How Do QCAA External Examinations Work?

How do QCAA External Examinations Work?

Confused about QCAA External Examinations and ATAR?

Confused about QCAA and ATAR? You’re not alone! In this article, we’ll look at external examinations compared to school exams; which students need to sit them; what parents, students and tutors can do to help; and ultimately (hopefully!) help you understand how QCAA External Examinations work.  

What is QCAA?

External exams?… School exams? 

If you are a parent reading this, it may be some time since you last sat a school exam yourself. Things have certainly changed! Let’s try to demystify the QCAA for you. 

QCAA stands for the “Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority.” It’s a government body established in 2014 in response to the transition to an Australian National Curriculum. Every state has its own version but all are under the “Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority” (ACARA).   

These various acronym-loving bodies have one aim: to standardise how students are assessed for their final high school certificate. With an equal assessment, each student has an equal chance of gaining entry to their preferred university or tertiary education provider. 


The ATAR is a student’s score based on national ranking. This acronym stands for Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank. It works similarly to the previous OP (overall position). Not all high school subjects count towards an ATAR, and students in Years 11 and 12 can elect to study subjects for school-based Diplomas or Certs instead, graduating without an ATAR. 

More detailed information can be found here.  

When a student elects an ATAR pathway (or studies a subject that is considered an ATAR subject, even if they are not on the ATAR pathway), their assessments and examinations will be overseen by the QCAA.  

Only ATAR subjects require QCAA external examinations, so let’s take a look at how they work. 

QCAA external examinations compared to school exams

All ATAR subjects will have an external exam component. The value of the exam to the final score varies from subject to subject. 

Students will complete assessments throughout years 11 and 12. These will be marked in school, with a random selection submitted to QCAA for review to ensure that all Queensland schools are marking to the same standard. Initial marks are provisional until the review of the random selection is complete, after which time everyone’s mark within the school may be adjusted up or down. 

External exams take place during exam block – generally early November in Queensland. 

External exams take place within the school but are overseen by a QCAA representative rather than a staff member. These exams are not marked by the school, instead being marked independently by QCAA assessors. 

School exams also take place within the school but are for non-ATAR subjects. These exams are marked internally, with the results forming the student’s QCE (Queensland Certificate of Education).  

Prepping for external exams

There’s a lot that students, parents, teachers and tutors can do to prepare for an exam. This includes: 

  • Applying good study habits – not just in the weeks before external exams but throughout years 11 and 12. A tutor can help you stay on track! 
  • Understanding definitions – making sure you know the correct terminology so that you can answer the question asked. 
  • Practise papers – available on the QCAA website. This will give an indication of the language used in the papers, and which topics or themes are likely to show up. 
  • Checking answers – the practise papers have answer sheets. Use them to identify areas where further revision may be required. 
  • Health hygiene – make sure to timetable plenty of rest, exercise, good eating and hydration. 

Almost everything a student does in the last two years of high school counts towards their ATAR. Engaging a tutor who understands the subjects, curriculum and QCAA external examination requirements from the start of Year 11 will give your student the confidence, skills and preparation to achieve to the best of their potential. 

Does your child need help preparing for QCAA external examinations? A Team Tuition can help.
Contact us today to find the right tutor for your child.