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Victoria Certificate of Education (VCE): How Does it Work?

Published on
April 15, 2024

What Does VCE Stand For?

The acronym VCE stands for ‘Victorian Certificate of Education’. It is a senior secondary educational certification issued by the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA) to recognise a student’s successful completion of their secondary education before transitioning into a tertiary education or employment.

Does Year 11 Count Towards VCE?

In straightforward terms, yes, 

Year 11 traditionally marks the first year for students to undertake their VCE subjects such as Biology, Mathematics or English, which is made up of four units. One unit is equivalent to a semester or half a year worth of study. Ideally, students complete Unit 1 and Unit 2 during their Year 11 academic year and Unit 3 and Unit 4 during Year 12.

The VCE program is completed over two years, i.e during Year 11 and 12,  however many schools provide an opportunity for students to begin their Unit 1 and Unit 2 for select subjects in Year 10 followed by Unit 3 and Unit 4 in Year 11. 

In order to gain an accurate and deep understanding of the VCE Course Outline, it is recommended that you connect with your teacher or a personal mentor who can best guide you on structuring your VCE curriculum.

What are VCE Subjects?

The VCE program allows you to choose from a variety of study options which could be the fundamental building blocks for your future goals.

You can choose from over 90 VCE studies or subjects and over 20 VCE VET (Vocational Education and Training) programs that are built on a broad range of themes like humanities, sciences, mathematics, technology, arts and languages as well as vocational education.

Each school makes a conscious decision to choose the VCE subjects and VET programs they will offer to their students. If your educational institution does not provide a study of your choice, look into another education provider who offers the required subjects and make sure your school endorses this specific study unit. 

How is the VCE Assessed?

If you take a look at the VCE Study Designs page on the official VCE website, you are introduced to different core courses and specialisations within each course domain for students to choose from. Once you determine the units and studies you wish to study, you will have to encounter a range of assessments in order to successfully achieve a study score that is calculated by the VCAA (Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority). 

The VCE assessment process is two-fold in nature and depending upon your VCE study, you will either have both these assessments or just the one assessment-type to graduate:

School-Based VCE Assessments 

Your performance in Units 1 and 2 are assessed by your school. The teachers at your school set a wide range of assessments to track your progress in VCE studies. Each assessment will have a predefined deadline and your priority is to submit your work on time. Bear in mind though that the deadlines for assessments can only be extended under rare circumstances. 

For Units 1 and 2, your performance will be rated either as a S (Satisfactory) or N (Non-Satisfactory), which is solely graded by your school. The subjects you achieve an ‘S’ grade accounts to your final study score. 

For Units 3 and 4, on the other hand, your grades are calculated from A+ to E (ungraded), or NA (Not Assessed) for your performance in the given assessments, along with your previously scored S or a N.

For Unit 3 and Unit 4 VCE study, you will be asked to complete three graded assessments whereas all VCE VET programs have two graded assessments to deduce your final scores.

School-based assessments include your School-Assessed Coursework (SAC)  that must be completed during your school term, and School-Assessed Tasks (SAT) that can be completed during and after school hours. These assessments are graded by your school, however the VCAA authority acts as an external supervisor to ensure all schools are marking to the same standard. 

H2: External VCE Assessments 

VCAA is solely responsible for conducting and marking the external assessments.

The exam-type can either be in a written, oral, performance or in an electronic format and it is a uniform assessment style enforced to all students and Victorian schools.

Generally, the external assessors chosen to mark your assessments are experts in their field of study and multiple checks are conducted to make sure that the marking is carried out in a fair and transparent manner.

The exams run twice in a year, that is in October and November. You receive the exam timetable much ahead in your school curriculum to prepare adequately for the exams. 

What is a Study Score?

A study score is awarded to you for every Unit 3 and Unit 4 study that has been completed and graded. If you secure two graded assessments and have managed to achieve an S for both the aforementioned units in an academic year, you secure a study score. Now this study score is a number that ranges between 0 to 50 and indicates your ranking in comparison to other students doing the same VCE study in that academic year. 

Your study score can easily be calculated by ranking the total for each student for all graded assessments and converting this rank into a number, i.e., your study score.

In order to understand how conversion works in this case, you have to acknowledge that the highest mark becomes 50 and the average achievable score is 30. Scoring 40 or higher in a specific subject or studies is considered to be a high achievement by a student.

This also brings us to the calculation of your ATAR. Basically, the three graded assessments for each VCE study contributes towards your study score, which is used to determine your final ATAR suitable for tertiary studies. 

Remember that only selected VCE VET programs can be used to derive your study score. Besides, you can always consider VCAA-approved university study that will contribute towards your successful completion of VCE requirements, where you finish Unit 3 and Unit 4 study without gaining a study score. 

H3: What is an ATAR score?

For starters, let us begin by establishing that the ATAR is not a score but a rank that is used to define the position of your academic excellence in comparison to other students in your cohort. The ATAR is calculated by the Victorian tertiary Admissions Centre (VTAC) and you can obtain a rank anywhere between 99.95 - 0.

