Higher School Certificate

From Academic Kids

Template:Alternateuses Higher School Certificate, or HSC for short, refers to the assessment applied to secondary school students who undertake years 11 and 12 in New South Wales, Australia; the name is applied both to the overall two-year assessment process and to the final exams.

A variety of subjects are available for study, with each subject being worth either 1 or 2 units. To be eligible for a UAI, each student must study at least 12 units in year 11, and at least 10 units in year 12, resulting in five or more subjects being studied. A minimum of 4 subjects must count towards the HSC, with not more than 4 units of Category B courses. 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 one is English, 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, and is essentially an "overall" score for the student calculated across their best subjects.

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.

Criticisms

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. 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.

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."

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