What is the HSC?

July 6, 2022Learnmate

What is the HSC? All you and your child need to know

Each State and Territory in Australia has its own recognised certificate that is issued to students who complete secondary school. The High School Certificate (or “HSC”) is the recognised certificate for students who complete secondary school in NSW. 

This blog will help explain what the HSC is and how to best prepare for it. 

What is the HSC and How Does it Work?

The terms “HSC” and “Year 12” are sometimes used interchangeably and generally mean the same thing. Students who complete a certain number of approved and endorsed subjects in Year 12 will be awarded the certificate. These subjects and their respective requirements are set by the Board of Studies, Teaching and Educational Standards in NSW. 

There are over 110 subjects under the HSC umbrella that students can choose from to complete the HSC. Subjects are usually selected by the student in Year 10, so thinking ahead (including beyond year 12) is very important. There are certain rules that students need to follow when undertaking subject selection, including that every student must do at least two units of English.

Why should my child complete the HSC?

Completing the Higher School Certificate (HSC) is a crucial step in your child's education, providing a strong academic foundation and a pathway to future opportunities. The HSC not only demonstrates academic achievement and competence but also fosters essential skills like critical thinking and problem-solving. Successful completion opens doors to higher education and various career options, as many institutions and employers value this qualification. Beyond academics, the HSC contributes to personal growth, building valuable skills and fostering connections with peers and professionals.

How is the HSC Marked?

A student’s final mark for completing the HSC is the culmination of a full year of work. Typically, internal assessments set by the school during the year account for 50% of a student’s marks with a final official examination(s) accounting for the remaining 50% of a subject. 

As internal assessments are set by a student’s school, students across the State won’t be sitting the same assessments. However, the final official exams for year 12 students are centrally set and all students taking a subject will sit the same exam at the same time. These typically take place in November and October.

Bands in HSC Marking

Once students have completed both their internal and external assessments for a subject, they are placed into results-based brackets known as ‘Bands’. 

For general subjects, there are 6 HSC Bands, which are calculated by totalling a student’s internal and external marks as a percentage out of 100. Band 1 corresponds to a 0.49 score, Band 2 ranges from 50 to 59, Band 3 ranges from 60 to 69, Band 4 ranges from 70 to 79 and Band 5 ranges from 80 to 89. Band 6 indicates the highest level of performance in the 90–100 range.

Bands indicate levels of achievement and summarise the knowledge and skills that a student demonstrated during the year. Band 6 indicates the highest level of performance, while Band 2 is the minimum standard expected of students. If a student is classified as Band 1, this indicates that they have not met the relevant requirements of the subject they completed (or in some cases, did not complete). 

For extension subjects (ie. Maths or English Extension 1 and 2), there are 4 bands (E1-E4), which are calculated by totalling a student’s internal and external marks as a percentage out of 50.

Extension subjects are marked out of 50 because there are typically 2 extension units for a subject (ie. Maths Extension 1 & 2 together comprise 100 marks).

What is the difference between HSC and ATAR? Are they related?

We have discussed and explained what the HSC is above but you may be wondering what this has to do with an “ATAR” and what it is. ATAR is short for “Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank” and is a percentile rank issued to students to indicate how well they did in HSC compared to all other students in the program that year. 

Students will be issued a number (or “percentile rank”) between 0 and 99.95. A percentile rank effectively states what percentage of the cohort a student performed better than. For instance, if a student receives an ATAR of 50, it means they performed better than 50% of students in the cohort. If the student receives an ATAR of 99.95, it means they performed better than 99.95% of students in the cohort.

Although curriculums differ by State and Territory (ie. HSC, VCE, WACE, SACE, TASC, BSSS etc.), every student in Australia is issued an ATAR on completion of their course. The ATAR is used by universities across Australia to provide a standardised means of assessing students for the purpose of admission to university and tertiary studies (hence Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank). 

If a student plans on going to university, they will submit their preferences to the University Admissions Centre ("UAC") during year 12 and their ATAR will be used to determine what courses they will be offered admission into.

How is an ATAR calculated based on HSC performance?

A student’s ATAR is calculated based on their HSC performance (being internal and external assessment marks) after it has been through a scaling process. 

