This was because students were more likely to receive a grade six (a grade between 90 and 100) in an easier subject than they were to receive a grade five in a more difficult subject (a grade between 80 and 89).
Robin Nagy of Academic Profiles, an education consulting firm that helps schools optimize academic outcomes, also said schools were pushing students toward easier subjects, but said the focus on band six subjects went beyond subject selection.
“Some schools are actively encouraging their students not to sit exams if they do not meet the requirements (for obtaining the HSC) when they are unlikely to perform at the top level,” he said.
In New South Wales, due to legislation governing the publication of results, education authorities only release information about the number of sixth grades achieved by a school. Nagy said this incentivizes schools to encourage students to choose easier subjects.
“Students should complete the course at the highest level they feel they can cope with, but unfortunately the landscape in NSW is such that this is not encouraged,” Nagy said.
“I think it’s time to advocate for more information. We should be tracking things like median ATARs, like how the median student tracks.”
Dr. Simon Crook, founder of science education consultancy Crooked Science, warned students that achieving six points in easy subjects was not a fast track to a high ATAR because the university’s admissions center scaled subjects differently.
“You cannot compare a degree in physics or chemistry with a business degree. “A few years ago a high Band One in Physics, which is a failure, contributed more to the ATAR than a Band Four in Fine Arts,” he said.
He also said students should not think that biology is an easy course, pointing out that last year only six per cent of students studying biology received a grade six, compared to 12 per cent of students taking physics studied.
Katie Holland, 18, from St Patrick’s College for Girls in Campbelltown, said she studied biology in Year 11 but dropped out. “I couldn’t really keep up,” she said.
She is studying personal development, health and sport because she had previously considered a career in healthcare and was interested in weightlifting, but said the subject was also challenging.
Her classmate Monique Ray, 17, said she also gave up studying biology but continued studying business because of the grades she got in Grade 11.
“I dropped it, I failed my grades and how I did in every single one of them,” she said.
“A lot of people told me my themes wouldn’t scale well… I’m not necessarily too opinionated about my ATAR, I didn’t really have that in mind when choosing themes.”
A spokesperson for the NSW Education Standards Authority said: “Enrolments for HSC courses fluctuate each year for a variety of reasons, including the size of the HSC cohort.”
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