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06 MAY 2022
You don’t need to study HSC, VCE, QCE, WACE or SACE to get an ATAR.
So what does that mean for you? It means before you plunge into Year 11 (when your HSC/VCE/QCE/WACE or SACE starts), let’s take a step back and look at all your options including a curriculum where you can get a 99.95 ATAR with just four subjects, it’s taken by over a million students each year and you’ve probably never even heard of it.
One of the main components of a university admissions profile is an ATAR that Australian students receive based on their high school results.
With your high school results, students in Australia may wish to calculate a rank order known as the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR). The ATAR is a number between 0.00 and 99.95 that indicates a student’s position relative to all other students in the same age group. The ATAR is not a curriculum or mark, nor is it a summary of a student’s high school grades. It is a ranking system used to allocate university placements.
While there isn’t an “official” conversion from A Levels to ATAR, most universities maintain their own scale to convert. You can usually find this information under the international entry requirements for each university. Here’s some quick examples:
University of Western Australia’s conversion from A-Levels to ATAR
University of Sydney’s recognised high school qualifications
University of Melbourne’s international qualification entry scores
University of Queensland GCSE requirements
For information on other universities, Google the university name plus ‘GCSE’ or ‘international entry requirements’.
ATAR is calculated using a student’s:
Calculation of an ATAR is optional. For example, many students who do not wish to gain entry to university the following year do not request calculation of an ATAR. To be eligible for an ATAR, students must satisfactorily complete at least 10 units of certain Board Developed Courses for which formal examinations are conducted. Student’s results can be affected by scaling. The amount of scaling applied to a person's marks is dependent on the subject. A subject's scaling is determined by considering every student who partook in the subject and their performances in the other subjects that they took. If students performed overall better in their other subjects for Chemistry students versus Information Processes and Technology (IPT) students, it is deduced that the scaling applied to the Chemistry students' marks will improve their ATAR more than the IPT students' marks. This doesn't change too much every year, which means that some subjects are generally 'better scaling' than others, which influences the potential of students who choose more niche subjects.
The local Australian curriculum - HSC, VCE, QCE, SACE, WACE etc. - is usually the default curriculum for many students because it might be the only one your school offers or the only one you ever hear about. While it has its pros, there are certain limitations in studying in local curriculum if you want to apply to an international university.
The main issues are:
The International GCSEs and A Levels are the most commonly studied curriculum around the world. Never heard of them? Don’t stress. Universities around the world love the A-Levels and it’s based on the UK high school system. Subjects are designed to follow a logical, structured syllabus with all the learning goals a student should expect to master over the course of their qualification, clearly laid out.
The GCSE pathway is fairly straightforward and starts in Year 10 or earlier with students sitting up to 6 International General Certificate of Secondary Education (International GCSE) subjects. These subjects are structured as first introductions to the specific topic areas that they cover.
In Year 11, students move on to the A Levels that are further broken down into two parts: the AS Level, called “Advanced Subsidiary”, (usually done in Year 11) and A2 Level (typically done in Year 12). Traditionally, students take 4-5 AS Level subjects and then go on to take 3-4 of those subjects at the A2 Level. If you choose to take an AS Level subject and its exams without sitting the A2 Level the next year, you won’t complete the A Level qualification and instead receive just the AS qualification. The AS qualification also counts towards university entrance in Australia.
A Levels are graded on an alphabetical scale. All universities in Australia accept A Level results for international students when looking at applicants. For domestic students universities will convert the three best A Level grades to points that will correspond to an ATAR score for admissions purposes. Usually points are awarded as follows:
|A Level Grade||University Points|
Using this grade-to-point conversion and considering the three best grades, a student’s ATAR is calculated by universities. Some ATAR conversion examples:
|A Level Grades||University Points||ATAR|
*Individual universities might use a different point assignment system so please check with your institution’s website for the most up-to-date information. Some universities like USYD Medical School requires students to score 4 A* which is equivalent to a 99.95 ATAR.
Global recognition - International GCSE and A Levels are studied in over 10,000 schools by over a million students in 160 countries, including the UK, Canada, Australia, Vietnam, Korea, India and Germany! Over 1,400 universities worldwide recognise A Level qualifications. They are accepted by all Australian and UK universities, and 600 universities in the US (including all the Ivy League universities) and in many other major student destinations, such as Canada, Singapore, South Africa, Germany and the Netherlands.
Better ATAR – When studying in the Australian high school system, most students have to take five to six subjects and are assessed on those. When taking A Levels, universities only look at the three best grades so there is a better chance for a higher ATAR for most students. While you might have taken four exams, counting the three best ones raises your chances of getting a higher ATAR, which is important for admission into top universities and programmes like medicine and engineering.
Flexibility of subject selection - The curriculum allows students to choose up to six subjects in Year 11 based on their interests and there are no requirements like the IB. Each school might have entry requirements and students might choose based on what they want to study in university, but otherwise there are no restrictions. This allows students to have a good range of subjects depending on their interests. Plus, with a school like CGA there is no limit on the number of subjects you can choose.
This flexibility also allows students to take subjects without worrying about scaling to get better grades in more difficult subjects.
Exam model - The International GCSEs and A Levels are externally assessed with the option for students to sit exams at two or three different dates during the year. As part of Edexcel’s modularized International A Levels, students can sit exams at the end of every module three times a year instead of one marathon set of examinations at the end of the year covering all the year’s content. Plus, students are allowed to resit exams as well as individual modules. All these provisions mean that you have the best opportunity to score higher marks on your exams.
Edexcel also offers the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) which is designed to develop learners’ critical, reflective, problem-solving and independent learning skills, and supports students with the transition to higher education.