Stronger HSC Standards: Minimum standard

From 2020, all Year 12 students in NSW must reach the minimum standard of literacy and numeracy to receive an HSC.

Students in Year 9 in 2017 will be the first students expected to meet the standard.

The standard is mapped against the Australian Core Skills Framework (ACSF) Level 3, a nationally agreed standard of functional literacy and numeracy.

The minimum standard is part of a broader NSW Government strategy to support students to succeed in life and work. The minimum standard complements a new cross-sectoral, state-wide strategy to boost literacy and numeracy. Students at risk of not demonstrating the standard will be identified early and supported to improve their reading, writing and numeracy skills.

Students can demonstrate they meet the standard by passing the online reading, writing and numeracy tests, which will be available for students to sit in:

  • Year 10
  • Year 11
  • Year 12
  • for up to five years after beginning their first HSC courses.

Students can access a demonstration test to find out the level of skills required for these tests.

Students will have the first opportunity to prove they meet the standard by achieving Band 8 results or above in Year 9 NAPLAN reading, writing and numeracy tests. Students who achieve Band 8 will not need to sit the online tests later in years 10, 11 and 12.

No student will be ineligible to sit for the HSC on the basis of their Year 9 NAPLAN results.

Why have a minimum standard?

The best indicators of success (employment, higher salaries and good health) rely on a student’s literacy and numeracy skills.

Without targeted intervention and support to reach the standard, some students risk missing out on skills necessary for everyday life. These skills allow students to:

  • compare prices and understand percentages
  • understand interest rates and lending offers
  • work out quantities and measurements
  • manage personal budgets
  • understand and write routine workplace instructions
  • navigate websites
  • take meeting notes and complete official documents.

Currently, the HSC does not directly measure students’ literacy and numeracy skills nor require a minimum standard to be met.

The minimum standard will prompt an early focus on literacy and numeracy, and help students meet progressive milestones.  Advanced students will also benefit from an increased focus on literacy and numeracy by developing more sophisticated skills. For example, Western Australia recently introduced a minimum standard, which has helped lift the proportion of students in the top two NAPLAN bands.

Helping students achieve the standard

Schools will have access via Schools Online to information about Years 10-12 students who have or have not met the minimum standard in reading, writing and numeracy. This will help schools boost support for students at risk of not meeting the standard.

Support materials, including (NSW Education Standards Authority) NESA resources, will emphasise early identification of students in primary and high school at risk of not meeting the standard. Teachers will have access to strategies and materials to help their students meet the standard.

Schools can deliver short courses, topics or additional tutoring in numeracy skills. Some students may continue studying mathematics as the best way to improve their numeracy skills.

The NSW Literacy and Numeracy Strategy is a plan to ensure NSW students have the essential literacy and numeracy skills they need for success in learning and in life.

Literacy and numeracy skills will be described clearly, taught explicitly, assessed meaningfully and reported regularly in all schools across NSW providing early identification and support for students most at risk of not meeting the minimum standard.

Find out more about the NSW Literacy and Numeracy Strategy.


Students who don’t meet the standard

All students should complete high school with a functional level of literacy and numeracy for everyday life and employment.

Students who don’t demonstrate the standard will have five years after beginning their first HSC courses to meet the minimum standard and receive an HSC. They will receive a Record of School Achievement on leaving school.

While maths will not be mandatory for Year 11 and 12, studying Mathematics General 1 is an option for students who need to improve their numeracy skills in order to meet the minimum standard.


Disability provisions will be available for the new tests in line with existing provisions for the HSC. Some students, including those studying Life Skills courses in English and Mathematics, will be exempt from meeting the minimum standard. An exemptions policy will be developed in consultation with key stakeholder groups and be released later in 2017.



Updating the HSC Curriculum 

NESA has determined that the HSC needed updated to provide more opportunities for students to master relevant knowledge and skills.

The HSC is not the only education system being redesigned. High-performing school systems (such as Shanghai, Ontario, Singapore and Hong Kong) are also redesigning their curriculum to allow students to develop mastery of knowledge and skills in a subject.

When will the new syllabuses begin?

