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The Curriculum at University Senior College

At University Senior College (USC), we strive to provide an experience which enables our students to become good independent learners, who value personal integrity, mutual respect and cultural diversity and which prepares them for success at university and beyond.

The partnership between the University of Adelaide and University Senior College offers a unique opportunity to break down the often artificial barriers between secondary and tertiary education.

  • Curriculum

    The USC curriculum is structured to provide an excellent preparation for university study, with a particular focus on preparing students for courses at the University of Adelaide, recognising the unique partnership between University Senior College and the University of Adelaide. Naturally the subject choices offered at our school also prepare our students for courses at other universities here in South Australia, interstate and overseas.

    We have interpreted the SACE curriculum so that students with high academic aspirations, are challenged by academic rigor which prepares them for entry into university. The learning program at the College Is enriched by the staff making use of the rich array of learning resources in the precinct. These resources include the South Australian Museum and Art Gallery, Parliament House and naturally the facilities of the University of Adelaide. Our students have undergraduate borrowing rights to the Barr Smith Library and access to the University’s very extensive computer network, including the MyUni Learning Management System.

    At USC there are few interruptions to the academic program, allowing students to develop those routines which are so important to a quality learning experience. Complementing the academic program is the Mentoring program, which provides guidance and support to assist our students to manage their own learning and develop personal and interpersonal skills that will assist them in life beyond senior secondary schooling. Recent research into student expectations and experiences when entering university has highlighted the importance of students developing an independent learning style and taking charge of their own learning. View the Student and Staff Expectations and Experience Project.

    While the SACE program provides a foundation for the curriculum, the expectations are raised in a number of ways. These are neatly packaged in our unique Partner’s Pathway arrangement with the University of Adelaide. Through this pathway, the University has recognised our academically demanding program by offering places to students who engage and achieve effectively in our program.

    At USC, most students undertake the compulsory Stage 2 (Year 12) subject, Research Project in the second semester of Year 11, which enables students to study 5 academic subjects in Year 12, rather than the 4 subjects generally undertaken at other schools. We strongly believe that undertaking 5 subjects at Stage 2 gives better preparation for success.  Students learn to work at the level of intensity required for success at university. The expectation that most students undertake 5 subjects at Stage 2 at USC is to provide an experience that will better prepare them for the challenge of university study and ensure they engage in learning program that is balanced and assists them to meet university course pre-requisites. Our experience is that USC students with high academic aspirations readily cope with the workload of 5 subjects. We encourage students to take at least one language rich subject and at least one quantitative experimental subject in their choice of 5 subjects in Year 12. In our discussions with senior academic staff of the Engineering, Computer Mathematical Sciences Faculty of the university, it is clear that successful students communicate effectively, both verbally and in writing. Likewise, academics from the Humanities and Social Sciences Faculty underline the importance of students who have experience with the deductive thinking required in mathematics and the sciences. Our curriculum and our counselling reflect this view. Restricting students to four Stage 2 subjects limits opportunities for a balanced Year 12 experience.

    At USC, we see the opportunities to study a language other than English as being important. Given the great variety of languages studied by our students in middle school, catering for such a vast range is impossible. However, through cooperation with the DECD School of Languages, it is possible for our students to study their chosen language off line, and have this recognised in their timetables.

    We also see it as important that students who wish to continue their study of Music can do so, and we also provide a range of options within our Music program.

  • The Timetable at USC

    The USC school day begins at 8.00am and on most days ends at 5.00pm. This extended day has the benefit of a flexible timetable structure, based upon two hour blocks. At Year 11, students have two 2 hour lessons in each subject, providing a great opportunity to engage with the subject in considerable depth. At Year 12, most subjects have 2 one hour lectures, delivered in the University’s lecture theatres and one 2 hour tutorial. This structure provides both the opportunity to engage in the learning in a deep manner through the tutorials each week, it is also an excellent opportunity for students to prepare students for the transition towards a university style of learning and to become familiar and comfortable in the university environment.

