The HSC and the ATAR in NSW – What You Need to Know

Units. Scaling. Moderation. Ranking. Standardisation.

These terms and more will define the next two years of you and your child’s life… but don’t waste your time trying to understand every nook and cranny of the system. Seminars, although informative, focus on the maths behind how ATARs are calculated, not what is in store for your child during their last years in high school.

By answering the most frequently asked questions, I will introduce the all-consuming world of life for a Year 11 or 12 student in NSW; plain and simple.

Year 11

How are the senior years connected?

Year 11 is called the Preliminary Course. It is during this year that your child will be introduced to content not assessable in Year 12 but emulating the structure of study that will be undertaken during the HSC Course. The purpose of the Preliminary Course is to allow the students to get acquainted with new assessment formats, test strategies, and academic expectations. A perk of the senior years is that the teacher for each subject follows your child through Year 11 to Year 12.

Is Year 11 important for my child’s ATAR?

Not exactly. Although Year 11 results do not inform any part of your child’s ATAR, these results are becoming increasingly more important to form conditional offers or early entry offers at some universities.

On a different note, Year 11 will be the chance for your child to try new and adventurous approaches to their studies.

How many units is easiest to balance?

Units are the means of calculating a student’s pattern of study for the HSC exams. Each subject has a unit value where most subjects are 2 Units with extension courses being an additional 1 Unit. Your child must complete a minimum of 10 Units whereby 2 Units must be an English course.

In terms of how many is too many, it depends on your child whether they want to extend themselves or use Year 11 to try a lot of subjects. No matter what approach is taken, subjects can be swapped or discontinued up until the beginning of Year 12.

Why is Year 11 only 3 Terms?

Some schools approach Year 11 differently, but the wide-spread approach is that Year 11 is 3 terms to allow more time to cover Year 12 content. As the HSC exams take place in what would be Term 4 of Year 12, schools condense the Preliminary Course into three terms with the Preliminary Yearly exams conducted in Term 3. As a result, Term 4 of Year 11 becomes Term 1 of Year 12.

Year 11 isn’t too late…

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Year 12

What is the difference between HSC and ATAR?

The HSC, or Higher School Certificate, is obtained after your child completes their Year 12 studies. By completing the HSC, your child is eligible to receive an ATAR, or Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank, which is a translation of their HSC results into a percentile number to compare their marks with everyone else in the state (e.g. an ATAR of 98 is in the top 2% of the state). UAC, or University Admissions Centre, uses the ATAR to connect your child to courses on offer at UAC supported universities.

How is the ATAR calculated?

To not bore you with numbers and statistics, HSC marks are calculated by finding the average between your child’s internal (within school) assessment marks and external (HSC exams in October) exam marks. HSC marks are then assigned a performance band from

Band 1 to Band 6 for that course (eg. Band 6 = mark of 90-100, Band 5 = mark of 80-89, etc.). Bands have no impact on the ATAR, but are rather a guideline of your child’s results.

Your child’s HSC marks for each subject are put into a percentile ranking of all the students who completed that course. Using some complex mathematics, each course’s percentile is compiled into one, being your child’s ATAR.

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What does Year 12 look like?

Year 12 commences in Term 4 of Year 11 and is conducted over the next 4 terms. In each term, each subject will have an assessment to make up the internal assessment mark. Trial exams are in the fourth term of Year 12 (Trials are the closest replication of the HSC exam period), and the HSC exams take place at the end of October to early November.

What can I do for my child?

This question is infrequently asked but the most important. The biggest thing you can do is just ask them how you can help. Every child is different.

Depending on how your child operates, being involved and taking an interest in their work and their schedule can make all the difference. Acknowledging that this time in their life is busy and important is the ultimate supportive foundation that any student needs.

Additionally, be proud no matter their results or your expectations. Just know they worked their hardest, and achieved their best; which might be enough to achieve their desired ATAR.

Lastly, be conscious of the pressure Year 12 can exert. Every day your child is surrounded by its gravity, and it can be rather consuming for some. Constant reminders from teachers coupled with the seemingly endless countdown to the tests is stressful. Maintain an open dialogue with your child about their wellbeing and be the escape from their studies.

Understanding the most important years of your child’s schooling is the best thing you can do to help them through it. Year 11 and 12 has changed. The HSC is different and requires a new level of effort and commitment that is all-consuming. With the evolving times, there will undoubtedly be even more changes in the future.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, but the rest is up to you and your child to find out along the way.