Higher School Certificate - New South Wales

The Higher School Certificate, or HSC, is the credential awarded to secondary school students who successfully complete senior high school level studies (Years 11 and 12 or equivalent) in New South Wales, Australia. It was first introduced in 1967,with the last major revision coming into effect in 2001. It is currently developed and managed by the Board of Studies of NSW. In 2009, 69,261 students sat the exams, the largest group of Year Twelve students in Australian history.

Patterns of Study

The majority of students undertake HSC-related courses over the final two years of high school, however it is possible to undertake different study patterns over different time periods or through different teaching organisations.There are a great number of possible courses students can study, totalling over 100 (including languages), in a wide range of subject areas. However, most schools offer students a smaller selection from which they must choose. The only compulsory subject area is English, with one of English Advanced, English Standard, English as a Second Language or English Life Skills required for the award of the HSC. (English Extension 1 and English Extension 2 are also available for English Advanced students). Individual schools may require their students to undertake certain courses, as is the case with Studies of Religion in many religious schools or Agriculture in agricultural schools, however these are internal school requirements separate from HSC requirements. There are also three distance education distinction courses run through regional universities available to students who have finished 2 units ahead of their cohort.

Most courses offered comprise a preliminary (Year 11) component and an HSC (Year 12) component. As a general rule the preliminary component must be completed prior to the HSC component. Furthermore, each subject is designated as either one or two "units". Each unit involves approximately two hours of formal tuition per week, and contributes a maximum mark of 50. The majority of courses are two unit courses, and thus students receive marks out of 100 in these courses. 10 units is the minimum number of units required, however students can attempt more should they choose. If they do, their final ATAR mark is calculated using their best 2 units of English and 8 best other units. Extension courses, each with a value of one unit, may be included in the study program, meaning that a certain subject area may have up to four units, e.g. English (Advanced) (two units) plus English Extension 1 and English Extension 2 (each worth one unit). To be eligible for the award of the HSC a student must have satisfied the requirements in at least twelve preliminary level units, and at least ten HSC level units, with the additional requirements that:

* at least two must be English units;
* at least six units must be Board of Studies-developed courses;
* at least three courses are of two unit or greater value.
* at least four subjects have been completed.
* no more than six units of science are studied.

Further restrictions may apply in certain subject areas. Note that these requirements are for the award of the HSC. Further requirements regarding study patterns apply if the student wishes to apply for a separate Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) based on their HSC performance.

Available Courses

There are two main types of courses available in the HSC: Board Developed Courses and Board Endorsed Courses. Board Developed Courses have a syllabus and final exam set by the Board of Studies, and generally may be included in the calculation of the ATAR. Board Endorsed Courses are developed by the school, and may vary from school to school in regards to content and assessment. The following is a list of Board Developed Courses available to students.

* Aboriginal Studies
* Agriculture
* Ancient History
* Biology
* Business Studies
* Chemistry
* Community and Family Studies
* Dance
* Design and Technology
* Drama
* Earth and Environmental Science
* Economics
* Engineering Studies
* English (Advanced)
* English (Extension 1) (only available to students studying English (Advanced))
* English (Extension 2) (only available to students studying English (Advanced) and English (Extension 1))
* English (Standard)
* English as a Second Language
* Food Technology
* Geography
* History Extension (only available to students studying Ancient History and/or Modern History)
* Industrial Technology
* Information Processes and Technology
* Legal Studies
* General Mathematics
* Mathematics
* Mathematics (Extension 1) (only available to students studying Mathematics)
* Mathematics (Extension 2) (only available to students studying Mathematics and Mathematics (Extension 1))
* Modern History
* Music 1
* Music 2
* Music Extension (only available to students studying Music 2)
* Personal Development, Health and Physical Education
* Physics
* Senior Science
* Society and Culture
* Software Design and Development
* Studies of Religion I
* Studies of Religion II
* Textiles and Design
* Visual Arts

