What Is the ATAR | Student Ranking Explained

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Thinking about life after graduating from high school can be daunting. There are so many options and possibilities, from tertiary education and apprenticeships to graduate jobs and gap years. For students considering tertiary education, their ATAR number will be one of the most important factors for admissions.

ATAR In Brief

In brief, the ATAR is the Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank. It is a number between 0 and 99.95, which shows where students rank in their year group, based on their academic performance. The ATAR is a rank, not a mark out of 100. Tertiary institutions will set a minimum ATAR score for each course, so a student’s ATAR will largely determine what courses they are eligible for. The average ATAR is 70.

The ATAR is part of the new Queensland Certificate of Education (QCE) system, and will replace the Overall Position (OP) system to bring Queensland in line with other states and territories that use ATAR.

In Queensland, the ATAR will be introduced for students who started Year 11 in 2019 and will graduate from the end of 2020, looking to enter tertiary courses beginning in 2021.


In Queensland, it is only students who are eligible for an Overall Position (OP) that can get an ATAR. Students will also need to study a certain number of units and choose from a set list of subjects in order to be eligible for an ATAR. Note that not all HSC courses can be counted for an ATAR. You can find out all about which HSC courses can be used in the ATAR calculation at uac.edu.au.


How Is ATAR Calculated?

The ATAR shows how well students have performed overall compared to other students in the same year. It is a rank, not a score – it shows students’ percentile position in their year group.

This position, or rank, is calculated by the following:

  • The University Admissions Centre (UAC) scales different courses based on the performance of students that year. This sets an even playing field for students’ performance in different subjects that would otherwise not be comparable. It means that the whole range of subjects has the same ability for getting high or low ATARs. So universities can compare students fairly and equitably, even if they have done completely different subjects.
  • Students receive scaled marks for their top 10 units. This is their 2 best units of English and their 8 other top scoring units.
  • Each unit is worth 50 points, giving a final aggregate score out of 500.
  • The whole year of Year 12 students in the state (including OP-eligible and ineligible students and students not in senior schooling) is given a score out of 500.
  • Then each student’s aggregate score will show where they fit on that rank. So if someone performed better than 70% of the students in their year group, their ATAR will be 70. The maximum ATAR is 99.95, which would mean being in the top 0.05% in that year group.

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How Is ATAR Used?

The ATAR is used by tertiary institutions such as universities to rank and select students for admission into courses. Most universities require other selection criteria too, such as portfolios of work, interviews or admissions tests.

Each tertiary institution sets a minimum ATAR for each course. Students applying for tertiary study list their 5 course preferences. Then the UAC system can offer them the highest preference that they are eligible for on their list.

How to Get an ATAR

If a student wants to find out their ATAR, they need to apply for an ATAR statement. You can see the ATAR application form here. It is free to lodge this application. Applications from current Year 12 students will be processed after the OPs are released in December.

Otherwise, the Queensland Curriculum & Assessment Authority (QCAA) simply provides students’ ATARs (along with other tertiary entrance data such as OPs) directly to the Queensland Tertiary Admissions Centre (QTAC). So if a student is applying for entrance to a university, the admissions centre can obtain their ATAR from QTAC.

Important to Remember

Many factors may influence what courses a student is suitable for. Focusing only on the ATAR is not advisable. If a student’s ATAR is higher than the cut-off, there may still be additional criteria they need to meet. If their score is lower, they may still be eligible for the course. Universities do not always focus only on ATAR scores and there may be alternative pathways available.

Students should remember to focus on what courses they really want to take, rather than focussing too much on their ATAR. Students should also make sure they put their most desired course as their first preference on their tertiary study applications.

More Information

The Queensland Curriculum & Assessment Authority (QCAA) facilitates students’ entry into tertiary study. The QCAA provides extensive information about ATAR, as well as OPs and tertiary entrance.

You can also read all about ATAR on the UAC website at uac.edu.au.

Students and parents can also talk to the school’s career adviser for more information and assistance.

You can also contact the Queensland Tertiary Admissions Centre (QTAC) for further details about ATAR and university admissions. Visit qtac.edu.au.

About the Author
Paula Johnson
For over fifteen years Paula has worked as an editor and writer of educational books and support materials, working in England, Hong Kong and Brisbane. Now with two Brisbane Kids of her own, she enjoys spending time with her children, discovering new places together, making things and getting grubby … and sharing it all with our readers! She loves the fun and creativity of writing for Brisbane Kids and how it allows her to combine her two greatest passions — writing and mummying!

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