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HSC Exam people, papers, and processes

Detail from student work
Image: Gregory Constantine, St. Joseph’s College, (detail) Artexpress, HSC 2006

The HSC is a huge annual operation. If you brought together all the HSC students, markers and exam supervisors in a single year you would fill Sydney Olympic Stadium to capacity, and that’s leaving all your class teachers outside! Of course, if you only wanted to house all the HSC markers, supervisors, exam committee members and support staff, you’d still need to evacuate a town the size of Forster, and most of Tuncurry too.

The people

Everyone working in the HSC operation is bound by strict security arrangements and confidentiality agreements. Anyone with a family member or close family friend studying the HSC must declare their connection, and some jobs are not available to teachers with current Year 12 classes. Many of our temporary staff apply to join the operation again, year after year.

Exam committee members

We appoint expert teachers and academics to exam committees and give them clear guidelines for writing your exam questions. Chief examiners are appointed for each committee, and their role also includes returning during the marking period to help markers ensure appropriate judgements are made about each question. Read more about how exam committees work.

Markers

We employ and train more than 7000 teachers to mark your exams at marking centres in Sydney and regional NSW. They are selected for their experience and subject knowledge and undergo extensive training to ensure you are awarded a mark matching your examination performance.

Markers work in teams for Senior Markers, who are each responsible for a single question or small section of a paper. Supervisors of Marking (SOMs) are responsible for the whole paper in their subject. Read more about marking and quality controls in marking.

Supervisors

We employ more than 5000 people to supervise the HSC exams each October/November. The Presiding Officer is the person responsible for running each exam centre – usually a school – to meet the Board’s strict security and quality control procedures. Presiding Officers are helped by a number of other trained supervisors. It’s not uncommon for retired teachers and principals to apply for these positions, saying they like to feel they are still helping students with the HSC.

Support staff

More than 800 support staff – mostly experienced temporary employees – help make your HSC possible. From monitoring the scanners to repacking delicate artworks to driving forklifts, every job is important.

The papers

Writing

All HSC papers have straightforward instructions to show you what is expected. The paper will show you how many marks can be earned for each question, and give a guide to how much time to spend on each section. Papers usually offer you several types of questions – such as multiple choice, short and long answers – to show your knowledge in a range of ways.

Before an exam is approved and printed, an experienced teacher of that subject ‘sits’ the paper to check it can be completed in the time allowed. The teacher also comments on how well the paper covers the syllabus and whether the language is clear.

Printing

Each year’s HSC exams need about 13 million printed pages of questions, which in some estimates could mean a whole hectare of trees. Since 2009, your exam papers have been printed on Forest Stewardship Council certified paper, meaning the greatest possible care is taken for our environment.

The exam papers are printed under strict security, transported in guarded vehicles and tracked at every stage. The Board has been accredited for its information security management around the development of HSC exam papers (ISO/IEC 27001:2005.)

The processes – check, check and check again

System checks

Each year, before any marks are collected, we carefully check and test the computer algorithms that perform the many calculations that go into producing your HSC results. For example, marks for each question on a paper may be weighted or adjusted to take account of different options before they are totalled. Moderated assessments must be calculated; exam marks and moderated assessments are added together and averaged to produce an HSC mark. We check that the computer systems are all correctly set up to perform these calculations accurately.

Once HSC exam marks are entered, reports are generated after each step so that our measurement experts can check that the computer systems are producing accurate results.

Evaluation and review

Any operation as large and complex as the HSC must be evaluated thoroughly every year to maintain its success. Each year, we put a lot of effort into reviewing the previous year’s operation from every angle. We consider changes and improvements carefully and consult on any that affect the wider education community. The Board’s members play an important role in supervising the quality of the HSC.

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