High emotion, much confusion over rankings

Students have had mixed reactions to their ATAR results, released yesterday. Claire Fassoulidis … very happy with her results. Picture: Isabell Petrinic

CONFUSION, anger and in some cases joy greeted the release of the notoriously complex Australian Tertiary Admission Ranks (ATAR) on Thursday, the scaling system used to calculate whether students gain entry to university courses.

A University Admissions Centre enquiry line received more than 600 phone calls after 50,000 students in NSW received their rankings online, the Director of information services at the UAC, Kim Paino, said.

She is expecting another busy day with upset students when formal notifications start arriving by mail on Friday. ”We release a lot of information but people don’t often take it in and hence we receive a number of anguished calls from confused parents and students,” she said.

The strongest emotions were experienced among those disappointed in rankings that did not live up to Higher School Certificate results released a day earlier.

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Student Samantha Bulloch from Tyndale Christian School in Blacktown did not understand why her HSC marks – which were in the 70s and 80s – resulted in an ATAR in the 60s.

She admits to being confused with the calculation process. ”My ATAR was not what I was hoping for,” she said.

Caroline Lazar was among those calling the UAC enquiries line, and also took to Twitter to vent her frustration.

”The ATAR system is not fair for those students who tried the best they could. It does not reflect the marks I would always get!” she wrote.

Ms Paino, said many students did not understand that their HSC results were a separate measurement to the ATAR.

The HSC marks measure how well students perform against state-based Board of Studies standards, whereas the ATAR ranks students against their peers nationally.

Ms Paino said despite efforts from UAC and the Board of Studies try to clear up some of the myths and confusion around the system, the message was not necessarily getting through.

The scaling system used to determine ATARs is notoriously difficult to understand.

A HSC subject such as Mathematics Extension Two, for example, tends to scale ”higher”, and therefore deliver a higher ATAR ranking, than Industrial Technology.

But Ms Paino said one of the most common myths surrounding the ATAR system is that certain subjects will guarantee a high or low result.

”The benefit of doing a well-scaling course might be offset if you don’t do well in it, and vice versa,” she said.

”It is important when selecting your HSC subjects to choose things which you enjoy and are good at, rather than ones that you think will get you a higher ATAR – there’s no magic formula for achieving 99.95.”

Claire Fassoulidis took several subjects which tend to scale lower, such as Food Technology and General Mathematics. But she was thrilled with a very high ATAR yesterday.

”Considering the marks I got yesterday I was feeling optimistic about getting something in the high 80s, but this morning I received 99.25.”

This is more than enough to secure her a place in her preferred course, physiotherapy at the University of Sydney.

Ms Paino added that it was important for disappointed students to remember that the ATAR was not the be-all and end-all when it came to their futures.

”It is not meant to represent the whole 13 years of school, it’s simply a tool used by universities,” she said.