Submit Feedback

High school survey results - PART 2 - ATAR aims and high school subjects

Thursday 27th, August 2020

ATAR Notes

For access to high school resources, research, and student community, create a free ATAR Notes account.


We recently surveyed more than 1,000 high school students across Australia, focusing on a wide range of issues centred on the high school experience, university expectations, and decision-making factors. This is the second in a series of articles analysing the results and, therefore, what our students are telling us about their feelings and preferences. You can find part one of analysis here. There are a lot more results to look forward to!

Of our respondents, ~58% of students were based in Victoria, ~27% in New South Wales, and ~14% in Queensland – but we also had respondents from Western Australia, Tasmania, the Australian Capital Territory, and the Northern Territory. 99.84% of respondents were in the Year 10-12 body.


What do high school students think of high school and university?


In this second article, we will focus on three main high school survey questions, namely:

→ What ATAR are you aiming for?
→ What ATAR do you expect you will receive?
→ Knowing what you know now, would you still have chosen the same high school subjects?

What ATAR are you aiming for? What ATAR do you expect you will receive?

In our first analysis article, we considered briefly the impact of the ATAR, asking students whether or not they thought it received too much emphasis through high school. In this article, we shift our focus slightly to ATAR goals and expectations.

Eligible students receive an ATAR (Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank) between 0 and 99.95, in increments of 0.05. Perhaps counter-intuitively, the average ATAR received is not 50; the average ATAR changes from year to year, depending on factors such as the proportion of eligible students who receive an ATAR, but usually hovers around 70.00.

The average ATAR is usually around 70.00.

If every school student went on to achieve an ATAR, the average ATAR would be 50.00. But because some students leave school early and the ones who stay on to receive an ATAR are a smaller, more academically able group, the average ATAR is higher.

ATARs are calculated in each state to reflect a student’s rank against other students in their state.”

“What is the ATAR?”, UAC

With that in mind, we asked our students what ATAR they were aiming for.

QUESTION: What ATAR are you aiming for?

High school survey: what ATAR are you aiming for?

With an average ATAR aim of more than 91 (91.24), students in Queensland – where the ATAR is newest, and where the 2020 graduating cohort will be the first cohort to receive ATARs in the state’s history – appear to be most optimistic. Students in New South Wales (90.01) and, to a greater degree, Victoria (88.51), reported a lower average ATAR aim. Note that only single number responses were recorded in the results.

Given the average ATAR typically sits around 70, the overall average ATAR aim across all states (above 89) amongst our student base is considerable. But do aims match expectations?

QUESTION: What ATAR do you expect you will receive?

High school survey: what ATAR do you expect you will receive?

From these results, students in Queensland (average expected ATAR of 86.07) again seem most optimistic, with lesser expectations in New South Wales (83.01) and Victoria (81.29). As might be expected, ATAR expectations were consistently lower across all states than ATAR aims.

StateATAR aimATAR expectationDifference

Overall, students’ ATAR expectations were around 6.9 points lower than their ATAR aims. The most dramatic difference was reported by students in Victoria, where the average ATAR aim (88.51) was more than 7 points higher than the average ATAR expectation (81.29), whilst those in Queensland reported a smaller gap between what they were aiming for (91.24) and what they thought they would receive (86.07).

These results are visually represented in the chart below.

High school survey: what ATAR are you aiming for?

Knowing what you know now, would you still have chosen the same high school subjects?

High school subject selection is a point of stress and uncertainty for many students, with many factors at play in the subject selection process. Whilst the impact of these specific factors was beyond the scope of this survey, we were interested in whether or not students would now choose the same subjects they did previously, even with the benefit of hindsight.

We presented students with simple “Yes” and “No” response options. Here are the results.

QUESTION: Knowing what you know now, would you still have chosen the same high school subjects?

High school survey: knowing what you know now, would you still have chosen the same high school subjects?

Across all states, the majority of students would still choose the same high school subjects, even with the benefit of hindsight. However, on closer inspection, results vary from state to state.

Of students in New South Wales, Queensland, and Victoria, New South Wales had the highest proportion of students who would, in hindsight, make at least one change to their high school subjects (46.4%). Relatively fewer students in Queensland (41.7%) and Victoria (39.9%) selected “No” in response to this question.

There are many possible contributing factors to this. For the most part, such discussion is beyond the scope of this article. However, it is worth noting that New South Wales also had the highest proportion of Year 12 students (NSW: 72.5%; QLD: 68.6%; VIC: 58.7%). As more time has ostensibly passed for Year 12 students since selecting their subjects, and since Year 12 students have ostensibly made more subject decisions than younger students, it may simply be the case that more decisions means greater chance of regret.

Note that all students who were asked this question had previously indicated that they planned to apply for at least one course through an administrative body such as VTAC, UAC, or QTAC, which leads us in nicely to our next article, which will focus on course applications and perspective. Stay tuned!

In future articles, we will continue our analysis of results, focusing on a wide range of issues, including:

→ High school descriptions
→ Course application impact factors and considerations
Course application support
→ Preferred universities and areas of study
→ Job prospects and factors impacting job prospects
→ Study pathway plans

If you have suggestions for future research, please feel free to send us a message to get in touch.

Analysis presented in this article is based on the results of an opt-in student survey, promoted to Year 10-12 high school students across New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria, and Western Australia. Responses were collected between June 2020 and July 2020. Analysis is ongoing and is subject to change.

Discuss this Article