How the Australian Curriculum Provides Worldwide University Options
One of the many great things about living in a country as diverse as Malaysia is that your child has access to a whole host of international educational programmes, that could ultimately lead to their choice of universities.
The Australian curriculum which culminates in Year 11 and 12 with the Higher School Certificate pre-university course (equivalent to A Levels and IB Diploma), provides another alternative to parents who are looking for international schools in Malaysia. The Australian qualification is accepted worldwide and offers the 50:50 assessment approach balancing the weight on final exams with internal-based assessments.
Ivan McLean, Head of Middle and Senior Schools at the Australian International School Malaysia (AISM), informs about the Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank (ATAR) and how it can get students to universities worldwide and not just Australia.
1. What is an ATAR?
For those of you unfamiliar with the word ATAR, it stands for the Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank. The ATAR is a ranking of Year 12 or 17/18 year old students’ results that measures their overall academic achievement compared with all other final year students in Australia, as well as international Australian schools. It is different from other ways of grading students as it’s not a score out of 100 – it is a rank.
The percentile rank ranges from 0 to 99.95. This means that if you get an ATAR of 80.00, you have outperformed 80% of students in the age group completing their Higher School Certificate (HSC) that year.
The ATAR allows universities to easily compare the overall achievements of all students from that year group. Each course at each university will have a minimum ATAR that needs to be achieved in order for the student to be accepted.
2. How is the ATAR worked out?
The ATAR process involves several steps and components. For each subject a student takes they will be awarded four marks along the process. The marks will be made up from their examination mark, assessment mark, HSC mark and their position in the school rankings. In the end, the most important statistic is that 50% of the student’s ATAR comes from continuous school assessment and only 50% from the final external examinations. This is important since, the Australian curriculum believes that one final examination should not be the sole determinant of a student’s success, let alone their future pathways.
3. So, if 50% is assessed internally, how is this moderated?
Since 50% of the Higher School Certificate is assessed internally, there is a need to ensure moderation on the marking system from one school to another. The ATAR therefore takes into consideration how well a student is performing compared to other students in their class. A student may be scoring 85% in their school English assessments, but more important than their score is the position they have been ranked in their class and school.
The system believes that by using a positioning or scaling system you can get an overall view of how a student is performing in all their subjects that predicts how successful a student will be in their University studies.
4. Why is ATAR different from A-Level and the IB Diploma systems?
Under the British A-Level system, students typically focus on about three subjects in their final year. Whilst this does offer students the chance to specialise in subjects before determining their career choice, it also means that they could opt to exclusively focus on selected subjects only for example, science or the humanities. English is not a compulsory subject. Furthermore, how students perform during the exam is the main determinant of success in A-levels.
In the IB Diploma, students have to cover a wider range of subjects, three at standard level and three at higher level. From the six subjects they have to choose, at least one must be a further study of their own language as well as a foreign language, maths, a creative art and a science. Students also have to take on a service component as well.
In the Australian system, students must study six subjects and one of the subjects has to be English. But unlike the IB Diploma and A-Levels, the final marks are made up from 50% of internal school assessments throughout the final year and 50% external exam at the end of the final year, which is very similar to the assessment approach in most universities.
5. Would the ATAR system suit my child?
For some children examination conditions are a great way to showcase the information they have learnt, but for others, a more flexible assessment method such as coursework could be less stressful and a more accurate way of demonstrating their knowledge. The ATAR system is far less exam based than the A-Level or IB Diploma, which suits the needs for the 21st century, as skills-based learning is becoming more sought after.
6. Would an ATAR allow entry into universities outside of Australia?
Judging by the number of students being accepted by a wide range of universities in a whole host of countries, it is evident that choosing to use the ATAR system has been a wise decision for many and has not limited graduates.
In fact recent graduates from AISM were accepted for places as far and wide as University of St Andrews in the UK and The University of British Columbia in Canada. Some have also secured places closer to home, such as Nottingham University Malaysia and the Universities of Sydney and Melbourne in Australia.
Altogether around 50% of AISMs successful students are now studying in a country other than Australia or Malaysia.
7. Helpful hints and tips from an academic expert
Ivan McLean’s years of experience of the ATAR system has taught him some valuable lessons, which he was happy to share:
- Don’t use ATAR online calculators to try and work out a possible ranking; they are really inaccurate and therefore extremely unhelpful.
- As a statistician, I have studied closely how the marks for each course are awarded. I believe there are no easier or harder subjects to choose because of the fair mathematical way that each course is marked. I’d therefore encourage students to choose the subjects they enjoy but also to challenge themselves. They shouldn’t just take the perceived easy option subjects because they think they will get a higher ATAR.
- If you’re applying to universities across the world, you’re not limited to the number of applications you can make. There are currently no restrictions on the number of countries you apply in.
- Students who have completed their HSC and achieved an ATAR outside of Australia are eligible for bonus points at some universities because of this. These valuable bonus points can be added to the final percentile score; this can mean the difference between being accepted into a university and being turned away.
More about our pre-university course is available here.