Whenever I talk to young people about school and their potential results, I am horrified to hear some of the misconceptions and misunderstandings they have about the ATAR system.
This is a final school grade that most students believe to be important, and about which many are worried. Yet few of them actually take the time to learn what it is really all about.
Let’s have a look at 5 of the biggest misconceptions many students have about the Qld ATAR system.
#1 Year 11 Doesn’t Count
For a start, we need to stop thinking about ‘Year 11’ and ‘Year 12’. There are now 4 units of study in each General subject. Units 1 and 2 are formative and units 3 and 4 are summative. What that means is that only the marks you receive in units 3 and 4 contribute towards your final percentage in that subject.
HOWEVER, that does NOT mean that you can slack off in units 1 and 2. The assessment tasks completed in these units are designed to mirror those in units 3 and 4, is essence, giving you a practice run before the summative tasks. You need to learn from these assessment items and be guided by them so that you know what to expect in units 3 and 4.
In order to be awarded a QCE (Qld Certificate of Education), you must have passed all 4 units of the subject.
Myth #2 The ATAR I Get Is My Average Percentage Across All My Subjects.
The ATAR you receive is NOT calculated on the actual results you obtained in your subjects.
Obviously your results count as they indicate where you sit in that subject in comparison with the rest of the state cohort, but the ATAR is not an average of those subject grades.
An ATAR (Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank) is an indication of where you sit within the whole cohort of students in your year. The entire state population of students in your age group is included in the calculation, regardless of whether they are ATAR eligible or even attending school.
The ATAR score is a more fine-grained distribution than the OP that was awarded until 2019. Previously, students were awarded OPs (Overall Positions) from 1 to 25, with one being the highest score.
ATARS range from 99.95 to 0.00 in 0.05 increments.
Therefore, there are 2000 possible scores students can be awarded.
The ATAR is a percentile rank, indicating a student’s position relative to the other students in that age group in any given year.
As there are 60,000 students in the current cohort (the age group eligible to finish year 12 this academic year), 30 students will receive each of the ATAR bands.
Students who receive a 99.95 ATAR have achieved results in the top 0.05% of the state population.
Students who receive a 50.00 ATAR have achieved results in the 50th percentile of the state.
You cannot tell a student’s individual subject results from their ATAR score.
Myth #3 You Can’t Study for Unseen Exams
Hold on there! That’s a dodgy excuse if ever I heard one!
I guess this stems from a massive understanding of what exams actually test. Exams aren’t about parroting back an answer that the examiners are looking for. They are about applying learned knowledge to an unknown situation or question.
Let’s think about what you can prepare:
1. The syllabus clearly outlines the topics that will be assessed in the exam. In Maths and Sciences these are topics that have been taught during Units 3 and 4. In English, it is only the topic studied in Unit 4. In most other subjects it will be the Unit 4 topic, but it will build from the foundation skills you learned in Unit 3.
Therefore, you definitely know the content you have to learn.
2. The syllabus also tells you the genre or style of response that is required. Are you expected to write an essay, complete a source analysis, write a report etc.
This will have been practised in your mock exams. Make sure that you are familiar with all of the elements of that specific genre so that you can present your knowledge the way the marker is looking for it to be presented.
3. The cognitive verbs tell you how the marker is expecting you to think and respond. A question that asks you to analyse is very different from one that asks you to illustrate or justify. Knowing what each cognitive verb requires will help you decode the question and organise your response.
4. Specific vocabulary shows a mastery of the content and an academic approach to the subject. Talking about a book when discussing a Shakespearean play will not illustrate a strong understanding. Every subject has its own specific terminology and language. Using the appropriate terms will make you sound like an expert in the field.
5. Know how you will approach the paper. Knowing the length of time you have and the number of marks on the paper allows you to calculate the time you can spend on each question.
Having a plan of attack will also save you time. Know whether you are allowed perusal time or planning time. Don’t risk having the paper taken off you because you began to write when you weren’t allowed to do so.
If the paper has different question styles on it, know which ones you will do first. Are you best to start with paragraphs and leave the multiple choice to the end or the other way around? The order in which you complete the paper is entirely up to you. Think about it long BEFORE you walk into the exam room.
Myth #4 [Subject x] Will Be My 5th Subject and Not Count Anyway
It’s true that your 5 best results will be used to calculate your final ATAR. The problem is that subjects undergo scaling to ensure that the system is fair.
For example, a student who receives 87% for Maths Methods has arguably done better than a student who receives 87% for General Maths.
The 76% you get for Legal Studies may end up scaling lower than the 71% you get for Economics.
You (and your school) won’t know what scaling is applied before the event.
Therefore, while only your 5 best results ‘count’, you are not in a position to know which are actually your 5 best subjects.
It is important that you put maximum effort into ALL of your subjects.
Myth #5 So Long As I Pass Everything Along The Way It Doesn’t Matter If I Fail The Final Exam.
By the time you sit for your final exam you will have a fair idea of how you are tracking in each subject.
For most of your subjects you will have completed 75% of the marks and know your score.
In Maths and Sciences, however, you will only have completed 50% of the marks.
Obviously, how well you perform in your Maths and Science exams will be significant in determining your final result.
You may decide that you have done so well in your other subjects that you can completely slacken off and do no work in them and just focus on your big Maths and Science exams.
The problem here is that if you perform extremely differently in your exam from the results you received in your internal assessment tasks, all of your work will be requested and reviewed by the QCAA. Indeed, your entire cohort’s grades may need to be checked. (Making you decidedly unpopular!).
Don’t risk wasting all the good work you have done along the way.
Once exams are over you will have months of holidays and relaxation ahead of you. Don’t stop running before you cross that finish line!