[NSW] The Comprehensive Guide to Selective High Schools

While Selective High Schools have been around for a while, there have been several major changes in the past few years. North Shore Coaching College, the expert in exam preparation courses and mock tests, has compiled this comprehensive guide to the Selective High Schools and application process, with all the important, up-to-date information you need here on one page.

What are Selective High Schools?

Selective high schools cater for academically gifted students with high potential who may otherwise be without sufficient classmates of their own academic standard. Selective high schools help these students to learn by grouping them with students of similar ability, using specialised teaching methods and materials. Selective high schools are unzoned so parents can apply regardless of where they live.

There were 4,196 places available across 51 Selective schools in NSW for entry to Year 7 in 2021. There are two main types of selective high schools offering Year 7 placement, fully selective and partially selective. They are located throughout NSW.

There are currently 21 fully selective high schools where all classes are academically selective. There are 4 agricultural high schools which are fully selective and have a special focus on agriculture. There are 25 partially selective high schools in NSW where one or two classes are selective while other classes are non-selective for local students. The students in the selective classes participate in separate English, mathematics and science classes. They generally join the non-selective students for classes in other subjects.

Read more: What are Selective Schools? | NSW Department of Education

Should I consider attending a Selective school?


Selective Schools are designed to provide enhanced learning opportunities for high potential and gifted students, i.e. those with very high to extremely high academic merit (in the top 9% of their cohort).

High potential and gifted learners may demonstrate curiosity, a fast-paced ease of learning, intense concentration in new learning or areas of interest, a sophisticated sense of humour, creative and critical thinking skills, high expectations, and other intellectual, creative and socio-emotional characteristics.

Read more: High Potential and Gifted Students | NSW Department of Education

Eligibility for Year 7 Selective Entry

Students applying to enter Year 7 in 2023 should be in Year 5 in 2021. If the child is outside the usual age range or is in a school Year other than Year 5 when applying, parents should explain the reasons. Selection committees may ask for further information when considering the application.

Students already in Year 7 at the time of the test can be considered for placement in Year 7 the following year only if there are extenuating circumstances. A full explanation, supporting documentation and the principal’s support for the repetition are required. Selection committees will determine whether such applications will be accepted.

If parents are seeking acceleration, selection committees will need to see evidence of consultation with the school principal. The student would need to gain a score which places them in the top half of the students offered placement in their chosen selective high school. On a statewide basis only one in 200 students would generally be capable of acceleration in all subjects.

A student’s family must be living in NSW by the beginning of the school year of entry.

A student must be an Australian citizen, a permanent resident of Australia or a New Zealand citizen to enrol in a selective high school.

Read more: Information for Applicants | NSW Department of Education

Eligibility for Year 8-12 Selective Entry

Available places in Years 8 to 12 depend on the number of students who have left the school. Each school is different, some may have no vacancies in some years of schooling, some create reserve lists in case of future vacancies, others may establish additional places in some years. Contact individual selective high schools for further information about availability.

  • Students cannot automatically transfer between selective high schools. If a student wishes to change from one selective high school to another, an application must be made.
  • Applicants complete the application form that is available in late June each year, and submit to up to three selective high schools. A separate application must be submitted to each school.
  • Individual selective high schools manage their own placement and any reserve lists they may have.
  • A student’s current pattern of study will be taken into account when being considered for placement. Available patterns of study at selective high schools may vary from current choices.
  • Any applications to repeat a school year should be discussed with the principal prior to submission.
  • An applicant on a reserve list remains on that reserve list only for the specific year applied for.
  • If unsuccessful in one year, parents can apply for placement in subsequent years when applications are open.

Read more: Years 8 to 12 | NSW Department of Education

Advantages and Disadvantages of Selective Schools

Selective schools provide a competitive academic environment and are focused on helping their students to achieve strong results. The proof is in the pudding, with these schools often producing some of the highest Year 12 results. But competitiveness can be a two-edged sword. What is healthy competition for some students can be a high-pressure, potentially stressful environment for others. You and your child should do research on your desired schools, ask about other people’s experiences and consider your individual circumstances.

You can also come along to one of our Education Seminars to learn more about applying for Selective High Schools, Scholarships and other educational topics.

How many Selective High Schools are there? 

There are currently 17 fully selective high schools, 25 high schools with selective classes (partially selective), 4 agricultural high schools2 and a virtual selective class provision offering selective placement in Year 7 for entry in 2021.

Number of vacancies: 4,226

Number of applicants: 15,355

Acceptance rate: 27.5%

View the map of selective high schools.

