What is HSC?

Higher School Certificate (HSC) is a certificate that recognises the successful completion of secondary education in New South Wales. It is a pathway for student to further study at university or TAFE institutes.

There are two main types of courses available in the HSC which are Board Developed Courses and Board Endorsed Courses. Board Developed Courses have a syllabus and final exam set by NESA, 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.

Why HSC is important?

HSC provides students with an official record of achievement that attests students how well they can do in the various subjects they have chosen, at the end of 12 years of schooling.

The HSC examination results are used to produce a rank order of student performance (ATAR) that can be used by universities to select students into competitive academic programs. Then, what is ATAR?

What is ATAR

The Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) is a number between 0.00 and 99.95 that indicates a student’s position relative to all the students in their age group (ie all 16 to 20 year olds in NSW). So, an ATAR of 80.00 means that you are 20 per cent from the top of your age group (not your Year 12 group).

SAC and Exam Scores

During the year, your school sets SACs (School Assessed Coursework) for you to do. These are essentially assessments that test your knowledge of the coursework so far and obviously at the end of the year, you have your final exams. Your marks from SACs and exams are used to create a raw Study Score for each subject at the end of the year.

This Study Score depends on a range of factors such as how your class performs and how you perform relative to the rest of the state. This part is not too important to fully understand – the main thing is to try to top your class in every single SAC and exam and you won’t even need to know how your ATAR is calculated!

Raw Study Score

Once you’ve completed a subject, you receive a ‘raw’ Study Score for that subject. This score is given on a scale of 0 to 50, with 30 being the average. However, the Study Score is not a score out of 50. It is technically your ranking relative to how everyone else in the state scored in that subject.

Since 30 is the average, this means that a student who scores a 30 SS has scored higher than approximately 50% of students in Victoria. A student who scores a 40 SS has scored higher than about 91% of students in Victoria. This is what is known as the ‘bell curve’. As the study score gets higher, the amount of students that you’ve beaten gets exponentially larger. You get a raw Study Score for each Year 12 subject you complete.

Scaled Study Score

Now that you’ve got your raw Study Score, it needs to be scaled. ‘Scaling’ means that your raw score is adjusted to reflect the fact that it is more difficult to obtain a high Study Score in some subjects than others. This is not related to the ‘difficulty’ of a subject. Rather, it is related to the natural competitiveness that is attracted to certain subjects.

Usually, Maths, Science and LOTE subjects scale up; Arts subjects like History and Art scale down; English and Business Management-type subjects usually stay about the same. Once the Study Scores are scaled, these are your final subject scores. These are then added up in a certain way to give your ‘Aggregate’.


The Study Scores mentioned below refer to Scaled Study Scores. Your Aggregate is calculated by adding:

• Your best Study Score in any one of the English studies

• The Study Scores of your next best three subjects

• 10% of the Study Score of your fifth best subject (if applicable)

• 10% of the Study Score of your sixth best subject (if applicable)


Subject Raw SS Scaled SS Contribution to Aggregate
English 34 32 32
Maths Methods 39 44 44
Art 42 41.4 41.4
Biology 38 39 39
Italian 31 37 3.7 (10% of scaled SS)
Business Management 32 28.4 2.84 (10% of scaled SS)
Aggregate Total 162.94

Your ATAR Score

The ATAR Score is a ranking against all other students in Victoria. Your Aggregate score is placed in a ranked list along with everyone else in the state, and your ATAR is created based on the percentage of students that you scored higher than. If you get an ATAR of 68.35, this means you’ve got a higher Aggregate than 68.35% of students in Victoria.

A useful tool to use is the ATAR Calculator found here – http://vce.atarcalc.com/

Put in your subjects and you’ll be able to estimate your ATAR like this:

So, how do I use this to my advantage?

Our energy and time are finite. Now that we know how you ATAR is calculated and where your study scores come from, we can decide how to best use our time and energy for best effect.

Your ATAR can only be controlled by one thing – how hard you work for it. Ideally, you should work hard, try your best and attempt to top your class in each SAC and exam.

However, when in a press and if you are out of time, instead of a scattergun approach to focus on everything, we can try to focus on the areas that give us the best results:

Focus on your English > Focus on your 3 top subjects > Then focus on your 5th subject > And lastly all other subjects.

Compare the below 2 ATAR scores. When the 5th subject score goes from 1 to 40, the overall ATAR score is only impacted by 1.5. That 1.5 is very important when it comes to applying for the top universities and top courses. However, for every 1 point increment in the top 4 subjects (inc english) you will have to increase the 5th subject by at least 5 points to achieve the same impact on your ATAR

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