ATAR: What’s the big deal?

Danielle Barakat

Community Manager at Atomi


min read

You know what would be fun. Making a game out of how many times you think you’ll hear the word ATAR this year. Now that you’re in your senior years it’s just one of those things that is unavoidable. As much as you want to believe that year 12 isn’t all about the ATAR, deep down that’s all everyone is thinking about this year.

Hold up, what is an ATAR?

Just so that we are all on the same page, let's just take a moment to understand what the ATAR actually is so we can all stop calling it a ‘mark’...


(Yep that’s right - your ATAR is NOT a mark, it’s a rank. More on this in a second.)

So at the end of the year for each subject, you’ll receive a Final HSC mark and these marks are the basis of your ATAR. Your HSC marks are just your Examination mark (from the October exam) and your HSC assessment marks (so everything you do all year leading up to the exam), added together and averaged out.

Example: If you get 91 in your October HSC Standard Maths exam and throughout year 12 you have an HSC assessment mark of 85, your Final HSC mark will be 91 + 85, divided by 2 which equals 88.

*Just remember your marks have been slightly altered due to alignment and moderation. More on this here.

Now this final HSC mark goes through scaling. This is just a system to compare marks across different subjects equally. This is where your mark out of 100 is scaled to a mark out of 50 (for a two-unit subject) and then adjusts based on how hard the subject is.

Example: Take your Standard Maths mark of 88 out of 100. Because this is a two unit subject it is split into two individual marks out of 50. So 44/50, and then it scales. In the 2015 HSC, this would have been equal to 36/50.

So then you add up your 10 best units out of all of these scaled marks out of 50 which gives you a final score out of 500. Your ATAR is essentially just 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%.

With me? If you’re still confused we go into a bit more detail in this blog post.

So back to my story about how deep down all year 12 kids are really just thinking about their ATAR all the time…

Is that necessarily a bad thing?

Well we all know that the word ATAR is associated with stress and pressure but we can look at it in another way that I think everyone forgets about. Being in year 12 is a journey, and at the end of this journey it’s like you’re standing in a room will multiple doors in front of you and it’s all about which door you’re going to pick when school is over (nice analogy, huh? 🤓). Behind each door is a different option about what you can do when school finishes, whether it be taking a gap year, going to uni or TAFE, starting full-time work, moving overseas, living the leisure life and travelling for a year, or whatever else you have planned.

Once you pick the uni door, you have an unlimited amount of options in front of you but they’re all dependant on your marks. Your ATAR is like a master key that unlocks all these options. The better your ATAR the more doors you can unlock. That’s the general gist and is one of the main reasons why we say work as hard as you can this year to try and get the best ATAR you can, just because it unlocks all these opportunities you may not even know you want yet.

The best thing about your ATAR is even if you don’t choose the uni option straight away, you can always come back to it. Say you go on a gap year and then come back and realise you want to study Psychology. By having a higher ATAR, the process of getting into a Psych course becomes a lot easier. Or say you’re halfway through studying a business degree and want to add law, it becomes a much easier and less daunting process.

Now I am not saying that the ATAR is your only way so if you don’t get a high enough ATAR to get into the course you want, you have options. For example, you can always try a TAFE course, or you can apply for a course you’ll know you’ll get into, work really hard at uni, get a good grade point average and then transfer into that course in your second year. There are so many pathways so if you really are determined you’ll get there either way. The benefit of having a high ATAR just makes all these options easier, but it’s not the end of the world if you don’t.

So what now?

Well, this is where it’s up to you. If you do want to unlock all those opportunities, my advice would be to pick a number and set it as your goal ATAR. Put that number on your wall and work as hard as you can, luckily you’ll have Atomi there to guide your studying but if it happens that you don’t get it don’t beat yourself up about it, there’s always a back-up option. At least you can look back and say that you tried your best and that’s mainly what we are encouraging you to do too.


Published on

January 25, 2019

What's Atomi?

Short sharp videos and lessons

Engaging, curriculum-specific videos and interactive lessons backed by research, so you can study smarter, not harder.

Interactive quizzes and revision

With tens of thousands of practice questions and custom revision sessions, you won’t just think you’re ready. You’ll know you are!

Super smart features

Study skills strategies and tips, AI-powered revision recommendations and progress insights help you stay on track.

What's Atomi?

Engaging curriculum-specific videos

Short, curriculum-specific videos and interactive content that’s easy to understand and backed by the latest research.

Continuous assessment tools

Active recall quizzes, topic-based tests and exam practice enable students to build their skills and get immediate feedback.

Powerful intelligence

Our AI understands each student's progress and makes intelligent recommendations based on their strengths and weaknesses.

Try the ultimate study resource for high school

Start empowering your classroom today