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How HSC results are determined

A student’s achievement in the HSC consists of their results in each of the courses they study. Collectively these results show the relative strengths the student has demonstrated across their selection of courses.

Since 2001, a student’s achievement for each course is usually reported by an examination mark, an assessment mark, an HSC mark (the average of the first two) and a performance band. Read more about the how HSC results are reported in Understanding HSC results.

These marks and bands relate to specific standards of achievement which were established in 2001. Every year the achievements of students in a course are reported against the same achievement standards, making it possible to compare the performances of students in a course across different years. Other interim marks and similar information are not reported as they are simply working information that assists in determining a student’s result in relation to the standards for the course.

The following steps are involved in producing the HSC results for students for each course they study:

HSC results process graph
  1. Conducting assessment tasks to determine a student’s raw school assessment marks
  2. Marking a student’s examination responses to determine their raw examination marks
  3. Moderating a student’s raw school assessment marks using raw examination marks
  4. Aligning a student’s raw examination marks to the standards-based reporting scale
  5. Aligning a student’s moderated assessment marks to the standards-based reporting scale
  6. Calculating the HSC mark.

1. Conducting assessment tasks to determine a student’s raw school assessment marks

For each course schools conduct an assessment program during Year 12 that follows Board’s requirements. This usually involves three to five assessment tasks. Each task contributes a certain amount to the total assessment mark. The tasks done towards the end of Year 12 are usually worth more than those done earlier in the course.

At the start of year 12 schools provide students with information about each task and the total assessment program. This includes the nature and requirements of each task, how much each task is worth when it will be sat and/or due and how it will be marked. After each task schools give students detailed feedback on how they performed and how they can improve.

At the end of the assessment program for a course schools combine the marks awarded for each task according to the stipulated weightings. The school then submits a single mark for each student in each course to the Board of Studies. The Board stores these marks until after the examinations are finalised.

Students are not told their submitted school assessment mark. This is because these marks need to be moderated so that the assessments from different schools are given a ‘state-wide currency’. This is sometimes referred to as ‘putting the assessments from every school on the same scale’. However, students are given a report that shows their position in their school group for each course they have studied based on their assessment mark. If a student feels that their position in any course does not agree with where they thought they would be placed they can ask the school to review their assessment. There are limits on the grounds for such reviews and for any subsequent appeal to the Board. For example, the marks awarded for any particular task are not part of this review process. Such matters must be raised at the time the tasks are handed back to the students.

2. Marking examination responses to determine a student’s raw examination marks

The marking of the examination papers for each course is managed by a Supervisor of Marking. The Supervisor of Marking selects Senior Markers (team leaders) and general markers. The markers are organised into teams, usually of six to eight, under the leadership of a Senior Marker. Each team usually marks only one examination question, or one section of the examination.

At the beginning of the marking operation only the Supervisor of Marking and Senior Markers, together with the Chief Examiner, attend the centre. The Chief Examiner is the person who chaired the committee that developed the examination paper. During these early sessions these people read many student responses, check them against the marking guidelines and collect specific student responses and other materials that will be used to train the markers. They check to see that the proposed marking guidelines will enable markers to reliably award marks to the full range of student responses and will obtain an appropriate level of discrimination. Although the students’ examination marks will eventually be adjusted to align to the standards used to report student achievement, it is important to have a marking scheme that adequately discriminates between the quality of responses. At the end of this period the Chief Examiner reviews the marking guidelines and if necessary makes adjustments in consultation with the Supervisor of Marking.

When the markers first attend their marking centre their Senior Marker helps them become familiar with the question they are to mark and the marking guidelines they are to apply. This is done by having the markers read the student responses previously selected by the Senior Marker as being typical of responses at various points in the marking scheme. The marking team spends time discussing these typical responses.

The markers then commence a period of ‘pilot’ marking. This involves marking responses and recording the marks they believe each response should receive. The Senior Marker checks the marks awarded to some responses by each of his/her markers. Statistical reports that show the pattern of marks produced by each marker assist in this process. The Senior Marker then decides when his/her markers are ready to commence the actual marking.

