Does going to a 'Normal' school disadvantage me?

This is a common question of many students who wonder whether attending a ‘normal’ non-selective government school would disadvantage them in any way in their HSC.

The short answer is: there is no technical reason why you should be disadvantaged as a result of attending a ‘normal’ school.Normal School

However there may be other factors that can affect the correct answer to this question.

The system is technically fair

The way in which your ATAR / UAI is calculated is technically fair. It implements statistical methods of scaling to equate achievement levels in different HSC subjects on a common scale, in the form of scaled marks. The process of scaling for different subjects is the same, and applies in the same way to all students attending all schools.

But what about your internal marks? The component of your HSC that is assessed from internal school assessments are calculated from your rank at school. That is, how well you did (as a rank, not a mark) relative to your peers at school. The process that converts your school rank for each subject into a scaled mark is called the process of moderation.

Basically, with moderation, your internal HSC assessment component is mapped to your school rank for each subject, from the pool of external marks. For example, suppose Amanda, a Chemistry student, comes 5th overall in Chemistry within her school. Her external HSC exam mark was 92/100, which was the 2nd highest in her school. The 5th highest external exam mark in her school was 84/100. Then for Amanda’s overall HSC mark, it would consist of 50% of her own mark of 92/100, and 50% of the 5th highest exam mark (because her rank was 5 th in Chemistry), which was 84/100. This leads to an overall mark of 88/100. However, note that in fact, this is an approximation only (Amanda would actually receive a mark close to 84/100 for her internal component, as there is an adjustment made due to the fact that marks distributions are not the same across different schools).

Basically, what this means is regardless of whether your school is considered ‘good’ or ‘bad’, your end result should not be affected, since your internal component is solely based on your school rank. If you do significantly better than your peers in a ‘normal’ school, your ranks would be 1t or close to 1 st for all your subjects. In this situation, you would end up receiving your own external HSC exam mark as your internal component. Effectively, this means that those students passing from any institute could count their final HSC exams for their final assessment. Now, other than the risk of placing too high weighting on the final exams, there is no inherent direct source of unfairness in this system – that is, you are not being ‘pulled down’ in a direct way by your peers in a ‘normal’ school.

However, as we see certain schools perform well year after year, there must be other factors in play, despite the system being technically fair.

The positive effect of being in a competitive environment

Schools that tend to do well consistently (e.g. look at the list of the top 50 schools in NSW) would have a culture of academic excellence. From this culture, students in these schools are more focused on their studies. Students have an amazing effect of pushing each other, motivating each other and the mutual competition drives students in these schools to high standards.

What can I do?

If you find you go to a school where students are not primarily interested in doing well in their HSC, you should firstly identify the few of your peers that are keen to do well, and form working relationships with them. Study together, motivate each other, share notes etc. These things are mutually beneficial, and the healthy competition you get from each other will be beneficial to your marks.

Another suggestion is to find a quality tutoring service and attend their classes. Reputable tutoring colleges will have no problem attracting bright students who are keen to do very well in their HSC. Students can benefit from the structured environment a class offers, and being able to learn at the same level as other bright students will be beneficial to your marks.

The quality of teachers and teaching

Generally speaking, students at ‘good’ schools receive a better learning experience. This is due to a number of factors. For example, in ‘bad’ schools, teachers need to spend more class time on classroom management (managing the disruptive students, making sure their behaviour is acceptable etc), leaving less time for actual teaching. Disruptive students also pull the class behind in terms of schedule, as teachers are forced to move at a slower pace to cater to all students.

The extreme example is that in particularly ‘bad’ schools, teachers are so fed up with disruptive students that their motivation to teach diminishes, and these situations despite being very unfortunate, are quite common.

Generally speaking, many teachers gravitate towards transferring to the ‘good’ schools, mainly because the easier classroom management (less need to manage disruptive students) provides a more pleasant working environment for them. Now, this does not apply to all teachers, but it is likely to be true on a wide scale. Such teachers represent a migration of quality teaching from the ‘bad’ schools to the ‘good’ schools, as their transfer requests to the DET are granted over time.

This leads onto the second point of teacher retention. Retention rates tend to be highest at well-off private schools or high-ranking selective schools. Most teachers working at such schools are happy where they are, and would not seek to leave their post until they retire. However, retention rates at other schools tend to be lower for various reasons that we will not go into. For example, how many times have you noticed ‘good’ teachers leaving for another (often higher ranked, or private) school?

However, this is NOT to say that there are no ‘good’ teachers in ‘normal’ schools. There are countless dedicated teachers out there that do not work at high-ranking selective or well-off private schools, and they are rightly well respected for the good work they do.

What can I do?

This problem is a tricky one to solve or avoid. If you find that there are no good teachers for certain subjects you are taking, we really suggest seeking a tutoring service, or even a good private tutor. Reputable tutoring colleges will always have high quality teachers as part of their academic staff.


