Understanding the ATAR

If you’ve ever wondered exactly how the ATAR system works, why you need one and how they’re calculated, you’re not alone.

We’ve put together a few of the more common queries and misunderstandings about ATARs and

  1. What is an ATAR?

The Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank (ATAR) is a number between zero and 99.95. It’s a measure of your overall academic achievement in your high school studies, when compared alongside the rest of your cohort.

It isn’t a percentage score, (remember that when you receive your results).

The OP is the same, it’s a rank on a different scale (1 (highest) to 25 (lowest)).


  1. Why it’s impossible to get an ATAR of 100.

Because the ATAR is a rank and not a score, and it’s measured in increments of 0.05 the highest ATAR you could get is 99.95.

That means you did better than 99.95 percent of all the Year 12 ATAR eligible students in your state.

In order to get a rank of 100 you’d have to have beaten 100 per cent of your cohort…… including yourself.


  1. What’s the purpose of an ATAR?

ATARs make it easier for university admissions to allocate course spaces.

Your ATAR score allows your performance to be measured alongside all other Year 12’s in your state and the Australia, creating a national standard.

They’re needed because of the sheer volume of applications and the different combinations of subjects taken. Plus there are often more applicants than places on a course, so the universities need to use the fairest possible way of allocating those places.

ATARs are also used as a predictor or guide of your potential first-year performance at university, but it’s not always a true reflection of how successful you’re likely to be. For example, a student with an ATAR of 70.00 who is very capable, motivated and has a great work ethic is more likely to do well on a course than a student who received an ATAR of 90.00 but doesn’t apply themselves to their studies or chooses a course that doesn’t suit their abilities.


  1. Who calculates and releases ATARs?

ATARs are calculated and released by tertiary admissions centres – QTAC, UAC, VTAC, SATAC, TISC and UTAS.


  1. How’s the ATAR calculated?

Calculations vary a little between states but the process is similar. Scores from your high school certificate studies and exams are sent to the admissions centres.

A number of your top scores from any subject selections and the scores from a few of your best essential subjects (e.g. English or Maths) are added together to create an aggregate score.

Then using your aggregate, subject scaling is applied and you’re allocated a position on the rank table which becomes your ATAR.

Your ATAR reflects where your result sit when compared with the results of all the Year 12’s who completed their high school certificate in your state. So an ATAR of 70 does not mean you scored 70%. It means your results put you in the 30th percentile (the top 30% of results) of all the year 12 students in your state.


  1. What is scaling?

Scaling or adjustment is about levelling the playing field, accounting for differences between subjects studied, as well as individual students abilities and the opportunities or hardships they faced.

For example trying to compare results from a student who did dance and languages to a student who took predominantly STEM courses is challenging. The scaling system’s been developed to iron out differences so universities can assess applicants from a single source – their ATAR.


  1. Your ATAR will NEVER change

Even if you’re awarded bonus points by some institutions for certain courses, your Selection Rank (SR) changes, but your ATAR will always be the same.


  1. How do bonus points work if they don’t increase your ATAR?

Bonus points awarded for achievement, living or attending school in a regional, or low socio-economic areas, Educational Access Schemes, etc. They’re designed to ensure that every student is given a fair go during the applications process.

Each institution has its own bonus point scheme, and different courses at the same uni may apply different bonus or adjustment schemes. So potentially your selection rank could be different for each course that you’ve listed in your preferences.

Receiving bonus points could mean that  you get offered a place on a course even if your ATAR was below the course cut-off, because your SR has got you over the line.


  1. How do institutions use the ATAR?

While you might think that an ATAR reflects how easy (lower ATAR) or hard (higher ATAR) a course is, it’s not always the case. Often the entry ATAR is based on how many applicants listed a course amongst their preferences.

Since each course has a limit to the number of students it can take, if its a popular course that got lots of applications in previous years, and lots of people list the course on their preferences, the required ATAR to get into that course might go up.

Most institutions consider more than just the ATAR when selecting students.  You might have to have an interview, do an audition or provide a portfolio for example.

It’s important to note that an ATAR is not always essential for getting into university or other tertiary education providers,  they’ll often offer alternative entry paths into their courses.

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