How is ATAR calculated and Answers to ALL Your ATAR FAQs

Updated 2022

If you’re an “OP” parent or even a “TE” parent, the ATAR system is a mystery wrapped in an enigma.  The good news is that ATAR is a more precise measurement of your child’s achievements. ATAR is calcultated on a more comprehensive and detailed set of criteria.  Good news for ATAR students, not ideal for parents raised under a different system.

The removal of the outdated, traditional OP structure and the subsequent replacement of the old system with ATAR brings Queensland firmly into line with other states. As this is a dramatic shift, many parents and students are raising very real and relevant questions. How will this affect Year 12 studies? How is ATAR calculated? And how will this impact university entrance scores?

These concerns and questions are warranted and important. Below, we attempt to make a somewhat muddied process clearer in order to reassure our clientele of what these changes will mean for them. 

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What is ATAR?

Thankfully, at its core, ATAR is not so far removed from the OP system. The process is not completely different – it’s just a new way of doing things.

ATAR refers to Australian Tertiary Admission Rank. It measures the overall academic achievement as compared with other students, nationwide, from the same cohort. Students will have their final scores ranked in terms of how other students from all over the country fared in their final year of schooling. This will then have the knock on effect of assisting universities when it comes to the placements of students into the courses they want to get into. 

There are many question marks over the process for families who are unsure how these changes will impact learning in the classroom. The shift to ATAR sees external examinations at the end of the year, which is perhaps the most telling shift from the old system to the new. These examinations will make up a significant percentage of the student’s exit score. 

Exactly how is ATAR calculated?

The ATAR is calculated in a relatively simple way. Students will have the opportunity to work with their year-level coordinators and their pathways or senior schooling coordinator to help clarify any issues.

Assessors will determine a study score out of 50 for each subject that a student studies in units 3 and 4 (Year 12 semesters one and two). This will provide a comparison for how other students in Queensland fared in those same subjects. The maximum score, as stipulated above, is 50. Each study score has a ‘mean’ of 30. This means that students will be able to figure out where their range was for each of their subjects as compared to the rest of the cohort. 

How does ATAR work and what are scaled scores?

Scores change each year depending on the performance in that area of study. This can make it difficult to ‘predict’ what a student’s score will be, which is why a great working relationship with key members of school staff is of the utmost importance.

Scaling means that subjects are viewed in terms of their relative difficulty. This can be subjective. For example, subjects in the Arts field are often scaled down when compared to subjects that have a clearer ‘right answer or wrong answer’ methodology like the Maths and Science fields. 

Once this information is collected, an ATAR will be calculated. The process will look at a student’s highest scaled score in the English field (if studying more than one English subject, it will take the highest one), the highest scaled study scores for three of the student’s other subjects and then 10% of the scaled scores for their first and sixth subjects. 

Students are then put into rank order depending on these scores. A percentage (across a 100 point scale) is then assigned to individuals.

The ATAR will take into account the mark a student receives on their external assessment as well as the marks received from internal assessment. The mark will be skewed towards the external assessment and this will take up a large percentage of the final calculations. 

This process often trips people up because it is made out to be more complicated and mysterious than it actually is. Again, it cannot be stressed how important it is to ask for assistance and clarification from your school’s experts. Your tuition team are well versed in these processes as well and are on hand to answer clarifying questions and put your mind at ease. 

This percentage then becomes the ATAR score. It estimates how many people a student outperformed. For example, an ATAR score of 83 determines that a student outranked 83% of their peers. It does NOT mean that the student got 83% of their subjects ‘correct’ as many people mistakenly believe. A school’s individual rank is also of great importance here and a lot rides on where a student is placed within their class and the wider cohort. 

The absolute lowest reported score is 30 with anything below it simply reported as ‘less than 30’. 

Understanding ATAR when it comes to tertiary entrance requirements

It is difficult to calculate ATAR from a parental point of view. The scaling of subjects shifts year to year and external examinations, which will form a significant percentage of an individual’s study score, mean that parents and students often do not have all the pieces to put the puzzle together. 

There will be information evenings and afternoons at your school, as well as a plethora of assemblies and talks given to help students make the most accurate assumptions about what their study scores – and by extension, their ATAR – will be. Approximate scoring is provided throughout the year to help students understand the process and what they may need to do to improve their final score. 

Teachers will also be given this information in order to help each student prepare for external examinations. They will be able to give excellent, high quality feedback that will assist students to make improvements in the necessary areas. Engaging the assistance of a qualified tutor can maximise a student’s ability to achieve their best possible ATAR score. 


How do QTAC selection ranks line up with the old OP system?

As we’ve moved into a new system, this model of thinking has become redundant. The below is offered as a guide only. This might be an interesting perspective if you have older friends or family members who received an OP score.

