with a Higher School Certificate, a nationally recognised VET qualification, credit transfer into TAFE NSW courses and/or an Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank (ATAR).
The Higher School Certificate (HSC)
The HSC is an internationally recognised qualification for students who have successfully completed secondary education in NSW. The HSC is flexible and accessible to all students. There’s a wide variety of subjects to choose from for the HSC.
The syllabuses make it clear to everyone what students are expected to learn and be able to do in each course by the end of Year 12. Sample examination questions and marking guidelines help students set goals and understand the level of achievement expected.
Students will receive a Record of Achievement, which lists their HSC results and their Preliminary (Year 11) and Stage 5 (Year 10) grades.
To be eligible for the HSC, students must:
NESA-developed courses are the courses for which the NESA develops a syllabus, setting out the objectives, outcomes, structure and content. These are the courses for which the NESA also develops HSC examinations, with the exception of Life Skills courses.
In addition, the NESA develops support materials such as course and assessment requirements, sample examination papers and/or sample questions, marking criteria and performance scales for courses for distribution to all schools. Most board-developed courses contribute to the calculation of the Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank (ATAR) by the Universities Admissions Centre (UAC).
Life Skills courses have board-developed status and have been designed for the small percentage of students, particularly those with an intellectual disability, who cannot access regular course outcomes and content. Life Skills courses contribute to a student’s pattern of study for the HSC but do not contribute towards an ATAR.
There are three categories of NESA-endorsed courses. School-developed courses are devised by individual schools in response to local interest or need and are endorsed by the NESA. University-developed courses are devised by universities in conjunction with schools to suit the particular needs of high-ability students. Content-endorsed courses (CECs) are developed by the NESA to cater for a wide range of students in areas that are not served by NESA-developed courses.
All NESA-endorsed courses count towards the HSC and are listed on the student’s record of achievement. However, NESA-endorsed courses do not count towards calculation of the ATAR.
Vocational Education and Training (VET) courses
VET courses teach skills relevant to future study and employment. These courses allow students to gain both the HSC qualification and an Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) VET qualification.
The AQF VET qualifications are recognised by industry and employers throughout Australia. These courses may require that the student spends a minimum number of hours in the workplace. Students receive documentation that report the competencies that they have achieved and an AQF VET Certificate or Statement of Attainment.
NESA-developed VET courses are available in 13 industry frameworks:
Each framework is made up of combinations of units of competency from National Training Packages. Each framework identifies the units of competency that make up the 120- and 240-hour courses for the HSC in that industry, as well as any specialisation study courses that are available. Students may choose to sit a written examination for the 240-hour VET Framework course. Those who do so may have the course results calculated in their ATAR. You can also study other VET courses in industries where there is no framework. Some of the courses can be studied at school, while others can be studied at TAFE institutes or with other training providers.
VET board-endorsed courses exist in a wide range of industry areas for VET qualifications not included in the board’s suite of Industry Curriculum Frameworks.
If a student wishes to study a language other than English that is not offered by their school, they may choose to attend the Saturday School of Community Languages and other institutions. These are public secondary schools for students in Years 7–12 who are enrolled in any school system. The school follows the NESA syllabuses in languages that are assessable for both the RoSA and HSC. Other institutions, such as The Open High School, also offer the study of languages outside of a student’s home school.
Most courses offered for the HSC have a value of two units in the Preliminary study pattern and two units in the HSC study pattern.
Some one-unit courses are also offered. Extension study is available in English, Mathematics, History, Music and some languages. Extension courses build on the content of the two-unit course and require students to study beyond the two-unit course. A one-unit course is also available in Studies of Religion.
Content-endorsed courses have the flexibility to be delivered as either one-
or two-unit courses.
Pattern of study requirements
English is the only compulsory HSC subject. To be eligible for the award of the HSC, a student must satisfactorily complete at least 12 units in the Preliminary course and at least 10 units in the HSC. Both study patterns must include:
During Year 12, students are assessed using formal written and practical examinations (where appropriate) and school assessments. Students sit external examinations at the end of Year 12. For courses other than VET, a student’s result is a 50/50 combination of their HSC examinations and school assessments.
Students who satisfy the requirements of the HSC will receive a HSC testamur, or award certificate, with the student’s name and school. They also receive a Record of Achievement, which shows each completed HSC course and the result. For courses other than VET, it also includes the mark awarded for school-based assessment, an examination mark, a HSC mark (the average of the assessment and examination mark) and the performance band showing the level of achievement in each course. An AQF VET attainment is provided to students who achieve one or more units of competency in a HSC VET course. They may also receive an AQF VET certificate if they have completed the required units of competency. The grades a student received in Years 10 and 11 are listed on a separate page of the Record of Achievement.
