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Taking HSC exams

It's important to be well prepared for your exams. Each year there are some students whose results are not as good as they could be because of simple, easily avoidable factors.

On this page you can find important information to help you prepare, including:

  • Preparing for your exams
  • Things to remember in the exam
  • What to expect in the exam paper
  • Where to write your answers

Preparing for your exams

Looking at previous exam papers is a really good way to prepare. However, don’t assume that exactly the same topics or types of questions will be asked every year. Question topics and formats may change!

Practising previous exam questions is useful but remember that you have to answer the question that is asked, not one that you may have prepared for.

Make sure you have an up to date copy of the HSC Rules and Procedures guide, and read the syllabus document for each course that you are studying.

Remember that the Preliminary course is assumed knowledge for the HSC course.

Things to remember in the exam

Making the best attempt you can is a better strategy than not attempting the question at all.

Be familiar with the key words in the Glossary of Key Words but remember that some HSC questions may start with words such as ‘how?’, ‘why?’ or ‘to what extent?’ and use verbs that are not included in the glossary, such as ‘design’, ‘translate’ or ‘list’.

Be legible

It is in your interest to ensure that all your answers are clear, legible and easy to read.

Write your answers in black pen – pencil may be used where it is specifically directed but make sure that it can be read. Highlighters may be used to highlight text but NOT during reading time.  Liquid paper is not allowed in the exam room. It wastes time and may smudge your work and make it unreadable. If you make a mistake, cross it out so the markers know not to mark it.

What to expect in the exam paper

Question types 

The nature of some questions in an exam may vary from year to year. Don't assume you can prepare for an exam solely on the basis of past papers. The nature, format or emphasis of questions may vary and while HSC examiners will never set out to ‘trick' students, they will also avoid creating an overly predictable exam. 

Questions with stimulus material 

Stimulus material - such as artwork, quotations or maps - may be included with a question for a number of reasons. For example, a map, drawing or quotation might provide a focus for analysis or interpretation. If a question contains stimulus material it will be needed to answer the question, so consider it carefully.

The appearance or absence of stimulus material with questions in any given year does not necessarily indicate that stimulus material will or will not be used in the same section in subsequent years' exams. 

Multiple-choice questions 

Multiple-choice questions provide a range of possible alternative answers for you to choose from. Read all the alternatives first and then choose the best possible answer. If you change your mind, there are instructions on the multiple-choice answer sheet about how to change your answer.

Sometimes an alternative would be correct in a different set of circumstances and is not the best overall answer. Or an alternative might be partially right with some element of incorrect information.

Test yourself online with the multiple-choice question quizzes, a useful way to practise these questions. 

Examination rubrics

Some sections of the exam papers contain examination rubrics that show the general criteria used for assessing responses. The rubrics indicate to you the basis on which your performance in that section will be assessed. You can find rubrics with each HSC syllabus. 

Options and electives

A number of exams have questions that relate to options or electives. Only answer the questions that relate to the option or elective that you have studied. If you answer questions from more than one option or elective, your responses will be marked but you will ONLY receive marks for the option with the highest mark. Don't waste time doing more than you need to.

Managing difficult questions 

HSC exams are intended to be rigorous and to challenge students of all abilities. If you have difficulty understanding a question you should look for key words and identify the aspect of the course to which these relate. You are then in a position to formulate your answer from relevant knowledge, understanding and skills. 

Pre-prepared responses

HSC questions are not designed to support answers prepared in advance. It is important that you are prepared to answer the questions in the exam rather than anticipating a particular type of question and memorising an answer to suit. You must also understand that partially modifying an otherwise irrelevant memorised response will not lead to high marks. Markers are looking to reward answers that are relevant and answer the specific question.

How much should you write in your responses to short-answer questions?

Short-answer questions often have an answer space in which to write a response. The mark value of the question gives you an indication of the amount of time to spend answering the question, and the size of the space provides guidance for the expected length of the response. There is also advice regarding the length of time to allow for completing each section on the cover of the HSC exam papers.

How much should you write for extended exam responses?

The expected length for extended exam responses (except for English (Standard and Advanced) and ESL) is now included as a guide in the HSC examination specifications that you can find in the Assessment and Reporting documents for each course.

This length is presented as the approximate number of exam writing booklet pages based on average-sized handwriting, and/or an approximate number of words. The expected length for extended exam responses does not appear on the HSC exam paper.

Will HSC markers read all of your extended response if it is longer than the expected length?

Yes. The expected length for extended responses is included as a guide. You will not be penalised for responses of excess length: you may write less than or more than what is expected, and your responses will be marked on their merits. Your responses should be carefully planned rather than contain everything you know about a topic.

Where to write your answers

Exam papers, answer booklets and writing booklets will include instructions on how and where to record your answers. Read all the instructions carefully and write your answers in the appropriate places. Remember, your hard work and preparation will be wasted if the markers cannot find your answers!

In almost all exams, markers only mark one section or question and not the entire exam paper. Your answers to different questions or sections will be seen by different markers, so it is important that you answer in the correct spaces or booklets. Label your answers correctly and clearly. Don’t leave large amounts of unnecessary space between one question and the next. If you don’t write your answers in the correct spaces or booklet, you risk your work being overlooked by markers.

Depending on which exam you are doing, you may be given:

  • a personalised multiple-choice answer sheet
  • a question/answer booklet
  • a personalised question/answer booklet
  • a personalised writing booklet
  • a generic (non-personalised) writing booklet.

‘Personalised’ exam material

‘Personalised’ exam material has your student number, centre number and, generally, your name pre-printed on the front cover. Do not use another student’s personalised answer sheets or writing booklets. If you use another student’s personalised answer sheet, question/answer booklet or writing booklet, your work will be recorded as the other student’s work. If you need more space to write, ask for an extra generic writing booklet.

If a personalised writing booklet is pre-printed with the question number, you must use the booklet for that question only. For example, in Mathematics, writing booklets are labelled Question 11, Question 12, etc. If you have run out of room in the Question 11 booklet, don’t use the Question 12 writing booklet to complete Question 11. You may be marked against the wrong marking guidelines, and consequently not gain marks.

In some personalised question/answer booklets and writing booklets, there are areas where it says ‘Do not write’. These areas may be at the bottom of the page or at the edge in the centre of a multi-page booklet. Anything you write in these areas will NOT be marked. If you need more space to write, ask for an extra writing booklet.

Extra writing booklets

If you run out of space when answering a question on the exam paper, you should ask for an extra writing booklet and clearly indicate on the exam paper where the answer is continued.

  • Label the booklet(s) carefully so that it is clear which question is being answered
  • If you are using more than one writing booklet, tick the box on the last page of the booklet, to indicate that you have continued your answer in another booklet
  • Record how many writing booklets you have used for a question by labelling every booklet with the total number of booklets used for that question. For example, if you use three booklets for a question, you should indicate this in the boxes provided on the front cover by writing ‘1 of 3’ on the first booklet, ‘2 of 3’ on the second booklet, and ‘3 of 3’ on the third booklet.

If your booklets are not clearly labelled, your complete answer may not be marked.

Exams with question restrictions

In the Studies of Religion exams there are particular requirements about the questions you may answer.

In Section III of the Studies of Religion exam, you must answer a question that is on a different religious tradition from the question(s) you answered in Section II. If you answer two questions on the same religious tradition, you will only receive marks for one of the responses.


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