The ATAR Scaling System - What Is It and How Does It Work?

October 20, 2020

The Australian Tertiary Admission Rank is Australia’s primary rating system in determining entry for undergraduate courses across colleges and universities in the country. The ATAR gives graduating Year 12 students a rank between 0 and 99.95, relative to the other Year 12 students in their state. 

It’s important to understand that the ATAR is a rank, not a mark. This means that if you have an ATAR of 70.00, then you performed better than 70% of your fellow Year 12 students. It’s important to note that not all courses you took for your High School Certificate (HSC) will be used to compute for your ranking. 

To qualify for ATAR, you need to satisfactorily complete at least ten units of ATAR courses, which include the following: 

  • At least eight units from Category A courses
  • Two units of English 
  • Three board developed courses with two units or higher 
  • Four other subjects 

How is ATAR calculated? 

The exact process of calculating for one’s ATAR is a complex matter with constantly changing variables each year. This is supported by the fact that calculating it is overseen by a technical committee made up of mathematicians from various universities. 

That being said, the ATAR is basically derived in five main steps:

1. Average student’s HSC exam mark and moderated school assessment mark

Your HSC mark is determined by dividing the sum of your HSC exam mark and your school’s Moderated School Assessment mark by two. In New South Wales, the moderated school assessment mark is provided by the NSW Education Standards Authority and involves complex statistical modelling and analysis. 

2. Apply scaling to convert HSC marks into scaled marks 

Scaling is the process of creating an even playing field between candidates who have taken different courses. With there being no single pathway for a student to take in obtaining the HSC, scaling is the only way to compare marks given to different subjects fairly. 

To put it simply, scaling is done because the same marks in different courses are not equal. This method makes it more difficult to “game” the system, as it prevents students from choosing one of the “easier” subjects to get a higher ATAR. 

How one subject is assigned a numerical value that measures how high it scales is determined by the average academic ability of students in that subject. This numerical value changes year after year, though extreme variations are rare. This means that no subject is inherently high-scaling. 

That being said, there are many subjects that have been historically high-scaling. This is because the average academic ability of students who take these courses are usually high, to begin with.

Some of such subjects are physics, economics, and high-level mathematics. This fact is what drives many students to take subjects that are traditionally high-scaling. However, taking these subjects are just the first step: you actually have to perform well to let it help your final rankings.

If you plan on taking on an advanced mathematics HSC course, you will benefit from a math tutoring service. This way, you can get higher marks for a chance to bump up your ATAR.

3. Determine aggregate marks from the sum of scaled marks 

Once you have your scaled marks, they are converted into an aggregate, which is the sum of all scaled marks in 10 units of ATAR courses. 

4. Convert aggregate marks to percentiles 

ATAR-eligible students are ranked by order of their aggregates and assigned a percentage rank to distribute them evenly over a 100-point scale. 

5. Convert percentiles into ATAR

The ATAR is derived by rounding the percentiles to the nearest 0.005. 


Getting a high ATAR ensures that you will be granted entry to a university and program that you want to get into. Because of its complexity and sophistication as a rating system, there is virtually no way to game the ATAR. While there are ways to improve your chances of getting a high ATAR, such as choosing the right mix of ATAR courses, the only real way is to study really hard and do well in your studies. 

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