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2009 HSC Notes from the Marking Centre – Society and Culture



This document has been produced for the teachers and candidates of the Stage 6 course in Society and Culture. It contains comments on candidate responses to the 2009 Higher School Certificate examination, providing an overview of candidate performance while outlining the relative strengths and weaknesses of the candidature in the written examination and the Personal Interest Project (PIP).

This document should be read in conjunction with the relevant syllabus, the 2009 Higher School Certificate examination, the 2009 marking guidelines and other support documents that have been developed by the Board of Studies to assist in the teaching and learning of Society and Culture.

Teachers and students are advised that, in December 2008, the Board of Studies approved changes to the examination specifications and assessment requirements for a number of courses. These changes will be implemented for the 2010 HSC cohort. Information on a course-by-course basis is available on the Board’s website.

General comments

Teachers and candidates should be aware that examiners may ask questions that address the syllabus outcomes in a manner that requires candidates to respond by integrating their knowledge, understanding and skills developed through studying the course. It is important to understand that the Preliminary course is assumed knowledge for the HSC course.

Candidates need to be aware that the marks allocated to the question and the answer space (where this is provided on the examination paper) are a guide to the length of the required response. A longer response will not in itself lead to higher marks. Writing far beyond the indicated space may reduce the time available for answering other questions.

Candidates need to be familiar with the Board’s Glossary of Key Words which contains some terms commonly used in examination questions. However, candidates should also be aware that not all questions will start with or contain one of the key words from the glossary. Questions such as ‘how?’, ‘why?’ or ‘to what extent?’ may be asked or verbs may be used which are not included in the glossary, such as ‘design’, ‘translate’ or ‘list’.

Personal interest project

Students and teachers are advised that from 2010:

  • the PIP will be worth 40% of the examination mark
  • the central material of the PIP is reduced from 5000 words to 4000 words
  • the PIP must have a continuity and/or change focus in addition to the cross-cultural focus
  • students no longer need to explain their cross-cultural or continuity and/or change focus in the introduction to the PIP
  • the log has changed from a ‘sequential development of the final product’ to ‘the development of the final product’.

General comments

Outstanding projects were impressive in their academic standard of research and often in the uniqueness of topic, design or execution. These projects provided a rich analysis of the chosen topic with an in-depth, sophisticated synthesis of methodological findings. Course concepts were thoroughly integrated throughout and all components clearly aligned with syllabus requirements for the project. Outstanding projects clearly demonstrated a synthesis between personal experience and public knowledge. They used quality academic resources and provided appropriate annotations.

However, there were areas where candidates were less successful in addressing all the requirements of the project. Candidates are reminded that each personal interest project should be a topic of the student’s own choice, be related to the course, develop appropriate methodologies, and include a cross-cultural perspective. Candidates should strive to choose topics that allow for original design and for a synthesis between public and personal knowledge.

Better projects provided clear evidence of an effective research process, integrating both primary and secondary research findings, appropriate writing, editing and synthesis. The end result of this process was a high-quality synthesis of the various PIP components into a coherent, well-structured research project. Better projects integrated their research findings, cross-cultural focus and the methodologies chosen throughout. The ideas from the introduction flowed logically and developmentally through the central material and were reflected in the judgements identified in the conclusion. The log of the project provided a concise overview of the candidate’s research development with a reflective analysis of methodologies that also identified potential bias, where appropriate, and critical judgement of their research findings. A good log is a summary of the sequential development of the final product and not just diarised entries.

Weaker projects were often limited by the selection of a very broad topic or a topic that proved difficult to research over a sustained period. These projects often dealt with topics without acknowledging bias in research or personal views and sometimes dealt with issues that had ethical considerations which were not addressed. The central material often consisted of summarising material from secondary sources about an issue, without sufficient judgement regarding research findings and was very descriptive. Many weaker projects also relied overly on the internet without sufficient acknowledgement of sources. Carrying out ‘surveys off the net’ does not constitute primary research and there is a trend towards using the internet as the main source of secondary research. Log entries were often calendar entries that were simplistic overviews of each month rather than a developmental analysis or reflection on the research process, and resources were limited and poorly annotated. Weaker projects showed a poor understanding and integration of the cross-cultural component.

