'Resist ATAR anxiety’, says UTS Insearch Dean of Studies

November 30, 2019

As many parents are no doubt aware, teens who have just completed their HSC often experience an anxious time in the period leading up to Christmas. With the release of their ATAR drawing closer, many young people mistakenly imagine this number will completely define their future.

In a recent Australia-wide survey of senior high school students, reported in The Conversation, 75 percent of participants said they were experiencing, or had experienced ATAR anxiety. Some even worried that, if their score was lower than expected, it would keep them from their preferred course and career forever. Over 80 percent of students went as far as to say that a low score would be ‘detrimental to their life’. If this isn’t enough of a concern, over half of the group believed their parents’ ATAR anxiety was worse than their own.

None of this stress is necessary or helpful, and if I could share one piece of advice about the HSC with teens and their parents, it would be this:  whether or not your ATAR meets expectations, don’t lose sight of your goals – whether they be to go to university, start a business, learn a trade, work or travel.

Teens need to understand that the ATAR is the start of the journey, not the end. The higher education system is more flexible than many students (and their parents) think. In fact, just one in four undergraduates is currently admitted to an Australian university purely based on their ATAR. If university is their goal, a determined student can still get there, no matter what they may choose to do during the first year after the HSC. Whether they continue their studies, work, or take a gap year, it’s very likely they will still find a way into their chosen university course. There are always options, such as pathway courses, which have enabled many students to still enter their preferred university courses and pursue the careers they want.

Remember also that the ATAR was never meant to be a measure of potential. It is simply a number, based on selected data. It cannot possibly measure your teen’s entire school experience, or their individual wealth of skills and overall abilities. I have many seen talented students who missed a place in their chosen course by only a few marks. The good news is that, when they keep their eyes on their goal, these students frequently achieve great success in their university careers and beyond.

It's also often the case that a student whose ATAR wasn't as high as they'd hoped will still have strong results – and genuine aptitude – in certain subjects. That’s one reason some pathway providers admit students on an average, calculated on their results for English and their three best non-VET subjects. That way, if a student’s results have been affected by scaling, or they haven’t performed as well in the HSC as they’d hoped – for any number of reasons – they may still have an opportunity to study their preferred university course.

Pathway courses help students develop the skills, knowledge and experience they need to succeed at university and beyond. In some cases, students who missed out on an offer for their desired course may fast-track into second year of their desired degree after completing a pathway diploma (depending on results and the course chosen). It’s a transition that works well, and the motivation and lifelong learning skills developed during their pathway diploma often help these students perform throughout their degree and into their careers.

Knowing your teen’s long-term goals and helping them explore the variety of ways they can reach them, is an effective way to take the edge off ATAR anxiety. With a positive attitude and some research, your teen should be ready for a bright future.



Tim Laurence is the Dean of Studies at UTS Insearch, the pathway to UTS. He is an academic leader with extensive experience in higher education teaching and education management. Prior to taking up his current position at UTS Insearch, he held the position of Associate Dean, Teaching and Learning, in the Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building at UTS.

Tim holds overall responsibility for the design, delivery and quality assurance of all UTS Insearch pathway programs both locally and internationally.





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