Understanding How ATAR Works and How to Calculate it.

When new systems are introduced into the realms of education, it is natural for parents to be sceptical and needing some answers to their questions. Will the changes are for the better, and will their child have a better chance at tertiary education in the future? 

The following answers to some of the frequently asked questions may shed some light on the new system and give parents a better understanding of how ATAR works and how to calculate it.

What is ATAR?

ATAR stands for Australian Tertiary Admission Rank. It is a ranking or rating system that has been introduced into Queensland. It replaced the Overall Position (OP).

Understanding How ATAR Works and How to Calculate it
  • It includes sixteen semesters of ATAR subjects and four subjects of a more general nature.
  • The subjects are examined through three internal exams set by the school and one external exam set by the ATAR system.
  • The system uses the students five best subjects for the scores. These subjects can be made up of four general subjects and one applied subject.
  • The student must also score a C in one of the English courses and there are five English courses to choose from. The English score does not have to be part of the ATAR calculation.


This system has a score that is then used as a pathway to be registered for tertiary education. The ATAR system brings Queensland into line with the rest of Australia and is seen as a positive change. There is a balance between the school system of assessment and an external assessment. The aim is to reach a more accurate reflection of the students' achievement and ability. 

What are the benefits of ATAR?

ATAR is considered to be a much fairer system.

  • Students are encouraged to work together. This teaches social communication and interpersonal skills.
  • The students' success is calculated in a system of internal and external exams.
Students working together as a benefit of using the ATAR system
  • The new system does not allow systematic competition between schools.
  • It prepares students for further education or for entry into the commercial world.
  • In the event of a child changing schools, or moving from a particular area, the system moves with them as it is accepted throughout Australia.
  • ATAR encourages qualities like independence, collaboration, self-reliance, self-belief and a work ethic. The external paper ensures that the teacher does not have an influence on the final mark or content of the final exam. 

How ATAR works?

ATAR is part of the school system from year 10 – 12.

how atar works - an infographic guide by tutor2you


How are the ATAR scores calculated?

ATAR scores are calculated from an aggregate score that is the total of the four highest scores of subjects completed in Year 12. Added to that score is 10% of the sum of the two weakest scoring subjects.

An aggregate score of a C is required in one of the English subjects. The English score, although it is compulsory to achieve a C grade, does not have to be one of the chosen ranking subjects of the four best scores of the individual. This means that although a pass in English is compulsory it does not have to be in the ranking calculation.

The scores are ranked to give an overall position for each student of that year across the state. The ranking is not a score, but a position held compared with the other students of that year. It represents the percentage of the student population the examinees outperformed or were better than on the ATAR curve of results.

An ATAR score of 60 means the student performed better than 60% of the other students.

  • Scores are obtained through three internal exams for each subject and one external exam. 
  • Internal exams score 50% each in maths and science and the external exam scores 50%.
  • Exams in all the other subjects score 75% on internal exams and 25% on external exams.

Why is ATAR more educationally sound?

The ATAR system has been based on sound educational principles, a ‘New Taxonomy of Education Model,’ by Robert Marzano.

This model gives educators a method behind the scores to encourage students to be thinkers and to process their thinking through six different levels of educational principals.

student encouraged to be great thinkers in the new ATAR system

There are six levels and three systems. It simply means that a system of self, metacognitive and cognitive principals are considered while the student goes through the different levels of education.

The levels and systems lead to a more holistic style of education and encourage thinkers as well as doers. It is a system that offers a strong foundation of educational principles that goes over and above a numbers or scores based education.

What do the different levels and systems mean?

The levels work from the top of the taxonomy level down in six categories.

Level 6 – Self-belief

This is motivation, interest in learning content and being at school.

Level 5 – Metacognitive process

The level of thinking about thinking. Learning how to learn effectively. How to process information.

Level 4 - ulitisation of knowledge

Utilisation of knowledge, being able to apply what is being learnt.

Level 3 - analysis 

Examining and finding relationships.

Level 2 - comprehension 

Communication and grasping of the intent of material.

Level 1 - retrieval 

Using knowledge, remembering, recollection and recall of knowledge.

These are the levels and show a more practical approach to the end result of the system leading to the earning of the ATAR ranking. Added to the levels are the systems of educational principles.

These three systems add depth to learning and teaching. Also known as the domains of knowledge they cover information, mental procedure or the analytical processes. They aim at combining past knowledge with experience and psychomotor processes that include physical and mental activity.

Key Takeaways

  • The new system brings all students across Australia under the umbrella of one detailed system.
  • This system has sound principles and at the same time allows for individuality and growth of students under its guidelines.
  • It is a system that allows for growth from year to year because students are ranked within the system and measured against one another within that year.
  • Educators have some in-depth guidelines and the tertiary institutions have evidence of the academic measure of the students.
  • ATAR would appear to be a win-win situation and a positive change to the previous system.

Is your child undertaking their ATAR?

If so, we're looking for 10 students who want to achieve a top ATAR ranking. Don't let ATAR gives you and your child too much stress. If you are ready to give your child the help they need this year so they can confidently navigate the ATAR and achieve their best possible ATAR score.

Then here’s your chance.


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