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Australian Tertiary Admission Rank
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The Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) is the primary criterion for entry into most undergraduate-entry university programs in Australia. It was gradually introduced during 2009 and 2010 to replace the Universities Admission Index, Equivalent National Tertiary Entrance Rank and Tertiary Entrance Rank. However, it is not used in Queensland which retains its Overall Position system.
The ATAR is a percentile score given between “less than 30” up to 99.95 (in a minimum increment of 0.05) which denotes a student’s ranking relative to his or her peers upon completion of their secondary education. For example, an ATAR score of 99.0 means that the student performed better than 99% of his or her peers, and ranks lower than 0.95% of peers (as the maximum score is 99.95). "Peers" is not the body of students receiving an ATAR that year, but a notional body of persons who might be qualified to receive an ATAR - as a result, the median ATAR score is well above 50.00. For example, the median ATAR score for 2014 was 68.95. 
This score is used by university and tertiary education programs as a clear and intuitive ranking to select prospective applicants for their programs, though other means may be used in combination (such as the UMAT for undergraduate-entry medical studies, or interviewing candidates that meet an ATAR score threshold).
The ATAR score is derived from a single aggregate score that is the sum of the four best subjects that the student has completed at a Year 12 standard added to 10% of the sum of the weakest two subjects (for a total of 6 subjects). The maximum number of subjects used in the calculation of the aggregate score cannot surpass six (four subjects contributing their full amount, and the last two contributing 10% of their respective score), therefore additional subjects completed in excess will re-order the scores used in the determination of the ATAR such that the lowest scores beyond the six will be ignored entirely. Certain subjects (such as university-level courses for high achievers) may also have restrictions such that they may only be used as one the lowest two contributing scores, or mandated to be one of the top four contributing scores (such as compulsory English subjects).
Each completed Year 12 subject mark that contributes to the ATAR calculation is referred to as a “study score”, which is a normalized score between “less than 25” up to a maximum of 50 for a study undertaken at a Year 12 level (with integer increments). This is similar to the percentile ranking featured in the ATAR score itself. Given the discrepancy of difficulty and competition between the wide ranges of subjects offered as part of secondary school education in Australia, these subjects are normalized against each other by means of study score scaling.
For example, fewer students undertake Year 12 equine studies compared to Year 12 mathematics, therefore it is easier for an equine studies student to rank at the top of the nation in the former subject and therefore acquire a study score of 50. The corollary to this is that an average score of 35 in equine studies is not equal in achievement to a score of 35 in the more competitive mathematics subject. Therefore, subjects are scaled such that a score of 35 in mathematics is increased to (for example) a score of 40 (reflecting its competitiveness and difficulty), while less taxing subjects such as equine studies may have their scores revised downwards to 32 to reflect its relative ease. The scaling amount is also normalized to a per-score basis to take into account the difficulty of excellence in attaining higher scores, so in a subject that receives upward scaling a study score of 35 may receive an extra 5 points but a score of 45 in the same subject may only be given an extra 2.23 points. Certain subjects may therefore have a maximum attainable subject score of over 50 (most commonly seen in specialist mathematics and foreign language studies).
Every eligible subject’s study score is thus standardized between each other prior the calculation of the aggregate score, which uses post-scaling study scores to generate a score in the high hundreds. Lastly, every student’s aggregate score is then ranked from highest to lowest, and allocated an ATAR rank correlated to their percentile rank relative to their peers.
Introduction of ATAR
During June 2009, the Federal Minister for Education announced the removal of Universities Admission Index (UAI) and the introduction of the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank, or ATAR, for Year 12 students of 2009 within the Australian Capital Territory and New South Wales, and for the rest of the country, excluding Queensland, in 2010. The ATAR was introduced to unify the university entrance system in Australia, where previously each state or territory had its own individual system (UAI in ACT/NSW, TER in SA/NT/WA/TAS, ENTER in Victoria).
Changes from UAI
The shift to ATAR means that the ranks most students receiving a UAI would increase by a small amount (although this would not present as any advantage as cutoffs would subsequently increase), while the maximum rank in NSW/ACT would change from a UAI of 100 to an ATAR of 99.95. Queensland will not shift to the ATAR system because it uses a different system and ranking scale, the Overall Position, however, conversion tables to or from the ATAR are available.
The ATAR follows the same principles as its predecessors. The rank gives an indication to the overall position of the student in relation to the student body for that year across the state. A higher ATAR gives preference to that student for the course to which they wish to enrol in a university of their choice. The ATAR is used by: the Universities Admissions Centre (UAC) in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory; the South Australian Tertiary Admissions Centre (SATAC) in South Australia and the Northern Territory; Victorian Tertiary Admissions Centre (VTAC) in Victoria; and Tertiary Institutions Service Centre (TISC) in Western Australia. These bodies then allocate positions for the tertiary institutions in their relevant states.
- According to the Universities Admissions Centre which administers ATAR-based tertiary entry for NSW and the ACT. http://www.uac.edu.au/documents/atar/ATAR-preliminary-report.pdf
- "ACT adopts national student ranking system". ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation). 10 June 2009. Retrieved 16 December 2010.
- Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) - UAC
- "2012 Australian Year 12 Conversion Table". Queensland Tertiary Admissions Centre (QTAC). 2012. Retrieved 16 May 2013. Note: This site gives the 2012 conversion table, which is approximate. The 2013 conversion table is likely to be slightly different.