How to calculate your ATAR
07 Jul 2021
07 Jul 2021
At its simplest, an Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) is a number between 0.00 and 99.95 used by universities to select which students are offered a place in a particular course.
While the ATAR is sometimes referred to as a score, it is actually a rank. It compares every student using complex statistical modelling to place everyone in a ranked order. The higher the number, the better your rank, and multiple students can share the same rank.
So, an ATAR of 85 doesn’t mean you got an 85% in your exams – it means that you outperformed 85% of the rest of the student population for that year.
Tip: A good way to think about the ATAR is to think about a leaderboard in a competitive video game. Some players will have a higher ranking than others, but it’s always in comparison to other players.
Universities use the ATAR (along with some adjustments) to decide which students get offered a place in a course. Most universities also use other additional criteria, such as a personal statement, a questionnaire, a portfolio of work, an audition, an interview or a test.
A good way to think about the ATAR is to think about a leaderboard in a competitive video game.
How is the ATAR calculated?
Your ATAR starts with your Higher School Certificate (HSC) marks – the scores you received for each of the different courses you studied at school, like English, mathematics, physics, and so on.
Some of these scores are then scaled (i.e. adjusted either up or down depending on how hard the subject was that year) and sent to the relevant state authority to be calculated into an ATAR.
Every state has a slightly different way of calculating ATAR, and the specifics of which subject scores are used for that calculation can differ too. New South Wales, for example, calculates an ATAR from:
In either case, students will achieve the highest possible aggregate from their permissible results.
It’s very important to recognise that all subjects are scaled – so what does that mean?
ATAR scaling is the process of standardising marks across all students and all courses. It’s a way of making sure that ‘harder’ subjects get the same weight in the ATAR as other subjects, even if that course’s marks are lower across the board.
Here’s an example: Often, students don’t score as highly in chemistry as they do in other courses – this makes the chemistry average low compared to other subjects. Without scaling, everybody who studied chemistry would get a lower ATAR, simply because this subject was harder that year.
As a result, chemistry scores are ‘scaled up’ to make it worth just as much when stacked up against other subjects. This way, people don’t avoid taking subjects that tend to have lower levels of achievement just so they can keep their ATAR score high. It’s all equal!
HSC ATAR calculators can help simplify the process of estimating your ATAR and determine which subjects might need to improve with the help of a tutor. Keep in mind these HSC calculators are based on historical scaling data and can only give you an estimate.
What subjects give you a good ATAR?
Every subject gives you the opportunity to achieve a high ATAR, all you need to do is perform well compared to the average.
The best advice is to pick courses that you enjoy and that you will do well in. Don’t get caught up in the myth that some courses scale better than others.
Focus on what you can control – which is your performance.
Who got a 99.95 ATAR in 2020?
Of the 55,000 students who received an ATAR in 2020, 17% ranked above 90, 33.4% above 80 and 50.3% above 70. The median ATAR was 70.15.
There were 48 students who received an ATAR of 99.95 in 2020. Fifteen girls and 33 boys achieved the top rank, after one of the most challenging years for students in recent history.
Female students from public selective schools were among the highest achievers in the 2020 HSC.
Sariena Ye, who attended James Ruse Agricultural High, achieved the highest possible ATAR of 99.95 with first place in NSW in both Chemistry and Physics – the first female student to do so in 27 years. She also came 3rd in Extension 2 Maths, 9th in Extension 1 Maths and 11th in Advanced English.
Cabramatta High School student Julina Lim also received the highest possible mark which ensured her a place in Chemical and Biomechanical Engineering at UNSW.