Menu

Education Today Logo


newsletter

Education Today Cover Browse Issue

Time to rethink ATAR?

News Image

The ATAR is the culmination of 13 years or so of learning but as ideas about educating change and universities turn to other ways of admitting students, its relevance is being questioned.

While a high ATAR does indicate a better chance of completing tertiary studies, for ATARs lower than 80 the score provides next to no indication of success at university. The ATAR’s usefulness has further diminished as the number of higher education places has increased, widening the gates to entry.

The authors of the Mitchell report, Crunching the Number, on the issue say that education should develop the foundation skills and broader capabilities required to succeed in a changing world, support effective transitions from school to post-school life and enable more school leavers to participate in tertiary study or training.

Only one in four university admissions was based on the ATAR, the report found.

The ATAR simplifies a complex range of inputs, it can mask where students have excelled or performed poorly, and reduces the rich skills, knowledge and capabilities students develop over 13 years of schooling to one number, the report states.

The ranking of all final year school students on a single scale from 0 to 99.95 is unique to Australia and causes distortions, universities are cornered into playing a shell game with ATARs, setting entrance requirements for courses high so as not to dilute their prestige while admitting students through late and early round offers and other entrance criteria. Students shy from tougher subjects attempting to score well in the test.

The system is clearly turning into a case of chase the ATAR rather than seek the best outcomes for students and their futures.

Many comparable countries are tempering reliance on a single figure, in Singapore students are evaluated based on individual grades obtained in four content-based subjects, as well as a general critical thinking subject, and an extended group learning project. Some faculties have additional requirements such as interviews or aptitude tests.

An increasing number of universities in the UK have shunned the A levels and set their own entrance exams while US Universities require students to provide their achievement scores on a standardised aptitude test, the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) which usually combines with essays on personal achievements.

Australian universities are increasingly turning to aptitude tests to assess applicants to their most prestigious courses.

The Undergraduate Medicine and Health Sciences Admissions Test (or UMAT) is used to select students for medicine, dentistry and health sciences at 13 Australian universities. It assesses general attributes and abilities, including the acquisition of skills in critical thinking and problem solving, understanding people and abstract non-verbal reasoning. Participating universities take the results of this test into account alongside a student’s ATAR.

The Law Admissions Test (LAT) was recently introduced for law studies at the University of New South Wales, students’ LAT score is added to the ATAR as ‘additional points’ (UNSW Law, 2017). The LAT is designed to assess ‘aptitudes and skills that are critical to success in the law program, including critical thinking and analysis, and organising and expressing ideas in a clear and fluid way’.

Computer-based Assessment for Sampling Personal Characteristics (CASPer) was implemented for admission to initial teacher education courses in Victoria. The CASPer tests applicants’ personal and professional attributes, such as motivation to teach, resilience and organisation and planning skills.

Most universities offer Special Entry Access Schemes or Education Access Schemes which enable students experiencing disadvantage to add bonus points to their ATAR.

Some schemes enable school principals to make special recommendations for students they believe are capable of performing well at university despite underperforming in the ATAR, others offer direct entry to disadvantaged students before the main round of admissions and therefore bypass the use of ATAR.

Another growing pathway to admission is through shorter courses or qualifications designed to prepare students for bachelor level study. They aim to provide more supportive environments for school leavers, bridging the gap between school and more independent university study. These courses provide entry into the second year of a bachelor degree, or the results can be taken into account in a separate application process.

Selection methods such as interviews, portfolios, auditions and admission essays enable universities to get a more complete picture of student aptitudes not captured by a tertiary ranking, as well as gathering the more contextual factors necessary to determine how well a student is suited to a particular field of study.

Some universities use interviews for highly selective courses, while portfolios are more commonly used for studies in creative areas.

There are also equity considerations with these methods. While they provide a fuller picture of students who may have been disadvantaged by selection processes relying on school results, it is difficult to guarantee transparency.

While the authors aren’t advocating a scrapping of ATAR they feel some changes should be considered.

Any rethink of the system should include matching a student’s abilities, as well as his or her interests and aptitudes to a course of study or career pathway and ensuring students’ decisions are not unduly distorted by the perceived prestige of one institution over another. 


11 Apr 2019 | National
AITSL Stakeholder Survey now open News Image

Teachers, school leaders and the entire education sector can have their say in the 2019 Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership Survey which is open now. Read More

11 Apr 2019
Early career teachers get dramatic with NIDA News Image

NIDA continues to invest in the creative practice of early career teachers in primary and secondary schools with the 2019 Creative Ambassador’s Initiative.
Read More

10 Apr 2019 | National
New teachers love induction support app News Image

Downloaded more than 17,000 times, the AITSL My Induction app offers expert advice, answers to frequently asked questions and allows new teachers to track their professional wellbeing. Read More

10 Apr 2019 | National
Reform of preschools front and centre in election period News Image

Research shows that two years of quality preschool sets a child up for success, and happily the issue is gaining traction with politicians.
Read More

10 Apr 2019 | National
Domestic violence causes homelessness News Image

The number of people seeking help from homelessness services due to domestic and family violence has risen in recent years but only 4% of those who approached a homelessness service for long-term housing actually received it. Read More