How much do your internal ranks matter in the HSC for your ATAR?

Did you know that scaling/ ranking is equally as important as how well you did in each subject? It might come as a pleasant surprise or it could be disheartening - but in the end, it's best to know more about how the system works! Keep reading to find out.

a year ago   •   4 min read

By KIS Academics
Photo by Joshua Golde / Unsplash

Most HSC students can become disheartened after finishing their internals thinking that they will be unable to do well in their ATAR if their internals weren't amazing. I think this is a complete misunderstanding of how the ATAR is calculated, what scaling means and more! You could have poor marks in school but still, turn things around through your final exam! If you're still a bit confused about exactly how the ATAR works, we explore the nitty gritty in this blog. Or if you're looking to brush up on more specifically how the HSC works, check out our comprehensive guide to the HSC system!

What are internal ranks?

Internal ranks are determined by your overall performance in exams and assignments in school. Depending on the weighting of each task, your school calculates your overall grade and ranks everyone according to this final grade. In your last year 12 report, the rank received for each subject is your internal mark. This is submitted to NESA and it is important to ensure the rank visible on NESA matches the one on your report.

Marks received - Internal and external

When receiving your HSC results, there are two important columns. Your internal mark column and your external mark. The internal mark relates to your academic performance at your school, whereas the HSC mark is the mark received on the external HSC exam you sit in October/November.

How internal marks are calculated using your internal mark

Your overall mark in school is not as important as your internal rank determines what mark you will receive for your internals. For instance, if you ranked first in a subject, you will receive the highest mark scored by a student in your cohort for that subject, at your school, as your internal mark. Similarly, if you were second, you would receive the second-highest mark scored and so on.

Let’s look at an example of the whole cohort of students completing physics at a school.

Note: that the HSC mark ranked against others in the cohort is used to show you how the internal marks are allocated based on the internal ranks received.

In this example, notice how those whose HSC mark, ranked against the others at their school, was the same as their internal mark. This arises from Tom, Alex and Adam ranking the same in internals.

Additionally, as you can see, Lily ranked 3rd in HSC. Despite this, as she ranked first in her internals, she received the highest mark scored (which was 95) for her internal mark. Consequently, internal ranks do matter to an extent as the better it is, the more of an advantage you provide yourself, particularly if students in your cohort achieve a higher mark than you in HSC exams.

HSC Mark

However, your internal rank doesn’t impact what you will receive for your HSC Mark. That mark is purely based on what mark you received for the external HSC exams completed at the end of year 12 which you sit in October/November. It is ultimately your raw mark, however, scaling does occur to make adjustments depending on the difficulty and overall performance of the year 12 cohort in that exam.

It’s okay if you don’t do as well as you hoped in your internal assessment!

Overall, these two marks work together to provide you with an overall mark for each subject. Both marks are equally weighted, contributing 50% to your overall grade for each subject. For instance, if you scored a mark of 90 in HSC but a mark of 96 in your internals, you will receive an overall mark of 93. Hence, having a poor internal rank will not be the end of the world if you would like to do well in the HSC as the final exam has a 50% weight!

ATAR Calculation

These marks will then be used to calculate your ATAR. Overall, it is important to strive to do better than as many people as possible within each course. This arises from your ATAR being a rank. Therefore, no set combination of marks will enable you to achieve a particular ATAR, but the higher you rank in each subject you complete, the higher an ATAR you will receive.

This is why it is important to ensure you don’t take subjects just because you think they scale well. For example, if you took physics thinking it scales well and a 70 is a good mark, your grade may be extremely skilled at the subject and mean that instead of 70 being an average to high mark, that you ait in the bottom half. This would greatly negatively impact your ATAR due to it being calculated based on where you sit in your cohort.  


Your internal rank does matter to an extent in the HSC as having a rank in the middle or bottom half of your cohort could result in an unpredictable grade being received for your internal mark. However, having the same weighting as your external mark in the calculation of your final mark for each subject, you can greatly push up your overall mark if you do well in your external exam.

But don't let all this information stress you out! At the end of the day, your mental health is what counts - check out our tips on how to destress during your HSC years.

Written by KIS Academics HSC Tutor Sandrine Maximus, for Legal Studies, Maths and more! Sandrine is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Actuarial Studies and Information Technology (majoring in Data Science) at MQU. You can view Sandrine's profile here and request her as a private tutor.

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