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Graduating from high school is a turning point for both students and parents. The lead-up to final exams can be stressful for everyone involved as your child works to get the highest scores possible. At Tutoring For Excellence, we understand that as a parent, you want to do everything you can to support your child in their study journey to ensure they achieve the best possible marks to help secure their first preferences for their degree.

If your child is the eldest, it’s understandable that you both may have questions about what exactly an ATAR is, how it’s calculated and how it can impact your child’s transition into tertiary studies. Or if you’re a teacher, you might have trouble explaining how it all works to students. Let us break down how an ATAR works so you have a go-to explanation you can trust.

What is the ATAR?

The ATAR or Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank is a numerical rank reflecting a student’s academic performance compared to their peers. A number between zero and 99.95 indicates your child or your student’s position in their year group. For example, if a student scores 90, they’re in the top 10% of students in their year group who sat the HSC. Universities use the ranks and scores to offer their limited positions to graduating students.

The ATAR is a common gateway to University admissions, providing Universities with a standardised measure for selecting students. It’s a critical indicator of a student’s relative standing in the academic landscape. That said, there are alternate pathways to Uni as well, should your child not achieve their desired ATAR for entry to their preferred degree. This includes online bridging courses or diplomas, which can help fast-track a degree.

How to be eligible for an ATAR

To be eligible for an ATAR in NSW in 2023 and 2024, students must complete at least 10 units of their HSC courses. These courses must include at least:

  • 8 units from Category A courses
  • 2 units of English
  • 3 Board-Developed courses of 2 units or greater
  • 4 subject areas

The ATAR is then calculated from the students’:

  • best 2 units of English
  • best 8 units from their remaining units, which can include no more than 2 units of Category B courses

In 2025, there will be no distinction between Category A and B courses.

How to access the ATAR

Students can access their ATAR score with their Year 12 student number and UAC pin on the required dates. If they lose their NSW Year 12 student number, call NESA on 1300 13 83 23. If you’ve lost your UAC PIN, call UAC on (02) 9752 0200.

Once they view their ATAR, they can download and save their official ATAR Advice Notice on the required dates before incurring a fee.

How the ATAR is calculated as a rank, not a score

The ATAR process involves several steps and components that can initially seem complicated if you don’t understand. First things first — it’s important to note that the ATAR is not a score but rather a rank. It determines a student’s ranking position out of all the students in their year group who completed the HSC with them. For example, if your child’s ATAR is 70, that doesn’t mean they scored 70%. It means they scored in the top 30 per cent of their year group.

The ATAR is based on a student’s overall HSC results, including their course rank, HSC examination marks and class assessments for Year 12. The 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).

School Scaling

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

With 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.

So, why do results need to be scaled? It’s a process to ensure that scoring is made fair for all students, no matter the subject difficulty, the exam, the cohort or how your child’s school ranks compared to other schools. That way, every student has an equal opportunity to achieve the best possible result and be considered for University entry.

Common myths about school scaling

A common myth surrounding scaling is choosing certain subjects that are ‘easy’ or ‘hard’ can easily scale up or down results. Needless to say, scaling is not based on a subject’s difficulty level. Instead, it’s based on the strength of the competition and how well students performed in the subject. While it can be tempting to go down a rabbit hole and ponder which subjects will rank best, ultimately, your child or your student’s future should be inspired by their passion and where they perform best. That should hopefully guide their decision to choose the right subjects not just for their HSC performance but for their future.

HSC Mark

While the HSC mark represents a student’s performance in individual subjects, the ATAR is a composite rank considering their overall academic standing. HSC marks contribute to the ATAR calculation, but the ATAR itself is a broader measure of a student’s comparative performance.

Since the Higher School Certificate mark is the result a student achieves on their examinations, they’re also placed into bands. For example, a mark of 95 is band 6, which includes marks 90-100. An HSC mark is the average of a student’s assessment and examination marks.

For example, a student from John’s school was ranked 1st and received a mark of 95 for English but did worse on their HSC exam and got 65. This means their HSC mark for English will be 75 – the average between 95 and 65.

How is the ATAR used?

Beyond University admissions, the ATAR holds significance in other avenues. It opens doors to scholarship opportunities and helps influence a student’s choice in their vocational education. Understanding the different applications of the ATAR will help students make informed decisions about future academic and career paths.

How does the ATAR impact University entry?

Once students receive their ATAR, they will order their University course preferences on the UAC form and find out which preference they qualify for. They will receive preference to someone with a lower ATAR who puts the same choice higher on their UAC form. It’s best to order University course preferences from first priority to last to hopefully gain entry into one of your preferred courses.

How can tutoring help prepare your child for your HSC?

At Tutoring For Excellence, our tutors are qualified teachers, University graduates with relevant degrees or University students undertaking relevant disciplines. We choose our tutors for their academic background and ability to motivate students to achieve their highest potential.

They will take the time to get to know your child and offer tailored support to complement their preferred learning style and help enhance their academic performance. Through one-on-one sessions, your child can gain a deeper understanding of the subject matter to help boost their confidence and readiness for the HSC.

Enrol your child at Tutoring For Excellence to give them the best chance of success for their HSC

The journey to understanding and achieving a desired ATAR requires rigorous study and preparation to address any areas of concern and achieve the best possible marks — that’s where we come in. Our experienced tutors offer expertise, support and a personalised approach to HSC preparation. Your child has the option to study in person or online from the comfort of their own home. Complete our tutor enquiry form to find a Maths, English, Biology, Chemistry or other tutor to support your child’s learning journey.