From OP to ATAR – Queensland’s Changing Secondary Education System


In 2020, the standard pathway to tertiary study for Queensland Year 12’s will change from the Overall Position (OP) to the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR).

Students entering Year 11 next year will be the first to graduate under the new Queensland Certificate of Education (QCE) system.

The new system brings Queensland in line with other states and territories in Australia, who already use the ATAR system. The change from OP to ATAR is just one of the main changes being introduced under this system.

Southern Cross University PVC (Students) and Dean of Education, Professor Nan Bahr, was part of the ministerial taskforce in charge of implementing the ATAR system in Queensland.

Professor Bahr said the main reasons for the change were to bring Queensland into alignment with the rest of Australia, and to ensure student outcomes could be better understood and more easily comparable.

“The old system used to rely on teachers meeting with other teachers to compare their assessments and moderate and adjust student scores,” she explained.

“This new system flips that on its head. Teachers, under the new system, will use assessments that have been verified in the first place, which changes the nature of how teachers assess students.

“It will now combine school-based assessment with external exams – a new era for Queensland.”

Professor Bahr said the main difference was that schools and universities could understand student performance at a different level and be more assured of how they compare, as the same rating will apply across all schools.

“There is a little bit more equity in that,” she said. “For a cross-border university like Southern Cross (which straddles both Queensland and New South Wales), the benefit of Queensland moving into an ATAR system is the consistency and transparency of course information across Queensland, NSW and all other states.”

Professor Bahr2

Here is everything you need to know if you’re thinking about going to university or want to understand more about the changes and how they will affect you as a student.

Three Key Changes

The three key changes to the new QCE system are:

1. Removal of the OP rank and introduction of ATAR
2. Introduction of a new senior assessment model, which combines school-based assessment set and marked by teachers, with external assessment developed and marked by the Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority (QCAA)
3. Development of a new moderation process

The Difference Between OP and ATAR

OP ranks are based on the results of five senior Authority subjects and rank students between one and 25 (with one being the highest score).

ATAR is a more inclusive ranking, which can also include a Vocational Education and Training (VET) qualification or Subject Area Syllabus (SAS) subject. Currently the OP system doesn’t include VET or SAS. ATAR rankings also place students between 0 and 99.95 (with 99.95 being the highest).

Overall, an OP is a broad ranking, while an ATAR is a “fine-grained” score. For example, a student who achieves an ATAR of 94.35, would equate to either an OP1 or OP2 currently, depending upon the overall cohort.

Calculating the ATAR

An ATAR is a percentile ranking of a student’s overall achievement out of all potential Year 12 school students. This group includes all OP-eligible and ineligible students, as well as those people not in senior schooling. All potential Year 12 students are used due to the fact that each state and territory calculates its local tertiary rank differently.

antoine dautry 428780 unsplash

The Queensland Core Skills (QCS) Test

The Queensland Core Skills test will be abolished. ATARs will be calculated by comparing student results only. Instead of the QCS test there will be a process of inter-subject scaling.

Currently, OPs are calculated by comparing results in Authority subjects as well as the results from the QCS test. The final QCS test will be held in 2019.

Under the new system, students complete four pieces of assessment per subject. Of these, three will be school-based assessments and one will be externally set and graded.

How the ATAR System Works

The ATAR will be used when you apply to degree programs at universities through the Queensland Tertiary Admission Centre (QTAC). This admissions process hasn’t changed.

Vocational Education and Training (VET) will continue to be a key part of the new QCE system. In the new system, achievement of a VET Certificate III or above, in combination with results in general subjects, can contribute to the calculation of an ATAR. This approach recognises the role that VET plays in senior studies, while also ensuring that students have a sufficient breadth of academic subjects to cope with the demands of tertiary study.

Why Has Queensland Been Different Until Now?

The OP system was introduced in 1992. In a report released in 2014, the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) found that while existing arrangements had served Queensland
students well and remained fair and reliable, they would not be sustainable over the longer term. ACER recommended changes to achieve greater rigour and simplicity.

There was also strong support among Queensland universities for eligible Year 12 students to be provided with an Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) rather than an Overall Position (OP).

Choosing Your Subjects

Students should choose subjects according to their learning goals and what they enjoy, while paying close attention to the prerequisite requirements of the courses they’re considering for tertiary study.

QTAC has set up My Path, an innovative tool that helps Year 10 students choose their senior subjects, determine their ATAR eligibility and check whether their senior subject selection will meet prerequisites for courses they may want to pursue after Year 12.

Want to find out more about Australia's favourite classroom?