What is an ATAR? The Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank (ATAR) is a number between zero and 99.95 that determines a student’s rank based on their HSC or IB mark – it is not a score out of 100. It is used by tertiary institutions around Australia to directly compare the results of Australian school leavers, and to predict a student’s first-year performance at university.
Successful graduates of both the HSC and IB Diploma will receive an ATAR, although IB marks are not scaled and the ATAR is converted from the final IB mark.
The Universities and Admissions Centre (UAC) in NSW and ACT processes applications for admission to most undergraduate degree, advanced diploma, diploma and associate diploma courses at participating institutions in NSW and the ACT as well as some interstate colleges and universities. The UAC calculates and releases the ATARs.
Here are all the facts you need to know about ATARs:
1. Purpose of the ATAR
The ATAR is a rank rather than a mark or score. Students should aim to achieve their personal best. The ATAR provides information about how well a student has performed overall compared to other students. It allows one student to be compared to all other students, no matter what combination of courses they have completed.
2. What does the ATAR tell you
The result is a percentile position out of all students in Year 12. An ATAR of 80 doesn’t mean a student achieved 80 percent – it means that he or she is 20 percent from the top.
3. Calculating the ATAR
An ATAR takes into account the number of students who sat the HSC examinations as well as the number of people of Year 12 school leaving age in the total population. At least four scaled scores are required for an ATAR to be calculated.
For HSC students to be eligible for an ATAR, they must have completed at least 10 units in NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) developed courses – these are HSC courses that are examined by NESA.
An ATAR is based on a student’s best two units’ results in English and the best eight units from other HSC courses that they have completed. This is known as the aggregate mark.
Aggregate marks are from zero to 500. From this, a position is determined and an ATAR calculated.
For IB Diploma students most universities will look at the raw IB result. However, a conversion from IB Diploma result to ATAR is determined by the Australian Conference of Tertiary Admissions Centres (ACTAC) and is based on the final IB mark. Marks are not scaled, though changes to how IB marks are converted to an ATAR mean that from 2022, those students achieving the top IB score of 45 will not automatically receive the highest possible ATAR.
4. Scaling HSC results
Scaling involves adjusting actual marks before they are added to calculate the ATAR. They are adjusted to account for the fact that courses vary so widely, as do the students who study them. The adjustments create an even playing field so that all students can be ranked against each other.
The poorer the overall performance of the cohort taking a course, the closer to the top of the state you need to be to benefit from scaling.
After scaling, UAC takes the best two units of English and eight best other units to give each student a mark out of 500. Then they rank the whole year according to their mark out of 500. The ATAR result is the rank as a percentage of the cohort.
5. How is the ATAR used?
Each university sets a lowest rank to receive an offer for each course. This is the fairest method for student comparison and, as a nationally recognised measure, it is used by many universities as the primary basis for admission.
This generally means that ATARs reflect supply and demand more than the intellectual capacity needed to study the course. Most universities look at more than just the ATAR when selecting students (for example, they may conduct interviews or auditions, look at portfolios or ask for a questionnaire to be completed). An ATAR is not always essential for gaining entry to university – most tertiary education providers offer alternative entry paths into their courses.
6. Why can’t a student receive an ATAR of 100?
Because the ATAR is a rank and not a score. Students who achieve an ATAR of 99.95 did better than 99.95 percent of the state. It is impossible for any student to do better than everyone in the group (because they are part of that group, so they cannot get an ATAR of 100.
7. Myths about the ATAR
a. Courses are scaled on whether they are ‘hard’ or ‘easy’: The poorer the overall performance of the cohort taking a course, the closer to the top of the state a student needs to be to benefit from scaling. The ATAR result may move in different directions depending on where a student is in the distribution. So, an extra 20 scaled marks might send an ATAR of 99 to 99.5, but might also increase an ATAR of 60 to 65. Those in the middle have much more to gain by doing some extra work.
b. VET courses don’t get great ATAR results: This is untrue. While students can only include two units from VET courses, it doesn’t matter which courses they choose as they have the same chance as everyone else to attain a good ATAR result.
c. Courses with a high percentage of Band 6 students do better: This is also false. The ATAR is based on a student’s actual marks and is unaffected by the amount of Band 6 students in the course.
d. Those studying more than 10 units get a better ATAR: This is not necessarily true. It is true that if students study more than 10 units their worst results will be omitted from the ATAR. However, it also means that they have less time to dedicate to each unit, which can mean they don’t do as well as a student who spends more time on fewer units.
e. You can play the system: There’s no way to play the ATAR system to a student’s favour – time is better spent studying!
8. How to get a good ATAR
a. Choose the pathway that best suits your learning style, interests and ability, whether it be the HSC or IB.
b. Choose courses wisely. Read 6 Things to consider when choosing HSC subjects.
c. Choose courses that you are interested in.
d. Choose courses that you are good at.
e. Choose courses that are relevant to work or further studies.
f. Study and work hard!
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