Understand How the ATAR Is Calculated To Maximise Your Own Marks
What is the ATAR?
Now that you’re entering your final year of schooling, it’s time to think about what subjects you’re going to study, and how those results will make up your ATAR score.
What exactly is the ATAR score? The ATAR (Australian Tertiary Admission Rank) is a numerical measure of your academic results in your HSC or VCE (or other state exams) compared with other students in your state or territory. It’s one of the main criteria that will help you reach your goals of further education and employment in your desired pathway.
To help you better understand the ATAR score, let’s take a look at how it’s calculated and the effects of ATAR scaling on your overall academic performance.
How is the ATAR Calculated?
As a student, you’re used to attending your own school and seeing your own circle of friends on a daily basis. It’s easy to forget that thousands of other students across your state or territory are doing the same subjects that you are.
With thousands of students doing different combinations of subjects and attending schools with different systems for marking schools assessments, how is your ATAR calculated in a fair and reasonable manner?
ATAR Scaling (or ‘HSC scaling’ if you’re in NSW or ‘VCE scaling’ if you’re in VIC) is the answer.
ATAR scaling is the process of standardising your school assessment marks and exam results to calculate your ATAR. This allows for a fair comparison between students, the school they attended, and the subjects they studied.
If you’re wondering, “But how does scaling work?” Let’s break down the process into a few easy steps:
- School Assessments
First, you will have your basic school assessments throughout the year, which typically amounts to 3-4 assessments for each subject. The result of these assessments then determines the academic ranking among your school peers.
- Final Exams
Near the end of the year, you take your final exams (HSC/VCE if you’re in NSW/VIC) and receive a ‘raw mark’ for each subject. These raw marks are based on the total amount of marks available in that exam – no ATAR scaling has been applied yet.
- Adjusting the School Assessment Marks
Here, the difference between average school assessment marks and final exam results becomes apparent.
Take this example: School A has an average assessment mark of 75 for Advanced Mathematic, while School B has an average assessment of 65 for the same subject. However, School A got an average raw mark of 90, while students from School B got an average raw mark of 65.
Clearly, it is not fair to calculate the ATAR based on the average assessment marks, as each school has their own system for marking assessments and the process must be standardised.
By taking into consideration the final exam performance of each school, their assessment marks are adjusted to reflect either stronger or weaker overall performance.
- Scaling Individual Subjects
Now the school assessment marks have been standardised between schools, the same must be applied for individual subjects. This ensures that no matter how difficult or easy a subject is, the final exam marks are adjusted accordingly to allow the subjects to be compared fairly and easily.
What does this mean exactly? Take a look at this example:
If the average exam mark for English Extension is 65%, and the average exam mark for Standard English is 75%, it is safe to assume that getting a 65% in English Extension is just as good if not better than getting a 75% in Standard English.
By balancing out the raw marks of these subjects, the strength of each candidate is better reflected in their academic results and allows for a fairer comparison between students.
- How is the ATAR Calculated?
Here, the scaled final exam marks and adjusted school assessment marks are combined to create your ATAR score.
Each subject (or ‘unit’) is given a score out of 50. And the best 10 units are chosen to give you a total score out of 500 – but this isn’t your actual ATAR score.
With students across the state now given a total score out of 500, the ATAR is then calculated as a percentile rank compared to all other students who started year 7 at the same time as you (even if they did not complete their final year 12 exams).
If you got an ATAR score of 90, this means your score out of 500 was as good as or better than 90% of other students who started Year 7 at the same time as you.
Here Are Some Tips To Make the Most of Out of the Way the ATAR is Calculated:
Pursuing Interests VS High Scaling Subjects – Which to Choose?
When it comes to choosing Year 12 subjects, it’s common for students to receive conflicting advice from parents, teachers, friends and counsellors.
Some people say to focus on subjects that scale up in your favour, while others recommend pursuing subjects that interest you. Unfortunately, both of these strategies are not ideal for their own specific reasons. Aim for the right balance of choosing subjects that genuinely interest you and ones that contribute to a higher ATAR score.
Understand the Scaling Effects of Different Subjects
Take the time to research your subjects and understand how they will scale. This will not only allow you to benefit from subjects that scale in your favour – but also help you avoid the sudden shock of seeing certain subjects get scaled down.
Do Well in English
English must be part of your 10 best units and it is worth doing well in this subject. Why? Because no matter how much you excel in other subjects, a bad English score will drag down your ATAR score considerably.
Improve on Weak Areas
If you want to maximise the results of your ATAR, you should focus on improving your ranking in subjects you currently struggle with – rather than focusing your energy on subjects you already excel at.
As school ranking has a more profound effect on your ATAR than school marks, it’s more productive to maximise your rankings across all subjects. This is crucial if your weaker subjects are ATAR scaling subjects too.
Avoid Overly Tough Subjects
It’s a common misconception that, regardless of how well you do in a high scaling subject, you’ll still benefit from the effects of scaling up.
Unfortunately, it’s not true.
This is because you need to achieve certain grades in those subjects to benefit from scaling up. So, if you’re not confident or willing to put in the effort for a high scaling subject, you won’t get that much-needed boost to increase your ATAR.
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