View a list of selective high schools and their locations, sorted by type (agricultural, fully or partially selective) and gender (co-educational, male-only or female-only).

How should I choose which Selective schools to apply for?

Applicants can choose up to three selective high schools and must list these in order of preference.

Where students qualify for entry to two or three schools they will get an offer only to the highest listed school for which they qualify. Therefore it is important to list the preferred school at the top.

A student can qualify for an offer to choice 2 or 3 and also be on a reserve list for choice 1. If a student qualified for all choices they would not be able to decline the highest choice offer and choose a lower choice instead.

You cannot change selective school choices after the placement outcome is released, except in limited extenuating circumstances with well documented evidence. Any request to change choices at that time would need to be approved by the High Performing Students Team.

Prior to choosing and listing your schools you should consider your own individual circumstances.

  • List only the school or schools you would like your child to attend.
  • Consider available transport and the travel time for the student. The selection committee does not consider distances, travel times or transport arrangements from the student’s home to the selective high school except for boarder agricultural high schools and Aurora College.
  • Additional information, medical report and payment of boarding fees are required if applying for a boarder placement at an agricultural high school.
  • If applying for the specialist Conservatorium High School, you can also choose three selective high schools.
  • Tuition at selective high schools is free (unless boarding) but schools may ask for a voluntary contribution to cover services such as library, textbooks and other curriculum-related resources. Schools may also ask for contributions to cover the purchase of materials in certain subjects and costs associated with sport or excursions.

You should also consider the past entry scores for the schools you are thinking of choosing. The entry score required for each school varies from year to year. It depends on the number and the academic merit of students who have chosen the school each year. Minimum entry scores are useful as a rough guide of the competitiveness of entry to certain Selective schools, but do not necessarily indicate what score would be required for entry in later years.

What are the minimum entry scores for Selective High Schools?

  • Minimum entry scores vary from school to school and from year to year.
  • The minimum entry score for a selective high school is the score of the lowest scoring student to accept a place there. The filling of all selective high school vacancies tends to continue until the end of the first term in the year of enrolment.
  • The minimum entry score is determined by the geographical location of the schools and the academic merit of the students applying for entry. Where parents decline offers after the school term ends, it may become necessary to go much further down a reserve list than may have happened in previous years.
  • The minimum entry score is not an indicator of the relative performance of the selective high schools.
  • Parents should not use minimum entry scores as the only criterion on which to base their choice of selective high schools. They should also consider factors such as the curriculum offered at each school and travelling times and transport.
  • Since isolation factors as well as school and test scores are considered for entry to Hurlstone Agricultural High School – Boarder, Farrer Memorial Agricultural High School and Yanco Agricultural High School, the minimum entry scores are not published.

Note: Selective scores used to be scored out of 300 but are now out of /120. We will be updating this table soon.

Selective High School

Rounded Cut-Off Score (2021)

James Ruse Agricultural High School 248
Baulkham Hills High School 233
North Sydney Boys High School 228
Hornsby Girls High School 221
Girraween High School 220
North Sydney Girls High School 220
Sydney Boys High School 220
Normanhurst Boys High School 217
Fort Street High School 216
Sydney Girls High School 215
Chatswood High School 214
Penrith High School 209
Northern Beaches Secondary College Manly Campus 208
Parramatta High School 204
Hurlstone Agricultural High School 202
St George Girls High School 201
Ryde Secondary College 198
Sydney Technical High School 198
Caringbah High School 194
Blacktown Girls High School 192
Blacktown Boys High School 191
Tempe High School 189
Sefton High School 188
Gosford High School 187
Sydney Secondary College Leichhardt Campus 187
Merewether High School 184
Smiths Hill High School 184
Prairiewood High School 181
Sydney Secondary College Balmain Campus 181
Macquarie Fields High School 178
Alexandria Park Community School 176
Moorebank High School 171
Rose Bay Secondary College 171
Bonnyrigg High School 165
Armidale Secondary College 162
Elizabeth Macarthur High School 161
Auburn Girls High School 160
Aurora College (Virtual) 160
Gorokan High School 160
Grafton High School 160
Granville Boys High School 160
Karabar High School 160
Kooringal High School 160
Peel High School 160

What is the Selective school selection process?

Entry into Selective High Schools is currently decided on academic merit using a placement score calculated by adding the scaled Selective High School Placement Test scores to moderated school assessment scores.

The scaling of the test marks is done on a state-wide basis regardless of the schools attended by the students. Each scaled test component is adjusted so they are weighted equally.

