What is an ATAR? A Simple Explanation for Parents, Students and Teachers

Graduating from high school is a turning point for both students and parents. The lead up to final exams can be very stressful for everyone involved as students work to get the highest scores possible. An ATAR is a culmination of over a year’s worth of high school work that determines a student’s choices after school and for some their futures too.

What is the ATAR?

The ATAR or Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank is the number which determines a student’s entry into university. Speaking in rough terms the number scored by an individual is the percentage of students they ‘beat’ on the higher school certificate. For example if you scored 90 then you ‘beat’ 90% of the other people in your age group who sat the HSC. Universities use the ranks and scores to offer their limited university positions to graduating students.

How the ATAR is calculated

The ATAR process involves several steps and components. It can seem contrived or at worst biased if you don’t understand. Here is a simple explanation to help with the complicated steps that make up an ATAR.

For each subject taken there are 4 marks which are attributed to it:

  • Examination Mark
  • Assessment Mark
  • HSC Mark
  • Performance Band

School Scaling

One of the biggest influences on your ATAR is actually an individual’s school rank. A student may be getting 90% in their school English assessments and that is an honourable mark; however, what really matters is the position they have been ranked in their class and school. This school rank position will more greatly inform their assessment mark than their numerical result.

Example

Let’s say that John’s results in English class have ranked him fifth out of ten students in his class. If the ten students in his class receive a total of 800 marks where the highest mark was 95 and the lowest was 65 the average at John’s school was 80/100. Because John was ranked average (5/10) then his Moderated School Assessment Mark for English is actually 80. The student ranked 1st gets an MSA mark of 95 and the lowest ranked students receives the mark of 65.

HSC Mark

The Higher School Certificate mark is the result a student achieves on their examinations. It is also put into bands as per the result for e.g a mark of 95 is band 6 which includes marks 90-100. A HSC mark is the average of a student’s assessment mark and their examination mark.

Example

The student from John’s school who was ranked 1st and received a mark of 95 for English does worse on their HSC exam and gets 65. This means their HSC mark for English will be 75 – the average between 95 and 65.

Scaling

There are over 80 subjects to choose from in the HSC. Subjects are not always comparable for example drama and chemistry. The rank of each subject is determined by how many students take it and the average of their examination results. Scaling for each subject is determined by multiple combinations to produce scaling factors which are applied to HSC marks to create scaled marks per unit or what can be thought of as ATAR points per subject.

Aggregate

An ATAR is calculated from the sum of the scaled marks for an individual’s top ten scoring units. Each unit is worth 50 points so the top ten units have a value of 500 points and your total mark is referred to as an Aggregate. This aggregate mark determines an ATAR.

For more information please visit the University Admissions Centre (UAC).

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