The Australian Capital Territory has a population of 457,000 and of these 4,800 are in the final year 12 of schooling with 2,800 seeking direct university entrance. The education system of the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) became independent of the New South Wales system in 1976. The ACT established a system with a different approach to that of its larger neighbour. A significant aspect of that difference was in a philosophy that focussed on direct school and teacher participation in curriculum development and school responsibility for assessment.  This difference was mirrored by a structural change that saw the establishment of public sector senior secondary colleges that focused on the years 11 and 12 of schooling.


The ACT system uses an ACT Board of Senior Secondary Studies (BSSS)/teachers partnership arrangement for the development of curriculum, and school-based assessment, within the policy and procedures of the BSSS.

College teachers are involved in curriculum development, with colleges determining what courses they will offer to students. There is a commitment to offering high quality educational programs from a wide range of academic and vocational areas. This paper describes aspects of assessment with the system.

School-based assessment

Assessment in the ACT is continuous school-based assessment. This means there are no external subject-based examinations. Courses are taught and assessed unit by unit. A unit of study is organised around a particular theme or skillset and has a value based on the time the unit took to deliver. A Standard Unit is 55 hours and is typically taught over one semester. Moderation is conducted every semester to ensure comparability of grades from different schools and the ACT Scaling Test (AST), a higher order thinking and problem solving examination, is used to compare scores from different schools and support calculation of the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR).


The ACT model of Structured, Consensus-based Peer Review describes the ACT model of moderation used to monitor standards and validate unit grades awarded to portfolios of student work and reported on the ACT Senior Secondary Certificate. This is an advisory model where peer reviewers seek to affirm and/or assist colleges with their judgements.

The process involves all Year 11 and 12 teachers from all colleges that offer the ACT Senior Secondary system. This moderation process takes place twice a year usually in early March and August. On each day portfolios of students' work in all subject areas are reviewed by teachers of that subject.  In March the work from Year 11 semester 2 is reviewed and in August the work from Year 12 semester 1 is reviewed. This allows for the authentication of standards for the same cohort over two consecutive semesters.

On each moderation day, presentations of units from all courses are presented for peer review at specified unit grade standards. These presentations include documentation of course unit delivery and a specified number of portfolios of student work according to the agreed requirements from different courses of study.

Teachers of each course review another college's presentation and comment on:

  • Adherence to Board policies and course document requirements
  • The quality and appropriateness of criterion referenced assessment tasks and marking schemes
  • Teacher judgements of student grades against system Achievement Standards

After conferencing, a consensus report is prepared on each reviewed presentation. This feedback is forwarded to colleges and where necessary is responded to by schools in the form of an action plan. The moderation process is therefore a means of providing quality assurance across the ACT college system. It also drives improvement in teaching practice and teacher judgement of framework standards. Analysis of feedback from moderation days also provides the evidence base for identifying system curriculum and assessment issues.

Units and Courses

As well as assessment grades that are reported on the ACT Senior Secondary Certificate each semester unit at the ‘T’ (university entrance) level is awarded a score based on class assessment throughout the semester. These unit assessments are aggregated at the end of year 12 to form a course score. Course scores are then statistically moderated across the system using the results of the ACT Scaling Test (AST), a test taken by all students seeking a university entrance rank or ATAR.

The ACT Scaling Test (AST)

The AST is designed by the Australian Council for Education Research (ACER) to facilitate the comparison of T and H (undergraduate/co-accredited) course scores both within and across colleges. The test measures skills necessary for success at university. The AST is comprised of three papers: the Short Response Test of 2 hours, a Multiple Choice Test of 2 hours and fifteen minutes (both based on Quantitative and Verbal critical thinking) and a Writing Task of 2 hours and 30 minutes, based on a response to previously unseen stimulus.

The Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR)

The Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) is a percentile ranking used by all Australian universities to assist in the selection of school leavers for entry into undergraduate courses. The ATAR is a ranking of a student relative to the full age cohort i.e. relative to the set of students who would be in the group if all students stayed on and completed Year 12. It is reported with a range from 99.95 for the highest ranked students down to 30.00. It is calculated in such a way as to be comparable across all Australian states.

Student Enablement

An important aspect of school-based assessment is the right of every student to appeal against their teacher assessments. If a student is dissatisfied with the assessment result for a task or believes the procedures used to calculate unit grades or scores, or course scores, have not been followed they may appeal. All Appeal Committees contain a representative from another college.