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How can I get my goal ATAR?

By Lauren Condon on 9 January 2018NSWblogATAR

It’s pretty insane that all your years of school can be tied up in just one number: your ATAR 🙃 . Of course it doesn’t actually represent who you are, how smart you are or how well you will do in life but hey, it’s still worth having a goal.

If you have a number in mind and you’re not sure exactly what you should be doing to get there, we actually have a fairly simple answer:

Do your research and work backwards.

Let’s break that down a bit more so it's actually useful for you.

1. Work backwards

What does that mean? Basically you want to start with your goal ATAR (let’s say 85), look at your current marks and then map out what you have to do to bridge that gap.

Try this

  • If I want an ATAR above 85, then what final HSC mark do I need in each subject?
  • If I need an 87 in each subject, then what assessment mark and exam mark will I need?
  • What rank do I need from my school assessments to get that final assessment mark? AND what kind of raw mark do I need to get that goal exam mark?

It sounds a tad vague but once you be fill in the specifics of your goal ATAR it will become a lot clearer for you.

2. Do your research

So that all sounded simple but there were definitely a few massive gaps. As in, how are you meant to know what marks you need to get that ATAR? How do you know what rank you need to get those marks? How do you know what marks to expect in the final exams? ...and so on forever. Yeah, it’s pretty confusing to try and work out the specifics of ATAR calculations but there are a few ways to get around this:

  • Firstly, try and get the best understanding you can of how the HSC works.

There is a breakdown of the whole process here and you can always spend some time playing on an ATAR calculator to help get a better idea of how marks can be transformed in the whole process.

  • Next, talk to your teachers especially if they’ve been at your school for a few years.

See, these teachers know your school and how it usually performs in each subject of the HSC which is insanely important. If you tell them your subjects and your goal ATAR, they should be able to sit with you for half an hour and let you know what kind of marks and ranks will translate for your goal ATAR.

  • Finally, the ‘bands’ system is actually a really helpful way to suss out where you’re at.

See, your raw marks are not always a good reflection of what final marks NESA will assign your HSC so you are better off looking at the standards for a Band 4, Band 5 or Band 6 and comparing your practice answers to the marking guidelines that come with each past paper.

3. Now I know what marks I need, how do I get them?

So once we’ve done a little digging and know what marks we should be gunning for, time to make a game plan for how you are either going to lift your marks or maintain your marks if you’re already there.

Unfortunately, this is going to be pretty specific depending on your personal strengths and weaknesses but as some general advice:

  • Focus on bringing up your weaker subjects before you improve your best.
  • Sit down with a teacher if you aren’t sure how to pull your marks up - they will know exactly what you are doing wrong and will be able to help you make a game plan.
  • Before you sit any assessment or exam, do a full practice paper on that topic under exam conditions so you can find out what marks you could expect with time to improve before the exam that actually counts.


If you really have your heart set on a goal ATAR then try not to wing your whole HSC and put a little bit of thought into how you can actually control your marks. Even if you don’t need any particular ATAR, you will have a much easier year if you always know what to expect from your marks. Stay woke informed, people.

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