Although the technical details of the scaling and moderation processes are inherently fair, and that there are no direct sources of disadvantage to students attending schools that are neither high-ranked selective or private schools, there are other factors that may cause a disadvantage in real terms. While not every student can have the luxury of being surrounded by other hard working bright peers that push and motivate each other to do well, this effect could be emulated by attending a reputable tutoring college, or by seeking like-minded individuals at school. Students and parents should also consider seeking a tutoring service if they feel that their school teacher is not offering adequate support.

But most importantly, don’t leave it until too late! Every assessment in year 12 counts to your HSC and UAI / ATAR, so make sure you receive adequate support from day one of year 12, at the very least!

Dux College is a reputable tutoring college based in Sydney, Australia specializes in delivering high school tutoring services that aims at improving UAI score. If you are among those bright students who are keen to do well in HSC then join HSC tutoring at Dux College and learn with like minded individuals.

Differing Approaches to Maths and Sciences

HSC maths and sciences are structured and assessed in a fundamentally different way. These differences require different approaches in studying both types of subjects, in order to secure a top band in each. In this short article, we will look at the main differences between HSC maths and sciences, and give you some insight as to how each type of subject ought to be approached.maths

Study year 11 and 12 maths topics together

The syllabi of HSC mathematics is integrally linked with the preliminary (year 11) syllabus. This applies to all levels of HSC maths, from General to Extension 2. There is no sudden identifiable transition between preliminary topics and HSC topics. In contrast to HSC sciences (such as Chemistry and Physics), their syllabi are clearly split into preliminary topics and HSC topics.

In mathematics, topics you learn in your preliminary year, or even going back to year 10 (e.g. the sine and cosine rule are sometimes used in year 12, even in Extension 2) are unavoidable when you need to study for HSC topics. For example, we all need to know how coordinate geometry works, and how to find the equation of normals and tangents, before we can understand the Conics topic in Extension 2, or parametrics in Extension 1. The key point here is that there is no clear distinction between year 11 and year 12, for mathematics.

One approach to maths tutoring or teaching at schools is to teach topics according to their relationship with each other, instead of whether the actual syllabus categorises them as preliminary or HSC topics. For example, we can teach year 11 Extension 1 probability, up to the harder permutations and combinations normally studied in year 12. This approach in studying is also advantageous, as it helps you consolidate and group relevant topics together.

An extreme example that may work for some is the anecdote of a private maths tutor that is reputed to teach year 7 geometry, then for the entire year, progress to harder and harder geometry topics, finishing off with Extension 2 style circle geometry. While we can see this approach may work for some students, the extreme case is not recommended for most students. Instead, we recommend students to study the relatable preliminary and HSC topics together. For example, the reason why the Fitzpatrick series of books (the yellow book for 2 unit, the green book for 3 unit, and the pink book for 4 unit) is split according to 2, 3 and 4 unit reflects this fact about HSC mathematics. The writer did not choose to split his books according to preliminary and HSC as he correctly identifies that it is more convenient and advantageous to student learning by making them learn year 11 and 12 topics together, where they are very related.

Recommended approach for HSC sciences

HSC sciences, unlike mathematics, have topics that are clearly divided as preliminary and HSC topics. For example, in Preliminary Physics, you learn about waves and communications devices in The World Communicates, resistors and using Ohm’s law in Electrical Energy in the Home, vector addition and movement in Moving About, and some basic astrophysics in The Cosmic Engine. Now, if we look closely at the topics taught in the Preliminary year, and compare them to the HSC topics, there is very little direct overlap. The main value in Preliminary Physics is for students to gain a solid grasp on the physical principles that are relevant to the HSC.

For example, in The World Communicates, knowledge of waves and how they propagate is important to many topics in the HSC. However, knowledge of mobile phones, fax machines, GPS and CD/DVD technology is irrelevant to the HSC. So the point here is: understand the physical principles (waves, electrical resistance, Ohm’s law, vector addition, forces, momentum etc) but don’t pay too much attention to the specifics (e.g. you’ll never be asked to calculate the resistance of a circuit in a HSC question, and you don’t need to know about Red Giants / White Dwarves if your school does not do the Astrophysics option module).

Ideal approach to studying HSC Physics and Chemistry

The ideal approach here is to learn the preliminary course as usual, paying close attention to the physical principles that are involved with the content. However, remember that you will not be tested in your HSC year on the specifics of the preliminary course. For example, you will not be required to know how to calculate resistance in series and parallel circuits in the HSC Physics course. In fact, the HSC assessments and exams will only test what is in the year 12 HSC syllabus. Therefore, you will definitely need to know the specifics of each dot-point in the HSC syllabus, but not the specifics of the preliminary syllabus.

A good approach is to start your learning early. Cover the preliminary topics as quickly as you can, (with the help of Chemistry tutoring or Physics tutoring, or from your school teachers) and move onto the HSC topics as quickly as you can. This leaves you with the maximum amount of time to study the content that is directly relevant to your HSC. Remember, only the content of the year 12 syllabi will be examined, so use this fact to your advantage when studying HSC sciences!

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