Candidates’ choice of topic

The ethics of some research topics need to be carefully considered by teachers and candidates. These ethical considerations also need to be considered as students conduct their research methodologies on their chosen topics. Candidates should carefully read page 45 of the syllabus:

Should a student choose a personal interest project topic or method of research that could be considered unethical or controversial, it may be advisable to discuss the topic selection with the school’s principal.

The choice of topic should reflect a Society and Culture course investigation, not a topical narrative on a social issue. Candidates selecting very personal issues on which to base their research were challenged to sufficiently relate these to syllabus content and course concepts and appropriate social issues. Personal experience is appropriate to the project but should be balanced with substantial public knowledge. However, there were still many candidates who selected large and unfocused topics, with an overemphasis on topics related to adolescence. This limited candidates’ options to pursue a clear, testable hypothesis. Such projects were often subjective and relied on unsupported generalisations.

The log

The log should be based on the student’s diary, but the submitted log needs to be more than a list of events and occurrences in chronological order. It should be a statement of reflection; how and why the research took place and the effectiveness of the overall research process. It is also appropriate to include some discussion of the key goals of the research and the evaluations of the research process.

The log must be no longer than 500 words and should not be a rushed afterthought. Candidates should be reminded that the log is generally the first part of the project that is marked but is frequently one of the weakest aspects.

Presentation and structure

There are several important aspects to the presentation of the project (see pages 46 to 48 of the syllabus). Projects are to be double-spaced, the candidate’s name or the name of their school must never appear in the project and graphs, tables, photographs and diagrams need to be labelled and discussed. Further, the treatment of aspects of the project such as the cross-cultural component, concepts and methodologies should not be located in separate sections. These should be integrated into the overall text and discussion of the project.

Another significant issue is that many candidates do not sufficiently integrate their ideas. A common problem is that candidates make no clear links between chapters. The ideas and concepts that should be the essential message of a project need to develop and flow in a logical and sustained manner.

The ethics of research and the issue of plagiarism are strong considerations in assessing each project. This is particularly important with the increased use of the internet as a research tool. When candidates discuss the ideas of others, they should try to synthesise these ideas into their own discussions. It is vital to acknowledge the works of others by using referencing, for example the Harvard system. Greater acknowledgement of sources is needed in the annotated bibliography with comments on its usefulness and validity to the research presented.

Many candidates presented projects or components, such as the introduction or log that were significantly over the word limit. The word count is clearly specified, and candidates are disadvantaging themselves if their projects are over the word limit. This also applies to the use of appendices. Any information deemed significant to the project should generally be located within the central material. By including such information in the central material there is greater potential for it to be more effectively integrated.


Best practice is to integrate the methodologies used throughout the central material. A separate chapter for each methodology used is not an ideal model. It is vitally important to discuss the appropriateness, validity and possible biases of each methodology. Too many candidates did not interpret and analyse the data they collected from primary and secondary sources, and there was uncritical reliance on internet sources by many candidates.

Better projects demonstrated an understanding of the limitations of particular research methodologies. In relation to particular methodologies, there was a range of candidates who confused content analysis and secondary research. These are distinct methodologies and need to be identified and applied correctly. Many candidates used the methodology of questionnaire, but did not effectively apply it as they did not analyse the results or evaluate their use of this method of gathering data. Quantitative methodologies are more effective when reported visually, for example as graphs, tables or pie-charts, as well as being referred to in the central material. Personal reflection was a very popular aspect of many projects. However, candidates need to be aware that they are assessed on their application of a variety of methodologies, and that it is not advisable to overly rely on personal reflection, or any other single methodology. Personal reflection should not be interpreted as an opportunity to indulge in personal unsubstantiated viewpoints. It is advisable not to attempt too many methodologies. Candidates should select an optimal number and deal with these effectively. Candidates who choose to do online surveys, questionnaires or focus groups need to be aware of the limitations and communicate these in the log or central material. They are valid research methodologies but must be evaluated and justified as a vital step in the research process.

Candidates should be reminded that using a range of methodologies, both primary and secondary, is a requirement of the PIP. They should not show an over-reliance on secondary research.