Examination questions requiring students to supply a response fall into two categories: short-response and extended-response. Short-response questions range from those requiring students to respond in a single word or number to those requiring perhaps a page or two of writing or the solution to a mathematical problem. For these questions it is possible to be quite explicit about the range of different responses or points that students can make that will be accepted as fully correct or worthy of some marks. Such responses are generally only marked by a single marker. The processes of check marking, statistical analyses and control scripts enable the senior marker to ensure that each marker is reliably and accurately applying the marking schemes.

In the case of extended response questions, students can produce a relatively wide range of valid responses to the question. Students might draw on a range of relevant knowledge and skills to produce a response that may be many pages in length. The marking scheme for such questions consists of the marking guidelines and a selection of student responses with annotations to clarify the guidelines.

The responses to such questions are independently double-marked. That is, two markers each award a mark for the response, not knowing what mark has been awarded by the other. These two marks are compared. If the difference between the two marks is more than one third of the mark range for that question the response is marked a third time. Established ‘discrepancy resolution’ procedures are then applied to determine which two final marks will used. The Senior Marker usually conducts this ‘discrepancy resolution’ procedure. The student receives the average of these two marks for the question.

Markers record the marks for each student’s response on sheets that are scanned. Reports are produced to enable Senior Markers and clerical support officers to conduct the discrepancy resolution procedure and to identify any missing marks. Any sheets used to capture student responses to sections of the examination consisting of multiple-choice or other objective-response items are also sent for scanning.

A combination of different processes is used to monitor the reliability of the marking operation. These include having the Senior Markers following a program of ‘check marking’ a sample of scripts previously marked by each marker and checking whether they agree with the marks awarded; special statistical reports that show the pattern of marks awarded by each marker in each session; and the use of ‘control scripts’ which involves having every marker in a team mark a particular script, comparing the marks awarded by each marker and identifying any significant discrepancies between the marks awarded. These strategies enable the Senior Marker to identify any cases of a marker applying the marking scheme incorrectly or inconsistently.

Once the marking operation is complete the marks awarded to a student for each question in an examination are added up to produce the students’ raw examination mark. For those examinations that consist of some compulsory questions and some optional questions an additional step is taken before the marks are added up. A process referred to as ‘optional question scaling’ is applied. The final marks awarded to the students who have answered each optional question are statistically adjusted by taking into account the pattern of marks gained by that group of students on the compulsory questions. This ensures students are not unfairly advantaged or disadvantaged by choosing an easier or more difficult optional question.

Sometimes a weighting factor may be applied to a student’s raw mark. For example with the English (Standard) exams, a student’s raw marks total a raw examination mark out of 100 for both Paper 1 and 2, even though Paper 1 is marked out of 45 and Paper 2 is marked out of 60 (45 + 60 = 105). In this example, a weighting factor is applied to their raw mark out of 45 for Paper 1, which simply converts it to a raw mark out of 40 (40 + 60 = 100).

3. Moderating students’ school assessment marks

As every student in the state studying a course sits for the same examination the examination marks have a state-wide currency. On the other hand, the school assessment marks only have a school-wide currency as each school is responsible for setting and marking the assessment tasks for their school alone. For this reason the assessment marks awarded by the schools must undergo a ‘moderation’ process so that they can be validly compared. Sometimes this is referred to as ‘putting the assessments from each school onto a common scale’.

The moderation of assessment marks is a statistical procedure that adjusts the assessment marks a school has awarded to its students for a course by using the examination marks awarded to those students. For each course the procedure adjusts the mean of the school assessments to be equal to the mean of the examination marks obtained by the group. It also sets the top school assessment mark to be equal to the top examination mark, and sets the bottom assessment mark to be equal to (or close to) the bottom examination mark. All other assessment marks are adjusted accordingly. In performing this adjustment the general shape of the distribution of assessment marks submitted by a school is maintained. As a result all assessment marks are converted into the same ‘currency’ as the examination marks. These marks are not released as they still need to be put through a further adjustment. Read more about how moderation works.

4. Aligning a student’s raw examination mark to the standards-based reporting scale

Since 2001 the achievements of students in an HSC course have been reported each year in relation to the same set of standards. This means that marks reported to students for a course in different years can be compared. It also means that it is possible to make judgements about the relative performances of cohorts of students over time.

