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Assessing and reporting student achievement

This page describes the methods of assessing student achievement in the range of subjects studied in Australian and New Zealand schools and how these assessments are reported on senior secondary certificates and related documents.

The page does not refer to the calculation of tertiary entrance scores or rankings.

1. Assessment

Assessment is a judgement of student achievement or progress in a program of study and indicates the level of knowledge, skills and understanding achieved by the student.

There are four main methods of assessing students’ academic achievement:

In Australia the methods of assessing student achievement are combinations of these. None of the states/territories uses a single method of assessment only.

External examinations

All students studying a subject sit for the same examination, normally at the end of the study period. The major purposes of external examinations may be to allow students to demonstrate their achievements against set standards and to rank all students in the state on a single specified scale.

Moderated school-based assessment

School-based assessment is done by teachers in schools using a variety of assessment methods. The marks from this assessment process are moderated by various factors including the school group’s performance at external exams or advice from outside experts. The reason for doing this is so that direct comparisons can be made between assessment marks awarded by different schools and marks placed on the same scale.

School-based assessment (not moderated)

School-based assessment is done by teachers in schools using a variety of assessment methods. In some states, the results of subjects with non-moderated assessments are recorded on certificates and other documents. Policies and procedures aim to ensure that the standards for student assessment are followed as stated in the syllabus or course documents. The assessments may be subject to some form of moderation within the school but there is no system-wide moderation. However, courses and assessment procedures may be accredited by the central assessment and certification authority.

External scaling test(s)

The content of these tests may be based on state curriculum or may be an assessment of general scholastic ability. The tests are used to rank students on a statewide basis.

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2. Reporting

Student achievement may be reported by using numbers (marks, scores or percentages), grades or descriptive statements.


Marks usually indicate a student’s relative standing compared with other members of the candidature. Marks can be totalled or averaged for comparison of achievement levels. Raw marks are rarely used. The marks are usually subjected to scaling or standardisation to put them on a common scale.


Grades may represent:

Descriptive statements

Statements such as Very High Achievement or Satisfactory Achievement may be written on certificates to describe a student’s performance in achieving defined objectives and standards.

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3. FAQs

What assessment method(s) are used in NSW for the Higher School Certificate?

In assessing student achievement for the award of the Higher School Certificate, the Board of Studies NSW uses a combination of

How are the Higher School Certificate marks determined?

The Higher School Certificate examinations are marked and reported against set standards that describe the various levels of knowledge, skills and understanding that students demonstrate.

In each 2-unit course marks range from 0 to 100, with 50 representing the minimum standard expected. As well as the mark out of 100, students’ performance places them into one of six bands. Each band gives a description of the attainments typically demonstrated by students.

The HSC mark gained by a student in each course is a 50:50 combination of external examination and moderated school-based assessment marks. The internal school-based assessment mark summarises the student’s performance in assessment tasks set and marked by the school. The school assessment marks are moderated by the school group’s performance at the external examinations for each course. The external examination mark is gained by the student in the examination set and marked by the Board of Studies.

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