Please keep in mind that the way QTAC and ATAR scores work are in relation to the percentage of students in your school and other schools who you have outperformed. A rank of 75, for example, means that you have outperformed 75% of the other students within your cohort. Below you will find how the QTAC selection rank (the way that universities accept students into their course placements) is impacted. 

OP (Overall Position – the old system) QTAC Selection Rank (to be read as your ATAR score) 
1 99
2 97
3 96
4 94
5 92
6 89
7 87
8 84
9 82
10 79
11 77
12 75
13 72
14 70
15 68
16 66
17 65
18 64
19 63
20 62
21 61
22 60
23 59
24 58
25 57


You can find more information on this topic via QTAC. Now that we are well in the throes of the ATAR system, the ATAR scores will automatically align with a student’s QTAC ranking. Simpler, cleaner, better. 

Hang on, so what about this new system will be different?

You might be wondering how this will impact studies and the chances of getting into the university course of choice.

The answer to that is not simple. It’s somewhere between ‘not a lot’ and ‘a fair bit.’

As previously mentioned, moving from Overall Position (OP) to ATAR pulls Queensland into line with other states. This makes it a lot simpler and more straight forward if a student would like to pursue tertiary studies in another state. It also makes for a simpler selection process all round. ATAR is a lot easier to understand and process than OP and, some would argue, it makes decisions about the ranking of students and their external examination results a lot easier to process and understand. 

All Year 12 students will complete their ATAR in 2020 and beyond. This is set in stone regardless of external situations. This is generally considered to be positive as the ATAR is a fairer and more accurate assessment of a student’s achievements in Year 12. There has been debate surrounding the OP system for some time as to the level of subjectivity that is involved in the determination of exit scores. ATAR is a more mathematical, logical and objective approach to that determination and aims to accurately reflect student achievement when it comes to the result a student will receive at the end of the year. 

Scaling of scores has already been discussed in this article. For the best possible view of how individual subjects will be scaled, it is important to maintain a close working relationship with your school’s senior studies coordinator. They will provide up-to-date information on any ‘shifts’ involved in scaling. Shifts are often a result of the number of students undertaking the subject, levels of perceived difficulty, and a range of external factors. Be assured, however, that scaling is not designed to punish students but to level the playing field as much as possible. It is highly unlikely that the way a subject is scaled will cause a student to lose out on potential marks at a disproportionate rate to their classmates. 

When are ATAR scores released?

In line with other states, students will receive ATAR scores in early to mid-December. University placement offers will follow the release of ATAR scores.

The following information pertains to 2020 students only. Due to the COVID-19 disruptions to normal schooling, there may be some changes to the above dates. Rest assured that students will receive their ATAR, and schools will be in close communication regarding the release of this data. Universities will follow suit and tertiary students will not be adversely impacted by the potential delay of data release. 

How do I check my ATAR score?

ATAR scores will be available in early to mid-December. Students will receive a notional ATAR (an approximate score) in the months beforehand which will help track student progress. Based on this notional score, it may be necessary to implement an improvement plan so the student can enter their desired course when actual scores are received. 

Once again, the importance of both a solid relationship with your school and the potential solid academic support of a qualified, professional tutor will help steer students on the road to success and achievement. Being open, honest and curious about personal progress will stand a student in good stead. Ignoring advice from your school and simply hoping that everything will magically work out is not the way forward. ATAR is here to stay in Queensland schools, and students must find a way to work well within this new system. 

How can students improve their chances of a great ATAR score?

It’s never too late for a student to make meaningful changes to their studies.

Try the following tips for ATAR success:

  • Commit to an excellent study routine. Implement a timetable for yourself with designated times to study particular subjects. Have this timetable readily available around your house and refer to it often. Update your timetable to accomodate for school-approved coursework and homework demands. It is important that you work with academic rigour and that you give yourself the best chance of success.
  • Engage the expertise of an academic tutor. A tutor is an invaluable resource. They know the subject areas well and they know how to appropriately engage and excite you about your learning. Studying with the help of a professional means that you are valuing your education and potentially gaining a ‘leg up’ when it comes to student rankings.
  • Work with your senior studies coordinator or pathways advisor. They will be able to suggest other ways and means that you can study smarter, not harder. 
  • Allow yourself the chance to relax. Studying non-stop can overload and overwhelm you. Reward yourself with fun activities or sports. Some outside time can come in very handy to help you ‘chill out’ and avoid stress. 


MY ATAR FAQ isn’t here!

No worries.  Our team of ATAR specialists is on hand to answer your questions.  Please simply get in touch and we’ll update this piece. It’s never been more important for parents to access vital information about ATAR so we’re here to provide answers.


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