How the WACE works: Understanding Western Australia's Year 12 ATAR system

Both parents and students alike have a plethora of questions when it comes to upper school, especially regarding WACE, ATAR, scaling and so much more! So here is your concise survival guide to help understand the system a little better!

2 years ago   •   4 min read

By KIS academics
Photo by Nathan Hurst / Unsplash

Both parents and students alike have a plethora of questions when it comes to upper school, especially regarding  WACE, ATAR, scaling and so much more! So here is your concise survival guide to help understand the system a little better!  If you're still unsure how exactly the ATAR is calculated, check out our comprehensive guide to the ATAR.

What is WACE?

WACE stands for the Western Australian Certificate of Education. This is a certificate that students receive on successful completion of the requirements of the WACE after their senior secondary education. This is what is recognised by all universities in Australia and other tertiary institutions.

What is ATAR?

ATAR is short for Australian Tertiary Admission Rank and ranges from 99.95 to zero and is a method to position you relative to all other students in the state who sit the WACE exam in a year. It is based on your TEA: the sum of your best four SCALED scores out of 400 (4x100 = 400).

For each subject score, 50% is from school results and assessments in YEAR 12 and the rest 50% is from the subject WACE exam.

Interestingly, some subjects have scaled bonuses that are added to your marks EVEN IF THEY WERE NOT IN YOUR TOP FOUR (usually Languages, Maths Specialist and Maths Methods).

  • e.g. If you did French as a Second Language and/or Maths Methods and/or Maths Specialist, you would get 10% of the scaled mark of French + 10% of the scaled mark for Specialist + 10% of the scaled mark for Methods all added to your TEA even if they were not in your top Four! This will be out of a max of 430 (depending on the subjects you take)

A common misconception is that ATAR is the percentage of marks a student receives in Year 12. However, this is not true. If you have an ATAR of 82.00, for instance, it means that you have achieved as well as or better than 82% of the Year 12 school-leaver population in WA.

ATAR courses are examined by the School Curriculum and Standards Authority (SCSA) through external examinations (NOT in-school). Your ATAR determines your eligibility for university entrance directly from the school. Students can do a MINIMUM of 4 Year 12 ATAR courses (excluding unacceptable combinations), although at least 5 ATAR courses are recommended. If you're interested in brushing up more on exactly how the ATAR works, here is a comprehensive ATAR guide.

Requirements for setting the WACE exams:

To qualify for WACE by Year 11, students need to achieve WACE Literacy and Numeracy Standard by:

  • pre-qualifying by achieving Band 8 or higher in the Year 9 NAPLAN


  • Online Literacy and Numeracy Assessment (OLNA) (if they did not succeed in NAPLAN Year 9 or had not completed NAPLAN as they came from a different country)

Choosing subjects for Years 11 and 12

Students are to choose their subjects for Years 10, 11 and 12 if they choose the ATAR pathway. It is recommended that they choose their subjects in year 10 so they can best prepare for WACE-related topics in Year 11.

Requirements for subject choices for WACE:

  • 2 Year 12 ATAR subjects must come from List A (arts, languages, humanities subjects)
  • 2 Year 12 ATAR subjects must come from List B (mathematics, science, technology subjects)

Although requirements are for year 12 courses, schools require you to choose 2 lists A subjects and 2 lists B so that you don't change the subject in-between year 11 and year 12. Changing subjects between years 11 and 12 is highly unadvisable!

Apart from this, there are certain combinations of subjects you are not allowed to do. Such as:

  • Maths Applications ATAR + Maths Specialist ATAR
  • Maths Applications ATAR + Maths Methods ATAR + Maths Specialist ATAR
  • only Maths Specialist ATAR
  • English ATAR + Literature ATAR

Certain subjects must be taken together. For example, if you take Maths Specialist, it is imperative that you also take Maths Methods.

Some schools do not offer some subjects, so it is important to look at the list that the school gives to see if they can do the subject they wish.

Why are Years 11 and 12 a pair?

ATAR is split into four units: Units 1 and 2 studies in Year 11 (in that order) and Units 3 and 4 in Year 12, respectively. Units 1 and 2 serve as prerequisites for units 3 and 4 and so must be done sequentially.

Note: Some students like to switch to a completely new subject in-between years 11 and 12 and so they would require to do some extra learning over the summer holidays about the things taught in Unit 1 and Unit 2 so that they are up to speed by the time Unit 3 and 4 starts in Year 12

Now, what is scaling?

ATAR scaling aims to make Year 12 academic scoring fair for students across all schools and all subjects. Scaling, unfortunately, is not up to the school or the student, it is up to SCSA and is the responsibility of TISC.  Some factors that influence scaling include, the school you went to, the subjects you do, and your specific cohort in that year. You may be scaled up in a subject, scaled down or even NOT at all! Typically subjects like Physics ATAR, Chemistry ATAR, Maths Specialist ATAR, English ATAR, Literature ATAR and Languages can be scaled up.

HOWEVER! Whether or not subjects get scaled up or down SHOULD NOT DICTATE SUBJECT CHOICE! Every year, scaling up or down a subject varies so you can never predict what happens.

In Conclusion...

The WACE ATAR 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 your ATAR, KIS Academics tutors have a thorough knowledge of the subjects and can assist in understanding curriculum requirements. Our tutors can provide materials and teach how to prepare for internal and external assessments. Learn about our WACE tutoring and book a free study skills consultation with a KIS Academics private tutor.

Written by KIS Academics Tutor and State Consultant for Western Australia (WACE) Nandana Binu. You can view Nandana's profile and request her as a tutor.

Disclaimer: KIS Academics is not affiliated with the WA School Curriculum and Standards Authority (SCSA). For a more detailed overview of the WACE, please refer to SCSA materials.

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