In addition, some VET (Vocational Education and Training) courses are offered. In addition to HSC credit, completion of these courses may earn an industry Certificate II. Ten of these are Board Developed Courses (BDC)

* Accounting (BDC)
* Animal Studies
* Aviation
* Business Services (BDC)
* Child Care
* Construction (BDC)
* Entertainment Industry (BDC)
* Hairdressing
* Horticulture
* Hospitality (BDC)
* Information Technology (BDC)
* Marketing
* Metal and Engineering (BDC)
* Primary Industries (BDC)
* Retail (BDC)
* Tourism (BDC)

Languages are also offered as Beginners, Continuers, Extension, Background Speakers and recently, Heritage courses . Only one course of any one language may be taken, with the exception of Extension, available only to students taking the Continuers course. Due to the large number of language courses, they have been listed separately. The letters B (beginners), C (continuers), E (extension), BS (background speakers), H (heritage) indicate which courses are available for study.

* Arabic B, C, E
* Armenian C
* Chinese B, C, E, BS, H
* Classical Greek C, E,
* Classical Hebrew C, E
* Croatian C
* Dutch C
* Filipino C
* French B, C, E
* German B, C, E
* Hindi C
* Hungarian C
* Indonesian B, C, E, BS, H
* Italian B, C, E
* Japanese B, C, E, BS, H
* Khmer C
* Korean C, BS, H
* Latin C, E
* Macedonian C
* Malay BS
* Maltese C
* Modern Greek B, C, E
* Modern Hebrew C
* Persian BS
* Polish C
* Portuguese C
* Russian BS
* Serbian C
* Spanish B, C, E
* Swedish C
* Tamil C
* Turkish C
* Ukrainian C
* Vietnamese C

For talented students the Board of Studies offers a Philosophy distinction course. This course is intended to challenge academic high achievers; it is of first year university level difficulty. Typically, there are very few students invited to take the distinction course and, to be considered, a student must have accelerated (i.e. sat for an HSC examination at least one year ahead of their age cohort) in at least one two-unit HSC course and received exceptional results.


A student's final mark in each subject is determined by a combination of in-school assessments conducted throughout the HSC component of a course, and externally-administered final exam(s) typically held in October or November of that year. In addition to comprising half of a student's final assessment result in a subject, external exam results are also used to statistically moderate in-school assessment results between different schools. These exams are administered by the Board of Studies, which is responsible for the overall oversight of the HSC.


Upon successful completion of a satisfactory pattern of study students are awarded the Higher School Certificate by way of a testamur. Whenever a student has completed a course they also receive feedback regarding their results in that course, which typically includes exam results, school assessment results and the performance band in which their performance lies. Students who achieve excellent results of over 90 in 10 units of study in the HSC are awarded the Premier's Award by the New South Wales government. The most outstanding of these students may also be awarded the Australian Student Prize by the Commonwealth government. The T G Room award of the Mathematical Association of New South Wales is given to the student with the best score in the highest-level HSC mathematics examination.

HSC results may also be used to calculate the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR). Similar ranking processes used previously were called the UAI (Universities Admission Index) and the TER (Tertiary Entrance Rank). The ATAR is a separate ranking calculated by another body, the Universities Admissions Centre (UAC), and is used for determining university entrance. Since 1998 the university entrance rank has been issued separately from the HSC results in order to distinguish the two.


Criticism has been made by public figures such as Cardinal George Pell that the English course as a whole contains too many contemporary texts such as the film The Fellowship of the Ring instead of more classical literature such as Paradise Lost or Bleak House. Advocates of the course say that it offers a very broad selection of texts, ranging from classic books such as Brave New World, Emma, Pride and Prejudice, King Lear et alia to influential modern media such as Frontline. Another common criticism is that the course is not in fact English but rather English Literature (extended to film, websites, lyrics, et cetera).

1 comment:

  1. 'Criticism has been made by public figures such as Cardinal George Pell that the English course as a whole contains too many contemporary texts'

    Why is it at all relevant what George Pell thinks?


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