Skip to Main Content

Demystifying the ATAR

As students reach the pointy end of their years in senior school, the Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE) becomes a key focus.

Students typically complete the majority of their selected VCE subjects during Years 11 and 12. However, at Haileybury there are opportunities for students to begin one or two VCE subjects in Year 10, allowing them to spread their VCE load over three years instead of two.

Each VCE subject comprises four units of study and students accumulate scores from examinations and assessments to achieve a final Study Score for each subject. At the end of Year 12, those combined Study Scores produce a student’s individual Australian Tertiary Admission Rank or ATAR.

What is the ATAR for?

“The ATAR doesn’t rank students as individuals — it ranks their individual academic attainment in their Units 3 and 4 VCE subjects. Universities use the ATAR to determine which students will be offered a place in different courses”

Briefly, the ATAR is calculated based on a student’s English subject Study Score and their next three highest subject Study Scores. The ATAR also incorporates 10 per cent of a student’s fifth and sixth subject Study Scores.

Subject Study Scores and scaling

The maximum possible subject Study Score is 50. Any score of 40 or above will place a student in the top few percent of their cohort. Each year, some subjects are scaled up or down to ensure each subject is assessed fairly.

“Scaling doesn’t adjust for the supposed difficulty level of different subjects, but for the nature of the cohort in the subject each year,” says Merinda.

For example, if students doing Subject A are achieving much higher across their studies than students in subject B, then a subject Study Score of 30 in subject B is not equivalent to a subject Study Score of 30 in subject A. This is because Subject A students are a higher achieving cohort and the benchmark to achieve a Subject Score of 30 in subject A is higher and to recognise this, subject A gets scaled up.

Three-year VCE versus two-year VCE

Haileybury has a range of supports and measures to help students achieve their best possible ATAR and to have a broad range of options and pathways available after school.

Allowing students to begin one or two VCE subjects in Year 10 creates flexibility in Years 11 and 12.

“It spreads out the volume of subjects and their content,” explains Merinda.

“By Year 12, most students have one or two VCE subjects completed, so they have more time and energy to study fewer subjects and that can help students achieve the best possible results for those remaining subjects”

In some VCE subjects, currently General Mathematics, Accounting and Physics, Haileybury also supports students to optimise their ATAR by following the Northern Hemisphere Timetable — the study timetable followed in the Northern Hemisphere. This spreads the VCE load further as the Northern Hemisphere subjects commence mid-year, with final exams completed in the middle of the following year. This creates more time to focus on remaining Year 12 VCE exams at the end of the year.

The university pathway

While students aim to achieve their best possible ATAR, not all students may receive the rank they hoped or planned for. In those circumstances, there are many alternative pathways available to help students navigate towards their goal.

“The higher the ATAR, the more choice that students have in the university courses available to them”

“For courses like Medicine, Law and Engineering, the required ATAR is typically high because there are limited spots for a larger number of high-achieving students. This drives up the ATAR needed to get an offer in those courses.”

Understanding the Selection Rank

While the ATAR is important, it’s not the only factor affecting university offers. A Selection Rank is a student’s ATAR plus adjustments. Factors such as a student’s performance in specific subjects, medical or difficult personal circumstances or financial hardship that impacts a student’s education may lead to an adjustment in their Selection Rank.

“This doesn’t change your ATAR, but it can potentially change your Selection Rank for a particular course at a particular university and improve your chances of gaining a place,” says Catherine.

“Universities publish their admission criteria and the factors that are taken into account when assessing student applications. For some courses, students may need to present a folio or attend an interview. It’s important for students to research how the Selection Rank will be determined by each institution.”

Plotting alternative pathways

If students do not achieve the ATAR they hoped for, Catherine says there are always pathways to help them achieve their specific goals — those pathways may just be less direct.

“The pathway after school is not always linear. Our strong message to Senior School students is to fully research all possible options and scenarios”

The Careers & Pathways team at Haileybury organises guest speakers from tertiary institutions, Old Haileyburians and industry experts, and arranges industry excursions and university site visits.

The Careers team is also available to meet individual students and their families to help them plan and navigate a pathway after school. They are a link between tertiary institutions and students, and regularly update families with the most current and accurate information and advice.

“It’s important to have an aspiration, but if that doesn’t work out, there are always other options available so you can plot a path to what you want to achieve. There are always plans B, C and D,” says Catherine.

“So, if your ATAR isn’t what you expect, you still have other avenues and opportunities to help you get where you want to go. Whatever ATAR you achieve at the end of Year 12, that is just the starting point.”

“The ATAR is important for students who want to enter university, but no matter what a student’s final ATAR, they graduate equipped to author their future on their own terms,” agrees Merinda.

“Young people are proactive enough to figure out what they would like to pursue next and how to get where they want to be.”