Candidates who produced the best PIPs used a range of primary and secondary resources, both electronic and printed. They effectively annotated these resources to demonstrate their understanding of research processes.

Candidates who produced the weakest PIPs did not reference all secondary materials used and often did not reference correctly. These candidates did not provide annotations of the resources used in their resource list or the annotations provided did not comment on the usefulness or validity of the chosen resources as part of evaluating the research process. The annotations for each item in the resource list need to demonstrate a genuine analysis of the usefulness of each source.

The increasing over-reliance on internet sites means that candidates must be discerning in their process of resource selection.

Written examination

From 2010, the written examination:

  • will be worth 60 marks
  • will be two hours plus 5 minutes reading time

Section 1 – Core (20 marks) will consist of:

  • 8 objective responses (8 marks) and
  • 2 to 3 short-answer questions (12 marks)

Section II (20 marks):

  • will consist of four questions in parts, one for each depth study
  • students answer one question, with an expected length of response of around six examination writing booklet pages (approximately 800 words in total)

Section III (20 marks):

  • will consist of four extended response questions, one for each depth study
  • students answer one question, on a different depth study from that chosen in Section II, with an extended response of around six examination booklet pages (approximately 800 words in total).

Section I – Social and cultural continuity and change

General comments

Question 1

Better responses clearly defined the fundamental concepts of ‘power’ and ‘authority’ and provided clear examples to demonstrate the differences between power and authority.

Weaker responses attempted to give the meaning of the concepts but often did not use the correct terminology. Weaker responses often only provided an example without demonstrating an understanding of the difference between the concepts.

Question 2

Better responses clearly stated one characteristic of a ‘focus group’ and ‘observation’ as methodologies. These responses clearly identified the usefulness of the chosen methodology in relation to investigating the use of technology in a school. Better responses were procedural in nature, demonstrated a clear understanding of the process and application of the chosen methodology, used appropriate examples and referred to the use of technology throughout.

Weaker responses did not give clear characteristics of either methodology and generally confused observation with participant observation. Weaker responses also tended to explain why they would use either focus group or observation as opposed to how they would use the methodology. Weaker responses often did not refer to the use of technology when establishing how they would incorporate this methodology.

Question 3

Better responses demonstrated a clear understanding of the micro and macro world with many including appropriate examples. They effectively identified a relevant change in the macro world and analysed the impact on their micro world.

Weaker responses demonstrated a minimal understanding of the micro and macro world. They generally confused the micro with the macro world. Weaker responses did not write from a personal perspective or failed to incorporate a relevant change in society and the impact it would have on their micro world.

Question 4

  1. Better responses demonstrated a clear understanding of both the concepts continuity and change. They included appropriate examples that assisted in clearly distinguishing between the two concepts.

    Weaker responses often made general statements about one or both of the concepts and did not demonstrate a clear understanding of both continuity and change.
  2. Better responses made an informed judgement about the impacts of both continuity and change in their selected country with reference to the chosen feature. These responses were detailed and coherent, with a range of appropriate examples to demonstrate an understanding of the impact of continuity and change.

    Weaker responses tended to describe continuity and/or change in their selected country. Responses were brief and lacked detail, often not forming a judgement about the impact of continuity and change. Some candidates did not clearly identify their selected country and feature of study. Some responses contained inaccurate information and failed to deal with both continuity and change.

Section II – Depth studies

Question 5: Popular culture

  1. Better responses clearly identified a range of interactions with popular culture, including how it may contribute to the development of identity, the impact of growing globalisation and the role of changing technology. These responses clearly addressed the directive term ‘analyse’ and effectively applied a range of appropriate course concepts, such as ideology, influence, socialisation and access, and integrated other course concepts, issues and themes that were relevant to the question. These responses were supported by a range of appropriate examples from relevant focus studies such as rock and roll, surfing, teen movies and specific genres of television. Better responses were sustained, logical and well-structured.

