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Changes to HSC assessment guidelines

By Robert Barakat on 30 April 2019NSWblogNew syllabusAssessments

As the year ticks on, we’ve noticed that a lot of people aren’t really aware of the changes that NESA have made to assessments in Year 11 and 12. Yes, these changes are quite subtle but they could potentially have big consequences for everyone doing their HSC.

We thought it’s probably best to get everyone up to speed with the new assessment guidelines and how they might impact you.

What has changed?

The headline here is that NESA has now put a limit on the number of internal assessments that students must do during the school year, in both Year 11 and 12.

So what are the limits?

  1. Year 11 – is now capped at 3 internal assessment tasks per subject;
  2. Year 12 – is now capped at 4 internal assessment tasks per subject. Including HSC Trial Exams!

Previously, schools were able to set as many as 6+ internal assessments throughout the year. For example, if you were a student with 6 subjects each at 2 Units (12 units all up) you could have up to 36 assessment tasks over 3 terms. That’s more than one per week on average!

Assessment tasks also used to be clustered heavily, which meant students would have big assessment blocks throughout the year. High-pressure exam periods seem to be on the decline, but more on that in a second.

Why have things changed?

There are a few reasons why things have changed recently:

Reducing stress

The primary reason for reducing the assessment load on students is to reduce the amount of stress they experience in the final years of school. After much research NESA found that teachers, parents and students all reported extreme amounts of stress during assessment periods.

Schools were using assessment tasks to make sure that students stayed motivated and actually did their work. But in reality, assessments were normally scheduled around the same time and involved multiple tasks, meaning students were getting burnt out with too much work.

The research also showed that students don’t really differentiate between assessment tasks worth 5% and those worth 25%, meaning that simply lowering the weighting of assessments wouldn’t help the issue.

The only solution was to reduce the total number of assessments each student had to complete. Props to NESA for having a heart! 💛

Greater focus on teaching and learning

With less of a focus on assessing students, teachers are able to spend more time actually teaching students effectively.

Research coming out of Hong Kong has shown that having fewer and more targeted assessments is more effective in identifying students’ strengths and weaknesses. Fewer assessments will allow teachers to shift their focus from superficial teaching directly for the purpose of assessments, to a more holistic focus on the skills needed in each course.

Reducing plagiarism and cheating

It’s all been pretty good news for you up until this point 😰. Fewer assessments, less stress and better teaching. Cheering!

Although, there is one potential change that’s going to hurt. Because there are fewer assessments and more ‘in-depth’ teaching, the range of questions that can be asked in your tests may change. There is going to be a focus on reducing plagiarism and ‘pre-learned’ responses by making questions less predictable, less formulaic and more difficult.

Generally, teachers will be stricter around take home assessments and they’ll try and set exams that are a little more tricky. I guess it’s the tradeoff for not having to do as many throughout the year.

What does this actually mean for you?

No mid-year exams

Remember, in Year 12 you can only do 4 assessments per subject, including Trials. So really, that’s 3 assessments throughout the year. Most schools have decided to cut their mid-year exams!

In March, instead of sitting an intense exam block with exams weighted 25%, you will be getting only a few assessments and a lot more ‘take-home tasks’ that have a lower weighting: around 15%.

This is good and bad news for you. It’s good because you don’t have the pressure of exams at the end of Term 1, so it’s a bit more chill. But, you’re going to be getting less exam practice. Sometimes it’s good to be put under the pump, so you can tell if you really know your stuff or not.

Fewer assessments that are worth more

You’ll generally be seeing fewer 5% assessment tasks throughout the year and more 15% tasks (excluding Trials). That just means you’ll have to really turn up when you have something due. Unfortunately, this means there are slightly fewer opportunities to really improve your rank. But it does make it a little easier to stay ahead of the game. You’ll be doing 20 assessments (for 10 Units) instead of 30-35 assessments under the old system.  

Can’t rely too heavily on past papers

With changes in both your actual curriculum content AND changes in the assessment guidelines, it’s going to be a little more tricky to rely on past papers as a perfect indication of what you can expect in exams. In the past, exam papers were the key to really nailing your Trials and HSC. If you did enough past papers, you could pick out trends, patterns and pretty much see every possible question you could ever be asked.

These new exams are going to be slightly different and they are consciously trying to make them less predictable. That just means that whilst past papers are still super important and a great study tool, you shouldn’t solely rely on them. You actually really need to know your stuff and practice applying it in more varied and unique situations.

Trials are still really important (and you’re out of practice)

Crucially, there hasn’t been any change to the prominence or importance of Trial exams. They are still there for all your subjects and they are still going to be weighted 25-30% of your final mark. Nothing really changes here.

The only thing worth mentioning is that because you don’t have mid-year exams anymore, the last ‘exam block’ you’ll have had before Trials is maybe your Year 11 finals (and some schools don’t do end of year exams for Year 11). Point is, it could be a REALLY long time before you’ve felt the pressure of a tough exam period.

It’s difficult to replicate the intensity, hand cramps, unseen questions, panic and fear that exams can bring on. The only remedy here is to try and put yourself under exam conditions when you’re studying as often as possible, so you’re not totally in shock when it comes to crunch time in August.

Organisation is going to be key

The last thing to mention is that because your assessments won’t be as frequent you can’t always rely on pressure and last minute study to stay on top of things. Those that are able to manage their time, keep up to date with notes, submit enough drafts and do practice consistently are going to have a much easier time dealing with Year 12.


At the end of the day, these updates to the assessment guides aren’t world-changing. Ultimately, they mean you’ll be doing fewer assessments in Year 11 and 12 🎉 which is probably a good thing for you and your stress levels. But, it’s still worth understanding how the changes might impact you and the ways you can take advantage of the new system.

Good luck!

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