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ATAR explained

Information to help you choose the right course

Did you know that your ATAR result is designed to be a predictor of your first-year performance at uni? It’s not just your HSC mark.

Video: What is the ATAR and how does it work?

How is the ATAR calculated?

ATAR stands for Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank.  It is a number between zero and 99.95 that tells you where you rank in your year group. It’s based on overall HSC results and is designed to be a predictor of your first-year performance at university.

Your result should not be seen as an ATAR score, but rather your percentile position out of all students who started year 7 with you. So an ATAR of 70 doesn’t mean you got 70 percent - it means that you’re in the top 30 percent of your year group.  

The Board of Studies gives the Universities Admission Centre (UAC) all the raw, unbanded, HSC marks.

But comparing across courses is like comparing apples and oranges. We want to compare apples with apples.  So the first thing UAC does is standardise all HSC course results so they have the same average mark and the same spread of marks. Let’s call this a “green apple” for each course.

In every green apple, a mark of 50 means the same thing – you were in the middle of those who took the course. 

If the majority of students in 2-unit physics perform strongly in their other courses, the average for physics will be high and the spread will be small – so the marks will be tightly clumped at the top of the scale. If all students perform weakly in their other courses, the new average will be low and the marks will be bunched at the bottom.

Next, the extension units are scaled by comparing them to the underlying 2-unit course.

After scaling, UAC take your best two units of English and eight best other units to give you a mark out of 500.  Then they rank the whole year according to their mark out of 500. Your ATAR result is your rank as a percentage of your cohort.

UAC scales according to the performance of all the students that year, not whether they think courses are “hard” or “easy”. No subject will guarantee you a high ATAR, and no subject will condemn you to a low ATAR.

The poorer the overall performance of the cohort taking a course, the closer to the top of the state you need to be in order to benefit from scaling.

Your ATAR result may move in different directions depending on where you are in the distribution. So an extra 20 scaled marks might send an ATAR of 99 to 99.5, but might send an ATAR of 60 up to 65. Those in the middle have much more to gain by doing some extra work.

You can’t calculate your ATAR unless you know everybody else's raw mark for all their courses. There’s no way to ‘game’ the ATAR system; your time is better spent studying for your exams.

ATAR cut-offs

Each University sets a minimum ATAR for each course, and the cut-off is the ATAR of the person with the lowest ATAR admitted to the course that year. This is seen as the most fair method for student comparison, and as a nationally recognised measure, it is used by the University of Sydney and other universities as the primary basis for admission.

This generally means that ATAR cut-offs reflect supply and demand more than the intellectual capacity needed to study the course.

When you order your ideal courses on your UAC preferences form, the system automatically makes you an offer for the highest preference that you qualify for. You will get an offer in preference to someone with a lower ATAR who put the same choice higher on their UAC form.

So make sure you put what you really want to do as your first preference – you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

The University of Sydney makes the lowest percentage of offers under the published cut-off of all major NSW universities, at 23-25%. Those who have experienced disadvantage, or who have demonstrated propensity to succeed through our alternative pathway schemes, make up the vast majority of that percentage. We take great pride in setting aside places for those in our community for whom the ATAR alone is not an accurate reflection of ability.

Traditionally, the University has relied upon the ATAR (or equivalent) as the best predictor of ability to succeed at university for students not experiencing significant disadvantage.

We have a number of alternative pathways schemes. This data covers any enrolments under our:

  • E12
  • Future Leaders Scheme
  • Elite Athletes and Performers Scheme
  • Special Consideration for Admission Scheme
  • Rural Entry Scheme
  • Broadway Scheme

ATAR cut-offs for our courses

Here you'll find the 2016 ATAR cut-offs for each course, along with the minimum, median and maximum ATARs of our students who were admitted based on their ATAR or through our alternative entry pathways.

ATAR cut-offs

Key to the data

Median ATAR for all students The median ATAR of applicants falling into that category.
Min and max ATAR The minimum and maximum ATAR of applicants falling into that category.
N/A N/A may appear for two reasons: if there were additional entry requirements for the course other than ATAR, or if there were a low number of enrolments in this course, in which case the data has been withheld to avoid individually identifying any students.
% of our 2016 admitted students based on ATAR alone The percentage of the overall enrolled cohort that had an ATAR equal to or above the published main round cut-off.
Median gap between ATAR achieved and published cut-off for alternative pathways students The median amount by which students' ATARs differed from the published cut-off for students identified to have enrolled under an alternative pathway.