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.
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.
HSC scaling is a popular topic to HSC students and parents, and is often an area that is commonly misunderstood. Scaling is important as it affects all students aspiring to get into university after the HSC.
Scaled marks versus HSC marks
A commonly misunderstood concept is the relationship between HSC marks and scaled marks. HSC marks are the marks the Board of Studies awards you, and appear on your Record of Achievement. These marks determine which performance band you fall in (e.g. Band 6 or E4) for each of your HSC subjects. These marks measure how well you did according to the subject’s requirements. E.g. if you received a Band 6 in English Advanced, it means your performance satisfied all the criteria required by the HSC English syllabus to achieve a Band 6. However, in any year, any amount of HSC students can get a Band 6. For example, in a particularly smart year, a higher proportion of students may receive Band 6 in English Advanced. It is not how well you do in your subject, but rather, how well you do relative to other students which determine your UAI. Here’s where your scaled marks come into play.
Your scaled marks will NOT be shown to you at the end of your HSC, as you will only be shown your HSC marks (aligned marks, to be precise). Ironically, it is your scaled marks which are the most important determinant to your UAI. Scaled marks are calculated by the UAC (not the BOS) under a totally different process. Basically, these marks measure your performance relative to other students. (For a more technically accurate discussion on scaled marks and what they mean, as well as the mathematics behind UAI calculation, please read our article on the mechanics of HSC scaling) Remember, your HSC marks are a measure of how well you did in your subject, but your scaled marks measure how well you did relative to other students. It is your scaled marks which are used to calculate your UAI, not your HSC marks.
Through the process of scaling, the UAC converts your raw examination marks (the actual marks you received in your external and moderated internal assessment) into scaled marks. These scaled marks are then added up to arrive at your aggregate mark (students refer to this as your ‘aggregate’) out of 500. The UAI is simply a percentile rank of your aggregate, which is the total of your scaled marks in your top 10 units.
How can knowledge of HSC scaling help me?
Understanding the process allows you to plan your HSC, to an extent, in such a way as to make scaling work to your advantage. For example, if you enjoy maths, you should choose Maths Extension 2 in order to take advantage of its enormous scaling effect. Similarly, if you enjoy science, you should take Chemistry and Physics, as they scale relatively well.
In other words, comparing subjects in terms of their scaling effect can assist you with your decision as to which subjects to take for your HSC. In order to quantitatively compare the scaling effect of different courses, you will need to get familiar with reading statistics published by UAC. The rest of this article will highlight the important things to note.
Reading ‘scaled means’
Firstly, what are ‘scaled means’? The scaled mean for each subject is the average scaled mark received by all students who took that subject for that year. For example, in 2008, the scaled mean for Maths Extension 2 was 43 out of 50. This means that among the Maths Extension 2 students in 2008, the average of their scaled marks was 43 out of 50. This subject has traditionally been one of the highest scaled subjects available for the HSC. In terms of reading these scaling statistics, generally the higher the scaled mean, the higher the scaling effect.
Each year, the UAC publishes a scaling report which contains important scaling statistics for all HSC subjects eligible to contribute to a UAI. For more information, read about UAC scaling statistics. In the report, there is an important section called Table A3, which is a table setting out the scaled means of all subjects.
To illustrate the effect of scaling, in 2008, a Maths Extension 2 student only needs to be in the top 46% out of all Maths Extension 2 students to get a scaled mark of 45 out of 50 (or 90/100). A Maths (2 unit) student would need to be in the top 3% out of all Maths (2 unit) students in order to achieve the same result. These facts are read off the UAC scaling report. In the 99th percentile, a Maths (2 unit) student receives a scaled mark of 46.1 out of 50. In the 75th percentile, a Maths Extension 2 student receives a scaled makr of 46.2 out of 50. Arguably it is easier to be above average in Maths Extension 2 than to be near the top of the state in Maths (2 unit). This is the main benefit derived from choosing high scaling subjects.
Effect on UAI calculation
Simply put, the higher the total of your scaled marks, the higher your UAI will be. Sometimes when students choose subjects with lower scaled means, do spectacularly in their HSC (e.g. receive Band 6 for all of their units) but receive a UAI that is lower than what they had expected.
For example, if you did English Standard, IPT, Legal Studies and Biology, and scored 90 in all of your subjects, your UAI would be around 94 in 2008. While this is in no way a poor UAI, if you received the same HSC (aligned) marks for English advanced, Maths Extension 1 & 2, Chemistry and Physics, your UAI would be in the vicinity of 99. Again this is because of the scaling effect across different subjects. While all subjects are different and some will be more difficult than others, the best approach to dealing with HSC scaling is to choose the subjects you are interested in, while giving consideration to the scaling effect of your choices. (For more information, read our article on HSC subject selection)