How to cope when your ATAR arrives

The lead-up to the release of exam results can be as stressful as the exams themselves, but remember: the ATAR will not make or break your life. Don’t let your ATAR define you
Nanjing Night Net

It is the biggest cliche of them all when it comes to the final years of school. But it is also the most true: The ATAR will not make or break your life. The ATAR is not an IQ score. The ATAR – Australian Tertiary Admission Rank – is exactly that. A rank. It is not a measure of how well you will succeed in life, and it is not a ticket to a high-paying job. It won’t set you up for life, and it certainly won’t end your chances.

You have every right to be super proud if you do get the ATAR you were aiming for. It will probably get you into the university course you have your heart set on and it can make the next step in your journey a little more straightforward. But do not let it define you.

Remember: More than half of all students who start a degree at an Australian university are admitted in ways other than by their ATAR. That can be anything from interviews, to Year 11 and 12 reports, to portfolios.

Professor James Arvanitakis is an academic who regularly speaks and writes about the unhelpful hype around the ATAR. He offers students this advice: “Put enough pressure on yourself to do well. Any more than that is wasted energy. It leads to panic and over-stress.”

“When I did they HSC there was only one way to university. But now we have so many pathways. Even medicine has multiple pathways,” Arvanitakis says. What is an ATAR and how is it calculated?

The ATAR stands for Australian Tertiary Admission Rank. It is not a mark; it is a rank. It’s a number between 0 and 99.95, increasing by 0.05 increments. The highest possible ATAR is 99.95, while the lowest is 30. Any rank below that is referred to as “30 or less”. The ATAR system is now used by all Australian states and territories, although Queensland is still transitioning from its Overall Position (OP) to the ATAR system.

The ATAR is a measure of a student’s overall academic achievement in relation to other students. It helps universities rank applicants for selection into their courses. It’s designed to predict how well you will perform in your first year at university.

Your result is a percentile position out of all students who started Year 7 with you. So an ATAR of 80 doesn’t mean you got 80 per cent, rather, it means that you’re in the top 20 per cent of your year group. The average ATAR is usually around 70, not 50 as you may think. It would only be 50 if everyone from Year 7 went on to get an ATAR – and they won’t.

Scaling is the first step in calculating the ATAR. This is important because students take all sorts of different courses, so scaling allows courses to be compared fairly. The same marks in different courses are not necessarily equal, just as the same amounts of money in different countries are not equal. Scaling is done using raw marks to ensure apples are compared with apples, so a scaled mark of 50 means the same – you were in the middle of those who took the course. Scaled marks are then used to rank students.

Universities make admission offers based on the number of places available for a course, the number of students who have applied and their ATARs.

All universities publish their ATARs for each course, based on the previous year’s admissions. This gives a good indication of the minimum ATAR you will need. Advice for parents

Judith Carlisle, headmistress at top British independent girls’ school the Oxford High School, has a blunt message for her students: No one will give a damn about your final school results a couple of years down the track.

So forget about being perfect, she says. Instead, learn how to cope with failure.

Sounds harsh – but it is good advice.

Since 2014, Carlisle has been running a program called the Death of Little Miss Perfect. She wants to get rid of the idea that girls need to be perfect, so she uses the phrase ‘”unhelpful perfectionism” to explain what she means.

“In a high-achieving school such as Oxford High School, there is now a recognition amongst pupils that the further you go in academia there is less likely to be an answer that can be verified as correct or perfect. Girls are encouraged to just go for it, and that it is OK to learn from failure,” Carlisle says. “Importantly, they are all encouraged to be kinder and more positive towards themselves.”

In Australia, Jenny Allum, head of the Sydney Church of England Girls Grammar School in Darlinghurst, has a similar message for teenagers and their parents: Parents have a role in helping their teenagers (girls or boys) to avoid “catastrophising” when things do not go as planned.

“If you think getting 12 out of 20 in an essay, or even 8 out of 20, is the worst thing in the world, then you have a pretty good life,” Allum says. “Every tiny little milestone that happens in your last two years of school is not the be-all and end-all. Nothing is the end of the world.”

“Teenagers have highs and lows about all sorts of things.” says Allum. “I think it is important for the adults around young people to be the stable ones, to be the calm and rational ones with reality checks. When parents ride waves of emotions with their teenagers – whether they are elated when something good happens [or] angry when things are not so good – [it] only amplifies those ups and downs.” When the results are not what you were expecting

The lead-up to the release of exam results can be as stressful as the exams themselves.

When the day arrives, there can be jubilation. Or devastation. And plenty of emotions in between.

All may not go well. Disappointing scores? An ATAR that will probably fall short of the mark?

The not-for-profit organisation Youth Beyond Blue, which works to address issues around depression and anxiety, urges parents not to be fooled by their teenagers if they appear too dismissive of their results – particularly if they were lower than what everyone expected.

Chances are they really do care about how they went, and especially about what their parents and friends think.

Don’t make negative comments or point out what they could have done differently.

It’s too late to criticise now. Remind them that all is not lost if they do not get into their first choice of uni course or miss out on their traineeship. There are many pathways to get to their ultimate career destination.

Their exams will be a distant memory before they know it, and their marks will not damage their future.

Encourage your teenager to think of Plan B.

It is common to transfer degrees after first-year university, so their second-choice course may be a good option. They could take a gap year and spend some time working. A career or guidance counsellor may be able to help make a plan.

And just keep reminding them that a Year 12 result, whether good or bad, does not define them.

This is an edited extract fromIf You Want to Blitz Your Year 12 Exams … Read this Book, by the Herald’s education editor Alexandra Smith (ABC Books RRP$27.99), published on December 18.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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