    Weaker responses were often a descriptive narrative of the students’ own consumption of popular culture rather than an analysis. They demonstrated limited understanding of the nature of popular culture and used a limited range of examples, often resorting to recounting the history of one particular popular culture with little connection to the question. The examples chosen were taken from inappropriate focus studies of popular culture that limited the students’ ability to analyse and draw connections about the dynamic nature of their interaction with popular culture. Weaker responses used a limited range of concepts and course language and generally were not well organised.
  2. Better responses demonstrated a clear understanding of the nature of social change and the ways in which popular culture can reflect, perpetuate and contribute to social change. These responses directly addressed the directive term ‘discuss’ by identifying both positive and negative contributions to social change. Better responses effectively applied a range of appropriate course concepts, including globalisation, westernisation, technology and influence together with other issues and themes drawn from the syllabus. These responses were also supported by specific and appropriate examples drawn from one focus study, guided by the syllabus. Better responses drew from focus studies which allowed for meaningful and effective judgements to be made regarding the interaction of popular culture and social change. Such focus studies included rock and roll and other genres of music like hip hop or punk, teen movies, denim and surfing. Better responses were sustained, logical and well-structured.

    Weaker responses demonstrated limited understanding of social change or the ways in which popular culture can contribute to social change. These responses often tended to focus on change within the popular culture focus study itself rather than making connections to broader social change. These responses were limited in their use of course concepts and drew examples from inappropriate focus studies which did not allow them to fully explore the nature of social change as it relates to popular culture. These focus studies tended to relate to products or businesses rather than syllabus-identified popular cultures. Weaker responses did not use a range of course concepts and often relied on relating a narrative history of the popular culture focus study, with limited connections to social change. A high proportion of weaker responses did not clearly address the question asked and presented what appeared to be a prepared response. These responses were often poorly structured and did not link the content of their response to the question asked. There was also an over-reliance on the use of dot points in many responses which limits students’ ability to present a sustained and logical response.

Question 6: Belief systems

While most responses provided sound historical knowledge of their chosen belief system and identified the extent of its following in the world today, better responses ensured they applied their knowledge to effectively address the question. It was evident that prepared answers did not successfully address the question. There were a number of responses to both (a) and (b) which presented stereotypical descriptions of belief systems. This was particularly the case with the belief system of Islam, where responses focused on stereotypes and negative media coverage. The challenge for candidates is to ensure they demonstrate social and cultural literacy in their responses. This requires them to have critical discernment of media and awareness of bias. When students select a non-religious belief system, such as feminism or environmentalism, it is important to keep the focus of their response on the characteristics of the belief system rather than a socio-political movement.

  1. In better responses, candidates explained the nature and role of ritual in belief systems, either by focusing on a range of belief systems or focusing on aspects within a single belief system. Better responses clearly illustrated the relationship between the nature and role of ritual in belief systems, often choosing a religious belief system where they could use examples of ritual as continuity, ritual as a means of providing religious experience for the individual practitioner and a sense of belonging and identity, and ritual associated with the life cycle. Better responses also drew on course concepts relevant to the belief systems depth study such as ideology, worldviews, doctrine, norms, values, acceptance, rejection, continuity and change and supported their responses with a range of appropriate and relevant examples. The best responses demonstrated excellent conceptual understanding and provided a sustained, logical and well-structured response that explored the relationship between the nature and role of ritual rather than focusing on either role or nature.

    Weaker responses contained more descriptive explanations of ritual and belief systems. Some weaker responses provided simplistic examples of rituals within belief systems rather than discussing the relationship between the nature and role of ritual in belief systems. These responses often provided a descriptive account of the characteristics of their selected belief system without clearly addressing the question. Selection of some belief systems, such as Wicca or Scientology, were sometimes simplistic and lacked the depth required to clearly illustrate the nature and role of ritual. The weakest responses provided judgements about the belief system that were more personal or stereotypical and lacked social and cultural literacy. Candidates answering this question outside their chosen depth study produced responses that often lacked the required depth of knowledge of belief systems to effectively answer the question.
  2. Better responses showed a clear understanding of the concept of globalisation and its impact on belief systems. These responses demonstrated that the impact of the global spread of economic, political, social and cultural values and practices on belief systems could be positive or negative, or a combination of both. Again, candidates were faced with the challenge to recognise the diversity within belief systems when responding to the impact of globalisation on belief systems. This was particularly the case with responses assessing the impact of globalisation on women in Islamic societies, and to a lesser extent in Hinduism, where stereotypes of the role of women are popularly portrayed in the media and then reproduced in candidate responses.

