What is the AST in Canberra and how does it work?
The AST stands for the “ACT Scaling Test” and, as the name suggests, it is used to scale your ATAR, balancing any differences between colleges, subjects and cohorts in Canberra (which is discussed in detail later). Year 12 students completing a Tertiary package (i.e. those who are aiming for an ATAR and not completing all Accredited subjects) are to sit this test in week 7 or 8 of Term 3, with the entire exam spanning typically 2-3 days as the AST consists of three different sub-exams:
- Short response (120 minutes): given a stimulus (poem, artwork, graph) and asked to analyse it
- Multiple choice (135 minutes): given multiple stimuli, followed by a series of questions related to them. This is a mix of reading comprehension and numerical skills. Subtest is weighted the highest!
- Writing task (150 minutes): given a small booklet with information on the and asked to give an insightful response (600 words)
The AST is familiar to NAPLAN in terms of the areas it assesses, and is essential to the calculation of your ATAR. You will receive your AST results during end-of-year graduation in Year 12, and it is in the form of a small slip of paper:
Is the AST important — and do I need to do well?
The answer can be a little confusing, but here’s the most important thing you need to know: how your school does as a whole in the AST is much more important than your individual ATAR score. In terms of the AST being used to scale your ATAR, think of each of your peers’ AST results being a data point, with each school having a separate set of data that represents their cohort’s performance. Now let’s introduce the “AST see-saw”. Note: we are not here to provide a fully accurate, mathematical explanation, but rather explain the general idea and what you should consider.
Case 1: The Perfect Regression
Relative Score Comparison: to even out differences between exam difficulty of different subjects at your school
Ideally, you would want your school’s AST results, when plotted on a graph against the Year 11 and 12 results, to have a linear relationship (as seen in the graph below). That is, you would want the top Year 11 and 12 scorers to receive the top AST results — as this would indicate that the way the school has rewarded students in school exams accurately represents the student’s academic ability.
This is because achieving this result would ensure scores for different subjects are scaled accurately to reflect their difficulty. For example, let’s say Student A does Chemistry and Photography, and after exams, received a 91 in Chemistry VS a 98 in Photography. These scores don’t account for how it was significantly harder to obtain a 91 in Chemistry than it was to obtain a 98 in photography; that is, the scores don’t yet account for how the Chemistry cohort and assessments were more competitive and difficult than those for Photography. To clarify, it is much harder to rank higher and achieve a higher raw score in Chemistry than it is in Photography. That’s where the AST comes in: given the Chemistry students perform better in AST than the Photography students at the same school, the Chemistry students’ course scores will be scaled higher to compensate for their initially lower raw marks from their exams.
Absolute Score Comparison: to even out differences between the cohort competitiveness of different schools
Ideally, you would want your school to do better as a whole compared to other schools as it would indicate that your cohort’s course scores should be scaled higher than School X. This is because it would suggest that it was much harder to obtain a certain score and/or rank at your school than it was at School X because you are competing against a much more competitive cohort — indicated by the fact you received better AST results than School X. Remember, the ATAR is all about how you rank compared to all students in Canberra, and having your school’s AST raw mark be better than other schools’ is an important factor in calculating the ATARs of your cohort.
Case 2: The Moderate Regression
Let’s say some of the top students did poorly in the AST, which would cause a moderate regression due to the outliers (remember the assumption that top students should do better in the AST at their school). This would mean that some subjects are not scaled as well compared to others, even if they were much more difficult — as it indicates that the academic ability of students in these harder subjects (typically the top students) did not differ much to the students in relatively ‘easier’ subjects. For example, Chemistry and Photography may be scaled more similarly.
Case 3: The Failed Regression
This happens if students don’t do their best in the AST. Not only would their school be scaled less than other schools, but course results for each subject would be scaled poorly. We are not trying to scare you here as this result can easily be avoided if everyone tried their best.
The ATARs of students at either extremes (i.e. those near the bottom OR those near the top of their school) are generally much less affected by the AST than the students who are around average i.e. around the middle of the graph. It is important to note that the AST doesn’t actually change your individual ranking at school, but rather changes how your cohort’s course scores are scaled.
Overall, the AST makes it so that the final ATAR that each student gets represents what they would’ve gotten if all students attended the same school (i.e. same assessment difficulty) and completed all subjects (i.e. same exam difficulty and cohort competitiveness). Thus, why it is important to perform well not only individually, but more importantly, as a cohort in the AST.
How do you prepare for the AST?
Typically, your college will provide lots of practice exams and dedicate several days in both Year 11 and Year 12 towards AST preparation — as the AST results significantly influence the school’s ATAR performance as previously discussed. However, independent preparation is highly recommended as familiarising yourself with the marking scheme can increase your marks. Below are a few tips and tricks for each section of the AST:
- Try to complete AST preparation during the holidays and when there is light school work
- AST is advertised as skills which you have learnt at school, but practice will allow you to apply them well for the exam
- Simulate your practice and mark harshly
- Track your progress and work on areas you are weak in
- However, from personal experience, if you just can’t seem to improve in one area — try to do the absolute best you can in other areas to compensate for the lower mark
- This section consists of both English and Maths style questions. Shift your thought process quickly
- Write dot points as your answers and identify how many marks each questions is worth — most likely, if a question is worth e.g. 2 marks, you need to mention 2 key points
- After the obvious answer, the marker is looking for thoughtful and more unique interpretations
- You are NOT allowed calculators into the AST; check your mental maths and practice beforehand as well
- Be careful in interpreting data, taking extra notice of the x and y axis — as well as exactly what the variables are
Multiple Choice Section
- Can be time-exhausting. Stay concentration with practice!
- Complete two rounds of completing the exam. In the first round, it’s all about speed: answer all the questions you know and skip the ones that you’re unsure about. In the second round, complete all questions you were stuck on and double-check your previous answers
- If you have extra time, on your second round of checking your answers, cover your initial answer and check if you get the same after working it out again
- Try to not overthink!
- Answer every question — even if it’s just a guess!
- If it’s a tricky question, try to use process of elimination by eliminating the answers that are obviously incorrect
Long Response Section
- Write a detailed plan, not a draft — so you know what to cover in each paragraph
- Be careful of the word count, as they will mark you down for going over
- Use innovative ideas and personal anecdotes
- Nuanced arguments are marked well e.g. pointing out potential flaws that an opposing party would pick up on in your previous arguments, but then reinforcing/resolving it with other evidence/anecdotes
- Do NOT quote the stimulus — they are looking for original ideas
- Essay structure, grammar, and spelling is vital!
Now that you know everything important about the AST, we wish you the best of luck and hope you prepare well!
This blog was written by our Chemistry tutor, Sreeya. You can find her profile here.