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ACT Year 12 – what the …..?

VicePope 10 June 2008 32

For reasons best known to myself, although a therapist may have some ideas, I searched out the website for the ACT Board of Senior Secondary Studies (www.bsss.act.edu.au). OK, I was trying to work out how ACT Year 12 results are calculated and to consider whether an acquaintance who sends his sons to Boys Grammar, at vast expense, because it doesn’t use the ACT system is a dope or a serious thinking type person.

The system described looks like hocus pocus to me. If I have read it correctly, a ranking is given only to students who compete for it, by doing tertiary-related courses. An individual’s subject ranking is based on results within a school, driven towards consistency only by a consultative moderation process. There is a bias to continual assessment. Then there’s a test across the ACT that bears no necessary resemblance to any subject done by any student, which is used to allocate rankings to schools (not students). Then the schools allocate the rankings to students. Oh, and the whole thing is somehow cross-run against the NSW tertiary entrance system, notwithstanding that it’s nothing like it and Canberra has nothing like the range of conditions that NSW has.

The system looks to allow for massive fiddling within schools – if you move poorer students out of tertiary subjects, you do better. It looks to disadvantage those who do better in exams than in continual assessment, even though it’s about getting people into tertiary education that still relies heavily on exams. It seems to mean that a student’s result might bear no direct relationship to how he or she did in any or all subjects or in the aptitude test. And it seems to allow no-one (the student or the school) to be responsible for a poor result.

So, does it make any sense to people who have a clue? I mean teachers and statisticians, and current Year 11/12 parents – I’m none of the above. Is there a better explanation around?


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ACT Year 12 – what the …..?
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RuffnReady 11:44 pm 11 Jun 08

I went to Boys’ Grammar and thus did the HSC (GG uses the ACT system) and found it to be a very fair system – 50% continuous assessment, 50% final exam. It prepared me well for uni and life (training in pressure situations, and it drilled the basics of maths, physics, chemistry, economics and english into my head for life).

As for results, grammar does very well. Typically 8-12 students get a TER over 98, and every year a bunch get over 99.5… in my year I think it was a ridiculous 6, with a number of guys getting perfect scores for subjects and thus in the top 10 in the state for those subjects! In the same year, I think 40% of students got over 90.

If you have a kid who likes to be busy, whether with study, sport, drama, music, community service, whatever (they will be forced to try it all to start with), and they like a disciplined, structured environment, and you have the money, send them there. Great school, glad I went there, but it suited me and doesn’t suit everyone. Choose the system that suits the child – that’s the hard part, huh?

Oh, one other thing. There are rich kids at grammar, sure, but I’d say 60-70% of the school comes from middle class backgrounds. It’s not some exclusive playground of the rich like some people see it.

circusmind 10:36 pm 11 Jun 08

Good luck to you too!

I have a 70% exam coming up :S

Maybe we’ll cross paths out there in the labyrinths of legal practise one day 😉

mdme workalot 1:33 pm 11 Jun 08

Wow, I pity you Circusmind! Best of luck with it though…..
Cheers for the clarification.
Note to self: do NOT transfer to any other uni – I seem to have it pretty good!

circusmind 1:03 pm 11 Jun 08

mdme workalot said :

Hi Circusmind, I’d be interested to know where you got this information from. I work with lawyers who have gone through law school in the last 10 years, and their assessment was based on assignments and exams, not 100% exams. These people have attended universities in ACT, NSW and some in Qld.

I’m a law student. My marks are generally determined by:

Final exam
exam (sometimes essay) due midterm (often optional/redeemable, so final exam can be 100%)
No marks given for tute participation, but penalty if you miss too many

Later-year students tell me 100% exams become much more common. As it is, half of my law units to date have been exclusively exam-based, with an optional second exam during the term.

I agree with you and needlenose that moots + assignments are a better way to assess law, certainly more interesting and challenging! Nevertheless, I think there’s merit in the stress and pressure of an exam. Then again I’m an academic masochist….

mdme workalot 8:30 am 11 Jun 08

“In areas like law and humanities, the big scary final exam is the rule, rather than the exception. Law, particularly, commonly has 100% exams. Where there is continuous assessment, it generally consists of an essay or a midsemester exam.”

Hi Circusmind, I’d be interested to know where you got this information from. I work with lawyers who have gone through law school in the last 10 years, and their assessment was based on assignments and exams, not 100% exams. These people have attended universities in ACT, NSW and some in Qld.

I’m currently studying law with a major Sydney university, and not one of the units offered is solely based on exam results.

Typical assessment:
Assignment (usually due at end of 1st term) – 40%
Class participation – 10-20%
End of semester exam (usually only covers the second term of the unit, as the assignment is designed to test knowledge from first term) – 40-50%

Re the ACT ASTs or NSW HSC, I went through the ACT system after attending NSW schools up to year 11. I found the ACT system so much less stressful with less alienation of those that weren’t continuing to university. Being that age was hard enough, without having to deal with the huge pressure the HSC puts on kids. But certainly, different strokes….

needlenose 12:00 am 11 Jun 08

Can’t agree with that. Some universities teach law using written assignments and moots as a substantial part of the assessment – much more realistic and effective, and i wish I’d been taught as well as that.

circusmind 11:52 pm 10 Jun 08

needlenose said :

100% law exams are the stupidest idea ever. I cannot imagine any situation ever where someone walks into a lawyer’s office and says: “I have six files here and I need you to provide definitive advice on four of them within the next two hours. Oh, and you’re not to use the phone or the library.” (Not to mention that coincidentally, all six questions have already been answered by the courts in cases with almost identical facts, so no independent thinking or analysis is required! What luck!).

STU. PID.

The same is true of any university course, ever. Assessment isn’t meant to simulate a working day in a given profession…..

green_frogs_go_pop 10:56 pm 10 Jun 08

I’m in year 12 this year, and yeesh. there is a reason why i’m not doing the ast..i dont get it!
(and besides, i’m clearly too dumb to be in said classes for it, which would bring the whole school’s mark down, oh noes.)

guh. its way too confusing.

needlenose 10:29 pm 10 Jun 08

100% law exams are the stupidest idea ever. I cannot imagine any situation ever where someone walks into a lawyer’s office and says: “I have six files here and I need you to provide definitive advice on four of them within the next two hours. Oh, and you’re not to use the phone or the library.” (Not to mention that coincidentally, all six questions have already been answered by the courts in cases with almost identical facts, so no independent thinking or analysis is required! What luck!).

STU. PID.

ant 9:08 pm 10 Jun 08

As I stated earlier, I did the ACT Year 12, but my school used full exams as part of the assessment for each subject. Full uni packdrill: little tables set up in the hall, invigilators, signs up around the school cautioning people to be quiet, “you may now turn over your papers”…. “you may now begin writing”, the full shebang.

So we got continuous assessment WITH the discipline of exams.

sepi 9:04 pm 10 Jun 08

Yep. I don’t feel that I missed out in any way by not stressing myself out for a whole year doing the HSC. I still did fine at uni.

ACT college system has the two streams (tertiary and non-tertiary) so that those who will not go to uni can still do useful courses such as basic maths and english, as well as more practical courses like photography, cooking, car maintenance and woodworking etc.

bd84 8:51 pm 10 Jun 08

To begin with exams and the like are a test on someone’s memory more than their actual knowledge, most people will not recall what they’ve learnt half a year ago in some lesson, unless you’re using the lesson constantly over a signifcant period of time, which most teaching does not.

Also, I hate to tell all the people promoting the HSC as a great preparation for Uni, you’re pretty much incorrect as it has very little bearing. There was a study done in the past year or two that showed that the HSC students did no better in university that the non-hsc students, if I remember correctly they were actually even slightly lower (I believe this was a UC study?).

Judging by the number of students particularly in NSW totally stressing out and breaking down and some even harming themselves because of the HSC that would suggest that they need to have a look at how good their system actually is. I found the ACT system to be more appropriate, while not claiming it to be perfect, I would rather my future children to be in that situation than stressing out on a week of exams which could change their lives.

circusmind 5:14 pm 10 Jun 08

hutch said :

circusmind… I did the ACT system and had exams at the end of every semester worth 40 to 50%. I now go to uni and I have exams at the end of every semester worth 40-50%.

That means half my uni marks come from essay’s & assignments, similar to an ACT College course… now what system is more uni like? I never had a 100% exam at uni.

Radford doesn’t do the HSC.

The HSC system has fifty/fifty weighting of external exams and internal continuous assessment. Some of this internal assessment was also examination.

