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ATAR explained

Demystifying the university entrance score

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

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.


How is the ATAR used

Each university sets a lowest rank to receive an offer for each course. This is seen as the fairest method for student comparison and, as a nationally recognised measure, it is used by many universities as the primary basis for admission.

This generally means that ATARs reflect supply and demand more than the intellectual capacity needed to study the course.

To help you make informed decisions and provide transparency, the University of Sydney has published a list of ATAR or IB scores that will guarantee admission into most of our courses from 2018.

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 offers to those who have experienced disadvantage, or who have shown potential for success through our admission pathways. 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 those students who are not experiencing significant disadvantage.

Find out more about guaranteed ATAR.

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

  • Early Offer Year 12 (E12) Scheme
  • Future Leaders Scheme
  • Elite Athletes and Performers Scheme
  • Cadigal Program
  • Special Consideration for Admission Scheme
  • Broadway Scheme.

Calculating the ATAR

The NSW Education Standards Authority gives the Universities Admissions 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 two-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 two-unit course.

After scaling, UAC takes 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 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 also increase an ATAR of 60 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.