menu 1300 727 027
Exams 101: Your guide to key school assessments

Exams 101: Your guide to key school assessments

These days there are so many exams with so many different acronyms that it can be difficult for parents to keep track of them all.

However, having a clear understanding of the various external assessments your child will face can minimise anxiety for the whole family and can help ensure that your child is confident and well prepared when the exams roll around. Here is an overview of the key exams and assessments your child will complete in the course of their school life.


One set of examinations that all children will face regardless of state or sector is the National Assessment Program- Literacy and Numeracy, more commonly known as NAPLAN.

Students sit these tests in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 to assess four domains: reading, writing, language conventions (spelling, grammar and punctuation) and numeracy. The purpose of the tests is to benchmark national numeracy and literacy standards, to evaluate and provide feedback on student progress and to help teachers tailor educational programs to student needs.

A school’s NAPLAN results are published on


The end of school exam or assessment scheme varies depending on the state or territory the student is located in, unless students are undertaking the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP), which is offered at certain schools nationwide and internationally.

Students complete the IBDP in their final two years of schooling with the focus being a holistic education, encompassing two languages, science, mathematics, individuals and societies and the arts. It is an internationally-recognised qualification and also includes the completion of creativity, action, service (CAS), theory of knowledge (TOK) and the extended essay (EE).


In New South Wales, students complete the Higher School Certificate, or HSC. The HSC gives students significant flexibility in choosing their subjects, from more academic subjects to vocational and creative courses, and involves a combination of school assessment and external exams conducted by the Board of Studies that evaluate their performance in each subject. For each subject, students receive a mark out of 100 and a performance band out of 6 for regular courses, or a mark between E1 and E4 for extension courses.


Students in Victoria receive the Victorian Certificate of Education, or VCE. This program of study features similar flexibility and course offerings to the NSW system. The VCE also comprises both internal assessment in the form of ‘school assessed coursework’ and external examinations. In addition, all VCE students complete a General Achievement Test (GAT), which doesn’t contribute to their VCE results but is used to ensure that all marks are accurate and all standards are consistently applied. Grades are awarded out of 50, with the average score set at 30.


Queensland students are assigned an Overall Position or OP, which is their rank order position based on performance in the subjects they have studied. In order to receive an OP, students must also complete the Queensland Core Skills (QCS) test, which evaluates their achievement of generic skills derived from the Queensland senior curriculum. OPs are awarded from OP1 to OP25, with OP1 being the highest.


The South Australian Certificate of Education, or SACE, is awarded to students in South Australia who achieve 200 credits in their final two years of schooling. This includes credits from compulsory subjects (English, mathematics) and elective subjects, as well as a Personal Learning Plan and a Research Project. Assessment involves a combination of internal (70%) and external assessment (30%). Students are graded from A+ to E- in Year 12.


In Western Australia, students complete the West Australian Certificate of Education, or WACE. To receive the WACE, students must complete 10 full-year course units over Years 11 and 12, achieve an average of C grade or better in at least eight of these subjects, complete four English units and score a final, scaled mark of 50 or more in English. Students receive a mark out of 100, with a mark over 75 denoting excellent achievement, over 65 high, over 50 satisfactory, over 35 limited, and under 35 inadequate achievement.


Tasmanian students complete the Tasmanian Certificate of Education, or TCE. It involves meeting the following requirements: everyday adult reading, writing and communication; everyday adult mathematics; everyday adult use of computers and the internet; the necessary amount and level of participation and achievement in education and training; and pathway planning. Students are awarded Preliminary Achievement, Satisfactory Achievement, Commendable Achievement, High Achievement or Exceptional Achievement in their subjects.


Schools nationwide also offer Vocational Education and Training, or VET, courses. These provide students with industry qualifications and workplace skills and are offered at technical and further education (TAFE) institutes, adult and community education providers and agricultural colleges, as well as private providers, community organisations, industry skill centres, commercial and enterprise training providers and some universities and schools. Testing in these courses results in ‘Certificate’ qualifications, which - depending on the course - may be included in the student’s end of school results.

Entrance exams and scholarship tests

If your child applies for a place at a private school, they may be required to sit an entrance exam determined by the school. Students who wish to apply for a scholarship position may need to complete the ACER Scholarship Tests, which are focused on academic ability and include written expression, humanities and mathematics components at the secondary level.

Other schools utilise Edutest assessments, which also assess academic aptitude in verbal reasoning, numerical reasoning, reading comprehension and mathematics.