Media releases

How to game the ATAR

02 May 2018

YOU can’t, says the Universities Admissions Centre (UAC).

The ATAR is entirely data-driven. It’s a rank, so if your results place you in the top percentile then you’ll get the top ATAR.

Dr Rod Yager, Chair of the Technical Committee on Scaling, which is responsible for calculating ATARs, says recent commentary overlooks evidence that students who choose the more demanding maths and English options get higher ATARs than those who choose the easier options.

For instance, let’s take a look at the students who were placed in the 80th percentile in the 2013 NAPLAN numeracy tests. The students from this percentile group who went on to study Mathematics in the HSC had an average scaled score of 60.3 across their other subjects. The students from the same percentile group who chose to study Mathematics General had an average scaled score of 55.7 across their other subjects. The same phenomenon occurs with the 2013 NAPLAN literacy scores and choice of English subject*.
Dr Yager believes this illustrates that there are many factors which are far more important in determining student success than subject choice. ‘The support and encouragement that students receive from their teachers, schools and families to pursue the more demanding options, together with their own desire to be challenged and well prepared for their future, are the real keys to better outcomes.’
Dr Yager says that the recent ATAR debate has failed to acknowledge why scaling is important and necessary. ‘Universities have an obligation to ensure that government-funded places in the courses they offer are given to the most able students. Scaling allows a fair comparison to be made between students who have studied different combinations of courses. To put this in perspective, in 2017, the 57,061 students who were eligible for an ATAR studied 27,546 different combinations of subjects. So scaling is necessary to allow us to make fair comparisons between students with different combinations of subjects and provide a reliable ranking.’
Kim Paino, UAC’s General Manager of Marketing and Engagement, draws on a sporting analogy to explain the scaling process. ‘Parents understand that if their son or daughter comes first at the school swimming carnival it doesn't necessarily mean they're destined for Olympic gold. There could be a better swimmer at another school,’ says Ms Paino. ‘The same can be said of the student who tops Physics in their school. To get a clearer picture of their academic performance we have to compare their results to that of all the other students at all the other schools.’
And to those students still convinced they can game the ATAR, Dr Yager has this to say, ‘The big advantages come from being prepared to make the choice to travel the more difficult path, trusting that the hard work this requires will be rewarded, not just in a higher ATAR, but also in a better preparation for the challenges and opportunities of life beyond the HSC.’
The wide, easy road rarely leads to the summit.’

*Figures available in Dr Rod Yager’s report, A guide to the intricacies of the ATAR.

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For further information (media only) email or contact:
Diane Jardine, Communications Officer, UAC on (02) 9752 0775, or 
Kim Paino, General Manager, Marketing and Engagement, UAC on (02) 9752 0760 or 0409 155 112.

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