    Considerable support is given to students to develop the skill of managing their time as they undertake self-directed learning activities and there is a range resources available to support this learning. Resources include the Barr Smith library, the Hub and study spaces throughout USC. Students are also provided with opportunities to seek individual assistance with their learning and assignments from USC staff. Students are encouraged to make appointments with subject teachers to receive personalised support. In this way students are take responsibility for their own learning and are better prepared for tertiary study.

  • The Year 11 Curriculum (Stage 1)

    Students must complete:

    • The Personal Learning Plan (PLP), which is usually completed in year 10 prior to joining USC.
    • 20 credits(2 semesters) of English
    • At least 10 credits (1 semester)  of Mathematics

    Generally at Stage 1, students undertake a total of 120 credits which is equivalent to 12 single semester courses, each of 10 credits, in addition to the PLP. For those students who have not completed their PLP at their previous schools, we provide an opportunity for students to complete this off-line.

    All students undertake 6 subjects in each semester. For most of our students, one of these 6 subjects in the second semester is the Research Project.

    At Stage 1, a few subjects are offered as pairs of units, both of which are seen a prerequisites for Stage 2. Subjects in this category include Mathematical Methods, Specialist Maths, Physics, Chemistry and General Mathematics. However, most of the subjects offered at Year 11 are offered as single units. These provide the opportunity for students to try a range of subjects before making a commitment at Year 12.

    At Year 11, our program involves formal examinations in each semester apart from the Personal Learning Plan (PLP) and the Research Project. We see the examination experience as an important aspect of our program. Undertaking Year 11 examinations is also a significant element contributing to the assessment process of our Partner’s Pathway Program.

  • The Year 12 Curriculum (Stage 2)

    Our Year 12 students generally undertake 5 subjects at Year 12. Moreover, the Year 12 experience includes a challenging set of mid-year examinations, set in part to prepare students for the final SACE examination or external assessment experience, but also as an important component of the Partner’s Pathway in their own right.

    For most of the Year 12 subjects, there is a lecture-tutorial system. These sessions are designed to maximise opportunities to learn skills and concepts in an effective manner and at the same time, to extend and refine student knowledge and understanding through discussion, debate and practical activities.

  • Hybrid Courses and the Headstart Program

    Our flexible timetable allows for students to undertake study at both Year 11 and 12. Students who may have been accelerated in their previous schools may be able to undertake study at the Year 12 level while in Year 11. For example, a number of students have taken Mathematical Methods, Specialist Mathematics, Biology and English during their Year 11.

    The University of Adelaide offers access to some of its first year courses to students who have completed some Year 12 subjects through its Accelerated Headstart Program. Under this program, students undertake university subjects and subsequently, if they enrol in a relevant course at the University, will be given credit towards their degree.

    USC is ideally situated to take advantage of the Headstart program, with students already on campus and operating on the same timetable. Currently, we have students undertaking study of first year Mathematics, Biology and English. The Headstart program has been extended to the Headstart Studies Program, in which students can access certain courses and count them towards their ATAR

  • Assessment and Reporting

    Stage 1

    The assessment of Year 11 subjects is in line with SACE Board guidelines, with grades A – E, awarded on the basis of the Performance Standards as required by the SACE Board. For the purposes of providing more detailed feedback at USC, school reports will be graded from A+ to C- and D & E.

    At USC students are provided with a report, with copies given to their parents or guardians towards the end of each school term. Students are provided with a grade for all subjects and a record of their absences for the assessment period. At the end of Terms 2 and 4, students undertake examinations in each of their subjects and their report shows their grades along with their examination scores as a percentage.

    As well as these reports, there are several Parent/Teacher/Student evenings, at which students, with their parents and teachers can discuss their progress. At all times, the College encourages students and their parents to discuss concerns about individual progress, initially through contact with the subject teacher or mentor and then with the Year 11 Dean of Studies.

    Stage 2

    The assessment of Year 12 subjects is consistent with SACE Board guidelines, with grades A+ – E-, awarded on the basis of the Performance Standards.

