Principal's Blog

VCE Explained

We are now half way through the end-of-year VCE examination period. In the lead up to the exam period I wrote to our Year 12s. Here is an extract:

I want to let you all know that we are just so immensely proud of you. Year 12 is meant to be a high stakes and tough year – it is the culmination of finely tuned knowledge, skills and conceptual understanding as well as the peak of performing under pressure. However, 2021 (and 2020 before it) has been just so unfair. You have had to cope with the challenges of Year 12 alongside participating in the world record for cumulative days in lockdown… But through it all you’ve been simply incredible. You have approached the challenges with positivity, maturity and flexibility. You have looked out for one-another and provided amazing role modelling to the rest of the student body and to your teachers.

Our Year 12s have responded to the rolling challenges brilliantly. We often emphasise to them that we are far more concerned with who they are becoming as individuals than whatever numerical measure they obtain for their VCE.

I often speak with parents of students in the younger years who are unaware of the structure of the VCE and I thought I would try to illuminate some key aspects of it here. Unfortunately, it is a highly complex system with its own esoteric terminology. 

The VCE stands for the Victorian Certificate of Education. It is administered by the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA). It is a certificate that is granted for successful achievement of Years 11 and 12. Each subject is divided into four units with Units 1 & 2 completed at Year 11 level, and Units 3 & 4 completed at year 12 level. In order to obtain the VCE a student must satisfactorily complete a minimum of 16 units, though at King David students typically complete 20 or more so they can explore their interests widely.  The VCE allows for students to complete the process over two or more years. At our school, most students undertake an accelerated study and complete a Unit 1 & 2 subject when they are in Year 10, and a Unit 3 & 4 subject when they are in Year 11.

In addition to the VCE, most students will obtain an Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR). The ATAR is used to rank all students that have successfully completed the VCE including the scored components. It is used as one of the primary measures for tertiary admission. It should be noted that increasingly universities are looking to other avenues such as portfolios and interviews as a basis for admission.

An ATAR is calculated through collating the Study Scores of up to six VCE subjects. A Study Score is obtained upon the completion of Units 3 & 4 and is a calculation of school-based or internal assessments including SACs (School Assessed Coursework) and SATs (School Assessed Tasks). The remainder of the Study Score is determined by performance on the externally assessed examinations. A raw Study Score is out of 50.

Rightly or wrongly, the VCAA does not trust that all internal assessments are sufficiently objective. As such, the internal assessments are statistically moderated against the examination performance to adjust for any anomalies or potential teacher biases.

In order to obtain an ATAR, one takes an English Study (at our school this is English or Literature) and the next three highest performing subjects. Then the student receives a 10% increment of the Study Scores for up to two more subjects which brings the total to six assessable subjects, though an ATAR can be obtained with just four, including an English subject.

There is another process that is undertaken before the ATAR is calculated. This is called scaling. Scaling is a way of statistically adjusting each subject so that a student’s results are measured on an even footing. This is a way of ensuring that students are not disadvantaged for attempting subjects that might be more competitive than others. In order to obtain the scaled scores, the VCAA looks at a whole cohort who has attempted a subject and measures how it performs in that subject relative to their other subjects. The “raw” Study Scores are then adjusted by this degree of difficulty factor to achieve scaled Study Scores. 

Theoretically, a perfect aggregate score would be 210, made up of four full Study Scores of 50 and two 10% increments totalling 5 each. However, Study Scores can be aggregated to a maximum of 211.3 or higher which would achieve a “perfect” ATAR of 99.95, ranking in the top 0.05% of the cohort of students completing the VCE. This is a consequence of scaling, as some very competitive subjects can actually scale above 50. This means that only students with particular subject combinations containing a handful of subjects that can scale over 50 (including Specialist Mathematics or one of a small number of foreign languages) could obtain this revered ATAR.

You may also have heard a lot about the General Achievement Test (the GAT). The GAT is a test that all students completing a Unit 3 & 4 study undertake. The test is used to help generate a student’s Study Score in the event that they are unable to complete an examination or that their performance in the examination is significantly impacted by an anomalous event. It is also used to check that VCE external assessments and school-based assessments have been accurately and fairly assessed.

I hope that I have not lost you with this explanation. I believe that many associated with the VCE appreciate that the unique terminology and various layers of complexity make it hard to understand. Thankfully, our students are led by a wonderful team of expert and caring professionals including VCE and Years 11 & 12 Coordinator, David Robinson, and Pathways Advisor, Nicki Goodrich. Together, they guide our students and their parents through the various opportunities, subject choices, tertiary prerequisites and university preferences that are available. This helps to ensure that each of our students are able to find a preferred post-school destination in a tertiary course that aligns with their interests and aspirations. 

I take this opportunity to wish our students currently undertaking VCE examinations a hearty b’hatzlacha!

Marc Light