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Principles for setting examinations


  1. The examination will test a representative sample of the knowledge, understanding and skills outcomes in any given year. The intention of the examination in its formulation is to avoid predictability and encourage students to prepare for all syllabus outcomes. Over a number of years, it is expected that the full range of syllabus outcomes that are appropriately measured by an examination will be covered.
  2. The examination as a whole will be constructed in such a way that it provides a representative sampling of a range of syllabus outcomes and questions that allow demonstration of performance across all levels in the performance scale.
  3. The coverage of syllabus outcomes and content in the examination must allow students to demonstrate the levels of performance that are described in the bands on the performance scale. In preparation of a paper, each question should be mapped against syllabus outcomes, content and performance descriptions that students may demonstrate in answering the question. These will be addressed in the table of specifications, constructed by the examination committee each year.
  4. Values and attitudes outcomes will not be included in the examination.

Level of difficulty

  1. The examination paper as a whole will provide the range of candidates with the opportunity to demonstrate what they know, understand and are able to do and will allow for appropriate differentiation of student performance at each band on the performance scale, including demonstration of higher order skills.
  2. The level of difficulty of a paper should be maintained consistently from year to year.

Paper format, length and layout

  1. In accordance with the examination specifications, the examinations should include a range and balance of question types, including multiple-choice questions, short-answer free response questions, open-ended questions and extended responses including essays.
  2. The demands of the examination in terms of the number and length of student responses required, the amount of reading time provided and the complexity of the questions will be appropriate for the time allocated for the examination.
  3. Examination layout will assist students in working through the paper and instructions will be clear and concise.
  4. Questions will be set simultaneously with marking guidelines and will allow for marks to be awarded commensurate with performance.
  5. The mark allocations and space provided to answer questions will be appropriate for the anticipated range of responses.
  6. The marks allocated for each question or part question will be clearly indicated.
  7. Wherever appropriate, explanatory information will be placed at the top of a section or page, rather than written within a question.

Question structure and language

  1. The language used in questions will be accessible to candidates. It is preferable to use the simplest and clearest language in the wording of questions so that it is clear to all students what they are expected to do.
  2. Questions will require minimal reading time except where reading and comprehension are being specifically examined.
  3. Stimulus material will only be provided when it is essential to answering the question.
  4. Questions must be free of culture or gender bias, stereotyping or tokenism.
  5. The requirements of the question will be clear to all adequately prepared students while encouraging flexibility in their responses.
  6. Free response questions will have simple structures with a minimal number of parts and sub-parts. The parts will be sequenced in order of difficulty and allow the candidates to demonstrate what they know, understand and are able to do.
  7. Where definitions such as ‘describe’, ‘analyse’, ‘synthesise’ and ‘evaluate’ are used they will be used consistently and appropriately.

Comparability and moderation

  1. To assist in achieving comparability, optional questions within a section of the paper must be marked using similar marking criteria. Choices within questions should have a comparable degree of difficulty.
  2. To assist moderation in papers where there is a core and options there will be no internal choice within questions in the core section of the paper.

Masters, G.N. (2002) Fair and Meaningful Measures? A review of examination procedures in the NSW Higher School Certificate, p10.

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