    In better responses, candidates demonstrated their depth of knowledge of at least ONE belief system, making an informed judgement about the impact of globalisation on their chosen belief system and supporting their answers with a range of appropriate examples. The most common examples of religious belief systems cited were Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Shintoism and Confucianism. The most common non-religious belief systems cited were feminism, capitalism, environmentalism and consumerism. Better responses integrated course concepts and language relevant to the Belief Systems depth study in a sustained and well-organised response to the question, often incorporating sociological theories in their response.

    Weaker responses provided a general description of globalisation and their chosen belief system without directly addressing the question. They did not make a judgement about the impact of globalisation. Weaker responses were not sustained and some presented a simple description with little use of course concepts and terminology. The weakest responses did not refer to a belief system but to a group, such as the Taliban, or a country such as India or Afghanistan. Additionally, a few inaccurately referred to a group, such as Amway or Alcoholics Anonymous, as a belief system. Candidates also need to avoid confusing their country study response with their Belief Systems depth study.

Question 7: Equality and difference

  1. Better responses demonstrated substantial knowledge of the ideal of equality. Candidates were clearly able to distinguish between equality of opportunity, condition and outcome and apply it to the lack of access to socially valued resources, such as education, health and housing. Better responses identified a range of areas that showed how society upheld or rejected the ideal of equality. They discussed the extent of equality/inequality within and between social groups and provided evidence in relation to differences in outcomes. The best responses clearly understood the complexity of equality as an ideal.

    In addition, better responses clearly identified points for and/or against the extent to which the ideal of equality was shared by all Australians. They used a range of appropriate accurate examples and statistical data to support their discussion. These responses also consistently integrated appropriate equality and difference concepts and terminology and communicated in a sustained, logical and well-structured manner.

    Weaker responses did not understand the concept of the ‘ideal of equality’, and tended to focus on examples of inequality only. Responses were simplistic and generalised and tended not to address the question explicitly. Weaker responses were limited in their use of examples, course concepts and language.
  2. Better responses clearly identified the factors that influenced difference within one society, such as social differentiation, conflict and co-operation and power and authority. These responses named a society and referred to at least one of the areas in which society can be differentiated. Candidates illustrated how/why factors influence difference in the chosen area in one society, using a range of appropriate examples, eg historical, political and social factors. The concept of difference and a range of other appropriate course concepts and terms were effectively applied in better responses. A high degree of social and cultural literacy was evident in logical, sustained and well-structured responses.

    Weaker responses confused the factors that influenced difference with the indicators of difference. Some candidates relied too heavily on a learned response that did not address the question. As a result, answers were often simplistic and generalised. Responses were not sustained and lacked sufficient course concepts and content knowledge of a society.

Question 8: Work and leisure

  1. Better responses identified a number of continuities and changes in social attitudes towards leisure, and discussed the origins of those continuities and changes. They often assessed these in terms of historical change and the present context. These candidates clearly understood the requirements of the term ‘account for’. Some included reference to theoretical perspectives to assist in their argument. They discussed the interrelatedness of work and leisure and how changes in work have affected attitudes towards leisure. Case study examples were clearly relevant and they incorporated a number of course concepts. While not always in balance, both continuity and change in social attitudes were discussed. These responses were well structured and presented a sustained argument.

    Weaker responses often had difficulty interpreting and responding to the question, with many resorting to simple description of some features of leisure based on personal experience alone. While most candidates identified some continuities and changes in attitudes, weaker responses fell short of accounting for them. These responses did not apply many other course concepts and the case study material used was often not linked to answering the question.
  2. Better responses clearly identified a number of impacts of work and leisure on a society, and then explained those impacts. They clearly understood what was expected by the term ‘explain’. These responses often incorporated a historical perspective of the impacts of work and leisure leading into an assessment of the current context. Some used theoretical perspectives to support their argument. Case study material that was used was relevant to the argument and incorporated a number of other course concepts. These responses were well structured and maintained their focus throughout.
    Weaker responses described features of work and leisure without answering the question. Very often these candidates misunderstood what was required and discussed the impacts of social changes on work and leisure (rather than the other way around). Few other course concepts were applied and case study material that was used had little relevance to a coherent argument.


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