[NSW] The Higher School Certificate (HSC): Guide for Parents

What is the HSC?

HSC is a short form for Higher School Certificate administered by The NSW Department of Education. It is an examination for Year 12 students and the results are crucial in determining whether a student can get into the university of their choice or not. HSC has undergone a number of major changes since World War II and the latest major change started in 2016 and will be fully implemented in 2020.

What is the HSC Certificate?

All participants in the HSC exam will receive a certificate stating what subjects they have taken and what marks. One distinct feature of the certificate is that there is no “pass/fail” marks. Thus we may see the certificate as a record of what and how well the student has done rather than the attainment of a certain standard.

How to get the HSC certificate?

As mentioned earlier, there are not pass/fail mark. To obtain this certificate, there are three essential requirements:

a) Must study English,
b) Study minimum of 12 units* in Year 11, and
c) Study minimum of 10 units in Year 12

The term ‘unit’ is a historical term used to refer to the ‘size’ or efforts required for that subject. The larger the number, the harder/more time-consuming the subject is. Since 2001, it is not relevant any more because most subjects are standardised to 2 units with harder subjects described as ‘extension’. Thus 3 unit English is broken down into two subjects: 2 unit Advanced English and 1 unit Extension English.

Since most subjects are 2 units, we can conceptually say students need to study 6 subjects in Year 11 and only 5 subjects in Year 12.

HSC Subjects

There are around 100 subjects that students can choose to study in their final two years of high school, namely Year 11 and 12. There is only ONE compulsory subject, English, which can be taken at several levels. The easiest form is EAL/D specially designed for students recently (less than four years) who have come to Australia to study. The most popular level is Standard with over 50% of Year 12 students taking this level. If a student is good in English, then he/she should take the more challenging Advanced English. Over 90% of subjects are 2 units with the rest mostly Extension units.

HSC Marks

The final HSC mark for each subject comprises of two components: Examination mark and Assessment mark, of equal important, i.e. 50-50. Examination mark is what students get from the external HSC examination. Assessment mark is what the schools give to each of their students, subject-by-subject. Conceptually, before sitting for the HSC examination, half of the HSC mark has already been determined (by teachers). Thus in order to get high HSC mark, students must do well in their school as well as do well in the external exam. The Assessment marks are accumulated during the last 4 terms before the HSC examination, i.e. Year 11 term 4, Year 12 terms 1,2, and 3. For this reason, most schools label Year 11 term 4 as Year 12.

How to Maximise HSC Marks

There are many strategies in addition to studying hard. The following are some more important ones:
a) Pay attention early: Because Assessment marks are accumulated in the last 4 terms before the actual examination, a student must pay attention in school work including homework, assessments, projects, behaviour in class, etc. Do not leave things to the last minutes. It will be too late to change the perception of your teacher.

b) Choose subjects wisely: HSC subjects are chosen by students late in term 2 or beginning of term 3 of Year 10. Take extra care in those choices because once those subjects are chosen, students are stuck with them for the next two years. Changing subjects is quite difficult and a terrible waste of time, (for more details, refer to our upcoming Year 10 Subject Choice blog article).

c) Time management: Since most students need to study a minimum of 5 subjects, it is advisable to spread their time more evenly across those subjects. It is much easier to improve from 60 marks to 70 but it would be much much harder to improve from 90 to 100 and sometimes impossible. Thus it is tactically wrong to spend half of one’s study time to one subject and do really well while letting the other four subjects languishing.

Importance of the HSC Certificate

As mentioned earlier, the certificate is only a record of what and how well a student has done in HSC. It is great if a student can get high marks in their HSC but that alone will not ensure a place in the top universities. University entrance is largely based on another number called ATAR.

Prepare for HSC Success at North Shore Coaching College

View our Year 12 HSC Success Series subjects – tailored for the new syllabus.

Contact us

Have any questions first? View FAQs

  • Contact Us

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.