For the first time in 30 years, the IB exams will begin before the HSC

Originally published in The Sydney Morning Herald, by Jordan Baker 24 October 2021.
October 24, 2021
At Dylan Nguyen’s school, students have a choice between the International Baccalaureate and the Higher School Certificate. Some of his mates chose the HSC because the exams finished earlier, so they’d have more time for schoolies. But little has gone to plan in 2021, and school-leaving credentials are no exception. For the first time since the IB was offered by NSW schools since the early 1990s, IB students will begin their exams and get their results before their HSC peers.

The IB exams begin on Monday, and Dylan, a student at St Andrew’s Cathedral School, will do his first one - French - on Tuesday. “I finish on November 9 [when the HSC begins], so I’ll be walking out for the last time as they walk out of their first exam,” he said. “That will be a lot of fun.”

As the Delta strain hit Sydney, decisions over the timing and nature of the 2021 HSC were prolonged and difficult. For those running the IB, the decision was simpler; students either began their exams with the rest of the southern hemisphere cohort on October 25 or they didn’t sit them at all.

“We knew the exams would go ahead, we just didn’t know if our students would be able to sit for them,” said Antony Mayrhofer, from IB Schools Australasia. “As soon as we were told that students could return to school from October 25, I thought, ’Great, that means the IB exams can go ahead.”

Some countries will not be sitting the exams. Many regions in South America are still too hard-hit by COVID-19 for students to attend. Last year, the May session - in which the northern hemisphere students sit the exams - was cancelled, and students received results based on their school assessments.

“[Last November and May] they had a combination of schools around the world not being able to do exams and others being able to do exams, they’re well and truly practised now in navigating that space,” said Mr Mayrhofer.

Students at Santa Sabina and MLC School were particularly nervous about their exams, as they were in local government areas of concern and there were fears schools in those areas might not be able to open at the same time as others.“

There were times when the school was uncertain whether students would be offered the chance to complete exams at school, or whether they would be forced into a non-exam route,” said Santa Sabina head Paulina Skerman.

“The [International Baccalaureate Organisation] provided very clear alternative pathways for the Diploma schools in relation to multiple possible COVID scenarios. This took quite a lot of worry away from students and schools. “Our students like many others have shown a capacity for perseverance and resilience during these challenging times.”

Dylan said the challenge for IB students has always been to sustain their focus on study while HSC students were beginning and finishing their exams. “It’s the other way around this time, which is different. I don’t know yet if it’s going to be better or worse, I guess we’ll see,” he said. The exams begin on Monday, October 25, and students will receive their results on January 3.

Originally published in The Sydney Morning Herald, by Jordan Baker 24 October 2021: