ATAR – courses and subjects FAQ

To be eligible for an ATAR, you must complete at least 10 units of ATAR courses. These ATAR courses must include:

  • eight units of Category A courses
  • two units of English
  • three Board Developed courses of two units or greater
  • four subjects.

Some tertiary courses also require you to have studied certain HSC subjects, or equivalent, to have achieved a specific standard or to have assumed knowledge.

You need to consider these things when choosing your courses and subjects.

What are Category A courses?

Category A courses have academic rigour and depth of knowledge to provide background for tertiary studies. Examples include Mathematics and Geography.

What are Category B courses?

Category B courses are courses that don't provide an adequate background for tertiary studies, but they can contribute to the ATAR when combined with Category A courses. No more than two units of Category B courses can be included with the ATAR calculation. Examples include Human Services and Hospitality.

For a Category B course to be included in the ATAR calculation, you must be enrolled in the course with the Board of Studies NSW and sit an exam.

Are TAFE-delivered courses Category B courses?

Some TAFE-delivered HSC VET (TVET) courses are Category B courses. Others are endorsed by the Board of Studies NSW and contribute to the HSC, but not the ATAR. ATAR courses (either Category A or Category B) must be Board Developed courses for which the Board of Studies NSW conducts examinations that yield graded assessments.

Which courses count towards the ATAR?

Only ATAR courses can be used in the calculation of the ATAR. The ATAR is calculated from an aggregate of scaled marks of ATAR courses, including two units of English and the best eight units from the remaining courses (according to the ATAR rules).

The ATAR Advice Notice lists the courses included in the calculation of the ATAR. Just looking at HSC marks is not enough to determine which courses will be included in the ATAR. Sometimes the course with the lowest HSC mark will not count, but this is not always the case. Remember that scaled marks, not HSC marks, are used to calculate the ATAR.

Can English Studies count towards the ATAR?

No. This course has no external HSC examination and students who complete this English course are not eligible for an ATAR.

Which courses get a good ATAR?

Just about any combination of courses can lead to a good ATAR; it all depends on how well you have done in all your courses in comparison to other students.

You shouldn't choose courses based on what you believe are the likely effects of scaling. Choices should be based on interests, demonstrated abilities and the value of courses for future career plans.

Are certain courses always 'scaled up' or 'scaled down'?

No. Scaling is carried out afresh each year. If the quality of the candidature changes, the scaled mean will also change.

Can choosing certain courses increase my ATAR?

No. Scaling is carried out afresh each year, so the scaled means are different every year. It is a myth that choosing certain courses increases the ATAR.

What patterns of study are taken by students who achieve an ATAR of 99.95?

While most students who achieve an ATAR of 99.95 take at least one extension subject – in particular, English (Advanced) and Mathematics Extension 2 – there are many different patterns of study observed every year.

Students present anywhere from 10 to 15 units, some accumulating over two years and some over three years. In recent years some candidates have achieved an ATAR of 99.95 studying English as a Second Language. Further, some students in the 99.95 group did not study mathematics at all; instead, their study patterns typically consisted of English Extension 1 and languages or English Extension 1, Modern and/ or Ancient History and subjects like Business Studies or Studies of Religion II. Remember, you should select subjects in which you are interested and which prepare you for your future career.

What happens if a course isn't satisfactorily completed?

If you don't satisfactorily complete a course, that course will not count towards meeting your ATAR requirements. If the course is a 2-unit course with an associated extension course in which you are enrolled, the extension course will not count either.

Receiving a mark for a course on your Record of Achievement issued by the Board of Studies is an indication that you have satisfactorily completed that course.

Can an extension course contribute to the ATAR if the corresponding 2-unit course has not been satisfactorily completed?

The general answer is No. For example, you must complete English (Advanced) to count English Extension 1 (and you must complete English Extension 1 to count English Extension 2).

The exception is Mathematics, where you can complete Extension 1 and Extension 2 without completing 2-unit Mathematics (but you must complete Mathematics Extension 1 to count Mathematics Extension 2).

Does an extension course have to be completed at the same time as the corresponding 2-unit course?

No. The 2-unit course can be completed one year and the extension course completed in a later year. If you withdraw from an extension course, the marks from the 2-unit course are still available for inclusion in the calculation of your ATAR.

If a course has a high percentage of students in Band 6, does this affect the scaled marks for that course?

No. Performance bands and scaled marks relate to two distinct processes. The Board of Studies uses raw HSC marks to align performance bands and calculate HSC marks, while UAC uses the same raw HSC marks to undertake the scaling process and calculate the ATAR. Therefore, performance bands and scaled marks cannot affect each other.

Can I get a better ATAR by studying more units?

You can't assume that simply by studying more units your ATAR will be increased. While students who study more units tend to gain higher ATARs, there are a number of reasons why, such as each student's interest, motivation, effort and time management.

How many units of maths can be included in the calculation of the ATAR?

Up to four units of maths can be included in the ATAR calculation. Students studying Mathematics Extension 1 should be aware that it has a different weighting (in terms of units) depending on whether Mathematics or Mathematics Extension 2 is taken.

If students study Mathematics (2 units), then Mathematics Extension 1 accounts for 1 unit. If students study Mathematics Extension 2 (2 units), then Mathematics Extension 1 accounts for 2 units.

If a student completes Mathematics then goes on to satisfactorily complete Mathematics Extension 1 and Mathematics Extension 2, their results in Mathematics will not be included in the ATAR calculation, even if they have excelled in it.

Can courses be accumulated?

Yes. Courses can be accumulated for the ATAR over a period of up to five years. Scaled marks are calculated in the year the course is completed.

What happens if a course is repeated?

Courses can be repeated over a period of up to five years. Only the last satisfactory attempt is used towards the calculation of the ATAR. The aggregate will be recalculated using the new mark and the previous marks, and the ATAR may increase, remain the same or decrease.

What happens if I already have an ATAR and add a new ATAR course the following year?

Your aggregate will be recalculated using the new course and your previous courses. The aggregate may increase or stay the same but it will not decrease. However, since you are being compared with a different cohort, your ATAR may increase, stay the same or even decrease.

Can I accelerate my studies?

Some students may elect to accelerate their studies, by attempting HSC courses while in Year 11. This can offer advantages such as:

  • letting students take fewer courses in Year 12, meaning they can focus on those units
  • allowing students to study a broader range of subjects
  • having more units available for inclusion in their ATAR calculation.

If I complete a course in Year 11, who am I ranked with?

Courses are scaled in the year they are completed and the scaled mark is available for inclusion in the ATAR calculation when you become ATAR eligible. You are ranked with others in the same ATAR cohort.

  • Back to top of page