Year 11 students of 2018 will begin their senior secondary studies with the new syllabuses in English, Mathematics, Science and History. Year 12 students in 2019 will be the first to complete HSC examinations using these revised syllabuses.

Draft syllabuses undergoing consultation were finalised at the end of 2016.

This means schools and teachers will have 2017 to familiarise themselves with the new content and plan lessons before implementation in 2018.

What’s involved in rolling out the new syllabuses?

Introducing new syllabuses in English, Mathematics, Science and History for Years 11 and 12 students will require careful planning for everyone involved in secondary school education.

The 70,000+ students who complete the HSC every year must study English so changes to the English syllabus content and assessment alone will have a big impact.

What will the new syllabuses focus on?

The principles applying to English, Mathematics, Science and History will apply in renewing the remaining syllabuses.

These include:

  • A focus on ‘depth’ of content studied rather than ‘breadth’ of topics covered.
  • Online syllabuses, rather than static, paper copies as online can be more easily updated.
  • Interactive e-syllabus linking new courses to teaching and assessment resources, such as sample teaching units and assessment tasks.



New HSC assessment guidelines (from HSC 2019)

New, rigorous guidelines for effective school-based HSC assessment will be introduced across all courses from 2018 (Year 11 students) and 2019 (Year 12 students).

The school-based assessment guidelines will be tougher to prevent plagiarism and cheating and help reduce student stress caused by over-assessment.

Reducing stress

To reduce excessive stress and allow more time for teaching and learning, school-based assessment tasks will be capped at three per course in Year 11 and four per course in Year 12 (including the HSC trial examination).

Research, including from Hong Kong, shows fewer and more targeted assessment tasks are more effective in giving feedback to teachers about their students’ strengths and weaknesses. As a result, Hong Kong has restructured its school-based assessment tasks.

Reducing plagiarism and cheating

Redesigned HSC examination questions will help reduce formulaic, pre-prepared responses and cheating. 

Stricter guidelines will assure the authorship of take-home assessments and projects.

Why change assessment?

The final HSC examinations form 50% of a student’s final HSC marks.

In its consultation, NESA found that teachers, parents and students reported that Year 11 and Year 12 students experienced assessment fatigue.

Some schools are using school assessments as a way to motivate students, or to ensure they attempt work. This means students can have up to six assessment tasks per course in each year. For example, a student with five 2 Unit courses can have 25–30 assessment tasks over three terms – roughly one a week on average.

In reality, assessment tasks are clustered at similar points of the school year. From the student perspective, every assessment task counts, whether it is worth 5% or 25%. The assessments are not always single tasks, such as one essay, and often comprise subtasks that require a substantial amount of work to complete.

Students often feel compelled to choose to do “what’s due next”, or “what’s worth more”. Some assessment tasks replicate previous HSC examination questions, either in the form of an essay, or mimicking the examination. This limits the variety of tasks used to assess student knowledge and skills.

Fewer assessment tasks will allow schools to spend more time teaching the knowledge and skills in a course, and shift the focus from superficial learning just for the examination.

Will HSC examination questions change?

The final HSC examinations held every year will continue. They will also continue to form 50% of a student’s final HSC marks.

However, HSC examination questions will change to help reduce cheating and plagiarism.

Some HSC examination questions are very similar every year. Teaching and learning can become formulaic in reflecting this.

HSC examination questions will be less predictable so students must apply their knowledge and skills in their answers.

Students repeatedly practise their essay writing skills (particularly in English and History), resulting in pre prepared and memorised essays. Some schools set the previous HSC essay questions for homework tasks, or under examination conditions for the HSC trial examination.

Memorising key facts and skills, such as times tables and quotations, is important, however memorising entire essays to adapt and reproduce in an examination is a narrow demonstration of a student’s application of knowledge and skills.

Marking mathematics

Similarly to English, Mathematics courses will be on a common scale to allow comparison of students doing easier or harder courses.

Placing mathematics courses on a common scale will act as a disincentive for capable students who deliberately choose easier courses for a perceived ATAR advantage.

The common scale will allow better recognition of student efforts and encourage them to take a mathematics course that better suits their ability.



