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How do ATAR calculators work?

13 October 2017
Find out what ATAR calculators are and how to use them

Using ATAR calculator marks and percentiles as a benchmark can increase motivation, but the best way to succeed is to study well. Most of our courses have a fixed-ATAR, so when achieved, you can feel confident in securing a place once offers are released.

What is an ATAR calculator?

“ATAR calculators can do one of two things,”  explains Professor Jacqui Ramagge, Head of the School of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of Sydney. “They can estimate your ATAR from your HSC marks, or they can estimate the HSC marks you need to obtain a given ATAR.”

“The calculators work on historical data. Typically, they try to tell you how you might have done if you had been in a previous cohort.”

While ATAR calculators – sometimes called ‘reverse calculators’ – can be useful to figure out where you are in comparison to where you need to be to get into your dream degree, they are not a perfectly accurate predictor. You should use them as a rough guide and a study motivation, not an exact science.

How do ATAR calculators work?

There are two ways to use ATAR calculators:

1. Work backwards: ATAR --> marks

Start with your desired ATAR, then choose the subjects you’re studying in order to find the goal marks you need for each subject to achieve your desired ATAR. You can then compare your current marks with your target marks for motivation to boost your current percentages and focus on particular subjects in which you need improvement.

2. Work forwards: marks --> ATAR

Start with the subjects you’re studying, then log your last exam results to estimate the ATAR you’re predicted to achieve. By using past exam marks as predictors, you can track how much improvement you need to make to reach the ATAR you need to get into your first preference university course.

Where is the data coming from?

“ATAR calculators typically take historical ATAR data – which is freely available on pages 35-39 of the UAC 2016 scaling report – and use it to estimate the ATAR you would have got in 2016 with the results that you have now.”

“For example, we can see in the report that in 2016 the average HSC mark for Maths Extension 2 was 40.7 and this was scaled to 43.8.”

“All ATAR calculators produce an estimate. None of them can actually calculate your ATAR. The ATAR calculation changes every year because it uses the marks of every student in the state in every subject they took as part of the calculation of your ATAR. The ATAR calculators don’t have access to that information. All they can do is estimate using the data that has been made public  from the previous year.”

The estimates that ATAR calculators provide are rough, since they don’t take into consideration scaling that changes year to year, or access to pathways, like our Educational Access Schemes (EAS). The numbers you’ve put into the calculator are only your school marks – the calculations don’t include your external exam marks, which may be significantly higher or lower than your averages.

A calculator that produces a high ATAR or low target subject marks may also make you complacent. Study chill can lead to marks spill – don’t take those current percentages for granted.

Study and stay healthy

Professor Ramagge notes that “Talent is overrated. Hard work is what makes the real difference.”

Putting in the hours is the best way to guarantee success. Listen to our study music playlists, read our exam tips and don’t forget to update your preferences before the deadline. Our #studygoals website has everything you need to know to get you through the HSC and beyond.

Aside from study, ensure you keep your mind and body healthy throughout exams.

“The value of rest is well known in educational circles,” says Professor Ramagge. Keep up your positive habits: putting down the books to play sport, stay dedicated to hobbies, and remaining connected to friends and family will also pay dividends towards ATAR success.

Consider various courses with a fixed-ATAR

Instead of trying to game the system by guessing your ATAR before exams, focus on your plan of attack for after you receive your ATAR. Once you know your achieved ATAR, look into whether it matches or exceeds the published required ATAR cut-offs for your courses of interest. If you achieve the published required ATAR and place Sydney as your first preference, you are guaranteed to be made an offer through UAC. If you've just missed the published ATAR mark, seek alternative entry pathways or look into options for transferring course

A final tip from our ATAR expert? “Take the highest level of maths and English that you can.”