Optimising your ATAR is something that can be done at any stage of the high school journey. Whether you’ve just started high school or are in the middle of your external exams, there are still steps that you can take to maximise your ATAR. 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.
Before getting into the tips, it’s worth addressing that – as important as your results and ATAR may be – it’s not the only thing that matters and should not completely consume your life. If you’re after tips on generally making the most of your experience, we also have an article about it that you can read after this.
With that said, here are the tips you came here for:
1. Try new things
Take the time to try different things in your free time. Go ahead and learn karate; make and use the French mother sauces; create some short films; or build a calculator in python. Whatever it is, while you have spare time in your younger years, make the most of it. This may seem a bit random, but it will make sense later.
2. Don’t be afraid to fail
Did I just tell you to fail in order to get good results? No, but especially while your ATAR is still years away, focus less on getting good grades and more on actually learning. If you focus on trying to learn, the grades should follow but if you focus on the grades, you’ll be less likely to retain what you’ve learnt – making things harder down the track.
3. Don’t be limited by the syllabus
Perhaps you’ve come up with something in one of the subjects that you find really interesting, but you only get to spend a little bit of time on it before the class moves on. Don’t let this hold you back from learning more about it – especially with the internet at your fingers, there’s nothing to stop you from finding a good blog or YouTube channel that can help fuel this interest.
4. Meet your prerequisites
If you’re planning to go to university (which, if you’re taking the time to learn about maximising your ATAR, I assume you probably would be), then there will likely be subject prerequisites that vary depending on the program that you would like to study. While this tip won’t necessarily impact your ATAR, it is still important to ensure you meet the other entry criteria to put it to full use, so be sure to keep this in mind while choosing subjects.
5. Ignore scaling
Many people I’ve spoken to assume that to get a good ATAR, you must take the highest-scaling subjects. There’s a massive caveat to this: scaling only really helps if you performed similarly in whatever subjects. Therefore, to get the best results out of the courses that you study, try to think beyond just how well it scales.
6. Follow your passions
This ties into all the previous tips, but in order to make the best subject selections, play to your strengths and choose subjects that you’re passionate about. If you’re passionate about the subjects that you choose, motivation should not be an issue that you face, and you’ll enjoy sinking the necessary time into exploring the concepts it teaches. This is where the tips for junior years pay off – if you’ve followed these, you should have a good idea of where it is that these passions of yours lie.
7. Stay consistent
One of the worst things you can do to your studies is inconsistent (trust me, I’m terrible at it). It is so easy to get yourself into the perspective that “it’s all easy” or “I know most of it”, but this leads very swiftly to a poor understanding of core concepts and a quickly growing workload (which, comes with studying for external exams, is not fun). Make sure that you are taking the time from the very start of each term to do the revision, including recapping past content.
8. Get ahead
Things come up, assignments can be hard, and plans don’t always go right – that’s life. The best way to avoid letting this throw you off is to be proactive – get ahead. In addition to just being better prepared if something goes wrong, doing things ahead of schedule has a host of other benefits: teachers will be more available to help early on, you don’t have to shut down to cram right before deadlines and, it won’t matter if every subject has something due at the same time, you’ve already done it.
9. The rubric is your friend
The rubric/marking guide provided with assignments is something you may have written off as just being there for the teacher once you submit. While it is also used for that, the great thing is, it tells you exactly what to do to get each mark. Because the rubric breaks down exactly where the marks come from, it also tells you exactly what must be included to succeed. It’s basically a cheat sheet that everyone ignores.
10. Understanding trumps knowing
This may have slightly more relevance to STEM subjects (although I wouldn’t count it out for the rest), but essentially try to understand WHY things work, don’t just leave it at knowing that they do. If you take the time to understand a concept and how it came about, it will be much easier to remember, revise and apply it than simply knowing that it exists.
11. Take it easy
As counterproductive as this may sound, take a step back from time to time. You have a full two years of senior subjects – if you’re pushing yourself to the limit the whole time, you’ll be burnt out well before your external exams.
12. Don’t forget the syllabus
The best way to make sure that you know everything that you need for your exams is to consult the subject’s syllabus which should be accessible online (such as here for QLD students). The syllabus lays out everything that the subject could assess, so it serves as a fantastic checklist for content to know. It is also important to know how much your subject scales, for example, if you're a VCE student, take look at the VCE Scaling Report. If you're still curious about how the ATAR works, here is a thorough breakdown of the ATAR for you to check out.
13. Practice makes perfect
There’s a reason it’s so cliché, that’s because it’s true. Understanding the content is crucial, but it will only get you so far. The important thing for exams is knowing how to apply this information and communicate it to address the exam. Past papers and practice questions will give you an ideal opportunity to hone this ability.
14. Don’t sleep on sleep
You may be tempted to pull crazy all-nighters and late nights to give yourself as many hours of study as you can get – DON’T! One of the most important tools in your arsenal is your sleep. Staying well-rested will keep you at peak mental capacity and help you to actually hold on to what you get out of studying.
15. Stay healthy
Don’t use external exams as an excuse to neglect your health. Be sure to eat well and get regular exercise in your studies. In order to ensure that you’re mentally fit for exams, you’ve got to make sure to keep the rest of your system running at full capacity.
Written by KIS Academics Tutor, Quinn Horton. Quinn is currently pursuing a Bachelor's (Honours) and Master of Engineering [Mechatronics] at the University of Queensland. You can view his profile here, if you would like to find out more about him or request him as a tutor.