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ATAR Explained: All Your Questions Answered

Every country compares the academic results of final year school students differently. Australia uses ATAR to determine where each students' school results are positioned among the rest of their age group nationally, and to open the doors for university admission. These scores aren't designed to measure a student’s life goals, passions and broader personality, all of which are equally important to the future success of a student. Implementing a one-size-fits-all for ranking school students will always be a difficult task, but the careful calibration of ATAR scores ensures a strong reflection of students’ performance compared to their peers.

Universities require an efficient way to rank students, so they can responsibly offer students positions in academically demanding courses. Given this, ATAR is quite complex and considers different aspects of subjects, such as their difficulty and the average student performance in each course, to arrive at a fair ranking for each student. Here we explore what ATAR is, as well as other commonly asked questions about the ranking system.

What is ATAR?

ATAR (Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank) doesn’t grade students on their marks but on their ranking among their peers across the country. Students receive a ranking between 0.00 to 99.95 that describes the relative position of their school results. A student who receives an ATAR of 75 is in the top 25 per cent of their age group, and a student that receives a 90 is in the top 10 per cent. So, instead of looking at it as a score determined from grades, consider ATAR as a holistic placement.

Beyond ranking among their peers, your child’s ATAR result is designed to predict or estimate their first-year university performance. This is only a guide for universities to use, and students can always increase their university performance with effort and commitment. If your child is disappointed in their school results, remind them that there will be plenty of future opportunities to reapply to courses or to improve their skills and knowledge in areas that need refining.

What is ATAR used for?

An ATAR is used to help universities easily recognise the performance of school leavers and accept students who have the appropriate knowledge and cognitive ability for select courses. ATAR results aren’t always the only admission criteria though, as some courses require students to have completed particular subjects to ensure they have important foundational knowledge, to submit a portfolio of work, to succeed in an interview or to complete a personal statement.

Each university sets a lowest rank for each course, and students with an ATAR result above this score are likely to receive an offer if they apply. Universities typically have a limited number of admissions for each course, so while an ATAR score always reflects a student's ranking, the score required to apply for a course can change depending on the supply and demand.

For example, if one university receives an increasing volume of students applying for an engineering course over multiple years, they may consider raising the lowest ATAR ranking for admission. Therefore, ranking students is essential and seen as the fairest approach to comparing performance and approving students for limited courses.

How is ATAR calculated?

ATAR scores are calculated by different organisations from one state or territory to another. These institutes standardise their grading system into an ATAR, so students are ranked nationally and can apply for interstate universities. When calculating an ATAR result, much more than what a student scores for each subject is reviewed. As some subjects are more challenging in their design, the level of each subject as well as students' results in each are taken into consideration.

If you’re wondering how to calculate ATAR scores yourself, an accurate result is impossible to determine due to the nature of the calculation and the variations from one year to another. However, All Saints’ College can help your child predict their result, so they can apply for appropriate tertiary courses in advance of receiving their score.

Scaling

Beyond subject difficulty levels, scaling is used to ensure that students are neither advantaged nor disadvantaged in their chosen subjects. Scaling maintains a fair system year after year by calibrating results for each subject, depending on overall performance. To understand why scaling is important, consider the idea of currencies and how $1 AUD has a different value from £1 GBP. Marks across different subjects don't have the same value because coursework and exams vary from one to the next, so scaling helps to compare results fairly.

Scaling relies on a holistic approach to all courses, which are scaled so that their average and distribution of marks are consistent with the averages and distribution of what students within that course achieved for all their other subjects.

For example, if most students participating in a Chemistry subject achieve strong results in their other subjects, it suggests that achieving a high result in Chemistry is valid. The average for this Chemistry subject will consequently be high and the spread small, so scores are placed tightly near the top. If these same students have weaker results in other units, the average will be lower, and marks will bunch lower on the scale.

Final calculation

At the end of Year 12, a student will receive a school mark and a WACE exam mark for each ATAR subject they study.  These two marks are combined with equal weighting to give a final scaled score for each subject.  The top four scaled scores for each student are combined to give the Tertiary Entrance Aggregate (TEA), which is a mark out of 430. The TEAs from all students are then ranked to provide the final ATAR for each student.

Students seeking to attend university need to achieve a final scaled score of 50 or more in an English ATAR Subject (English, Literature or English as an Additional Language or Dialect (EALD)), however the English subject does not need to be in the top four subjects used to calculate the ATAR.

What is the average ATAR?

If you’re familiar with percentiles, the average ATAR should technically be 50.00. However, in reality, not all students go on to achieve an ATAR with some taking a VET (Vocational Education and Training) pathway, so the proportion of students completing their WACE or equivalent exams is smaller than the entire age group. This causes the average ATAR to be higher than it otherwise would – it's usually a score around 70.00. As it’s a percentile, the average ATAR always represents the point that half of the students are above and below. In WA, 46.6% of total eligible students elected to take the ATAR pathway in 2021.

What is the highest ATAR score?

ATARs increase and decrease in increments of 0.05, which means the same number of students are grouped into percentiles together from 0.00 to 99.95. The highest ATAR score is 99.95 and it doesn’t belong to one student in particular, but to a group of students that achieve the top ranking.

When does ATAR come out for 2022 students?

In WA, TISC (Tertiary Institutions Service Centre) is the organisation responsible for releasing WACE and ATAR results to students. In their calendar of important dates, it states ATAR results for 2022 will be released on Sunday, 18 December 2022 to perfectly wrap up the year before students can enjoy their well-earned holidays. All Saints’ College can determine an accurate estimate of students' ATAR results earlier in the year though, so they can make informed decisions about university admission and submit their applications before the results are released.

Students will only have a day after their ATAR results are released to make any last-minute changes to their preferences for the main round of offers. They will receive their offers that same week on Friday, 23 December 2022 when applications and change of preferences open again for the second round of offers.

Admissions primarily occur in the first round and spots in courses can fill up quickly, so ensuring your child knows what to expect from their ATAR results will allow them to stay well ahead of the dates and plan their future with plenty of forethought.