Breaking Down The ATAR - how is the ATAR calculated?

4 years ago   •   5 min read

By Dylan Kay
Photo by Mahmoud Amer / Unsplash
Table of contents

Your ATAR. A single number was created to make life easier for Universities, so they can quickly isolate the best students from the rest. Whether we like it or not, this score will determine the opportunities that are available to us after high school.

So if you’re a high school student, you need to understand how your ATAR is going to be calculated. You probably have a general idea of how it works but if you don’t understand completely then keep reading. The philosophy of our company is Keep it Simple, and that's what I’ll do. If you're still hesitant about what exactly the ATAR is, check out this comprehensive article where we dive deep into the intricacies of the ATAR score.

Let’s break down every component that goes into calculating your ATAR in Victoria.


  • VCAA – These guys create the curriculums for your subjects and then the final assessments.
  • VTAC – They will scale your scores from VCAA up or down and calculate your ATAR.
  • A Study – Alias for a subject i.e Further Mathematics.
  • Unit – There are four units in a study that is designed to be completed over 2 years.
  • Units 3/4 – The final 2 units of a study you will spend Year 12 completing.
  • Your English Study – You must do one of English, English Language, Literature or EAL.
  • Graded Assessments (GA) – The three VCAA assessments for a subject.
  • Total marks – The total of all your marks scored in the GAs.
  • Study Score (aka Raw Score) – A rank that shows how your total marks compare to every other student in that subject.
  • Scaled Score – An adjusted Study Score based on the ‘competitiveness’ of a subject.
  • Contribution – The points a ‘Study’ is worth after scaling and other factors.
  • Aggregate – The sum of your contributions, this is what your ATAR is based on.

1. First up: Graded Assessments

Every student gets the same three VCAA assessments for a given subject. A GA can be a unit (or units) of coursework, written examination or performance examination.

Take a look at what Chemistry’s GAs were in 2019:

ChemistryGA 1 GA 2GA 3
AssessmentCoursework Unit 3Coursework Unit 4Written Examination
Max Marks10090240

Method’s GAs was slightly different:

MethodsGA 1 GA 2GA 3
AssessmentCoursework Unit 3 & 4Written Explanation 1Written Examination 2
Max Marks10080160

As you can see the type and weighting of these assessments can vary depending on the subject. But in general, they are a combination of your coursework and final VCAA exams.

You can find more details about your specific subjects here.

How you perform in all of these assessments is graded by VCAA. Your total marks awarded from the assessments are used to calculate your Study Score.

2. How your Study Score is Calculated

Your Study Score is calculated from your total marks by comparing your total to the total of every other student in that subject. If you got the average amount of marks when compared to the other students, your Study Score would be exactly 30. A Study Score can range between 0 and 50, 0 meaning you were the worst performer in your subject and 50 meaning you outperformed everyone else in your subject. You might have accumulated 250 marks from your GAs but if everyone else in the subject scored higher you’re still getting a 0 Study Score.

Scored a 50? you were one of the best students in Victoria and we’d be interested in hiring you for our VCE tutoring courses.

3. How VTAC Scales your Study Score

Let’s say you picked Specialist Mathematics for Year 12… where there are a lot of smart kids just like you and even smarter. If it wasn’t for scaling you would be at a MASSIVE disadvantage, you just picked one of the hardest subjects where most people are going to beat you in the General Assessments. Meaning you’re expecting a 30 Study Score if you’re lucky. You should have just done Further Mathematics, where there were fewer of the smarter kids and you could almost guarantee to get at least a 40 Study Score. Choosing the subject that gives you a 40-study score instead of a 30 is a no-brainer. Nope! Your Specialist study score would have been scaled up from a 30 to a 41 and your Further score would have been scaled DOWN from a 40 to a 38. So you would have been better off in Specialist after all…

How does VTAC decide to scale for a study? VTAC looks at the students studying a particular subject and calculates their average study scores in ALL of their subjects. If their average study score across all of their subjects is low, the subject will be scaled down. On the other hand, if all the students had a higher average study score the subject would be scaled up. This information is often reported at the end of the year in the VCAA Scaling Report

I know! that probably didn’t make any sense. Let’s look at all the students doing Subject A. As stated before, the average study score of any given subject is 30. So, the average study score in Subject A of all the students studying Subject A is 30. By taking a look at how these same students performed in other subjects we can judge the difficulty of Subject A. If these students averaged a 27 study score across ALL of their subjects, it means these set of students were under-performers when compared to the rest of the students (since the average of every subject is 30). So with Subject A students being mostly under-performers, it suggests it would have been EASIER to get a higher study score in Subject A (it would have been easier for you beat them in total marks). This is why VTAC scales it down.

Here is a super detailed article from VTAC about Scaling

Which subjects get scaled up/down the most? Click here.

4. Adding it all up: The Aggregate.

Now that we know how to find the scaled scores of each of your subjects, how do they contribute to your ATAR? You need to find your Aggregate, which just means ‘scaled total’ essentially with a small twist. It is derived by adding the scaled scores of:

  1. Your English Study scaled score
  2. Your TOP 3 Study scaled scores
  3. 10% of your fifth and sixth scaled scores

So if you’re doing 6 units, your bottom 2 subjects get massively discounted and only contribute 10% of their scaled score to your ATAR. I know what you’re thinking… Don’t fall for it. Just because it’s only worth 10% doesn’t mean you can just forget about your worst subjects. So many kids fall for this and it’s to YOUR advantage. Every point counts when it comes to outperforming the rest of the students in Victoria.

5. Finally, how your ATAR is calculated.

Surprisingly this is the easiest chapter to understand. Your ATAR is simply a rank that shows where your Aggregate sits in comparison to every other student in your age group. If you got a 90 ATAR, your Aggregate was higher than 90% of your age group and therefore you are in the top 10% of students in Australia. If you're looking for more information, here is another thorough breakdown of how the ATAR works.

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