Is ATAR Nothing More Than A Number?

By Stephanie Gooch

If we want to invest in our young people, then we need to focus on changing the fixation that we have on the ATAR score as the ultimate aim.

If the end of Year 12 is the beginning of my life, then it leads me to wonder what have I been doing for the past 17 years of my life. You may think that it may be a naive thing to say, but if this all that I know – what other reaction am I expected to have?

From the time we start high school, we are taught that a score on a piece of paper defines the route our lives will take. Unfortunately, we are taught that this number is a be-all and end-all, and to be honest I disagree.

This ‘number’ (or better known as a WACE or ATAR score) shows a student’s position and ranking after sitting a variety of at least four exams in comparison to the rest of the state, and country.

It is a rank, not a mark. A rank that nobody cares about once you graduated from high school. The only people that do care are universities and if you don’t get their preferred marks, it is not the end of the world. There are foundation courses, bridging courses, as well as non-school leavers entry that will help you get into university.

For some this may be hard to get your head around – it certainly was for me. What is the difference you ask? A students ranking is scaled depending on the performance of other students. The overall scaling process is a hypothetical way of saying if all students studied all courses ‘this’ would be their score.


What baffles me most about this whole conundrum is that whilst this message has been filtered into our ways of thinking, young people are told conflicting messages – we’re free to be exciting, excel in our own way but only to find that they must conform to how the Curriculum Council sees fit.

Time and time again we are told about the score that we will receive at the end of Year 12. How it is important to keep a balance between our social, academic and sporting commitments. Whilst a balanced life is important, but so is our mental health.

The stress of studying often becomes too much for students to handle and they commonly end up becoming a hermit in their room or not caring about studying at all.

A survey on Students Mental Health conducted by The Guardian stated that for those who do experience mental health problems blame coursework deadlines (65%) and exams (54%) as triggers of distress. Another study conducted by The Age Victoria agreed that, of almost 4,500 Year 7 to 12 students, 34% of girls and 30% of boys felt constantly under strain and unable to overcome difficulties.

Looking at these statistics, there is clearly something wrong with the way our school system is conducted. I know for a fact that there are schools who have amazing student support system, but what about those who aren’t comfortable with speaking about these struggles?

If we want to invest in our young people, then we need to focus on changing our current fixation on a number being the ‘be-all-end-all’ for students.

Photocredit: Steven S. (via Flickr)



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s