ATARs and other examination terms explained

With end-of-year exams around the corner, it’s easy to get lost among the exam terms being thrown around. Read on as we explain some of those you are most likely to come across.    

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    Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank (ATAR)

    An ATAR is a rank awarded to students who complete their senior secondary certificate (in all states except Queensland) and is used to determine university entry. The ATAR is not a percentage.  It is a rank that places students in a percentile rank from 0 to 99.95 for their state or territory. Eligibility for an ATAR (such as the types of subjects to be completed) varies between the states. For more information, read through the HSC, QCE and VCE sections of this website. 
    Note that in Queensland, students receive an Overall Position (OP). See below for further information about the OP. Students who complete the International Baccalaureate (IB) do not receive an ATAR. IB scores are converted to ATARs for the purposes of undergraduate course entry. 
  • Bonus point schemes/middle band

    Bonus point schemes (or ‘middle band’ in Victoria) award students additional points for completion of specific subjects. For example, an institution may award additional points to students who have completed a subject that is relevant to the degree for which they are applying (such as literature for a communications course or physics for an engineering course). Note that some institutions will also award bonus points to individual students based on their circumstances, such as attending a secondary school with low tertiary participation or living in a rural or regional area.
  • Overall Position (OP)

    The Overall Position (OP) is used in Queensland and refers to a student’s position in a state-wide ranking in studies approved by the Queensland Studies Authority (QSA). Note that not all students who complete the QCE are eligible for an OP. Students who wish to qualify for an OP must sit the Queensland Core Skills Test in addition to completing their Year 12 studies. Students who receive an OP are placed in one of 25 bands, where an OP1 is the highest band attainable and OP25 is the lowest. 
  • Prerequisite subject

    Some tertiary courses, usually at university level, will specify prerequisite subjects that your child should have completed in order to gain entry. This varies between institutions and also between courses. A general humanities or communications course may only specify the completion of English, while degrees in areas such as science, engineering or medicine may be more specific and require your child to complete subjects such as maths, biology, physics and chemistry.  Note that some institutions may specify a particular level of achievement in a subject (advanced or specialist mathematics, for instance).
  • School-assessed coursework

    In addition to examinations, students complete school-assessed coursework for each subject. The results of these assessments contribute to their overall score for each subject. Assessments may include essays, projects, tests, oral examinations or practical and fieldwork activities. Note that students in Queensland complete school-assessed coursework only; exams are only completed by students who cannot access a particular subject at their school. For more information, see Senior External Examinations.
  • Subject/study scores

    Students are awarded a subject score for each Year 12 study they complete. In New South Wales and Queensland, students are awarded a ranking across several bands, which are then further calculated to determine the ATAR (NSW) and OP (QLD). In Victoria, students are awarded a score between 0 and 50, where a score of 30 is considered average. This score is used to produce an aggregate score, which then leads to calculation of the ATAR.

    Note that subject scores in all states are ‘scaled’ and ‘moderated’ to factor in the difficulty of certain subjects and the competitiveness within the cohort. The exact scaling and moderation process varies from state to state, so it is best to check with the relevant authority (see below for details).
  • Tertiary Admissions Centre (TAC)

    These are the central admissions centres that deal with undergraduate university entry in each state or territory. Ensure that your child has read through course descriptions carefully, as not all applications are taken through admissions centres. Some institutions, particularly TAFEs and private colleges, require a direct application (an application submitted to the institution, without involvement from the state or territory’s TAC). See Tertiary Admissions Centres on the Good Universities Guide website for a full list of centres, including contact details.
    Note that there is a difference between study authorities and tertiary admissions centres. While study authorities (listed below) are responsible for curriculum, assessment and reporting, they do not deal with university admission. This is the role of tertiary admissions centres and individual institutions, depending on application methods.


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