Can you sport the ATAR?

Many tutoring centres and former college students say 15 years of constant HSC knowledge illuminate a technique: select the correct mix of topics, your goal marks, and also you would possibly even have the ability to predict your rank utilizing a web based ATAR calculator.

But college students’ tendency to decide on simpler or unsuitable topics to inflate their ATAR alarms schooling specialists, a lot of whom argue the rank’s time is up. So how does the ATAR work? Is it inclined to gaming? And might it’s changed by one thing else?

How does the ATAR work?

A central characteristic of the HSC is college students carve their very own course: with topics starting from textiles to Polish and high-level arithmetic, few examine paths are the identical.

“There’s something like 27,000 unique combinations of HSC courses people can do,” says Dr Helen Tam, UAC’s analysis and knowledge science supervisor. “You have to equate them somehow.”

The ATAR exists to create a fair enjoying discipline: one pupil’s geography mark should be pretty in contrast with one other’s physics consequence.

This is why scaling exists: to take away variations in candidate power between programs. The knowledge crew first wants to find out the typical educational skill of scholars in a topic. It does so by how these college students carried out throughout all their different topics.

If all drama college students carry out nicely in relation to college students of their different topics, for instance, drama might be scaled extremely. If drama college students carried out comparatively poorly throughout different topics, it will not scale as nicely. It all is dependent upon knowledge patterns. “We can’t decide: let’s scale drama highly,” Dr Tam says.

Students are then allotted a scaled mark out of 50 for every unit. The finest 10 models (together with two models of English) are added collectively to type an combination quantity out of 500. “We rank everybody according to the aggregate and decide how many people to put in the top band – 99.95 – down to zero,” Dr Tam says.

That calculation course of often takes two-and-a-half days and is overseen by the technical committee on scaling, made up of mathematicians from every college.

Helen Tam is accountable for calculating the ATAR of 57,000 college leavers.Credit:Jessica Hromas

Do some topics scale higher than others?

Since scaling is set by how 70,000 distinctive HSC college students carry out yearly, no topic will be excessive scaling by definition.

“When people say ‘subject A’ is high scaling, they’re saying historically this subject has been scaled highly. It simply means the average academic ability of students doing a course is high,” Dr Tam says.

But she concedes there’s a self-fulfilling prophecy round topics corresponding to physics, economics and high-level arithmetic. High-achieving college students have historically studied them and carried out nicely, which entices the following cohort of excessive achievers to repeat the sample.

“Subjects that have been scaled highly have the reputation, which doesn’t change overnight,” Dr Tam says.

There are some variables: if a topic turns into extra widespread one yr or loses college students, the change in candidature might have an effect on the way it scales. New HSC topics additionally supply a very clean slate. But year-to-year adjustments are often very small.

This creates one other situation round pupil behaviour and topic choice. A latest review of the ATAR by Professor Peter Shergold, chairman of the NSW Education Standards Authority, which runs the HSC, criticised the truth that too many college students had been selecting topics primarily based on scaling.

Will choosing sure topics enhance your ATAR?

Urban myths round topic choice level in each instructions. One long-standing perception is that selecting historically high-scaling topics will enhance your ATAR.

DJ Kim, founding father of teaching firm Matrix Education, says sure topic combos will enhance the chance of reaching a better ATAR, if college students obtain Band 6 efficiency.


“A higher scaling subject combination will typically include English Advanced, Mathematics Extension 1 and 2, Chemistry, Physics and Economics. Note that these subjects are more ‘competitive’ and require a greater investment of time and effort to attain a Band 6 result,” he says.

But there may be one other college of thought, which says blitzing low-scaling topics is a pathway to an optimised ATAR. Mr Kim says a decrease scaling topic mixture could embrace English Standard, Mathematics Standard, Biology, Business Studies and Geography.

A 2018 STEM Partnerships Forum expressed concern that the proportion of scholars selecting superior maths and sciences was in decline. It speculated that college students had been making that call as a result of they thought much less difficult topics would assist to maximise their ATAR.

Professor Shergold’s assessment warned these attitudes meant “paradoxically, students can be discouraged from pursuing excellence”. It additionally heard from college students persuaded out of learning superior topics for concern of poor efficiency reducing their ATAR.

There is proof college students suppose this manner: a 2018 survey by school-leaver service Year13 discovered 37 per cent of scholars selected a number of topics to bump up their rank.

Some college students additionally do greater than the minimal 10 models to optimise their possibilities of having their highest marks counted. Others do arts topics primarily based on a significant work, with the idea they’ll rating higher in subjective assessments.

Official UAC recommendation says college students ought to choose topics they’re fascinated about and which put together them for his or her future careers.

But Dr Tam provides an additional level: making an attempt to make use of scaling to your benefit will not essentially allow you to, as a result of UAC research shows most college students carry out constantly regardless of topic selection.

“You could get anecdotal evidence saying ‘this person aced physics but he bombed out in other subjects’, but that’s very rare,” she says. “We tend to find someone who gets band 6s across the board gets 99. As you move down the ATAR bands, it’s all pretty consistent. You wouldn’t have someone getting a band 1, a band 3 and then two band 6s.”

Can you sport the ATAR?

Webinars by schooling corporations corresponding to Talent 100 and Matrix Education promise to unveil the secrets and techniques of the HSC. They encourage utilizing ATAR profile calculators, primarily based on scaling knowledge that UAC publishes annually, to find out what marks you want in sure topics to yield a great consequence.

“I wouldn’t ever call it gaming,” says Roland Tam, director of Talent 100. “Being a standardised test, there has to be a set of rules behind it. We just want to provide people with information to take a disciplined approach to achieve their study goals.”

Mr Tam estimates three-quarters of HSC college students will search out the ATAR calculator annually. “It’s very scientific. If you want to achieve 99.7 to get into law at Sydney University, you can sit back and say, based on the scaling of each subject, I need to achieve X mark in each subject. You then tailor your study program around that,” he says.

Mr Kim agrees the ATAR can’t be gamed. “It uses a fair and equitable system that takes into account the varying demands and difficulty levels of the different HSC courses,” he says.

“I’ve had students achieving 99.95 without a single unit of maths or science. Some of our students achieve the same ATAR despite arriving from a non-English-speaking country just a couple of years before their HSC. It’s about working hard and excelling within your chosen subjects.”

UAC’s Dr Tam doesn’t deny ATAR calculators can use historic knowledge to a level of accuracy. But she says there’s one more reason why some college students who suppose they gamed the system ended up performing nicely.

“It tells you a bit about the character of this person, who wants to game the ATAR. This person cares, could be more motivated and will probably study harder. There are so many factors that are inherently measured,” she says.

Should there be an ATAR in any respect?

As certainly because the HSC comes round yearly, so does debate in regards to the ATAR. NSW Department of Education Secretary Mark Scott as soon as described it as a “strait jacket around our kids“. Former NSW schooling minister Adrian Piccoli, now of the Gonski Institute for Education, believes it has outlived its purpose, locations an excessive amount of stress on college students and households, and fails to consider abilities {that a} pupil acquires over 13 years of education. An interim assessment of the NSW curriculum last year recommended scrapping the ATAR altogether.

The Shergold report says the strain college students really feel to maximise their ATAR can result in psychological well being misery. It also can alter college students’ college pathways: those that obtain excessive ATARs could really feel they can’t “waste their number” and select programs they are not suited to.

Peter Shergold wants the ATAR to be supplemented with a learner profile.

Peter Shergold desires the ATAR to be supplemented with a learner profile.Credit: Wolter Peeters

Its proposed different is a pupil “learning profile” that features non-scholastic expertise corresponding to work, sport and volunteering alongside educational outcomes.

Talent 100’s Mr Tam says he helps such concepts. “But people obviously care about the ATAR; it is a gateway to university. The vast majority want to do the best that they can to open doors for themselves. There’s nothing wrong with that.”


UAC emphasises that the ATAR was by no means speculated to sum up a pupil’s complete college profession, and advocates a balanced perspective. University vice-chancellors have additionally come to the ATAR’s defence, saying it’s the best method of guaranteeing pupil success.

Still, its relevance to school admissions has diminished. Only half of yr 12 college students had been admitted to school in 2020 utilizing their ATAR alone.

NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell has indicated she is willing to discuss changes, however the Teachers Federation has warned broadening the scope to incorporate non-academic components risked advantaging rich college students.

The Shergold assessment acknowledges that, if abolished, the ATAR would in all probability get replaced by the same measurement. Professor Shergold as an alternative argues its significance ought to be minimised. Dr Tam agrees: “We always downplay the ATAR, while other people are obsessed with it.”

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