Students undertaking one or more Life Skills courses receive a Profile of Student Achievement with their HSC credentials, outlining the outcomes achieved in each course.
Once the school assessment has been completed, the school provides an assessment mark, calculated on the student’s performance for each course other than VET courses in set assessment tasks, to the NESA. The purpose of this mark is to measure performance over a wider scope than can be measured in a single external exam. In the case of board-endorsed courses, the mark reported is unmoderated.
Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank (ATAR)
The most common method of gaining entry for university courses in NSW is based on an applicant’s performance in their HSC. Applicants are ranked according to their Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank (ATAR). ATAR is the common name given to admissions indices across all Australian states and territories (except Queensland). The highest rank a student can achieve is now 99.95. An ATAR of 99.95 means they are in the top 0.05 percentile of students.
The ATAR is based on a scaled aggregate, calculated by the universities using a student’s best 10 eligible units in NESA-developed HSC courses. It is a number reported on a scale of 0–99.95 with intervals of 0.05. It shows where a student stands in relation to all other HSC students for whom an ATAR was also calculated.
Students can include units accumulated over a total period of five years. If a candidate repeats a course, only the mark from the last attempt is taken into account. Students receive an ATAR from the Universities Admissions Centre only if it is requested on their HSC entry.
Students can access important information relating to syllabuses, the RoSA and the HSC.
This website is the place for students to log into their personal page, consult their very own HSC calendar and brush up on their exam skills. It includes past papers, practice tests, study tips and all the latest news and information relating to the RoSA and HSC.
Students can access their HSC results via the internet or by SMS in mid-December. All students who satisfactorily complete at least one HSC course receive a Record of Achievement listing the courses they completed and their results.
Life after the HSC
One important thing to remember is the HSC is not the be all and end all. Just because your child didn’t receive the mark they had hoped for doesn’t mean they are doomed. While gaining a desirable ATAR rank is one way for your child to obtain his or her entry into a university course, there are other avenues that can be explored should your child not gain placement in their course of choice.
For students who are awarded VET certificates or statements of attainment, they will have advanced standing in other VET courses. School leavers can consider university-bridging courses, summer schools or enrolling at the same institution with a view to internally transferring into a course through academic merit at a later date. Keep an open mind and speak to a school or university careers adviser about your options.
NSW Record of School Achievement (RoSA)
The Record of School Achievement (RoSA) was introduced in 2012 to record a student’s academic achievements throughout the course of the student’s senior studies. A formal RoSA credential is available to those students who wish and are eligible to leave school prior to receiving their HSC. All students are able to access their RoSA information online from the end of Year 10 onwards.
To be eligible for the RoSA, a student must:
Tests and awards
In all subjects, with the exception of Life Skills and VET courses, studied in Years 10 and 11, a grade is awarded based on a set of course performance descriptors developed by the NESA, Teaching and Educational Standards NSW. These grades are then placed on each student’s Record of School Achievement. The NESA offers voluntary literacy/numeracy tests to students who are planning to leave school. The tests are delivered online.
The International Baccalaureate (IB)
The International Baccalaureate (IB) is an alternative education pathway and is standardised across the globe. The IB is currently available in more than 4000 schools in 146 countries around the world. It offers four high-quality programs for students in their primary and middle years, and career-related certificate and diploma programs for senior students at the equivalent stage of those doing the HSC.
The IB Diploma Program is a rigorous pre-university course of studies, leading to examinations, which meets the needs of secondary school students in Years 11 and 12. Designed as a comprehensive two-year curriculum that allows its graduates to fulfil requirements of various national education systems, the diploma model aims to address the intellectual, social, emotional and physical wellbeing of students.
IB Diploma Program students must choose one subject from each of five groups (one to five), ensuring breadth of knowledge and understanding in their best language, additional language(s), the social sciences, the experimental sciences and mathematics. Students may choose either an arts subject from group six, or a second subject from groups one to five. In addition to disciplinary and interdisciplinary study, the Diploma Program features core elements that broaden students’ educational experience and challenge them to apply their knowledge and skills. These include a Theory of Knowledge course on critical thinking, an extended independent research-based essay, participation in a range of community service activities, engagement in the arts and development of a healthy lifestyle through physical activity.
The results scale for the IB diploma is different from the HSC, with the top mark being a total of 45. From each student’s IB diploma results, the Universities Admissions Centre (UAC) calculates a UAC rank, which is comparable to the ATAR. In Australia, a result of 45 calculates to a UAC rank of 99.95. For a number of students, the IB Diploma Program is an excellent alternative to the HSC, offering a clearly globally transferable index of achievement for students looking to continue further studies both in Australia and overseas.
For more information on the International Baccalaureate, visit ibo.org