As students sit for a different examination paper with different marking guidelines each year, a procedure is used to enable the raw examination marks awarded each year to be given meaning by aligning them to the standards and the reporting scale used by the Board of Studies.

Teams of specially trained teachers (referred to as ‘judges’) follow a rigorous, multi-stage procedure to identify what raw examination mark each year they believe corresponds to the borderline between each of the standards. The standards are referred to as ‘performance bands’.

A critical part of the procedure is to have judges use the ‘standards packages’ published on the Board of Studies website to develop a clear understanding of the knowledge, skills and understanding typically possessed by students who are at the borderlines between the performance bands for a course. The procedure then involves the judges first working independently, then working collaboratively, to determine the marks they think students at each borderline would obtain for each question on that year’s examination. During the procedure the judges look at special statistical reports and samples of student responses to check and refine their initial decisions. At the end of the procedure each judge’s borderline cut-off marks for each question are added up to produce the judge’s recommended borderline cut-off mark. The average of the cut-off marks from all members of the team becomes the team’s recommended borderline cut-off mark.

Very specific information is provided to the judges to assist them in applying the procedure. Other information that would prejudice the procedure is withheld. This withheld information includes knowledge of the borderline cut-off marks from previous years and certain statistical data that would indicate the raw distribution of marks achieved by students in examination questions.

Once the judges have submitted their recommended cut-off marks the HSC Consultative Committee undertakes a thorough review of the work of each team and their application of the procedure. The committee then determines whether the procedure has been applied correctly and considers any other factors that may have affected the marking procedures. Finally, the committee then determines the final borderline cut-off marks that will be used.

The following simple mathematical technique is then used to align the raw examination marks to the reporting scale.

The mark that is the borderline between Band 5 and Band 6 is adjusted to 90,
the mark that is the borderline between Band 4 and Band 5 is adjusted to 80,
the mark that is the borderline between Band 3 and Band 4 is adjusted to 70,
the mark that is the borderline between Band 2 and Band 3 is adjusted to 60,
the mark that is the borderline between Band 1 and Band 2 is adjusted to 50.
A mark of 100 stays at 100 and a mark of 0 stays at 0.

This means that 90 is the lowest mark to receive a Band 6. Students who receive a mark on or above the borderline between Band 5 and Band 6 will receive an examination mark somewhere between 90 and 100, using a technique referred to as interpolation. Similarly, students who obtain raw marks between the Band 2/Band 3 and the Band 3/Band 4 borderlines receive examination marks between 60 and 69.

By looking at the descriptions of the standard of achievement associated with each band (summarised on the reporting scale), students, teachers and the public can see the level of knowledge, skills and understanding typically achieved by students who have obtained each band. More detail on the things students who have obtained each band know and can do may be seen by looking at the student work samples (examination questions and responses) in the standards packages published on the Board of Studies website.

A student who has received one of the higher marks in the band has a relatively stronger grasp of the knowledge and skills required to be in that band. A student with a mark towards the bottom of the band typically has the knowledge and skills required of that band, but to a lesser degree.

5. Aligning a student’s moderated assessment mark to the standards-based reporting scale

After the raw examination marks are aligned to the reporting scale in the manner described above, exactly the same adjustments are made to the moderated assessment marks. That is, the borderlines between the bands determined through the standards-setting procedure become the borderlines for the moderated assessment marks. It is appropriate to apply the borderlines from the examination to the moderated school assessment marks because both sets of marks are in the same currency.

In this way the assessment marks reported to students for each course are related to the same set of standards established for the examination marks in that course.

6. Calculating a student’s HSC Mark

The HSC mark a student receives for each course, which is reported alongside the examination mark and the assessment mark, is simply the average of the examination mark and the assessment mark. Decimal places are not reported; half-marks are rounded up to the nearest whole number.

The HSC mark determines the performance band that a student is awarded for each course.

Read more about how marks are reported and view sample HSC credential documents.

Watch the five-minute Understanding what HSC and School Certificate marks mean video

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