I’d put it to you that the stress of the HSC exams are more true to uni life than the ACT system. You may be doing a science-based degree where there is much more of a focus on a number of smaller assessment tasks throughout the semester. In areas like law and humanities, the big scary final exam is the rule, rather than the exception. Law, particularly, commonly has 100% exams. Where there is continuous assessment, it generally consists of an essay or a midsemester exam.

I’ve often heard of uni (at least in the law/humanities area of uni studies i’m familiar with) described as “HSC twice a year”. I think that’s a pretty fair assessment. I think the HSC promotes academic discipline in that you have to sustain work throughout the year but also be able to smash big, scary exams at the end of it all. It’s bloody tough, but I’m glad I did it.

hutch 4:59 pm 10 Jun 08

circusmind… I did the ACT system and had exams at the end of every semester worth 40 to 50%. I now go to uni and I have exams at the end of every semester worth 40-50%.

That means half my uni marks come from essay’s & assignments, similar to an ACT College course… now what system is more uni like? I never had a 100% exam at uni.

Radford doesn’t do the HSC.

Above all else, HSC kids harden up and get used to exams. You can pick the HSC kids from the ACT kids at uni……

Exactly, so if you want to engineering, for example, doing the HSC gives a measurable advantage.

JC 4:49 pm 10 Jun 08

“… It looks to disadvantage those who do better in exams than in continual assessment, even though it’s about getting people into tertiary education that still relies heavily on exams. It seems to mean that a student’s result might bear no direct relationship to how he or she did in any or all subjects or in the aptitude test. And it seems to allow no-one (the student or the school) to be responsible for a poor result.”

Interesting comment, what system does give a true result? I bet the answer is none. Having completed studies under the ACT system I did not have any of the pressure that you see on the news every year at HSC exam time. With the ACT system the assesment is continual with the end if year test just for moderation purposes.

The thing I like about the ACT system is it gives the choice to those who want to study with the aim at going to uni or those who want to study subjects for future work.

chaton 4:39 pm 10 Jun 08

illyria said :

At the end of the day, the money is worth it if the outcome suits the particular child.

quote]

illyria – that is one of the most sensible and logical comments I have ever read about the old public/private school debate – thank you!

circusmind 4:15 pm 10 Jun 08

Grammar is hardly an underachiever. It achieves top 30 or so every year in the HSC pool of thousands of schools. Unlike the top Sydney schools, it is not selective in any more than the loosest sense of the word. Unlike the Sydney schools, it does not have a culture of tutoring. Unlike the Sydney schools, it does not have access to all the HSC resources available in that city. Unlike the top Sydney schools, it manages a fairly solid balance of academia/sport/life.

The top 10 at Grammar generally all make high 98s and above. A third of the year or more get into the 90s.

The HSC has the advantage of being hard! You can’t do a double-major in photography and dance, and you have to pit your wits against the rest of the state at the end of it all. There’s not as much room for the dodginess I’ve heard allegedly goes on in moderated systems like the ACT.

Above all else, HSC kids harden up and get used to exams. You can pick the HSC kids from the ACT kids at uni……

illyria 3:08 pm 10 Jun 08

Last year at Grammar two boys achieved a UAI ranking of 99.9% and a total of 14 boys earned a UAI of 98% and over. These results are not to be sneezed at.

I have a child at Grammar who will do the HSC (which I did in a NSW state school over 20 years ago) and another child doing the ACT system of schooling and all I can say is that it is “different horses for different courses”.

My biggest comment on the ACT system with its continuous assessment over 2 years, is that there are some overacheiver parents (you know the type!) who drive their children through the process as it enables you to proof read/add/amend work before it is submitted by the student to the teacher for marking and the end result may not actually reflect the childs abilities but instead, Mums or Dads (or both). This is not possible if the child is doing an exam.

At the end of the day, the money is worth it if the outcome suits the particular child.

I am not aware that the HSC option is available to girls in the ACT (unless Radford College offers it, I am not sure about that).

lion 3:03 pm 10 Jun 08

Grammar recently undertook a review of whether to adopt the ACT system. Decided against it.

The HSC is more recognised. And as a Year 12 student there I can tell you that the ACT students (after their UAI estimates) for topping the territory would only just scrape into the top 10 at grammar… (most used to go to the school).

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