How predictive is ATAR of university results?

In response to my Grattan Institute colleague Ittima Cherastidtham’s op-ed supporting ATAR, Victoria University VC Peter Dawkins and Professor Yong Zhao argue in The Australian that

“The focus on maximising the ATAR through Year 12 exams, however, tends to lead to coaching of exam technique, so students memorise answers to questions that are designed to promote critical thinking.”

Coaching can boost student results. I suspect it is one reason that students from private and selective government schools tend to slightly under-perform at university relative to students with the same ATARs from non-selective government schools.

If it was just coaching that explained ATARs, they would not have any predictive value for future academic performance at university, which does not offer school-level hand-holding, and at which students take sometimes quite different subjects. But ATAR does have predictive value.

As the chart below shows, as ATARs go down students become more likely to fail half or more of their subjects in first semester – a fail rate that will send them to the unsatisfactory progress committee unless improved.

low ATAR fail rate

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