How the SACE works: Understanding South Australia and the Northern Territory's Year 12 ATAR system (SACE/NTCET)

Exactly how the mythical SACE/NTCET works is a constant source of confusion for parents and students. Learn about South Australia and the Northern Territory's shared Year 12 ATAR system here

2 years ago   •   3 min read

By KIS academics
Photo by Jason H / Unsplash

The South Australian Certificate of Education (SACE) and the Northern Territory Certificate of Education and Training (NTCET) are related senior secondary certificates both managed by the SACE Board.

To obtain the SACE or NTCET, students must achieve 200 credits. How are they counted? Let's take a look:

How the SACE works:

The SACE involves Stage 1 subjects and Stage 2 subjects.

Stage 1 subjects are mostly taken in Year 11, and Stage 2 subjects are mostly taken in Year 12.

Each semester of a subject is worth 10 credits when passed. (But we’re aiming for way higher here!) Credits can also be gained through recognised VET courses and other Recognised Studies. Here’s a breakdown of credit requirements:

50 Credits - Compulsory Subjects

Students must complete 20 credits of English subjects, and 10 credits of mathematics subjects. In addition to this, they must also complete:

The Personal Learning Plan (10 credits)

The Personal Learning Plan (PLP) is a Stage 1, 10-credit subject. Here, students consider their interests and strengths to form a plan for their future academic and professional goals. The PLP has a focus on student initiative by developing research skills and strategies to improve personal qualities. It’s often the first SACE subject a student will take, as most schools offer PLP in Year 10.

The Research Project A or B (10 credits)

The Research Project (RP) is a Stage 2, 10-credit subject. There are two variants: Research Project A does not allow the student to pursue an ATAR, while Research Project B enables both ATAR and non-ATAR pathways.

At the discretion of the school, students may take the subject in Year 11 or 12 (some even complete it during the summer break in-between!). Here, students select a research question, identify what makes high-quality research, refine research methods, analyse findings, and navigate problems encountered throughout.

60 Credits - Stage 2 or VET

Of the SACE/NTCET, 60 credits must come from Stage 2 subjects and/or recognised vocational education and training course(s). Students can undertake the two in whatever ratio they choose.

90 Credits - Other Studies

The rest of the 90 credits can be made up of any Recognised Studies. This may be:

  • any SACE/NTCET subjects
  • interstate/international senior secondary learning
  • tertiary studies, including recognised VET and university studies
  • community learning, through formal programs (like AMEB or St. John’s) or self-direction (like leading community projects or being a primary carer)
  • plus way more!


SACE/NTCET subjects are evaluated through internal (school-based) and external (set by the SACE Board) assessments. External assessments allow for moderated marking standards. While external assessments often include exams, not all subjects have one! For example, an English external piece may be an assignment completed over weeks, and an arts external assessment may be a live performance instead.

ATAR Calculation

SA and NT higher education admissions are managed by the South Australian Tertiary Admissions Centre (SATAC).

The ATAR pathway is only available to students who complete

  • Research Project B
  • at least 90 credits at Stage 2
  • of which at least 60 credits must be from 20-credit Tertiary Admissions Subjects (TAS)
  • and the other 30 credits from TAS, with up to 20 credits of Recognised Studies.

The aggregate calculation process involves selecting a student’s three best-performing subjects (with scaled marks out of 20) and a “flexible option”. This option can be another subject, credits from Recognised Studies, or a mix. SATAC will work out the option that gives each student the highest possible aggregate before ranking them against each other to calculate the ATAR.

The SACE system can be quite complex, and understanding what's going on can be very daunting for new students and parents. If you ever need some assistance with SACE studies or subject-specific help, KIS Academics tutors have a thorough understanding of their subjects and can assist in understanding curriculum requirements. Our online tutors are able to provide materials and teaching on how to prepare for SACE assessments. Learn about our SACE tutoring and book a free study skills consultation with a KIS Academics online tutor.

Written by KIS Academics Tutor and State Consultant for South Australia (SACE), Yumeng Liu. You can view Yumeng's profile here and request her as a tutor.

Disclaimer: KIS Academics is not affiliated with the South Australian Tertiary Admissions Centre (SATAC). For a more detailed overview of the SACE, please refer to SATAC materials.

Spread the word

Keep reading