    At USC students are provided with a report, with copies given to their parents or guardians towards the end of each school term. At the end of Terms 1 and 3, students are given a report which includes a grade based upon the SACE Board performance standards for each subject. At the end of Term 2, students also receive a report which includes a grade and a record of their absences for the assessment period. As well as these reports, there are several Parent/Teacher/Student evenings, at which students, with their parents and teachers can discuss their progress. At the Graduation Ceremony, students are presented with their Graduation Report and a certificate of completion of Year 12. The College encourages students and their parents to discuss concerns about individual progress, initially through contact with the subject teacher or mentor and then with the Year 12 Dean of Studies.

  • About SACE

    The aim of the SACE is to develop well-rounded, capable young people who can make the most of their potential; developing the knowledge and skills essential for people to act in effective and successful ways. The SACE is based on five capabilities: Communication, Citizenship, Personal Development, Work and Learning. These capabilities enable students to make connections in their learning within and across subjects in a wide range of contexts. Aspects of all of the capabilities are reflected in the learning requirements, the content, the assessment design criteria, and the Performance Standards in each of the subjects.

    To gain the SACE, students complete about two years of full-time study which most students spread over three years. There are two stages:

    • Stage 1, which most students do in Year 11, apart from the Personal Learning Plan, which most students are likely to complete in Year 10
    • Stage 2, which most students do in Year 12.

    Each successfully completed subject or course earns ‘credits’ towards the SACE, with a minimum of 200 credits required for students to gain the certificate. Students will receive a grade – from A to E – for each subject. For compulsory subjects, they will need to achieve a C grade or better. The compulsory subjects are:

    • Personal Learning Plan (10 credits at Stage 1)
    • Literacy – at least 20 credits (either English or English as an Additional Language) (Stage 1)
    • Numeracy – at least 10 credits (either Mathematical Methods or General Mathematics) (Stage 1)
    • Research Project – an in-depth major project (10 credits at Stage 2). At USC, the Research Project may be undertaken in Semester 2 of Stage 1.
    • Other Stage 2 subjects totalling at least 60 credits.

    The remaining 90 credits can be gained through additional Stage 1 or Stage 2 subjects or Board-recognised courses of a student’s choice. Further details about the SACE can be obtained at

    In order to qualify for entrance to University, students will need to satisfy the requirements of the SACE. University entrance will be determined by the calculation of an Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR). The ATAR will be calculated on the equivalent of four 20 credit Stage 2 subjects and may include the 10 credit Research Project and another 10 credit subject and three other 20 credit subjects. It is anticipated that at USC, students will study at least four 20 credit subjects at Stage 2 and that many students will study five 20 credit subjects, thus providing flexibility for university prerequisites.

    At USC full-time students must select 6 subjects per semester, at Stage 1, no matter how many SACE units may have been already accrued. For example, most students will have already completed the Personal Learning Plans during Year 10. This provides the opportunity for students to explore other subject areas, opening a wider range of subjects for Year 12. To continue with some subjects in Year 12, it will be necessary for students to complete 20 credits of that subject at Stage 1. Other subjects will require successful completion of 10 credits at Stage 1, or have other prerequisites.

    The ATAR (Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank) score is determined from an aggregate score, which is the sum of the four best scaled scores, or equivalent, each out of the maximum of 20. This aggregate can include single semester (10 credit) subjects combined. For students who undertake more than the necessary 4 subjects, SATAC will select the best combination for the calculation of the ATAR. This aggregate score is converted to a percentile ranking known as the ATAR.

  • Subject Offerings

    While there is no requirement for subjects to be selected from either grouping, at USC we encourage a balance and suggest that at least one unit (apart from the compulsory English and Mathematics) is selected from each column.

    As well as satisfying the requirements of the SACE, students in Stage 1 must keep in mind the prerequisite subjects for those courses they wish to undertake at Stage 2. These Stage 2 subjects may be prerequisites or assumed knowledge for desired tertiary courses. It is therefore very important for students to look ahead to possible tertiary course choice.

    The choice of subjects can be complex and it is important that students seek assistance from their Mentors, the Deans of Study, School Counsellor and the Careers Advisor in making these decisions.

    USC Curriculum Handbook 2019PDF

    View the Table of Subjects

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