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Higher School Certificate (New South Wales)

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The Higher School Certificate (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 and some ACT schools in Australia, as well as some international schools in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, China, and Papua New Guinea. It was first introduced in 1967,[1] with the last major revision coming into effect in 2019. It is currently developed and managed by the NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA).[2]

Patterns of study[edit]

The majority of students undertake HSC-related courses over the final two years of high school,[3] though 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),[4] 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 an Additional Language or Dialect (EAL/D), or English Studies required for the award of the HSC. (English Extension 1 is also available for English Advanced students, with Extension 2 being offered in Year 12). 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.

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.[5] 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.[citation needed] 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: [6]

  • at least 12 preliminary units
  • at least 10 HSC units
  • 6 units of Board Developed Courses
  • 2 units of a Board Developed Course in English
  • 3 courses of 2 or more units (BDC or BEC)
  • 4 subjects

Course Prerequisites

  • You can only enrol in an extension course if you are enrolled in the corresponding 2-unit course.
  • You cannot do more than one non-extension course from a subject (eg. Mathematics Standard and Advanced).
  • In courses with option exams, you can enrol in the optional exam only if you have enrolled in the corresponding course (In the case of VET, the 240-hour or 360-hour course where applicable).

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.[7]

Available courses[edit]

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 NESA, and generally may be included in the calculation of the ATAR.[8] Board Endorsed Courses are developed by the school, and may vary from school to school in regards to content and assessment.[9]


Being the only mandatory course for HSC, for English, students must choose between one of the English courses available to study.

  • English Standard
  • 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 as an Additional Language or Dialect (EAL/D) (only available to eligible students)
  • English Studies


Elective Courses[edit]

The following is a list of elective Board Developed Courses currently available to students.

HSIE (Human Society and Its Environment): [11]

  • Aboriginal Studies
  • Ancient History
  • Business Studies
  • Economics
  • Geography
  • History Extension
  • Legal Studies
  • Modern History
  • Society and Culture
  • Studies of Religion I
  • Studies of Religion II





TAS (Technological and Applied Studies):


Creative Arts:


PDHPE (Personal Development, Health and Physical Education):


Content Endorsed Courses[edit]

Content Endorsed Courses (CEC) fall under Board Endorsed Courses.


Language Courses[edit]

Languages are also offered as Beginners, Continuers, Extension, Background Speakers and recently, Heritage courses.[18] 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.

From 2017, background speakers and heritage courses were renamed to In Context and Literature, affecting Chinese, Indonesian, Japanese and Korean students in those courses.

Continuers refers to languages that were studied in Years 9 and 10 and will be continued in Years 11 and 12. In some cases, where a student has not studied the language in Years 9 and 10 due to not being able to, exemption may be granted to study Continuers based on cultural heritage and fluency. The School of Languages usually only does this, home school enrolments into these courses usually require the Years 9 and 10 prerequisite to attempt them.

Where the provision for language learning does not exist at the home school, the NSW School of Languages in Petersham offers all languages examinable by NESA.[19] The below list is all the languages offered by NESA that were offered in the 2023 Higher School Certificate:

  • 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
  • Maltese C
  • Modern Greek B, C, E
  • Modern Hebrew C
  • Polish C
  • Portuguese C
  • Punjabi C
  • Serbian C
  • Spanish B, C, E
  • Swedish C
  • Tamil C
  • Turkish C
  • Vietnamese C


VET Courses[edit]

In addition, some VET (Vocational Education and Training) courses are offered. In addition to HSC credit,[21] completion of these courses may earn an industry Certificate II. There are 13 Board Developed Courses (BDC) and 106 Board Endorsed courses (BEC).

Board Developed Courses:

  • Automotive
  • Business Services
  • Construction
  • Electrotechnology
  • Entertainment Industry
  • Financial Services
  • Hospitality
  • Human Services
  • Information and Digital Technology
  • Metal and Engineering
  • Primary Industries
  • Retail Services
  • Tourism, Travel and Events


Board Endorsed Courses:

  • Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Cultural Arts
  • Aboriginal Languages for Social Use
  • Active Volunteering
  • Aeroskills
  • Agricultural Mechanical Technology
  • Air Conditioning and Refrigeration
  • Animal Care
  • Appliance Service
  • Applied Digital Technologies
  • Applied Fashion Design and Technology
  • Aquaculture
  • Aquatics and Community Recreation
  • Assistant Dance Teaching
  • Auslan
  • Automotive Body Repair Technology
  • Automotive Glazing Technology
  • Automotive Manufacturing Technical Operations – Bus Truck and Trailer
  • Automotive Refinishing Technology
  • Automotive Tyre Servicing Technology
  • Aviation (Cabin Crew)
  • Aviation (Remote Pilot)
  • Baking – Certificate II
  • Baking – Certificate III
  • Barbering
  • Beauty Services (Make-Up)
  • Beauty Services (Nail Technology)
  • Beauty Services (Retail Cosmetics)
  • Beauty Therapy School-based Apprenticeship
  • Beekeeping
  • Bicycle Workshop Operations
  • Bread Baking
  • Cake and Pastry
  • Christian Ministry and Theology
  • Civil Construction
  • Community Dance, Theatre and Events
  • Community Services – Introduction
  • Community Services
  • Creative Industries
  • Dental Assisting
  • Design Fundamentals
  • Disability
  • Early Childhood Education and Care
  • Engineering – Certificate I
  • Engineering – Certificate II
  • Engineering Pathways
  • Engineering School-based Apprenticeship – Fabrication
  • Engineering School-based Apprenticeship – Mechanical
  • Firefighting Operations
  • Fitness
  • Flooring Technology
  • Floristry
  • Furnishing School‑based Apprenticeship
  • Furniture Making Pathways
  • Hair or Beauty Services
  • Hairdressing School‑based Apprenticeship
  • Heavy Commercial Vehicle Mechanical Technology
  • Horse Care
  • Hospital or Health Services Pharmacy Support
  • Laboratory Skills
  • Landscape Construction
  • Locksmithing
  • Manufacturing and Engineering – Introduction
  • Marine Craft Construction
  • Marine Mechanical Technology
  • Maritime Operations – Certificate I
  • Maritime Operations – Certificate II
  • Meat Processing (Abattoirs)
  • Meat Processing (Retail Butcher)
  • Mobile Plant Technology
  • Motorcycle Mechanical Technology
  • Music Industry – Introduction
  • Music Industry
  • Outdoor Recreation
  • Outside School Hours Care
  • Parks and Gardens – Certificate II
  • Parks and Gardens – Certificate III
  • Plumbing – Introduction
  • Plumbing
  • Process Manufacturing
  • Racing Industry
  • Real Estate Practice – Certificate III
  • Real Estate Practice – Certificate IV
  • Recreation and Sport
  • Resources and Infrastructure
  • Retail
  • Salon Assistant
  • School Based Education Support
  • Screen and Media
  • Shearing
  • Shopfitting
  • Signs and Graphics
  • Skills for Work and Vocational Pathways
  • Sport – Athlete
  • Sport – Developing Athlete
  • Sport and Recreation – Certificate II
  • Sport and Recreation – Certificate III
  • Sport Coaching – Certificate II
  • Sport Coaching – Certificate III
  • Sports Turf Management
  • Supply Chain Operations
  • Surveying and Spatial Information Services
  • Visual Arts and Contemporary Craft
  • Wall and Ceiling Lining
  • Water Industry Operations
  • Wool Handling
  • Workplace Skills – Certificate II


Life Skills[edit]

For students who may have intellectual disabilities or struggle with the standard course, there are options.[24] The eligibility is limited.[25]

The following courses have a Life Skills choice:[26]

  • English
  • Mathematics
  • Investigating Science
  • Physical World Science
  • Earth and Space Science
  • Living World Science
  • Chemical World Science
  • Agriculture
  • Design and Technology
  • Food Technology
  • Industrial Technology
  • Information Processes and Technology
  • Technology
  • Textiles and Design
  • Aboriginal Studies
  • Ancient History
  • Business and Economics
  • Citizenship and Legal Studies
  • Geography
  • Human Society and its Environment
  • Modern History
  • Society and Culture
  • Studies of Religion I
  • Studies of Religion II
  • Work and the Community
  • Creative Arts
  • Dance
  • Drama
  • Music
  • Visual Arts
  • Community and Family Studies

HSC Syllabus Reform (2019)[edit]

A major HSC Syllabus reform was executed in 2019. The "new" syllabus involved the addition of "Science Extension" and "Investigating Science" as new courses. These courses were made available to students that commenced teaching in October 2018 for the cohort of 2019. The course "Senior Science" was discontinued as of October 2018. The reformed syllabus involved changes that are a move towards compulsory English, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Investigating Science and Extension Science in the future.[citation needed]


Changes introduced to compulsory English discontinued the field of study "Discovery" as NESA discovered students would simply hire and pay off third party tutoring companies and/or private tutors in order to completely memorise and regurgitate essay information, in turn causing an imbalance in advantage towards the state of NSW. For the new syllabus, English questions have now become more specific, prompting on-the-spot answers in turn rigorously testing students natural English writing ability and ability to analyse and interpret unseen questions, texts and information.[citation needed]


Also included in this reform is making mathematics a mandatory HSC subject, effective starting with the HSC class of 2026.[27][28]


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 NESA, 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, while students who achieve a result of over 90 in at least one unit of study are named to the Distinguished Achievers' List. Students may also receive a 'state rank' if they place within a predetermined number of top scores.

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.

Vocational equivalent[edit]

The vocational equivalent to Year 12 will change from certificate II in 2015 to certificate III in 2020 by the Council of Australian Governments, mainly because Year 12 qualification has minimal hours greater than those of a level II qualification, where they correspond more closely to the hours of level III qualification.[29] Although the completion of high school would lead to better labour market results, it is also established that a scholarly pathway is not always suited for all and that some are unaccustomed to the institutionalised nature of schools. This has led to an understanding that there should be alternatives to Year 12 completion. As such, the idea of a vocational equivalent to Year 12 is a response to this.[30] The construct of a vocational equivalent to completing a senior school certificate (denoted by the completion of Year 12) has been an attribute of government policy since the late 1990s, with a declaration stating:

"All students have access to the high quality education necessary to enable the completion of school education to Year 12 or its vocational equivalent and that provides clear and recognised pathways to employment and further education and training."[29][31]

Impact on Adolescents[edit]

A NSW Health report found that 1 in 11 adolescents who committed suicide had experienced significant levels of HSC-related stress.[32]

Abolition of the HSC ATAR has been called for by some teachers, principals, academics, and university chancellors. It has been suggested that the ATAR system associated with the completion of the HSC is a major cause of mental health issues amongst young people.[33]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Changing places". Sydney: Sydney Morning Herald. 2004-05-12. Retrieved 2008-11-17.
  2. ^ NESA (2022-11-01). "Agency information guide | NSW Government". www.nsw.gov.au. Retrieved 2023-10-09.
  3. ^ "2023 HSC students overview". NSW Education Standards Authority.
  4. ^ "HSC facts and figures". NSW Education Standards Authority. Retrieved 26 January 2024.
  5. ^ "Study of Preliminary and HSC courses" (PDF). NSW Education Standards Authority. Retrieved 26 January 2024.
  6. ^ "2024 Rules and Procedures guide". NSW Education Standards Authority. Retrieved 26 January 2024.
  7. ^ "Australian Tertiary Admission Rank" (PDF). NSW Education Standards Authority. Retrieved 26 January 2024.
  8. ^ "HSC courses". NSW Education Standards Authority. Retrieved 26 January 2024.
  9. ^ "School Developed Board Endorsed Courses". NSW Education Standards Authority. Retrieved 26 January 2024.
  10. ^ "English Stage 6". NSW Education Standards Authority. Retrieved 26 January 2024.
  11. ^ "Human Society and Its Environment (HSIE) Stage 6". NSW Education Standards Authority. Retrieved 26 January 2024.
  12. ^ "Mathematics Stage 6". NSW Education Standards Authority. Retrieved 26 January 2024.
  13. ^ "Science Stage 6". NSW Education Standards Authority. Retrieved 26 January 2024.
  14. ^ "Technological and Applied Studies Stage 6". NSW Education Standards Authority. Retrieved 26 January 2024.
  15. ^ "Creative Arts Stage 6". NSW Education Standards Authority. Retrieved 26 January 2024.
  16. ^ "PDHPE (Personal Development, Health and Physical Education) Stage 6". NSW Education Standards Authority. Retrieved 26 January 2024.
  17. ^ "Content Endorsed Courses – list of courses". NSW Education Standards Authority. Retrieved 26 January 2024.
  18. ^ "Board of Studies News".
  19. ^ "Home - NSW School of Languages". nswschoollang.schools.nsw.gov.au. Retrieved 2024-05-05.
  20. ^ "Languages Stage 6". NSW Education Standards Authority. Retrieved 26 January 2024.
  21. ^ "TAFE NSW at high school (TVET) - TAFE NSW". www.tafensw.edu.au. Retrieved 2019-11-03.
  22. ^ "Higher School Certificate Board Developed Courses". NSW Education Standards Authority. Retrieved 26 January 2024.
  23. ^ "2023 Stage 6 VET Board Endorsed courses". NSW Education Standards Authority. Retrieved 26 January 2024.
  24. ^ "Life Skills". NSW Education Standards Authority. Retrieved 11 February 2024.
  25. ^ "Collaborative curriculum planning". NSW Education Standards Authority. Retrieved 11 February 2024.
  26. ^ "Course options". NSW Education Standards Authority. Retrieved 11 February 2024.
  27. ^ "Maths to be compulsory for students". NSW Education Standards Authority. Retrieved 26 January 2024.
  28. ^ Meacham, Savannah. "Maths to become compulsory for NSW Year 11 and 12 students". 9 News. Retrieved 26 January 2024.
  29. ^ a b Executive summary - The vocational equivalent to Year 12 This article contains quotations from this source, which is available under the Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Australia licence.
  30. ^ Assessing the value of additional years of schooling for the non academically inclined by Alfred Dockery, Curtin University of Technology
  31. ^ Ministerial Council on Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs 1999, Goal 3.6
  32. ^ "Suicide & risk-taking deaths of children & young people" (PDF). 2003. Retrieved 2019-08-07.
  33. ^ "Stress is taking a disturbing toll on year 12. Should we do away with exams?". 2018. Retrieved 2024-01-16.

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