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Source: QTAC

As Term 2 draws to a close many year 12 students are looking ahead to the Trial HSC exams. At Sandbox Learning Australia many of our students have been asking more and more about ATARs and the scaling process. It is a topic that is often misunderstood leading to confusion and anxiety.

Summary

Don’t have time to read the whole article? Here are the key takeaways about ATARs and scaling.

  • English has to count so it’s important to do well→ get help if you need it
  • Focus on what you can control: You can’t influence course scaling or how other students do
  • Internal assessments matter → you can’t just make it up in the HSC exams.
  • Assessment rankings matter more than the actual marks → pick up places where you can

ATARs, HSC marks and the difference between them

What’s an ATAR?

  • If however the other 99 students all scored less than 90% you would be ranked first, e.g. an ATAR of 99+
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Example ATAR report from UAC for a fictional student

What’s the point of ATARs?

Universities use ATARs to select students for admission to university courses. This is a process of matching supply (number of places available per course) and demand (how many students want to get into a course). In general, courses where demand is much higher than supply require high ATARs, for example Law and Medicine.

HSC Marks

The HSC mark in each subject indicates how well you performed in a particular course relative to the other students who completed that course. These marks are calculated by NESA (NSW Education Standards Authority, formerly the Board of Studies). As you’ll read ahead the HSC Mark is a mix of your internal assessment mark and your HSC exam mark.

6 steps to calculating your ATAR

At a high level there are six steps involved in calculating your final ATAR score.

  1. Calculate HSC marks: 50% assessments, 50% exam
  2. Scale the HSC marks
  3. Add up the 10 best units including 2 of English
  4. Determine the ATAR ranking of the aggregate
  5. Round the ATAR to nearest 0.05

1. Moderate Internal Assessment marks

Schools use different internal assessments to each other. Naturally, some schools use harder assessments and others use easier assessments.

What’s important to note is that while the assessment marks change, the ranks do not.

Let’s look at a hypothetical example below using a class of 6 students for one subject, e.g. English Advanced. The marks for both the school assessments (internal) and the HSC exam (external) are displayed.

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Hypothetical class of 6 students with assessment and exam marks
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2. Calculate raw HSC Marks: 50% assessments, 50% exam

This step is more straight forward. For each student you take a straight average of the exam mark and the moderated assessment mark, i.e.

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The HSC mark if the average of Exam Mark and Moderated Assessment Mark

3. Scale the HSC marks

Throughout Year 12 many students (and parents) get very caught up about scaling. This step is where scaling is put into action.

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The same HSC mark can translate to very different percentile ranks
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Scaling curves for different English subjects in 2010
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Converting raw HSC marks to scaled marks

4. Add up the 10 best units including 2 of English

For the next step we need to add up the scaled marks for the best 10 units including at least 2 units of English. Unfortunately for Anna, her worst 2 units of scaled marks are in English Advanced. Based on her scaled marks, the 2 units of Visual Arts will not be included.

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ATARs take the 10 units with the highest scaled marks — but at least 2 must be English

5 & 6. Determine the ranking of the aggregate and round

The aggregate number doesn’t really mean anything on its own. What’s important is how this number ranks compares to the rest of the HSC takers.

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How HSC aggregates convert to ATARs

Written by

EdTech entrepreneur, passionate about improving education impact through tech and research-driving practice. Former consultant and engineer. Harvard MBA.

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