Higher your rank, the better your chances to be considered for an area of study at a tertiary institution. 

Australian medical schools are no exception to placing a great emphasis on your ATAR, and this is why you often notice that the ATAR cut-offs at the time of admissions is very competitive. The main reason your ATAR is crucial to your medical degree is because it acts as a reliable indicator of your academic potential, which is essential to tackle vigorous medical school coursework.

Before offering final places, tertiary education providers are also highly observant of the combinations of VCE studies you undertook during high school and whether or not you were successful at securing a high ATAR in units relevant to your interested course stream.

Hence, during the calculation of your ATAR, study scores from Units 3 and 4 VCE studies and, where necessary, VCE VET programs and higher education studies are incorporated to obtain your ATAR. The scores in each unit or study are ‘scaled’ against other studies or units to calculate a percentile ranking that reflects your relative performance against your fellow peers in the state. 

NOTE: Students successfully completing their International Baccalaureate are also ranked, which is then converted to an ATAR for tertiary educational purposes.

What are the Best VCE Subjects for Medicine?

Medical coursework, as we know, is designed to be an intellectual challenge that is much more difficult than your high school or university studies. In fact, medical courses demand you to be diligent at preparation, and retain a sheer amount of knowledge from tutorials for the rest of your medical livelihood. In short, the workload at medical school increases sharply,  therefore, increasing your mental pressure throughout the 4-year degree.

Different subjects offer a breadth of theoretical knowledge during the tenure of your high school education and we strongly believe that some high school subjects have the potential to complement any future medical coursework.

VCE Biology and Medicine

Biology effectively forms the backbone of your medical degree. This subject ideally possesses the right content to solidify your understanding of how the human body functions. Biology, if undertaken during your high school years can significantly help to improve your mental capacity of memorising key information and gives you a gist of the basic biological functions of the human body.

In addition to this, biology as a subject, explores the most fundamental aspect of the human body, the ‘cells’ and draws an in-depth connection to anatomy and physiology of organs. Hence, the scope of biology teaches you the most relevant components of medical studies that strengthens your understanding of the mechanisms of life.

VCE Physics and Your Future Medical Degree

Often Physics is assumed and discarded as an irrelevant subject of medical studies. 

This is far from the truth.

Physics is an important and crucial facet to medicine, particularly in diagnostic medicine. This subject dives deeper into answering the ‘Why’ and ‘How’ behind the mechanics of life. 

Physics is generally explained through simple mathematical equations and it is used to provide well-researched reasoning to a range of abstract facts. Physics also introduces you to key medical concepts, such as laws of pressure, fluid mechanics of blood flow as well as vision optics - concave, convex lenses that are part of your daily life. 

Additionally, Chemistry and Biology form 80% of the science component during your GAMSAT exam leaving 20% purely to challenge you on physics concepts

VCE Chemistry and its Relevance to Medicine

Chemistry, in simple terms, is the study of chemical substances within our bodies. 

The relationship between chemistry and medicine can be described as an everyday encounter. For instance, understanding disorders of pH balance, side-effects of a drug, readings based on blood tests are basic yet cardinal indicators of diseases within the body.

If Biology tailors your mind to absorb a plethora of information and Physics takes you through the technicalities of human body functions, then Chemistry takes inspiration from these aforementioned subjects to interpret how specific fluids affect your body.

Finally, Chemistry is closely related to the department of pharmacy in medicine. Therefore, a good grasp in the contents of Chemistry can help you process the necessary information during medical studies.

VCE Mathematical Methods for Medicine

The final subject we would like to discuss in this compilation series is Mathematics.

When we say mathematics, we do not imply rote learning a formula like the Pythagoras theorem, instead it is broadly about analysing the evidence stated in scientific journals for which highler-level maths knowledge is critical.

Mathematics is the foundation for comprehending Physics, Chemistry and Biology. After all, you cannot write prescriptions as a doctor without calculating the number of (mg) a patient would require and providing only the necessary dosage intake in order for your patient to be cured.

VCE English for Medical Studies

Before concluding this article, it is imperative that we discuss the relevance of the English language in the field of medicine.

Proficiency in English is not just beneficial for completing a medical coursework but also comes handy in the long run. Particularly in time-pressured scenarios within hospital wards, effective communicating and eloquence in vocabulary helps convey your ideas smoothly.

Strong linguistic skills can add great value to your overall impression, especially while presenting your case to superiors at the hospital or explaining the root cause of a disease to your patient in layman terms. You need to be able to strike the right balance and choose appropriate words to effectively articulate your thoughts. 

Besides, a range of available resources and journals are written in English, so it is vital that you optimise your language skills to the best of your ability to dissect the intricate information and apply it in your medical practice.

On this note, we have finally reached the conclusion of this guide and hope you have gained good insight into the VCE curriculum and the right subjects to boost your medical degree.