With so many deadlines to meet in years 11 and 12, it is easy to miss the bigger picture. This guide aims to assist you in understanding what to expect in Years 11-12 so you can make informed decisions through these years.
What is ATAR?
ATAR stands for Australian Tertiary Admission Rank. It is a number between 0 and 99.95 that indicates your ranking relative to all Australian students in the same year, undertaking the ATAR pathway.
For example, if you receive an ATAR of 90.00 at the end of Year 12, it means:
- You are in the top 10% of all Year 12 students undertaking the ATAR pathway (not just WA students but all the students within Australia)
A student’s ATAR course results are used by TISC, the Tertiary Institutions Service Center to calculate your Australian Tertiary Admission Rank. This ATAR value is used to determine which University courses you are eligible to enter.
ATAR courses and the ATAR pathway are for students who want to go to university after high school. For those aiming to get into specialised courses, maximising your ATAR score will be your main priority.
What is WACE?
The Western Australian Certificate of Education (WACE) is a certificate issued to WA students upon successfully completing WACE requirements at the end of Year 12. It is nationally recognised by universities, industry and training providers. The two main types of WACE courses:
- General Courses
There is a difference between the terms ATAR and WACE
ATAR courses taught at WA schools are based on SCSA curriculums, which set a framework for what schools should cover. Different schools have different assessments and tests. Because there is room for discrepancies with how the content is marked, and the difficulty of assessments and assignments, WACE exams take place.
WACE exams are the final set of exams in Year 12. All WA students doing the same ATAR course will receive the same paper and will be marked the same way. This helps “standardise” the scores to ensure a fair mark is allocated.
*SCSA stands for School Curriculum and Standards Authority and their responsibility extends to the ATAR course curriculums, assessments, and standards.
How ATAR is calculated in WA
If your ATAR courses consist of only a written component (e.g.: Maths Specialist, English, Chemistry, Physics etc.) and no practical components, your final ATAR will be calculated like this:
- ModerationAs it is unlikely that school marks for the same ATAR course at different schools are comparable, moderation done by SCSA helps ensure comparability of school marks and grades between schools. This is done using the WACE exam.
- Standardised combined scoreStudent’s combined scores are standardised so that the distribution of these scores has a mean close to 60 and a standard deviation close to 14.
- Scaled scoreScaling, also known as marks adjustment changes your score for differences in difficulty between courses. This is to make sure no student is disadvantaged in being eligible for a University course because they study more difficult courses. TISC is responsible for this average mark scaling (AMS).
Only the top four scaled scores from the ATAR courses you are doing WACE exams for will count towards your ATAR.
To the sum of your top four scaled scores, any additional bonuses are then added.
There is a 10% bonus for these subjects:
- Mathematics Methods
- Mathematics Specialist
This means the value (10% of your scaled score in these subjects) will be added to the sum of your top four scaled scores. This is regardless of whether Mathematics Methods and or Mathematics Specialist is in your top four. Of course, to get this 10% bonus, it must be an ATAR course you follow through to the WACE exam and complete.
The aggregate sum is then placed on a scale with all of your final year peers within Australia to determine your ATAR.
An example to show you comprehensively how this works:
Mathematics Methods 73
Mathematics Specialist 75
Human Biology 76
- This student has taken 5 ATAR subjects
- The top four scaled scores: Methods, Specialist, English and Human Biology add to 296
- Because the student has undertaken Methods and Specialist through to the WACE exams and completed the ATAR course, bonuses will apply to the sum. We add 7.3 and 7.5 to 296.
- The aggregate sum is 310.8 (7.3 + 7.5 + 296)
- To put an ATAR score to this, we will use TISC’s historical data to get a predicted ATAR for this student.data: TEA: 310.8, Year: 2022
💡 According to the TISC calculator, a student in 2022 with these scores will receive an ATAR of 96.46.
NOTE: Using this calculator means relying on historical data, and should only be taken as a predictor as yearly scaling, and moderation differ.
Choosing ATAR subjects
As a WACE requirement, students must have one pair of Year 12 units from List A (arts/languages/social sciences) and List B (mathematics/science/ technology).
Your school will be able to provide more details on what ATAR courses are offered.
It is compulsory to take at least one English ATAR course (English ATAR or Literature ATAR) for the duration of Years 11 and 12.
- You should be able to undertake English ATAR and Literature ATAR simultaneously and have them both count in your top four. As a student who completed both as of 2022 and had them both in my top four, people who say both cannot be counted are referring to past years.
- As of 2024, you are able to have both Mathematics Applications and Mathematics Methods in your top four. It is an acceptable subject combination. Mathematics Applications and Mathematics Specialist, however, will remain an unacceptable combination.An example:Scaled scores
Mathematics Applications 82
Mathematics Methods 80
Mathematics Specialist 81
Chemistry 75The courses highlighted in blue will count towards their top four, the Tertiary Entrance Aggregate (TEA). Even though Maths Specialist is in the student’s top four, it cannot be counted with Math Applications, and it is lower than Maths Applications. Mathematics Applications and Methods are used because they are a higher combination.It is important to note whilst Mathematics Specialist is not in the student’s top four, Specialist and Method 10% bonuses will be added to the top four sum.
5 ATAR subjects or 6 ATAR subjects?
This will depend on what you are more comfortable with. At my school, 5 ATAR subjects will allow you to gain an official study period during the day. 5 ATAR subjects were the minimum ATAR subjects to study. Choosing 5 ATAR subjects may be a better option if you believe you can make full use of your study period to boost your course marks.
6 ATAR subjects is a safer option, if you are hesitant about what course you are performing well in. This is because if you perform poorly in one course, you will still be “backed up” by your course in 5th place.
Of course, it is always possible to start with 6 ATAR courses and then drop to 5 ATAR courses during the time of your ATAR journey. If that is your plan of action, I recommend reflecting on the number of courses as soon as possible.
Charting the road ahead
There are six key considerations that I believe will benefit your journey through Years 11 and 12.
- Make sure you research scholarships to apply during Year 12 when you are in Year 11. Some will list requirements like ATAR, volunteer hours, and sporting which need to be approved and done during Year 11. This will open up your opportunity to be eligible for scholarships.
- Be aware of the prerequisites for your desired course. It may be ATAR course subjects you must take OR a test outside of school. For example, to be eligible for veterinary science in Perth at Murdoch, students must sit the Casper Assessment.
- Be aware of early offer dates, and TISC application rounds in Year 12. I was able to apply for an early offer by UWA mid-year 12 and hear from them before my final school exams.
- Whilst Year 11 is as important as Year 12 with early offers based on Year 11 predicted ATARS, it is alright to make mistakes. Remember, ATAR is a marathon, not a sprint. If you find yourself performing not as well as you hoped, persist with it if you are passionate about it — ask your teacher for feedback. Time is limited, but practice in subjects like Math, English (yes English!), and Chemistry, paired with feedback and reflection, will help.
- Take care of your mental health. Year 11 and Year 12 can be a period of time where study seems to be the only thing you do. However, it is important to have different pillars in your life to affirm who you are. If it is manageable and worth it (consider time per week, and what you gain from it), keep a hobby, hang out with friends, and continue your job. This will make the academic journey not so daunting.
- There is no such thing as bad ATAR. It is important to think of it as a means to getting into your desired course! If your ATAR is enough to get you into the course you want, the university you want — well done to you!
If you would like more information on these topics, please visit the SCSA, and TISC websites as well as your university website. Whether you are a Year 10 about to start ATAR or a Year 11 about to finish your final year, best of luck with your academic studies. You can do this!
This blog was written by our English tutor, Chloe Yeung. You can find her tutor profile here.