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Your ATAR is a rank NOT a mark

By Danielle Barakat on 20 August 2018NSWblogTrialsHSCATAR

As most of you are deep in exams, you’re probably freaking out thinking about how your exam marks are going to impact your ATAR and if you stuff everything up that you’ll fail…?

Trust me, we have all been there and thought the same thing. So this is probably a good time to remind you guys that your ATAR is not actually a mark, it’s a rank and you can’t just take your trial marks, average them out and think that’s what your ATAR will be.

So let me try and explain exactly what I mean and go through a bit about how the ATAR actually works. There are 3 important things you should know about your ATAR:

  1. It’s based on the internal marks which come from your school and exam marks
  2. Every external mark is subject to scaling
  3. Your ATAR is a rank

So let’s jump in and break this down:

Your rank is based on internal marks

Ok, so first up, you’re going to get a Final Mark for each subject and these marks are the basis of your score and ATAR. Now I’ve got good news and bad news.

Good news

The good news is that working your marks out is actually pretty easy. Your board of studies is going to assign you an exernal examination mark based on how you do in the final, scary exams in October. People often call this your external result. So let’s say you get 91 in the Standard Maths exam. Firstly well done. The board of studies will also assign you an assessment mark based on your results throughout year 12 in school, which we often call the internal result. This internal mark is what your exam and assignment marks, as well as all your class tests will go towards. Now let’s say in this you get 85.

Your mark is just the average of these two; add them up, divide by two, round up, and you’ve got your marks - in this case you’d get 88 for your Standard Maths mark. Boom. Remember, this isn’t your ATAR but it goes into calculating it.

Bad news

So that was the good news. Now for the bad news. The way that your internal and external marks are calculated is not particularly simple. Your external marks go through the process of alignment, while your internal marks go through the process of moderation AND alignment.

What do these words mean?

If you want the nuts and bolts, this is a bit of statistical magic that accounts for easier and harder years and schools so that students of equal ability will end up with the same mark, regardless of when or where they did their exams.

These marks are subject to scaling. What?

Ok so now you’ve got your marks for each subject. Do we just compare these to other people to get our ATAR? Unfortunately, it’s not quite as simple as this because of a little gem that Admissions Centre does called: scaling.

What is scaling?

Well, while moderation and alignment account for the difficulty of different schools and years, scaling accounts for differences in the difficulty of particular subjects.

What determines whether a subject is scaled up or down, and by how much, is a little complicated but overall, what you really need to know is there aren’t any “bad” or “good” subjects - it’s just a system to compare marks from completely different subjects. So, there's nothing wrong with doing lower-scaling subjects, if you think these are the ones you’re best suited to. If you do really well in these subjects you can still be scaled favourably. However, if you think you’re capable of doing a few high scaling subjects, these are a safe bet for improving your ATAR.

Anyway, say we had that Standard Maths mark of 88 out of 100. The scaling process basically takes that, and because it’s a two unit subject, it splits it into two individual units worth 50 each, so you’d be on 44/50 before scaling. Then it adjusts the score based on how hard the subject is. In 2015, this would have been worth a scaled mark of 36/50.

Your ATAR is a rank

So, finally, how do we get the ATAR?

The Admissions Centre basically adds your 10 best units of scaled marks up to give you a score out of 500. The better your marks, the higher your score out of 500.

So what’s an ATAR then?

This is a bit of an oversimplification, but it’s basically the percentage of people in your year that you got a better score out of 500 than. For example, you can think of an ATAR of 90 as saying that you beat 90% of people, or you’re in the top 10% of scores in the state. And an ATAR of 99.95 means based on that score out of 500 you were in the top 0.05%. Easy right? 😢

Remember

So when it comes to your ATAR, remember that you start with an examination and assessment mark that are averaged out to give a final subject mark. These final subject marks are scaled by the Admissions Centre to give a score out of 50 per unit. Then, your best 10 units are combined to a total out of 500 and then you’re given an ATAR based on the ranking on your total score.

That may sound like a lot of information to process but hopefully that clears things up for you a little bit and puts your mind at rest when you start freaking out about trial marks.

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