About the Standards

Standards-referenced assessment

Student performance in the Higher School Certificate examinations is reported according to standards (or levels of achievement). HSC marks for non-extension courses are divided into 6 performance bands:
Band 6 = 90 – 100 marks
Band 5 = 80 – 89 marks
Band 4 = 70 – 79 marks
Band 3 = 60 – 69 marks
Band 2 = 50 – 59 marks
Band 1 = 0 – 49 marks.

Except for Band 1, the level of achievement represented by each performance band is described in a statement summarising the knowledge and skills typically demonstrated by students who have achieved that performance band. There is no statement corresponding to Band 1 as it is below the minimum standard expected.

There is no pre-determined proportion of students in each performance band. Standards-referenced assessment means that students are awarded a particular band (and mark) if they demonstrate that they have reached the performance standard described by that band. Importantly, after the performance standards have been set, student achievement in the following years is reported in relation to the same standards. In this way, it is possible to make comparisons between the performances of students who have sat for the examinations in different years.

How the standards were set following the HSC examinations

A team of experienced teachers worked as ‘judges’ to determine the cut-off marks between the bands.

  1. Each judge used the materials to develop an understanding of the knowledge and skills typically possessed by students on the borderline between two bands. The judges individually estimated the mark they believed a borderline student would receive for each question and component. Each judge’s marks were added up to give that judge’s cut-off marks between bands for the whole paper. The average borderline mark for each band cut-off was calculated.
  2. The judges met to discuss and, if necessary, modify their decisions.
  3. The judges considered a sample of student responses that were awarded marks close to the cut-off marks already calculated. They reviewed these responses to satisfy themselves that the performance they demonstrated was typical for the borderline between bands. They could view other responses to help them decide whether the cut- off marks needed to be changed.
  4. The judges’ recommendations were reviewed by the Board’s Consultative Committee to determine whether the judges had maintained the standards for the course. The Consultative Committee either accepted the judges’ recommended cut-off marks or adjusted them.
  5. The cut-off marks approved by the Consultative Committee were applied to the examination. A simple formula set the cut-off marks to the band borderline marks of 50, 60, 70, 80 and 90 shown on the performance scale.

Standards material

The standards material consists of a sample of student responses that were awarded the band cut-off marks for each question. Also provided are statistics on how those students on the borderline between two bands performed in the multiple-choice and other objective-response items, a copy of the HSC examination paper and a link to the band descriptions. A link to the syllabus has also been provided for reference purposes. These resources clarify and exemplify the standards. It is important to note that:

In addition to the student responses that illustrate the performance standards, some exemplary samples that received full marks are included. It should be noted that students can use different approaches to achieve full marks. Exemplary answers may contain errors that are to be expected from responses produced within the time constraints and under the pressures of an examination.

The purpose of this standards material

This standards material has three purposes:

The structure of the material

For each section of the examination requiring an extended answer, a number of responses have been annotated. Annotations were written by a team of teachers who have taught the relevant HSC course.
To access this information:

In the case of those sections of the paper containing multiple-choice questions, statistical data shows how students at each band borderline have responded to each question. Students included in this analysis are those who have achieved a score within one mark of the band borderline for the whole paper.

How the material can be used

Teachers will gain an understanding of the standard of work typically produced by students at the band borderlines by studying the samples provided. Teachers' understanding can be enhanced by reading the band descriptions used to report student achievement and matching these to the images they have formed of the students at each band borderline.

Where sections of an examination paper comprise multiple-choice questions, teachers and students can see from statistics for each question – for the groups of students whose mark over the whole paper is at the borderline between two bands – the percentage of each group who selected answers A, B, C and D. Reading the student responses alongside the question develops an understanding of how well students at each band borderline answered each question and, importantly, the types of errors they tended to make. This analysis will help to build a picture of the level of knowledge and skills typical of students at each level of performance.

Where sections of a paper consist of free-response questions, some of which require a short response (eg a number or diagram or a few sentences or paragraphs) and others an extended response (eg a solution to a problem, or an essay), students' responses are provided. Teachers can look at the questions, study the students' actual responses and annotations (if provided) and then read the corresponding band descriptions to ascertain why these were typical of work by students placed at the borderline between the two bands.

Note: Project/practical components
For subjects that had a practical or performance component or required students to submit a major project, the judges performed the appropriate steps in the standards- setting procedure during or as close as possible to the marking of these components. The final stage of the procedure included the opportunity for the judges to reflect upon student performances across the whole examination.

Note: Speaking/conversation components
For subjects that had a speaking or conversation component, the judges performed the appropriate steps in the standards-setting procedure during or as close as possible to the marking of that component. The final stage of the procedure included the opportunity for the judges to reflect upon student performances across the whole examination.