That is, a student’s HSC marks go through a process of review, alignment and scaling to accurately determine where that student performed relative to their peers. This includes: 

  • considering and moderating marks based on how a student’s school performed relative to other schools; and
  • UAC scaling HSC marks based on the relative difficulty of the subjects completed and the ‘strength of competition’ in those subjects. For instance, ‘easier’ subjects may be scaled down while ‘harder’ subjects are scaled up.

Once this process is complete and a student’s HSC marks have been scaled, the aggregate of those marks is calculated. Every student is then ranked based on their aggregate marks and a percentile is assigned to each student to the nearest 0.05 to calculate the ATAR.

Is the HSC Internationally Recognised?

Yes, the HSC is an internationally recognised credential. Students who complete the HSC can use it as a foundation to pursue tertiary qualifications, vocational training or other employment, including internationally. 

The HSC is recognised and accepted by universities in (this is not an exhaustive list):

  • Australia
  • New Zealand
  • UK
  • USA
  • Canada
  • India

Top 3 Tips for HSC Preparation

So how can you best prepare for the HSC and to achieve your academic goals? You may have realised in reading this blog that some preparation is required before a student even commences the HSC. And you’d be right to think that – as subject selection occurs in year 10, some bigger picture thinking is required before a student commences Year 11 and 12. This may include what profession or university course a student may want to pursue as well what subjects a student enjoys, is good and not so good at. 

We have quite a few free resources accessible on Learnmate to help students prepare for HSC and excel. These include a full Study Guide aptly titled ‘How to get the ATAR you need’ and study timetable to set yourself up to focus and learn effectively and efficiently. These include some considerations around subject selection before commencing HSC.

Here are our top 3 tips to prepare for and succeed in HSC.

Pick the right subjects for you

When you are completing subject selection it is important to consider:

  • what you have a genuine enthusiasm in
  • what your strong suits are; and
  • what subjects you may be required to do to get into your desired university degree.

From our research, 86% of students who achieve an ATAR of 90 or higher picked subjects they enjoyed doing or were interested in and 80% picked subjects that matched their strong skillsets. Picking subjects that engage you and that you’re good at will provide you with natural momentum. Over the year, as you do well and enjoy what you’re learning, you will be naturally motivated to keep putting in the extra hard work.

Additionally, make sure you consider how subjects you’re looking at picking have been scaled in prior years. It’s important to consider whether your hard work may be rewarded or penalised and whether that will help or hinder your ATAR aspirations. 

Plan study time with a timetable

Having a study plan and structuring your week, weekend and term assists massively in being organised and keeping yourself accountable. If you struggle to focus, making a realistic and sustainable study timetable and setting specific times for study, work and leisure is a key strategy to staying on track. 

From our research, 39% of students who achieved an ATAR of 90 or higher in HSC say they used and stuck to a study timetable during Year 12. Over 50% of those who scored an ATAR above 95 used timetables during Year 12. Discipline and focus breeds success.

Confront your weaknesses

Facing and confronting your weaknesses is a challenge that everyone faces in life. While it may be difficult at first, it’s important to have the awareness and take note of what you’re good and confident at and what you struggle with. 

Being able to recognise where you struggle to grasp concepts, maintain concentration or simply aren’t scoring well enables you to seek support to overcome these challenges. Whether that’s reaching out to friends, teachers or engaging a tutor. You’ll know what you need to focus on to achieve your goals and bring up your overall average for a subject. 

Having awareness and the ability to identify weaknesses is a strength. Based on our research, 50% of students who achieve over an 85 ATAR engage a tutor at some stage during year 12. 70% of students who achieved an ATAR of 99 or higher engaged one or more! If you want support from a tutor, Learnmate can help.

For more tips and information to help prepare for HSC, head here to read the 5 Ways to Best Prepare for HSC.


We hope that this blog has given you an understanding of the HSC, how it relates to a student’s ATAR and how best to prepare for it. 

Whilst it may seem complicated, from a student’s perspective it’s fairly basic. If you plan for HSC properly and put in consistent effort over Year 11 and 12, you will set yourself up to perform well in HSC and receive a good ATAR.  

Preparation is critical. Talking to and working with people that know the system and who have either succeeded themselves in the HSC or helped others to is a great way to give yourself the best chance of success. Tutors on Learnmate have been there and done that. They are here to help guide and support you along your journey. 

If you want to find and match with a Learnmate to give yourself the best chance of achieving your goals in HSC, look for a tutor today at: https://learnmate.com.au/tutors/hsc-tutors/

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