Part 4: How to Maximise your ATAR

Do you know how to maximise your ATAR? Goal setting the first step towards academic success. It's important to visualise your goals to maintain focus and motivation.

Strategies for maximising your ATAR

Do you know how to maximise your ATAR? Well, now that you understand how your ATAR is calculated, we’ll look at some strategies adopted by past Matrix graduates to maximise their HSC marks and ATAR.

We’ve learned that successful students:

  1. Define and visualise their goals.
  2. Understand how subjects are scaled and, hence, affect their ATAR.
  3. Remember that your English HSC Mark must be counted towards your ATAR.
  4. Establish a system for measuring and tracking their academic progress regularly.
  5. Be disciplined!

1. Define and visualise your academic goals.

Setting yourself goals helps you see what the finish line looks like. This is important as it helps you find the shortest path to get there.

Matrix graduate Sally Kim wrote her ATAR goal of 99.95 on a poster and stuck it on her wall. As she saw it every day for two years she found it helped her stay focused on her goals. After two years, Sally achieved her goal of achieving the highest ATAR possible – 99.95.

Watch Sally Kim’s presentation How I got into Medicine at University of Sydney.

Sally suggests posting your ATAR goal on your bedroom door, bathroom mirror, computer screen, mobile phone wallpaper, on your wall or anywhere you’ll be forced to see the poster daily.

It’s important to visualise your goals to maintain focus and motivation.

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2. Understand how your subjects are scaled and affect your ATAR

Since different scaling is applied to different HSC subjects, your ATAR will be affected by your subject combination. Using the Matrix ATAR Calculator, we can investigate how different combination of subjects will result in different ATARs for the same percentile.

Case Study

The table below shows the ATAR calculation for a student scoring in the 90th percentile for humanities oriented subject combination. Let’s compare two different subject combinations with same percentiles.

Table 1: ATAR Estimate for Humanities oriented subject combination.
 SubjectHSC MarkScaled Mark
English Advanced9182
Mathematics General8772
Business Studies8977
Legal Studies9080
Modern History8980
  Aggregate 391/500

The table below shows the ATAR calculation for a student scoring in the 90th percentile for Maths & Science oriented subject combination.

Table 2: ATAR Estimate for Maths and Science oriented subject combination.
 SubjectHSC MarkScaled Mark
English Advanced9183
Mathematics Extension 19496
Mathematics Extension 19496
  Aggregate 445/500


  • A student with a subject combination of Maths and Science is awarded a higher ATAR than another student with the subject combination of humanities subjects. This is despite both students performing in the 90th percentile in their courses.
  • Students who study humanities subjects will need to achieve higher HSC marks in order to receive the same scaled marks as students who study maths and science-oriented subjects.

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3. Remember that your English HSC mark must be counted towards your ATAR

To do well in the HSC, you must ace English.

This is because English is the only compulsory HSC subject and hence 2 units of English must be counted towards the calculation of your aggregate and ATAR regardless of how low your scaled mark is.

Complicating matters, the scaling of English courses is not that great compared to the scaling Mathematics courses, so you must do well! You can see the scaling graphs here.

However, English is very different to Mathematics or Science in a key way, it is time intensive:

  • You must read multiple texts – for example, in English Advanced, you will encounter a minimum of 9 texts. These will include novels, plays, at least one Shakespeare text, film, as well as collections of texts such as a suite of poems or selection of speeches.
  • You will need to read these texts multiple times to analyse them and unpack their meaning and understand how the composers have represented their ideas. This can take many hours and cannot be rushed. there is no short-cut to gaining a thorough understanding of a text without reading and viewing it at least twice!
  • You will need to make in-depth study notes including tables.
  • You will need to write practice essays, speeches, and creatives.

The study of English is something that needs to be planned out in advance and approached in a systematic manner. If you put English off until just prior to assessment tasks, the trials, or the pre-HSC study vacation it is too late to prepare.

Successful English students do things like read ahead, make notes as they go, and develop a steady habit of writing practice essays and creatives and doing past papers. They understand this process for studying English explicitly and dedicate sufficient amount of time for it.

Here is a process that all Matrix English students learn and follow for their English studies:

ATAR Guide Process for study of English
The Process for Studying English

To learn more about how to study English effectively, read our Beginner’s guide for Acing HSC English.

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4. Establish a system to measure and track your progress in a timely manner.

Is this you?

John spent a fair amount of time and effort studying regularly only to be hit with disappointment when he discovered how badly he performed in his half-yearly exams. Unhappy and frustrated, his parents aren’t pleased. They pushed John to study harder and he did just that. He studied really hard. Six months of solid study under the watchful eyes of his parents, he nervously sits his yearly exam. John receives his results and he’s relieved to learn he’s improved, but only marginally. All that studying and only little improvement. Again, John is disappointed and his parents are still unhappy. There goes one whole year of hard work with results that didn’t reflect his efforts.

John and his parents point the finger at his ineffective study habits…

What do you think went wrong?

Ineffective study habits may have been a contributing factor but the main problem was his inability to realise his issues in a timely manner because he wasn’t monitoring his progress regularly. With close tracking and monitoring of his performance, his problems could have been detected earlier.

Doing the same thing the same way produces the same results.

With earlier detection, he would have been able to take appropriate actions to change his current study methods.

So what should you do?

A coffee shop owner measures his sales performance by glancing at how many stacks of takeaway coffee cups are missing on his shelf. Each stack has twenty takeaway coffee cups to make it easy for the shop owner to measure their sales progression.

What system do you have in place right now to measure your progress each day, week, month or every term? Just like the coffee shop owner, you need a system for tracking your school performance in a timely manner. At Matrix, students’ progress are tracked through weekly quizzes which are returned with their mark and a rank.

To learn more about tracking your progress, attend the Matrix ATAR & Scaling Seminar where students are taught how to break down their ATAR goal in terms of their school rankings to measure their progress.


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5. Be disciplined.

Most students struggle to get things done on time consistently.

Being disciplined means getting things done on time. Every time!

Students can achieve a greater success rate of getting things done by writing a to-do list. Use a small book, diary, or whiteboard to list the tasks you need to complete are effective ways of visualising and completing your important tasks on time.

One Matrix student placed her priority matrix on her mirror knowing she spent a great deal of time looking at it. She wrote her tasks on post-it notes and stuck them onto her mirror. This reminded her of the actions items that needed to be completed and created a sense of urgency to knock off the tasks on her to-do list.


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