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How to Calculate ATAR and Get a High ATAR Score!

In 2020 Queensland moved away from OP scores and embraced the ATAR score system to be in line with other states. So now it is time to learn how to calculate your ATAR score to ensure you get into your university of choice.

This article will detail what you need to do to help you calculate your ATAR score in Queensland.

What is ATAR?

ATAR system robotics
ATAR system robotics

ATAR are percentile rankings (not a mark) that are used to determine a students ability to get into university. It is the standard measure used in Queensland of a student’s overall academic achievement in relation to other students.

ATARs are expressed as a number on a 2000-point scale from 99.95 down to 0.00 in steps of 0.05. So the highest ATAR is 99.95, then 99.90, then 99.85, and so on, down to 0.00. ATARS below 30 are reported as ‘30.00 or less’.

So if a student gets an ATAR of 80 it means they are in the top 20% of their cohort that year.

How to calculate ATAR

Your ATAR is calculated based on an aggregate of scaled results from your five best ATAR eligible inputs from three different schemes:

  • Five General subjects (at Units 3 and 4); or
  • Four General subjects (at Units 3 and 4) plus an Applied subject (at Units 3 and 4); or
  • Four General subjects (at Units 3 and 4) plus one completed VET qualification at Certificate III level or above.

Steps to calculate ATAR are:

Step 1: QCAA provides QTAC with student’s subject results (Units 3 and 4 only) and completed VET qualifications.

Step 2: The subject scaling process is undertaken.

Step 3: The best five scaled subject results (from eligible inputs) are added together to create a best five Subject Aggregate.

Step 4: Students are placed in a descending order of merit based on their best five Subject Aggregates.

Step 5: Determine how many students are to be in each of the 2000 ATAR bands (based on the Queensland Year 12 population). For example, if the Queensland Year 12 population is approximately 60,000 students then approximately 30 students will be placed in each ATAR band.

Step 6: Assign students to each ATAR band. The top 30 students are assigned ATAR 99.95, the next 30 students are assigned 99.90, and so on.

Inter-subject scaling – what is scaling?

Students can study thousands of different combinations of subjects in their senior schooling and qualify for an ATAR. Scaling adjusts for the fact that it is more difficult to obtain a high result in some subjects than in others. This is not because some subjects are inherently harder or easier, it is because some subjects attract a more competitive cohort of students.

Scaling ensures that students are neither advantaged nor disadvantaged based on the subjects they choose. Each state in Australia uses a scaling process in the calculation of the ATAR. In Queensland, subject results are scaled by QTAC.

There is some complex mathematics that underpins the scaling process, but as a simplified explanation, scaling is the process by which ‘raw’ subject results are adjusted to allow the results for each subject to be fairly compared with the results from any other subject for the purpose of calculating ATARs.

The scaling process will adjust the raw results in each subject to take account of how well students achieve in their subjects and how difficult it is to achieve a particular result in the subject relative to achievements in all other subjects.

How to get a high ATAR score for university entrance

There are two factors that will get you get a high ATAR score and get you into your university of choice:

  1. choose the right prerequisite high school subjects in Year 11 & 12,
  2. do well in Unit 3 & 4 (or VET qualifications) in grade 12 to get the best ATAR result.

Choosing the right subjects at high school for your preferred university course is the best way to get in to your university course of choice. As well as the ATAR score, most universities have prerequisites to allow a student entry into tertiary education.

The most common prerequisite is the English subject (Units 3 and 4, C). General English subjects are English, English as an Additional Language, Literature, and English & Literature Extension.

So check your university course to find out what their ATAR score is and what their subject prerequisites are!

This ATAR score thing is confusing!

We agree! We have collated this information in the clearest possible way to help you understand the ATAR system. Your best bet is to make sure you attend as many parent information evenings as possible, speak to your child’s careers or senior schooling coordinator, read as much as you can online and ask questions of your child. The outcome won’t really be different to the OP – it’s just a different way of calculating scores so we are comparable with other states.

We also highly recommend this article from a Brisbane school that explains how it works *on the ground*. It is a very clear description of the changes and how it will impact our kids.

Wondering which university course is right?

University entry criteria by degree

Choosing the right degree is tough and requires a lot of research.  We’ve put together a comparison of Brisbane’s top university options for your child.

Ways to increase your ATAR score for the next university intake

If you don’t think your ATAR is high enough and there isn’t another course you want to do, you can still improve your chances in one of 3 ways:

  1. By upgrading your ATAR through a degree course or diploma.
  2. By upgrading your ATAR through a TAFE and university combined qualification. This can include studying a certificate online at a certified RTO.
  3. By applying for a special entry program.
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Janine Mergler

Janine Mergler is a veteran Queensland teacher, graduating from QUT with a BEd majoring in Social Sciences. After many years in the classroom, Janine moved on to academia. She has proudly trained new generations of teachers in her role as a lecturer at Queensland University of Technology Faculty of Education. She has also worked in the Queensland Government as an education specialist, developing education resources and delivering community awareness programs to help families conserve water. Currently she is the owner and editor of Families Magazine, a publication specifically targeted at parents who value a quality education for children.  Janine leads a team of professionals who write about family lifestyle, early childhood, schools and education information and family-friendly events.

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