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Exam development

You will sit a compulsory exam for all HSC Board Developed Courses, except for VET courses. VET frameworks courses have an optional HSC exam.

All students in the state will sit the same exam for each course, which NESA sets, conducts and marks. Most courses have written exams, but some also have practical or performance exams.

Each HSC exam assesses how well you achieve the learning outcomes from the course syllabus, and contributes 50 per cent of your final HSC mark for that course.  

Developing an HSC exam involves three main steps: 

  1. Drafting
  2. Reviewing
  3. Finalising

All three steps include rigorous quality assurance and information security management processes.

Drafting the exams

Exam committees draft each year’s exams

We appoint a team of expert teachers and academics, called an exam committee, to write each exam and the related marking guidelines. These must align with our exam specifications.

Wherever possible, exam committees are gender balanced, with people from tertiary and secondary education backgrounds, and both government and non-government schools.

Each committee is trained and supported

All exam committee members receive clear guidelines for writing exam questions, plus training in:

Exams are drafted between October and April. A chief examiner chairs each committee. Chief examiners are responsible for developing the exam and reviewing feedback, and work with supervisors of marking and senior markers at marking centres to ensure each question is marked appropriately. Our senior project officers support the committees.

Reviewing the draft exams

Several experts review each draft exam

Draft exams and marking guidelines are reviewed by:

  • a practising teacher

  • a syllabus expert

  • the supervisor of marking

  • a literacy specialist

  • an assessment expert

  • a copy editor.

An experienced, practising teacher of the course ‘sits’ each draft exam. They answer all questions except extended-response questions, for which they list the characteristics they would expect in a good answer. They also review the paper’s language, instructions, accuracy and level of difficulty.

A syllabus expert – an inspector or appointed curriculum officer from NESA – checks that each draft exam tests a representative sampling of content and outcomes and allows students to show performance at all levels on the achievement scale. They ensure each question is correctly mapped against syllabus outcomes, content and band descriptions, and that the performance standards in the draft marking guidelines align with the syllabus.

The supervisor of marking reviews the draft marking guidelines to ensure they meet NESA’s principles and are suitable for the marking operation.

Literacy specialists recommend any revisions needed for ESL students. The Examination Operations Branch also checks that instructions and layout are clear for students, presiding officers and markers.

An assessment expert – a NESA senior project officer – reviews the exam to ensure it meets our principles for exam setting, and identifies any questions that may need to be revised.

A copy editor reviews the exam to ensure the questions are clear and in line with our style guides.

Finalising the exams

All reviewers’ comments are addressed

Exam committees must revise draft exams and marking guides in line with all reviewers’ comments. A review group checks that the committee has addressed all comments.

The chief examiner and another committee member proofread and sign off on the final exam paper. The chief examiner and the supervisor of marking approve the final marking guidelines.

After the exams are signed off, exam papers are developed for students with disability provisions who can’t use the standard papers.

Ensuring quality

Multiple-choice questions take extra care

When drafting exams, committees follow a checklist to ensure that all multiple-choice questions:  

  • have options that are logically ordered and grammatically consistent with the sentence stem

  • are clearly expressed

  • have only one correct or best answer.

When reviewing the draft exam, the practising teacher answers all multiple-choice questions and reports any issues.

Exams go through further procedural and editorial checks

Before printing, the chief examine