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 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, with more than 110 courses developed by the Board of Studies, Teaching and Educational Standards NSW (BOSTES), along with a range of Board-Endorsed courses.
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, provided by BOSTES, 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:
Have gained qualifications that the BOSTES considers satisfactory
Attend a government school, an accredited non-government school or a school outside of NSW recognised by BOSTES
Satisfactorily complete a pattern of study required by BOSTES for the HSC (this may include examinations, coursework and attendance)
Board-developed courses are the courses for which the BOSTES develops a syllabus, setting out the objectives, outcomes, structure and content. These are the courses for which BOSTES also develops HSC examinations, with the exception of Life Skills courses.
In addition, BOSTES 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 NSW Board-endorsed courses. School-developed courses are developed by individual schools in response to local interest or need and are endorsed by the Board. University-developed courses are developed by universities in conjunction with schools to suit the particular needs of high-ability students. Content-endorsed courses (CECs) are developed by the Board to cater for a wide range of students in areas that are not served by Board-developed courses.
All Board-endorsed courses count towards the HSC and are listed on the student’s record of achievement. However, Board-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.
Board-Developed VET courses are available in 13 industry frameworks:
Information and Digital Technology
Metal and Engineering
Tourism, Travel and Events
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 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, students 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 BOSTES NSW syllabuses in languages that are assessable for both 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.
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:
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
At least four subjects. No more than six Preliminary units and six HSC units from courses in Science can contribute to the award of the HSC.
During Year 12, students are assessed using formal written and practical examinations (where appropriate) and school assessment. Students sit external examinations (set and marked by the Board of Studies, Teaching and Educational Standards NSW) 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 assessment.
Students who satisfy the requirements of the HSC will receive an 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, an 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 Board of Studies, Teaching and Educational Standards NSW. 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.
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 the student is 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 Board-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 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 from the BOSTES website. The website includes past HSC examination papers and notes from the Marking Centre. Students can use the online multiple choice questions to test themselves and further prepare for their examinations. The website is boardofstudies.nsw.edu.au
Other helpful websites for HSC-related information include:
HSC Online: hsc.csu.edu.au
Provides HSC students with access to a wealth of HSC resources and support. The materials on HSC Online have been developed by highly experienced HSC teachers and examiners, and many of the site’s resources have been drawn from the best available resources around the world. There is advice on study techniques and exams, and information for parents and students on subjects, career and further study options.
How your HSC works:
An offshoot of the BOSTES website,
this page gives students a step-by-step account of what to expect from their HSC in a language that’s easy to understand. It covers information about the syllabus, exam process, marking procedures and HSC results.
NSW Students Online:
Another BOSTES resource centre, 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 RoSA and the HSC.
Students can access their HSC results via the internet or by SMS in mid-December. Results are also posted in the mail and arrive in January the following year. All students who satisfactorily complete at least one HSC course receive a Record of Achievement listing the courses they completed and their results.
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.