Nerves turn to focus as HSC begin at Engadine High School

First one done: Engadine High School students wrap up the first day of HSC exams, with English Paper 1. Picture: Chris Lane
First one done: Engadine High School students wrap up the first day of HSC exams, with English Paper 1. Picture: Chris Lane

After a year of preparations and late night cramming, year 12 students have come full circle, with thousands of them stepping up to the HSC plate on Thursday.

October 17 marks the first day of exams, with English, as usual (the only compulsory subject) being the first paper to hit desks in pin-drop silent school halls.

With more than a few sweaty palms clutching pens at the ready, students were able to breathe a sigh of relief mid-morning, when perhaps the most tiring of the written papers wrapped up its first half. The second English exam is on Friday.

This year, 75,006 students are studying one or more HSC courses, and of those, 67,915 students are on track to complete their HSC program - making the HSC the most popular school credential in Australia in 2019.

It not only marks the official end of high school, but the pending beginning of a year of further study, travel or to-be launched careers of all sorts.

Each exam will be reviewed at least six times during the marking process.

Also on today, German, Japanese (the most popular elective language this year) and Primary Industries (VET), followed by Music on Friday.

Engadine High School principal Kerrie Jones says students were "very happy" with the English exam.

"They seem to be delighted," she said. "They are a really humble group, exceptionally well-rounded and hardworking. They mutually support each other and this cohort has really raised the bar."

Students are also being alerted to an online scam that hit social media one day out of exam time.

On its Facebook page, Engadine High School posted a warning to students about a hoax website being distributed across social media.

The fake screen-shot of the NSW Education Standards (NESA) website, dated October 16, states that students require a related text for the HSC English examination common module.

"This is a hoax and should be ignored," the school posted.

"Good luck to all our students in the their examinations. We are incredibly proud of their schooling journey. We know they will do themselves proud over the next four weeks."

Phew: Engadine High School students Isla Evans, Reid Quealy, Taylor Wood, Ella Short and Nellie Breese. Picture: Chris Lane

Phew: Engadine High School students Isla Evans, Reid Quealy, Taylor Wood, Ella Short and Nellie Breese. Picture: Chris Lane

Ahead of official exam kick-off, The University of NSW Sydney's Gonski Institute for Education released its findings of how students feel about the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) for university entry.

The results are from a new national survey undertaken by the institute, and reveal what the institute states is a worrying trend of anxiety about certain achieving marks.

Institute Director, Professor Adrian Piccoli, a former NSW Education Minister, says survey results support academic research that suggests relying on an end-of-school series of exams as the primary means to gain entry to a university is not the best predictor of a student's overall ability, nor are they the most equitable.

"There is a growing body of work that shows one off exams, which are supposedly meant to measure a student's whole of school experience, often do not accurately measure their skills, potential or overall ability," Professory Piccoli said.

"Like NAPLAN, the HSC scores are used to measure a very narrow range of student abilities which, under the current ATAR system, creates an enormous amount of pressure for all those involved."

A total of 80 per cent of all respondents to the survey agreed university requirements should also consider a student's ability and talents outside the classroom.

Although more than 57 per cent say ATAR scores create unnecessary pressure on year 12 students, that number rises to 75 per cent for people who finished high school but did not do any tertiary study.

"Schools are also under pressure to ensure their students achieve high ATAR scores. School ranking tables created from year 12 exam results effect a school's reputation and this measure doesn't necessarily reflect the quality of education available at schools but rather how their students performed in various tests," Mr Piccoli said.

Deputy Vice Chancellor, Equity Diversity and Inclusion UNSW, Professor Eileen Baldry, says inequity associated with ATAR scores and disadvantaged schools poses significant problems for universities in offering places to the most talented students, if only ATAR results are used.

"Those with high capability but who come from educationally disadvantaged backgrounds, particularly low SES, Indigenous and regional, rural and remote students, are less likely to achieve high ATARs, not because they are not talented but because the ATAR is not a fair measure of their talent and capacity to success at university," she said.

The release last month of another academic report, 'Beyond ATAR: a proposal for change', published by the Australian Learning Lecture, supports the Gonski Institute's findings and urged tertiary education providers to design entry pathways that better align candidates' interests, capabilities and aspirations with the educational opportunities on offer, and better reflect evidence about the progress and potential of learners.

A review into how higher education providers are categorised has recommended a simplified system that will benefit students and protect Australia's international reputation.

Education Minister Dan Tehan says his thoughts are with students going through the stressful HSC period.

"It's important to remember that exam results won't define the rest of your life and there are multiple alternate pathways into higher education, vocational education and training and the workforce," he said.

"Our government has produced a range of resources to help students and parents cope with the pressures of exams and to make informed decisions about their future."

The final exams are on November 11.