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The Impact of Senior Secondary Study Choices on Success at University: UAC report

21 Apr 2020

Executive summary

Recent media reports have suggested that, due to HSC subject selection, students are entering university ill-prepared and greater emphasis should be placed on course prerequisites. Over the last decade in NSW, more students overall are going on to complete Year 12 and a higher proportion are also ATAR-eligible. More HSC students are studying a science subject but are studying lower levels of mathematics and English. Many pathways are available to students transitioning between school and university, which are dependent on senior secondary study choices. This report investigates various effects of HSC subject selection on first-year university success concerning GPA, fail rate and non-completion. The HSC years 2013–2017 and subsequent university commencement years 2014–2018 are this report’s focus.

There are strong links between HSC subjects selected and a student’s ATAR (ie higher ATAR students tend to study certain HSC subjects). The ATAR is also the most accurate indicator of high first-year university GPA (accounting for 21.5% of GPA variance) and first-year completion. However, once the ATAR’s effect has been allowed for, there are smaller but significant effects on success by studying certain HSC subjects (less than 1%) as preparation for certain university Fields of Study (FOS).

Although there is no ideal pattern of HSC study for all senior secondary students, there are some instances in which HSC subject selection can improve first-year university success (in particular, first-year completion with GPA ≥ 4). For example, the level of HSC mathematics studied improved the chances of first-year success for students undertaking a course in the Engineering and Related Technologies FOS as did studying HSC science subjects for the Physical and Natural Sciences FOS.

Generally, students select HSC subjects that are appropriate for future university study; however, there is evidence that the introduction of prerequisites may be beneficial for degrees in Engineering and Related Technologies and Natural and Physical Sciences.

Download the full report [PDF]