How is the ATAR calculated and what’s a selection rank?

With exams over the ATAR rank waiting game has begun. It won’t be long until the 20 January rolls around delivering the goods – your child’s ATAR. Once your child has their ATAR they’ll be able to finalise any big decisions that still need to be made before uni starts in February. In the meantime, if you’re not quite sure how the ATAR is calculated and what a selection rank is, let us be of service. We’re here to help demystify the university entrance score – the ATAR!

What an ATAR is

First things first. ATAR stands for Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank. It’s the number between zero and 99.95 that your child will be given following final exams that tells them where they rank in their year group. The ATAR is designed to be a predictor of your child’s first-year performance at university. Your child can learn more about getting an ATAR and into uni here.

How is the ATAR calculated

Firstly, it’s important to know that HSC marks and ATAR scores are very different. For one, they are calculated separately. HSC marks are a measure of your child’s performance against bands. While the ATAR ranks your child among their entire age group of 16 to 20-year-olds in New South Wales. So, the ATAR is your child’s position.

Secondly, you should be aware that only courses developed by the NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) can be included in the calculation of the ATAR. So if your child has chosen a subject that isn’t on NESA’s list of ATAR courses, then it won’t be included in their ATAR calculation.

NESA provides the Universities Admissions Centre (UAC) with your child’s raw, unbanded HSC marks. Then, the ATAR is based on an aggregate of scaled marks in their 10 units of ATAR courses. This means it’s made up of several separate elements comprising:

  • your child’s best two units of English
  • your child’s best eight units from remaining units (including no more than two units of Category B courses for those of you playing from home. You can read more about ATAR courses here).

So, for your child to qualify for an ATAR they must complete at least four subjects. That’s because an aggregate may be based on fewer subjects that are worth more units – such as English Advanced, English Extension 1 and 2, and Mathematics Extension 1 and 2.

Next, let’s take a look at scaling.

How scaling works

Did you know there are around 27,000 different patterns of study completed by HSC students? Since there are so many combinations of courses studied, scaling is necessary to fairly decide on ATARs. Scaling helps to standardise students’ HSC course results. The idea behind scaling is that students are neither advantaged nor disadvantaged by the pattern of study that they’ve chosen. Courses are scaled so that the mean and distribution of marks in a course are consistent with the mean and distribution across all HSC subjects that a student studies.

Now, what has scaling got to do with the ATAR? Well, your child’s scaled marks – not their HSC marks – are used to calculate the ATAR. Your child’s scaled mark is influenced by their position in the course and the scaled mean for that course. So if they score highly in a subject where most other students do well academically, this will be reflected in the scaling of that subject. Scaling works to remove differences in the average academic ability of the students between courses. Your child’s scaled mark shows how well they have done in comparison with other students who have done the same course.

What a selection rank is

Your child’s selection rank is their ATAR score plus any adjustments made by Charles Sturt. Adjustments can be made for a number of reasons. For example, your child’s performance in their HSC subjects could have been impacted by the location of their school or eligibility for Educational Access Schemes. It’s important to note that selection adjustments don’t change the ATAR. What adjustments can change is the selection rank for a particular course at university. So, if your child doesn’t get the ATAR they need for entry to the course they really want, that doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t qualify for admission to that course. There is still a chance they could be admitted because of adjustment factors, such as hardship or other personal circumstances.

Important stuff to know about the selection rank:

  • adjustments don’t change your child’s ATAR – they change their selection rank
  • your child’s selection rank is their ATAR plus any adjustments made by Charles Sturt
  • we’ll automatically adjust your child’s ATAR if they’re eligible for location adjustments like regional bonus points
  • a minimum ATAR may be a requirement before your child can have their selection rank adjusted – chat to us if you have any questions.

Have questions about ATARs or need some help?

If you or your child have questions when their ATAR drops or need some help deciding on the best admission pathway for their ideal course, we’re here to help. You can come to our online ATAR Advice Days from 20 to 21 January. Visit the Preference Charles Sturt page to learn more.