Many Year 11 and 12 high school students in South Australia are confused about ATAR. This blog post will try to explain everything you need to know about ATAR in South Australia. 

What is the ATAR?

The ATAR is a rank, not a mark.

The Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) is a number between 0.00 and 99.95 that indicates a student’s position relative to all the students in their age group ((i.e. all 16 to 20 year olds in South Australia). For example, an ATAR of 80.00 means that you are 20 per cent from the top of your age group.

Universities use the ATAR to help them select students for their courses and admission to most tertiary courses is based on your selection rank (your ATAR + any applicable adjustments). Most universities also use other criteria when selecting students, such as, a personal statement, a portfolio of work, an audition, an interview or a test.

The average ATAR is usually around 70.00. If every school student went on to achieve an ATAR, the average ATAR would be 50.00. But because some students leave school early and the ones who stay on to receive an ATAR are a smaller, more academically able group, the average ATAR is higher.

Who calculates ATAR?

ATARs are calculated in each state to reflect a student’s rank against other students in their state.  They are administered by the following bodies:

The South Australian Tertiary Admissions Centre (SATAC) was established in 1977 by the universities in South Australia to provide a single admissions office for all higher education institutions in the state.

SATAC processes and assesses applications for entry to the majority of undergraduate, postgraduate and vocational education and training (VET) courses in South Australia and the Northern Territory and makes offers to courses on behalf of its member and fee-for-service institutions. These institutions include:

  • TAFE SA
  • Charles Darwin University
  • Flinders University
  • The University of Adelaide
  • University of South Australia
  • CQUniversity Australia
  • Tabor
  • Torrens University Australia
  • SAIBT

Why the ATAR exists 

The ATAR is a relatively recent introduction to the Australian education system. It was a decision taken in 2008 by the Australasian Conference of Tertiary Admission Centres (ACTAC) to establish an all-encompassing index that would replace the different indices used by states and territories. In other words, the ATAR’s aim is to create an objective basis that would fairly reflect a student’s performance versus others.

This system makes it easier for universities to determine which students to admit, how many slots to offer, and the cut-off ATAR necessary to qualify for a certain program. ATAR qualifications vary per university, where more popular urban universities have higher quotas than their rural counterparts.

How your ATAR is calculated

In South Australia or the Northern Territory, to obtain a university aggregate and an ATAR you must:

  • qualify for the SACE/NTCET
  • comply with the rules regarding precluded combinations
  • comply with the rules regarding counting restrictions
  • complete at least 90 credits of study in Tertiary Admissions Subjects (TAS) and Recognised Studies at Stage 2 in a maximum of three attempts which need not be in consecutive years
  • of the 90 credits of study a minimum of 60 credits of study must be from 20 credit TAS or some 10 credit TAS studies in pairs

Calculating the university aggregate

The university aggregate is used to calculate a student’s ATAR.

The university aggregate is calculated from your best scaled scores from three 20 credit TAS plus the best outcome from the flexible option, which is the best 30 credits of scaled scores or scaled score equivalents.

For example, if a student attempts study in the years 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2019, an aggregate will be calculated from each possible combination of three attempts as follows:

  • 2015, 2016 and 2018
  • 2015, 2016 and 2019
  • 2015, 2018 and 2019
  • 2016, 2018 and 2019

The student will receive the highest of these aggregates.

Converting the university aggregate to an ATAR

Once your university aggregate is calculated, it is then converted to an ATAR. Institutions use the ATAR as a tool to compare the results and competitiveness of all students who have completed year 12.

This is how an ATAR is calculated:

  • The group of students who may qualify for a university aggregate in 2019 is called the 2019 cohort.
  • For each university aggregate (in the range 0-90.0) obtained by the students in this cohort, the percentage of students who obtained that aggregate or better is calculated. This is known as calculating the percentile distribution.
  • Each university aggregate in the range 0-90.0 now has a corresponding percentile rank in the range 0-100. For example, if an aggregate of 78.0 or better out of 90.0 has been obtained by the top 10% of the cohort, the aggregate of 78.0 will correspond to a percentile rank of 90.0 (100 – 10).
  • To derive an ATAR from the university aggregate we need to look at where the students in the cohort sit compared to the entire population of students across Australia who are in the same age group.

The 2019 cohort may differ from that of other years in that it may represent a smaller or larger percentage of the population who are in the same age group.

The percentage from the given year is known as the participation rate. It is calculated using population statistics obtained from the Australian Bureau of Statistics and measuring these against the size of the cohort.

The percentile rank is adjusted to take account of the participation rate and where the student sits relative to the entire population, and the result is the ATAR. For example, if a student has an ATAR of 95.00 it indicates that they have achieved as well as, or better than, 95% of the population. This process ensures the ATAR is comparable from year to year.

When the calculations are completed, a student’s relative position on the ATAR range is unchanged from the student’s relative position on the university aggregate range.

It is important to remember that the ATAR is a rank, not a score.

Reporting the university aggregate and ATAR

The university aggregate is reported to students on a score range of 0-90.0 with intervals of 0.5.

The ATAR is reported to students on a percentile scale, i.e. on a range 0-99.95 with intervals of 0.05.

The university aggregate and ATAR are reported only to students who qualify for the SACE or NTCET.

SACE/NTCET university aggregate to ATAR conversion

Each year SATAC publishes tables showing the relationship between the SACE/NTCET university aggregate and the ATAR. This provides an accurate record of how the ATAR was ascribed to candidates in each year.

Students, teachers and parents/caregivers should note that prior year information cannot be used accurately to predict ATARs for students in future years. Students in particular should be wary of any advice that purports to do so.

The relationship between the university aggregate and the ATAR changes every year, depending on the population of 16 to 20 year olds in South Australia and the Northern Territory.

For example, in 2015 an aggregate of 80.0/90.0 was awarded an ATAR of 95.20. Yet in 2016, an aggregate of 80.0/90.0 was awarded an ATAR of 94.75.  In addition, the scaling outcomes for individual subjects changes from year to year, so it is not possible to predict the scaled score outcomes of studies in any year based on predicted A+ to E- SACE/NTCET grades.

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