How does scaling work?

Girl studying and writing notes in a cafe

ATAR scaling aims to make Year 12 academic scoring fair for students across all schools and all subjects. Here’s a rundown on what it means – and we’ll bust some myths about beating the system.

You’ve been studying hard and you think you’ve done well in your final year at school. But then you get your ATAR and, to your shock, the score isn’t what you were expecting. You’ve been scaled. If you’ve been scaled up – hurrah! But if you’ve been scaled down, it can be extremely disappointing. What’s happened and what does it mean for university admission?

Let’s take a closer look at the mysterious process of scaling.

At a glance: what is scaling?

Without exception, all Year 12 WACE academic units are subject to the process of scaling. Scaling is the responsibility of TISC and the School Curriculums and Standards Authority (SCSA), and not up to individual universities or schools. You may be scaled up, scaled down, or not at all. This process will give you an ATAR, which is your rank in relation to other students, and the result you’ll use for admission to universities in Australia. Your four best subject results will make up your ATAR.

Read more in What is an ATAR? and, if you’re interested, learn more about how the SCSA generates your ATAR.

Why do results need to be scaled?

It’s to make scoring fair for all students regardless of subject difficulty, the exam that particular year, your cohort, and your school’s scoring and assessment in comparison to other schools. Everyone studying those subjects across all schools in the state is on equal footing and university places are therefore offered as fairly as possible.

ATAR scaling is based on both your exam performance and school assessments throughout the year. There are so many schools, so many subject offerings, and so many individual teachers assessing Year 12 students, which makes it hard to have an even playing field. This is why marks are submitted by your school and moderated, and why exams are standardised and set by an independent panel.

What does scaling mean for my final ATAR?

The score you are expecting may be quite different to the score you eventually receive. We encourage you list several TISC preferences so you have a good shot of getting into a degree of your choice. 

Myth busting

Will I be punished if I study ‘easy’ or ‘hard’ Year 12 subjects?

No. While it is true that subjects like physics and chemistry are typically scaled up, it’s not in your best interests to study these purely on this. Likewise, lots of students think they should study ‘easy’ subjects to get a high score. Scaling aims to eliminate these discrepancies. In fact, scaling is not even really based on how difficult a subject is. It’s about the strength of the competition and how well students did at that subject. It also depends on how that cohort performs in other subjects. But it’s best not to go down the algorithm rabbit hole, we’ll leave that up to the ATAR mathematicians and statisticians! 

How can I increase my chances of a good ATAR?

The best way to get a good score isn’t a covert operation: study hard and, unless there are recommended subjects for course admission, pick subjects that you are likely to perform well in and you’ll enjoy.

Can I predict my ATAR?

While you can look back at results from previous years for a general indication, the results from your particular year will depend on the academic strength of students at that time.

Unsure what all the terms mean? Learn more about uni lingo.

I have results from previous years. Will these be scaled again?

No, scaled subject results from a previous year can’t be changed. The final result stands.

Are you eligible for Murdoch RISE?

This is a selection rank adjustment that supports students from regional, lower socio-economic backgrounds, or those who are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. It can increase your Murdoch selection rank by 10 points (up to a maximum score of 90). To be eligible for this, you must achieve an ATAR between 60.00 and 89.95. Find out more here.

Check out our admission pathways to see how you can study at Murdoch University.  
Posted on:

3 Sep 2019

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