 If we were to examine, say, what each Year 7 student completed in 2016, you can quickly see why the girls have been experiencing great stress and anxiety. For instance, in 2016, each Year 7 student studied ten subjects, each with two summative tasks per semester. That is 20 tasks spread over 10 weeks. In reality, they were spread in the last 6 weeks of each term so it was not unusual to see Year 7 girls grappling at handing in or sitting for about 4 tasks per week. The result?

  • Great stress.
  • Focus only on tests and tasks.
  • Little focus on learning and progress.
  • Fixation on marks rather than meeting the standards set in the course outcomes.

To reduce this excessive stress, and in the spirit for preparing for the new HSC from 2019, and allow more time for teaching and learning, summative assessment tasks (tests, assignments, oral presentations, projects) will be capped at one task per course per Semester. This will effectively halve the formal, summative tasks for each girl from Years 7 to 10. We will be returning our focus back on learning in the classroom which is of greater value when trying to progress.

This will inevitably mean a change in the way we report to parents. The current practice of publishing a minimum, maximum, mean and student mark on each report will cease.

On each subject report, your daughter will still be awarded a grade (from A to E) and you will be informed how many students were awarded each grade. In this way, you will very quickly establish where she is in relation to her cohort. There will continue to be a separate report for Scientia stream students. Students who elect to extend themselves and complete additional Scientia tasks will also have a report on their progress.


About the Common Grade Scale

The Common Grade Scale shown below is used to report student achievement in both primary and junior secondary years in all NSW schools.

The Common Grade Scale describes performance at each of five grade levels.


The student has an extensive knowledge and understanding of the content and can readily apply this knowledge. In addition, the student has achieved a very high level of competence in the processes and skills and can apply these skills to new situations.


The student has a thorough knowledge and understanding of the content and a high level of competence in the processes and skills. In addition, the student is able to apply this knowledge and these skills to most situations.


The student has a sound knowledge and understanding of the main areas of content and has achieved an adequate level of competence in the processes and skills.


The student has a basic knowledge and understanding of the content and has achieved a limited level of competence in the processes and skills.


The student has an elementary knowledge and understanding in few areas of the content and has achieved very limited competence in some of the processes and skills.


Subject-specific Course Performance Descriptors have been developed for teachers to use in assigning grades in Stage 5.



The following principles provide the criteria for judging the quality of assessment materials and practices.

  • Emphasises the interactions between learning and manageable assessment strategies that promote learning

In practice, this means:

  • teachers reflect on the purposes of assessment and on their assessment strategies
  • assessment activities or tasks allow for demonstration of learning outcomes
  • assessment is embedded in learning activities or tasks and informs the planning of future learning activities or tasks
  • teachers use assessment to identify what a student can already do
  • Clearly expresses for the student and teacher the goals of the learning activity or task

In practice, this means:

  • students understand the learning goals and the criteria that will be applied to judge the quality of their achievement
  • students receive feedback that helps them make further progress
  • Reflects a view of learning in which assessment helps students learn better, rather than just achieve a better mark

In practice, this means:

  • teachers use tasks that assess, and therefore encourage, deeper learning
  • feedback is given in a way that motivates the learner and helps students to understand that mistakes are a part of learning and can lead to improvement
  • assessment is an integral component of the teaching-learning process rather than being a separate activity or task
  • Provides ways for students to use feedback from assessment

In practice, this means:

  • feedback is directed to the achievement of standards and away from comparisons with peers
  • feedback is clear and constructive about strengths and weaknesses
  • feedback is individualised and linked to opportunities for improvement
  • Helps students take responsibility for their own learning

In practice, this means:

  • assessment includes strategies for self-assessment and peer assessment emphasising the next steps needed for further learning
  • Is inclusive of all learners

In practice, this means:

  • assessment against standards provides opportunities for all learners to achieve their best;
  • assessment activities or tasks are free of bias.



Please keep the following in our prayers:

  • Mrs Parsons and her family following the loss of her mother, Dianne Thurtell;
  • Miss Napoli and her family following the loss of her paternal grandfather, Mr Napoli.

May perpetual light shine upon them.



Our mantra:

“Girls can do anything.
Bethany girls can do everything!*
(*except divide by zero)”
Vicki Lavorato