The entry score required for each school varies from year to year as the score is dependent on the number and the academic merit of students who have chosen the school each year.

The calculated placement score is expressed as a score out of 120 (previously 300) and is derived from the test and school assessment scores as follows:

Test components

  • Reading /25
  • Mathematical reasoning /25
  • Thinking skills /35
  • Writing /15
  • Moderated School Assessment Score /20

Total Placement Score: /120

Read more: The Selection Process | NSW Department of Education

What is the Selective High School Placement Test like?

A new Selective High School Placement Test was developed for 2021. Students are encouraged to familiarise themselves with the sample test ahead of the next Selective High School Placement Test on 10 March 2022. The new test has a greater emphasis on thinking skills, mathematical reasoning and problem solving. It also adjusts and balances the weighting given to mathematics, reading and thinking skills test components.

These changes are in response to the findings of the 2018 Review of Selective Education Access report, commissioned by the NSW Department of Education.

In 2022 the placement test will remain in a paper-based format. Students use pencils to show their answers. Multiple choice tests are marked by computer.

  • Reading (40 min, 30 questions)
  • Mathematical Reasoning (40 min, 35 questions)
  • Thinking Skills (40 min, 40 questions)
  • Writing (30 min, 1 open-response question)

Reading Test

The reading test consists of 30 questions. Students have 40 minutes to complete the test. The questions are based on a diverse range of texts and assess a range of reading skills.

The reading test questions are based on different genres such as non-fiction, fiction, poetry, magazine articles and reports.

Mathematical Reasoning Test

The mathematical reasoning test consists of 35 questions. Students have 40 minutes to complete the test. The questions are all multiple choice and students will be asked to select the correct answer from 5 options.

The mathematical reasoning test assesses the student’s ability to apply mathematical understanding and knowledge to problems, with questions drawn from a range of mathematical content areas.

Calculators are not used in the mathematical reasoning test.

Thinking Skills Test

The thinking skills test consists of 40 questions. Students have 40 minutes to complete the test. The questions are all multiple choice and students will be asked to select the correct answer from 4 options.

The thinking skills test assesses the student’s ability in critical thinking and problem solving. There are a range of different question types in the test.

No previous knowledge is required for this test.

Writing Test

The writing test consists of one set writing task. Students have 30 minutes to complete the test. The test assesses the student’s creativity of ideas and ability to write effectively for a purpose and audience. The test will also assess grammar, punctuation, spelling and vocabulary.

Read more: The Test | NSW Department of Education

While the test will continue to be paper-based for the time being, there are rumoured future plans to make the Opportunity Class Placement Test a computer-based test like NAPLAN, ICAS and the Selective High School Placement Test (from 2023). Stay tuned to the North Shore Coaching College blog for all the latest updates!

What is the process for applying to Selective High Schools?

Applications for Year 7 entry to a selective high school in 2023 opens on 6 October 2021 and closes on 9 November 2021.

In 2022 the Selective High School Placement Test will be a paper-based format before changing to a computer-based format in 2023.

You can read about the application process on the official NSW Department of Education website.

You can also come along to one of our Education Seminars to learn more about applying for OC, Selective High Schools, Scholarships and other educational topics.

How can I prepare my child for the Selective test?

It’s never too early to start thinking about boosting your child’s academic journey, and it’s never too late to make a difference by supplementing their education with external coaching. That said, it’s generally more effective to work consistently over a longer period of time than (just) to prepare intensively in the lead-up to examinations. If you think your child would benefit from regular, personalised learning outside of school, weekly tuition might suit you.

In terms of the Selective test specifically, early Year 5 is a good time to begin preparation, giving your child approximately a year to develop their knowledge and skills. Recent changes (such as the introduction of the Thinking Skills section, and the increased weighting of the test component relative to school assessment scores) mean it is more important than ever to be prepared for the Selective test. A small number of sample tests are available from the official website, but the best way to prepare is through North Shore Coaching College’s Year 5 and Year 6 Fastrain programs. We provide expertly developed courses focusing on English, Mathematics, Thinking Skills and Writing (the four components of the OC test). FREE mock tests & review sessions are regularly provided as part of the Programs, as well as personalised homework help, and additional exam preparation workshops.

Through North Shore Coaching College’s over 30 years of educational experience, we have found that practising sitting an examination in a test environment reduces test anxiety and improves performance when it comes to the real Selective test. The annual Selective Written Assessment Test (SWAT) is NSW’s best Selective mock exam experience. Early testing and practice teaches Year 5 how to manage time and deal with a wide range of vital question types and topics found in the Selective test.

Register for SWAT

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